Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Southern Comfort Odyssey III: Galas and Goodbyes

If you haven't read the previous bits, they are linked below:

Part 1

Part 2

Friday I slept in a little bit.  Conferences are tiring.  What with all the walking around, chatting with people, drinking... ok I'm not exactly making my case.  The tiring part is because I feel I have to be "on" all the time or no one will want to meet me.  Yes, I know that doesn't make sense.  Yes, I know I should just be myself.  No, I can't believe it's not butter.

Anyway, sleep was nice.  I needed it.  And Friday was a swirl of speaking with people, food and fun.  Am I being vague on purpose?  No.  The fact is that I didn't keep notes on SCC like I do with Keystone, as I assumed I would be writing about it immediately while the memories were still fresh.  But I couldn't.  So my thoughts on Friday are a blur.

I remember ending the night in the Vanity Club suite with maybe a dozen sisters, drinking wine.  It was very relaxed and informal.  I discovered that Ana Christina Garcia's heels caused her a bit of foot damage, and I applied first aid (yay paramedic training!) for which she was very grateful.  I hadn't felt this welcome and accepted since my first Renaissance meeting.  I made the right choice in accepting their invitation to join.

Late night

Saturday, however, is a different story.  No blur.

I had breakfast downstairs in the restaurant.  The buffet was far faster than the table service (which always seemed to crawl) and the food was good.  I then went to the bar and attempted to finish reading the book for my TG Forum article.  I sat facing the entrance, as I usually do. 

I was reading along nicely in the sun-lit, quiet bar (that wasn't open yet technically) when an older woman came in.  Let's call her Jackie.  She was in her late 70s, and she sat at my table and started talking.  She was very nice, and had stories of what life as a TG was like in the 1950s and 60s. 

Then Linda Lewis came in, and invited her and her friend to join us, which she did.

Then, over her shoulder, I saw a MAJOR surprise.

Standing at the entrance to the bar, suitcase on the floor beside her, was Lisa Empanada.  She was waving at me.  My jaw dropped and my spirit soared!  She had told me she wouldn't be making this conference!  I excused myself from the table, headed over and hugged Lisa.

"Surprise!" she said.

We briefly discussed her trip and I invited her to sit at my table, which she did.  I introduced her to Linda and the others.  Then my "Big Sister" Mel with Donna Rose came in.  Then more.  Suddenly there were ten or so people in a bar that wasn't open, and the Nook I'd borrowed was sitting unused. 

Lisa in her Travelling Clothes

After a little bit, Lisa left to check in.  Linda had lunch plans, so Mel, Donna and I went to lunch in the big room.  There were some empty tables, and the three of us sat at one. 

Soon a large, beautiful African American woman asked to join us, and we happily invited her to do so.  I'll call her Bernadette.  She was at least 6'6" and very muscular.  I figured her for an athlete.  She hinted that she was a former pro athlete, but didn't say the sport.  By her build, I guessed football.  She was extremely pleasant and she and Donna discussed athletics as a transwoman. 

After lunch, I finally finished the book, and started writing my review in my writing notebook.  I wouldn't finish it by deadline, but my editor Angela was forgiving.

As part of "payment" for bringing her down to Atlanta, Linda was going to give me a makeover on Saturday.  She wasn't going to accept my money as a gift, which I understood.  However, I decided to cancel said makeover.  My thinking was that would give her more time to herself and to enjoy the conference.   What I HADN'T figured was that Linda genuinely WANTED to do the makeover for me.  And that my cancellation hurt her. 

Great job Soph.  Meet one of your inspirations and piss her off.  Bravo.

The thought never occurred to me that Linda Lewis, icon of the community, would actually WANT to make me look better and to teach insignificant me some makeup tips along the way.  And of course, I didn't find any of this out until later.

Saturday night was the gala.  It was also the Vanity Club "group picture" where everyone is in gowns and their best finery.  So the photographer set those who were there up and snapped a few pics... but not everyone was there.  Linda was absent.  Turns out she was helping Devrah with her makeup.

I wore my red sheath dress, as my cocktail dress still needed cleaning (go figure.) 

With Stephanie

Lisa sat with me at the gala, and looked amazing as always.  We talked about many topics:  makeup (she thought I should spruce up my makeup with more colors- seven in fact- and drew me a diagram that I can't find); her weight (she felt she was getting huge); and Vanity Club (she hated clubs and jokingly called me a "snob.") 

A Toast

She also told me that I wasn't allowed to buy any drinks that night.  As the previous week was so viciously bad, she was going to buy ALL my drinks that night.  Which she did.  And I bought hers, despite her objections. 

After dinner, I saw Linda who wondered if the VC photo would be taken soon.  I told her that it already has and she was so angry.  And that's when she told me she was upset at me as well.  I apologized profusely.  And I decided to make it up to her.  After speaking to the VC VP, I ran about re-gathering the Sisters to retake the picture WITH the missing people.  It took a few minutes, but I managed to find most of them, and the pictures were re-taken, this time with Linda and others.  I said I would photoshop the two together, and I will.  As soon as I can find them.

