Monday, April 6, 2015

Keystone Conference 2015 Part 2

Friday morning dawned with... SNOW!  Harrisburg was forecast to get three to six inches of snow there on the first day of Spring.

View out the hotel room window

Fortunately, we didn't get all that much- really it was just a nuisance.  I didn't have to go anywhere so I didn't care.

Dr. Rachel Levine

The lunch speaker was Acting Physician General of Pennsylvania Dr. Rachel Levine.  She spoke about working hard to reach goals, oh, and by the way, she also happens to be trans.  I thought the speech was quite appropriate and damn good- she didn't get her position from an accident of birth- she worked hard for it!

While everyone was listening to the Doctor, Sandy Empanada arrived at the hotel.  I bumped into her after lunch, and we sat in the Dog and Pony catching up.

Me and Sandy

Our table grew, as it is wont to do when Sandy is around, as everyone wants to be around her.  Joining us, among others, was Dr. Ken Dollarhide, who speaks on religious topics at conferences and has made helping transpeople his mission.  We talked about his recent trip to Thailand, where he followed a group of Kathoey (thai transexual women) who worked in prostitution.  He wanted to see how they lived and see what, if anything could be done to help their condition.  We spoke about this for 45 minutes and it was fascinating.  The only reason we stopped was that I wanted to go to a writing seminar, which I did.

The writing seminar was chaired by three people, and they all did a reading from their works, then opened the discussion about Why we write, and other topics.  It was wonderful.  During the session I entered a dialogue with a former reporter from Chicago who was an experienced interviewer, but wanted the answers for her questions to be what she expected, not what they were.  It was lively and came down to again- WHY do we write?  Her reason for writing is different from mine- she specifically wants to inform and expose, but wants to change that to something "softer" while I write this stuff.  ;)

Evening came, and I dressed for the Vanity Club dinner.  We had a bus to ourselves as we were going to a different part of downtown Harrisburg.  But first there were cocktails in the dealer area!  I caught up with a few people, and stood for many pictures.

With the beautiful Olivia

Dinner was at the Firehouse.  I watched my dear friend Ally receive her pin.  I was also introduced to a woman named Samantha, who was a delight.  She sat next to me at the dinner.  Many pictures were taken, as usual.  Dinner was phenomenal.  Linda ordered the fish and chips, and got Moby Dick breaded!  It was HUGE!  I had steak that was so big I took half of it back to the hotel.  

With the gorgeous Ally.  I'm wearing her necklace

After dinner, some people stayed in downtown Harrisburg to dance the night away.  I decided to go back to the hotel.  I arrived to find the sisters of my support group deep in discussion.  The next day was to be a tribute to Dr. Osborne for her retirement and there were many details to be hammered out.  There was a bit of debate, several people including myself, made suggestions, and eventually everything was settled.  Two people would mesh their great speeches together and present them together.  

I was tired and went to bed around midnight.  The next day was the Gala.

Saturday was the final day of the conference.  I woke and got ready as there were seminars to attend and people to see.  Before the speaker took the stage, our group was introduced and we took the stage.  Our speakers Lilia and Victoria masterfully gave their speech and I presented a collage that group member Tammi made for Dr. Osborne.  Dr. Osborne received a standing ovation as she joined us on stage, and gave a tear filled thank you.  The surprise was total!

 My Dear Friends Amy and Victoria

Linda and me at lunch

The lunch speaker was Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, who spoke about how many victories we’ve won and how a certain political party is desperately trying to destroy those victories.  Yes, the tea partiers and their bathroom bills weren't mentioned by name, but they were referenced many times.  

Michael Silverman

After lunch I attended a session and drifted about a bit, catching up with still more people.  That night was the Gala.  I kept my appointment with Donna Miller to get my hair styled then changed into my gown for the evening.  

My gown was simple and flamenco flavored.  I'd worn it to New Years at the Raven a few years before.  Ally lent me a necklace that went with it perfectly.  I knew I'd be underdressed compared to most of the women, but I didn't care.  I was comfortable in my own skin.  

Photo by Kristyn King

The dinner speaker was seventeen year old Nicole Maines, who made history in Maine by winning a landmark TG rights case there. Nicole really impressed me.  She was introduced by her father, who gave the keynote last year.  As some may remember, Nicole's family was chased from their town by tea partiers who thought she was some kind of pervert for wanting to use the ladies room.  Death threats against a nine year old child- THAT'S the GOP.  They had to go into hiding.  But Nicole's family eventually won, and the case set precedent for other cases like it around the country. 

