Sunday, September 19, 2010

Transgender Adventures in History outline

I recently brought back the Transgender Adventures in History presentation at the last Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta. Walking through the hotel lobby wearing my green Civil War era dress, several people approached me about attending the seminar but had conflicts with the scheduled time. They asked about an outline of my seminar notes. So here is a Reader's Digest version of the presentation. Of course, it is better to attend if only to see the beauty of me in a corset, hoop skirt, bonnet, and big dress! My next presentation is September 28, 7 pm at the Charlotte LGBT Community Center as part of Pride Charlotte Week.

Transgender Adventures in History is designed as a combination of my gender identity and mainstream reenacting. At the 2006 Southern Comfort Conference, I was so moved by what all my transgender brothers and sisters were doing that I decided to revisit some old ideas. I presented the seminar idea following 2007 SCC and have continued with it ever since. It is for both the LGBT and mainstream communities.

Part one is the historical characters themselves. These are pre-twentieth century folks who lived another gender identity for some portion of their lives and were celebrated for it. My philosophy is to leave the 20th and 21st centuries at the doors as those periods are better known. I enjoy discovering those who persevered and even thrived even without the benefit of medical technology, support groups, and a good makeup mirror. My current rotation (in no particular order) is the Greek hero Achilles, pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny, Chevalier Charles d'Eon de Beaumont, Deborah Sampson, Albert Cashier, and Sarah Emma Edmonds. The last three fought in American wars and showed tremendous bravery living as men.

Part two is a brief fashion history of American women in the 19th century. Many are fascinated at my dress and how it is put together. After all, no one can go into any store today and buy clothing resembling such a dress. So many of my reenacting women friends talk of the feeling of putting on the dress and how it takes your mind back to a different time and place. It really is an amazing feeling. I describe the many layers of my outfit and the purpose of each. I also show period and reenacting photographs with various styles from around the Civil War.

Part three, the newest addition, is about Civil War era dancing. My recent discovery of contra dancing actually flows pretty well into many of the dances popular during the Civil War. Dancing was important as a social construct and as a form of escape from the rigors of war. Like any art form, the American dance had evolved from its European roots. Group dancing such as quadrilles (i.e. square dancing) were the predominant dance forms although couples dances like waltzing were popular as well. Of course, dancing in my dress is a bit more refined and gentile than the modern contra dance. If time and space permits, I try to show a few of the basic dance moves.

The final part is my stories from reenacting trips and living history including the story of the green dress, the Ghost Walks, and Bentonville. I also include terms and a brief history of Civil War reenacting. Many outsiders assume that reenacting is just dress-up and boys playing with toy guns. Nothing could be further from the truth as Civil War reenacting has become a serious hobby for many over the last 50 years. Many movies from recent years have relied upon the knowledge of seasoned reenactors for authenticity. Needless to say, my going out as a transgender women acts a bit of spice and intrigue to the story!

The presentation concludes with my hope that LGBT people will be inspired by my stories. I speak of ideas, thoughts, and aspirations that we put in little boxes only to set them aside and never consider. We used words like "fantasy", "impossible", "dream", and "wish." A few years ago, I decided to reconsider this idea of reenacting as part of my gender journey. I no longer wanted to dream and fantasize about it. I wanted to pursue it knowing that the path wouldn't be easy, but it would stretch and push me like never before. As a result, I have grown in both my mainstream presentation and my inner soul as a woman. The seminar is the result of that continuing journey.

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