I then went upstairs to call home.  I wanted to talk to Wife and daughter.  And so I did.  Daughter sounded a bit down, and I asked her if she would be ok.  She said "I'll be ok when you come home, daddy.  Come home, please?'

And Wife took the phone from her just in time... as I absolutely lost it in a flood of tears.  I shook with sobs and told Wife I would call back.  I then curled up in a ball on the bed and cried my eyes our for I don't know how long.  When I managed to pull myself together, I called Wife back, then looked in the mirror.  Well, the dress had tears and mascara all over it.  So I changed to a t-shirt and shorts. 

But my mood had changed as well.  My daughter had ripped out my heart.  I felt melancholy as I headed back downstairs

I found Lisa near one of the bars.  She'd changed clothes as well.  She saw my mood, and we sat one a stone ledge in the lobby and talked.  And drank a bit. 

We discussed being a good parent.  She hadn't liked my idea of getting them a house.  And she felt that the only way to be the best possible parent to my daughter was to be a complete person. 

To transition.

I cried on her shoulder.  She also suggested that I be myself for the long drive home the following day. 

We hugged, and she held me closer than ever.  We parted ways, as I headed back to my room for some much needed sleep.  I turned and waved to her.  She waved back, smiling.

It was the last time I saw her alive.

Gala Dinner- Lisa in an unguarded moment: Dreaming

The next morning, I woke early and finished packing.  I told Mel I was going to drive as Sophie, as it wasn't like I could choose to turn of my gender once I'm full time.  Mel didn't like that idea.  I pointed out that she does it.  She said "I have an F as a gender marker and my legal name is feminine.  I have a vagina.  You have none of those things.  This is the deep south, so you're asking for trouble."

Mel and I waited for the elevator to the parking area, and there was a guy wearing a baseball cap there as well.  Looked like he was dressed for a fun afternoon of driving with a white shirt and shorts.  He looked at Mel and I and said "Oh, hi Sophie! I'm [one of my influences I met that week.]"  Then he smiled a very familiar smile.  My mouth dropped open.  No freaking way was this guy the amazing woman I met!  WOW!  And there is no WAY that anyone would ever suspect she and he were the same person- ever.

I drove in drab.  Thirteen long hours.  I arrived at my place after dark, and with my leg in pain from sitting.

Bikers at a South Carolina rest stop.

My first Southern Comfort experience ended quietly.

So.  A Week away.  A full week that happened days after a major trauma, and a week before another.  What lessons did I learn?  What experiences helped me grow?  Was it worth all the time and money?

Yes, it absolutely WAS worth the time and money.  I met so many of my influences and heroines.  I learned many things and expanded my horizons as a woman. 

Of all the lessons I learned, there were a few that stood out.

1)  Back before my fem side re-emerged, I learned of some of the people who would become my influences.  I learned from their words, pictures, and admired them for their courage in doing something that I couldn't: look like a beautiful woman.  I put them on pedestals.  I've met many of my influences over the years and none have disappointed me.  However, I never met so many at one place.  And I learned something I shouldn't have taken for granted:  That these women are people just like me- that the life they show us in their pictures is only a part of who they are.  I always thought that BECAUSE they were so beautiful and accomplished at this, then they HAD to be happy, right?  Well, not always.

Some of these women are cross dressers and are happy slipping between roles.  Others are full time or fully transitioned.  All have concerns, emotions, and problems.  And they can be hurt.  But they keep going- keep plowing forward.  And while now I consider them friends, I still am influenced by them.  By their compassion, courage, and their openness. 

2) Take NO ONE for granted.  When I last saw Lisa, I assumed I'd see her again in a couple of weeks.  We texted each other daily until near the end.  And I DID see her in a couple of weeks- but she was in drab and lifeless in a coffin.  As a paramedic, I learned of life's fragility and in how many ways it could end.  But being TG, I learned about the resilience of the human spirit.  I took it for granted that Lisa and I would continue our lives and friendship as we moved toward transition. 

And now she's gone. 

3) Maybe, just maybe, I am worth something in this world.  People seemed to want me around- didn't push me away.  I sat with people I admire, and they accepted me as an equal.  I even had someone tell me I was an influence!  To some I come across as brash, but the fact is that I'm still just a scared little girl inside.  It's so easy to be overwhelmed by life WITHOUT transition... then add in the additional stress of the changes... 

My whole life I had zero self worth.  Recognizing my femininity has put me on the road to repairing that.  Meeting and hanging out with people like Donna Rose, Linda Lewis, Lana Moore, and so many, many others and NOT feeling like an annoyance was such an affirming experience.  I AM a better person as a woman than I ever was as a guy.  I have a lifetime of self-hatred to overcome.  But thanks to the friendship and generosity of others, I know I will do just that. 

And become the True and Complete Person I was born to be. 

Maybe someday I'll even be...


Lunch on Wednesday


1 comment:

  1. Sophie,
    Every time I see you, hear you, chat both important things, and fun nonsense..I see a beautiful woman, both inside and out. I am honored to have you as a friend and sister. Losses and gains are to be had in this game of life. I'm just glad to know you, and the joy you bring.