Sunday, February 26, 2012

Transitioning Between Communities

The word “transition” can mean so many things. In the transgender community, it is usually meant as a catch-all phrase for those moving from one gender presentation to the other. It can mean some combination of hormones, therapy, cosmetic surgery, full time living, etc. In reality, it is at some level revealing more of your inner self in your outward presentation. It can be full of unexpected twists and turns. One that I did not think would ever happen is my near complete departure from the LGBT community.

For the first eight years of being out as Stephanie (1998-2006), I was fully content to be involved in the transgender community with occasional forays into the gay and mainstream world. With some periods of inactivity, I was happy to have friends with Kappa Beta in Charlotte and help the new girls where I could. Essentially, my life was a couple days a month being Stephanie and the rest being “that other guy.” At some point, I realized being Stephanie was more than the clothes and make-up. It was about being who I am and not just doing feminine things.

Other the next few years, I became more involved with the local LGBT community beginning with the formation of the Charlotte Gender Alliance (CGA). I liked CGA as it was more about support for those transitioning. I also returned to Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) in Atlanta in 2006 and was so impressed with the advances that I offered to volunteer in the technical side.

In February 2007, several transgender friends and I attended the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) Gala in Charlotte. I understand it was one of the largest representations from our community at the time. After dinner and the speeches, our two tables split up and began mingling and sharing our stories. I wore my strapless pink dress that night and felt on top of the world. I even danced a bit that night. It was not a pretty sight, but I loved every minute. More importantly, I felt I had connected with many attendees. We appeared to be making progress.

The cruel reality of our position came crashing down when gender identity language was removed from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the fall. Just a few weeks earlier, Joe Solmonese spoke at SCC promising HRC would not support such a bill. That promise was broken when, with HRC support, ENDA was written only to add sexual orientation to job discrimination laws. It passed the House but never went to the Senate. The bill has never returned to the floor for a vote. The events were even more shocking considering HRC signed many memberships while at the 2007 SCC. No apology has ever been given directly from HRC to anyone involved with SCC since that time.

Still I was committed to continued involvement at the local level in Charlotte. I especially enjoyed organizing events at the LGBT Community Center where transgender people could speak and discuss issues in a welcoming environment. I was also working at mainstream events including the Ghost Walk at Latta Plantation. My love of Civil War reenacting was growing, and I wanted to find a place where I could present as the real me. That search is still ongoing. Fortunately I have many online friends who are quite supportive.

In March 2009, I was introduced to contra dancing. I never thought I would fall for something as hard as I have for this. Even more importantly, I never would have imagined that I could just be me. The combination of acceptance, great live music, aerobic activity, and twirly skirts drew me in. I even began to make girlfriends who could help me with feminine advice. It's something that I never had before, and it's been a huge boost to my presentation.

In the meantime, the LGBT Community Center was tightening its affiliation with HRC, and I was having more arguments about ENDA and other transgender issues. Often, I was told to “get over it.” For the record, I will never get over my trans sisters and brothers committing suicide because they can't find a job. It was difficult going to meetings at the center knowing they supported an organization that had treated my community with utter disregard. Eventually, my voice was no longer effective as no one wanted to hear what I had to say. That is usually my cue that it is time to do or go someplace different. Will I be back? I'm sure I will, but I can't say when or where.

In contrast, my time at contra dances and reenacting is rewarding and important although not for the reasons some may think. I am not at the dances to expose the world to transgender people. I do hope I am being a good representative, but I do that wherever I go. I'm always happy to talk about my life as a transgender woman, but that's not my priority. It is unconscionable to me to force myself and my personal issues on anyone. That is not why everyone else is at a dance or reenactment.

I'm at dances to share a fun and amazing experience. I reenact for the love of history and pretty southern belle dresses. Along the way, I help newcomers participate and grow. I make friends with whom I share laughs, hugs, a shoulder, silly movie quotes, and life in general. I get so much positive reinforcement with all the smiles and kind words. With my closest friends, I am much more than the transgender girl. They know it's part of who I am but not all of it. That's a huge step for me in my realtionships.

Both the HRC Gala and the February dance in Charlotte were last night. I know many in the transgender community who attended. I hope their voices are being heard. I also hurt for all of us affected by the Amendment One vote in North Carolina in May. It is an important issue that I hate we have to deal with. Still, I know I was in the right place at the dance as several friends are going through tough times, and we needed to be there for each other. Dancing has a way of making it better. It is hard to explain unless you've experienced it, but it is so true.

Like all life decisions, it comes down to where I am most effective. In one place, I am growing. The other, I was stagnant. In one place, I feel welcomed and even loved. The other place had become toxic. I'm exactly where I need to be.

1 comment:

Paige Dula said...

Very well written post, Stephanie. As you well know I share a lot of the same feelings and misgivings surrounding the HRC/LGB/Trans subject. I am disheartened to hear that you rec'd so much of the "get over it" reactions. Why must it be so hard to get our POV across to a community that has suffered very much the same way we have?

I applaud your decision to focus your time and efforts in communities where you feel loved and supported. I've done much the same by focusing my time and effort with LGBT youth.