Nicole was a fantastic speaker, especially for her age.  Later in the night, after I'd changed out of my gown, I had the chance to meet her and I told her how polished I thought her speech was.  She was so happy to hear it!  (Not that my opinion matters- I told her I am a former English teacher, which I am.)

 I spent the rest of the night bouncing between watching the band and going to the bar.  So many people were there!  Such a change from the first year!

And while I'm thinking about it, without the volunteers, there would be no Keystone Conference.  Thanks to Transcentral PA and specifically Jenny Jensen, Katie Ward, Julie Berry, Becky Leight, Robin and Monica Nin, Kendra and Sara Edwards, Dee Anne Fields, Janelle and Cindy Whitman, Suzanne and Judy Robinson, Tyler Joel Davies, Tammy Christine Morgan, Hayden Denton, Suzanne Olivia, Gretchen Lyons, and Steffie.  

And did I mention how grateful I am to the conference for the scholarship?  THANKS AGAIN!

So, how did I pay for everything else?  Well, I've lived without credit cards for over a decade.  But I took up American Express on its offer of a card specifically for conference expenses.  And that's how I paid for everything else.  I'm paying it off monthly.  

End tangent.

With the beautiful Sandy Empanada

The night ended for me around 1 AM.  I was so tired, and just didn't feel like drinking.  The band ended its set, and while there were after parties in many rooms, I decided not to partake.  And so the next morning, I went to breakfast and wasn't hungover.  And like in years past, there were so many sad male faces at breakfast.  I was reminded of my dear friend Hayden's words from a few years ago: 

"It was eerie. When I close my eyes and think about the walk to the Dog & Pony on Sunday morning I swear I can hear dying echos of the most genuinely delightful laughter. It's like hearing ghosts from the past, Sophie."

And so it was again.  This time, Linda and I sat with friends at breakfast.  And this time, the Conference made the front page of the Harrisburg Newspaper.  There had also been a news crew on Thursday.  They interviewed me, but I don't think my little bit (they asked me about "the pain of being trans") made it to air.  
"The" Jenny North looks mischievous 

Anyway, breakfast was quiet and even a bit sedate.  There were more hangovers than waffles in that room.  After we ate (mmm Bacon) Linda and I packed my car, then went around and said our goodbyes.  Ally had to wait for her ride to wake up.  So after all the farewells, my final image of the Keystone Conference 2015 was the gorgeous Ally standing outside the hotel on a beautiful sunny Sunday morning, waving us goodbye.

And an two hours later, we were back at the apartment, needing to do laundry.  It's amazing how swiftly the Fantastic becomes mundane.  

Keystone always makes me reflective.  I've written before about why we need conferences.  And we do.  They are an outlet.  I wonder how many more of us would commit suicide if we didn't have conferences as an outlet.  A bit morose, but there it is.  Keystone has been, for me over the years; a source of terror, pain, but mostly tremendous Joy.  This year, was not an exception- for the Joy.  So many new faces blossoming and learning about themselves.  So many new Journeys.  

Like the Necklace?

Journeys.  So many speak of this condition this way.  But really, there isn't a better metaphor.  It IS a journey.  For some, that journey just means an occasional expression of femininity on a weekend or two.  For others, still more, and for a few of us, the Journey consumes our life.  It sure as hell isn't easy.  As I told the news people, I wouldn't wish this Pain on anyone.  And those who can accept that this is the Path that they must walk, no matter how often they tread it,  They are among the bravest of people.  

So for those for whom this was their first conference, Welcome to your Journey.  To my friends with whom I reconnected, seeing you again is the beauty of this conference.  To those who may attend someday, if you can afford it please come.  You won't find a more welcoming family anywhere.

Thanks to Jeanine Ruhsam and Kristy Snow, and all of your volunteers for a wonderful time.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful writeup! It was definitely a great time, they put on a wonderful conference. And I'm jealous you got a chance to meet Nicole...she was a terrific speaker with an amazing story. (And a great follow-up to her dad last year, who also was a terrific speaker.) Still can't believe the snow, but at least it didn't interfere with anything. Great seeing you there!