Sunday, November 22, 2015

Presentation at Abington

November 11 is a special day in this country, as it is in several countries.  Here in the US, we celebrate Veterans Day, as we honor those who have served our nation in the armed forces.  In other countries, it is called Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.  All of the holidays have their roots in the ending of World War I, which ended at 11 AM, November 11, 1918.  38 million people died in that war, and none who served in that war, anywhere, are alive today, as the last known veteran died in 2012.  In this country, we used to have a minute of silence of 11 AM on that day, and several countries still do.  Here in the US, we changed it to Veterans Day in 1954 to also honor those who fought all wars.  And so it remains today.

Armistice Day celebration, 1918, Philadelphia

I had this in mind on November 11, 2015 as I drove to the Abington Campus of the Pennsylvania State University, where I was scheduled to give a presentation.

I'd reached out to the psychology and gender studies departments of several local universities, offering my services to speak about being Transgender.   I received several replies, and met some wonderful people from several campuses.  The first scheduled appearance was at Penn State Abington, as I had some help from my amazing former boss and mentor, Dr. Dolores Fidishun.

Flyer posted by PSU Abington advertising my visit

The Topic of my presentation was Transgender 101.  The plan was to have a short lecture, supported by power point, answer frequently asked questions, then take questions from the audience.  I had no idea how many people would attend.  I invited several friends to join me.  My roomie and bestie Linda Lewis happened to have the day off, so she came along.

I arrived at around 11:30, and we quickly found the room where I'd be presenting.  I set up my power point, and waited.  A dear friend and coworker, the beautiful Delia, volunteered to record the presentation with her ipad.  She and Linda sat front and center.  Soon, Dr Sessa, who had invited me, arrived.

Soon friends arrived as well.  Lilia, Beth, and Vanessa from my support group were welcome additions.  I've known Vanessa forever.  She doesn't get out much en femme due to her job, so I was very happy she could make it.  I took it as a good omen.

Linda and Delia set up the ipad.

I had no idea how many people would be coming, and was pleasantly surprised when students began arriving.  Eventually, around forty students and at least four professors were sitting in the room, patiently awaiting the noon hour.  All students at this campus have a break from 12- 12:50, which is why I was scheduled at that time.  At a few minutes after 12, Dr. Sessa introduced me, and I started the presentation.

One of my slides.  I used this one twice, actually.

I was nervous at first, and it showed.  My teaching style has always been an "active" one: I'm not a "podium hugger."  I like to walk a little and engage the audience.  However, early in the presentation, I paced like a tigress on acid in a cage.  I hadn't spoken to a group this large about trans topics before this.  I soon found my stride though.  I knew the material, and felt it in my heart.  All I had to do was to be able to convey the information in a way that the students would absorb it.

Still from the video.  Only picture of me doing the presentation that I have.

I was told that some students may pack up and leave early, as they had to get to their classes.  However only four did.  The rest stayed until the bitter end.  For those students: I apologize if I made you late to class.

The Q&A went well.  Lilia and Vanessa stood with me as we fielded questions.  Beth also chimed in.

I think it went well.  Dr. Sessa invited me back next semester, and shared some of the reaction papers with me.  In fact, I made the "banner headline" of the PSU Abington newspaper site.

Front page

The article.  I'm "jarring."

I shared the video with some people.  Why don't I share it with everyone?  Well, Vanessa appears in it, and she is very closeted.  For her, exposure could lead to job loss.  So I will not post it.

After the presentation, I spoke to some students individually, especially Jarabi Opulence, who runs the LGBT group at PSU Abington.  (She's so beautiful, she could be a model!)  Our group then went to lunch, where Delia kindly joined us.  Lunch was wonderful.

Vanessa left first, as she had to clean up before her son came home from school.  As it turns out, she had a magical day herself, full of acceptance from some she didn't expect.  She told me she thinks she passed a "tipping point."  I hope so.  She's an amazing person who has had a hard time with things, and she deserves happiness.

Linda and I drove back to the apartment.  I was very tired.  Delia uploaded the video to youtube (don't bother looking for it, it's private) and that night I analyzed it.  I sent it to a few people and solicited their opinions.

All in all, I'm happy with it.  I was invited back, and, according to the student reaction papers sent to me, my message came across.  Next semester, I'll revise it and try again.  I also hope to speak at Villanova and Penn State Brandywine, and I'll solicit other schools as well.  Why schools?  Most people attend schools to learn, so they are open minded.  They are willing to listen to ideas they had never considered (unless of course they were brought up in an environment of hate...).  If I can reach just a few, then slowly there will be change.  Change for the better.

Not a bad goal, I'd say!

Be well.

At the PSU Abington Lion, before the presentation


  1. Sophie -

    I wish I had seen your presentation.... Recently, I was on a TG panel of my own. It's a nice thing to go out and educate people - and fun too.

    Good luck!!!!


  2. Here in the UK we still now it as Remembrance day, our main act of remembrance is on the nearest Sunday, when we remember all of the fallen in all wars, whichever side they may have fought on. We remember in the hope that by doing so we will avoid repeating such carnage.

    Memory without action is not remembrance.

  3. Thanks for the shout out Sophie!

    I appreciate your nod to my privacy, but I'm sorry you can't share your wonderful presentation to everyone. Thank you for your gracious sacrifice! It was a true pleasure to participate. Like you said, something happened to the way I look at myself after the experience. I'm returning to therapy and have created a Vanessa FB page. I've never been closer to feeling like I can "break out". Thanks to you.

    You are a beautiful, intelligent woman who I admire and count as a friend forever.