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I'm quite sure I picked up the wrong one on my way out the door....

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Be-All 2011

Joanne and I just returned back fro Be-All in Chicago. It was our second year at this event and, as such, provided us with a perspective that was not apparent from our first time there.

If one has not been to the Be-All conference, it is an opportunity to meet and relate to other transgender gifted people and to do so in a safe and friendly environment. 85 percent of the seven floors in this large hotel were occupied by attendees and the many seminars, activities and meals were all provided on site or were off site and catered by the conference staff.

Rather than describing what we did at the conference, which could be summarized succinctly in any event, I would prefer to relate what I learned in relation to the community and to my own personal self. Having been able to experience the world as a transgender woman for another year, I had a new found perspective and level of maturity which I had not had prior. I had the ability to relate what I had learned of myself and witnessed in others during the span of that time. I saw changes both positive and negative as well as good and bad. I saw conquests and challenges overcome in some and new roadblocks introduced into the lives of others. Most importantly I saw changes in myself and relations made which helped me to solidify my own position of where I stand in the continuum of gender.

A transgender convention introduces one to a wide range of individuals who present their gender in vastly differing and unique ways both physically and mentally. One of the most unique perspectives I found was that there were many individuals who considered themselves to be women at heart but, when I spoke with them, I could only see them as men. My spouse, in almost every instance, came to the same conclusion independently as well. As a case in point, my spouse and I happened to be in the ladies' rest room when a transgender woman entered. After exchanging pleasantries, she motioned that to my spouse, while I was in the room as well, that she might need some help in the stall with undoing her dress. Of course, she did not volunteer and it was interesting as well that I was not asked... which of course would have mattered little as the context of the situation did not dictate or warrant the request made.

About a moment later, as we were continuing to prep and primp, another transgender woman entered and extolled out as she clomped into the room, that she needed to “take a **it”. I spun around and quickly glared shockingly at her and strained a response to her that perhaps she might, as a lady, consider rephrasing. Her response was rephrased in another similarly crass way. Interestingly, in conversing with this individual, I found that she only crossdressed for these sorts of events and that when she did, she seemed to play more of a caricature of a woman than that of a natal woman. Her manner of dress was more frilly and over the top than that of any woman I would ever see on the street, or at least on any street of good repute. For her, I could see that it was more of a hobby than as a need. Her expressing was more in line with that of what images of women are often portrayed as within the media but not as they are in reality. She dressed as a woman but spoke as a man... thought as a man... and presented as a man... in a dress. I saw many who fit this realm, claimed to be women at heart, but showed no sign of that ever to me. I could not have a discussion as women would have with other women on topics which women might speak of but topical level issues which the typical man would converse about were fair game instead.

On the other end of the spectrum, I met transwomen who purported to be women as well but who affirmed their femininity ranking by the hormones planned and the surgery and steps taken to coalesce their feminity. Apparently, these women seem to feel that those who have the courage to move forward to “become” women through these actions and steps are somehow more of a woman than those who do not. These are the “trannier than thou” quorum of women, who espouse their femininity and play down those who have not taken the same or as many steps as themselves.

I happened to run into a transwoman at the convention who I had met the previous September and who I had known back before she had ever taken a step out of her house for the first time as a female. Back then, I was the person she looked up to. She saw me as a beacon and positive force of strength and light in her own darkness. Through numerous conversations and chats online and back and forth messaging, I was able to help her find a direction and a path forward. She looked up to me and said so on many occasions that I was a woman at heart from the inside and a person who had wisdom and perspectives grounded in reality.

At the conference, I ran into her again and, this time, the interaction was totally surprising. She had been on hormones for nearly a year and was living full time as a woman, presenting as such at work as well. She knew I was continuing to live only part time as a woman and not on hormones. She understood that I was married to a wonderful spouse who accepted my femininity but also wished as well to still have the guise of the man she marred still in place to at least some degree. She knew I was working to hold all aspects of my life together, being compassionate and sensitive to the ones around me who needed time to understand and to transition with me. She knew all of these things....

      When I met her that evening, her second question to me after asking how I was doing was simply, “So when are you going to be starting hormones?”. I answered her in the same way as I had in times before that I was working within the parameters of the people who mean the most to me and who I was sensitive to.

Later that evening, she bluntly claimed to my spouse, Joanne, that I was clearly a cross-dresser... not a woman at heart but a casual guy-in-a-dress type cross dresser.  This happened while my spouse was standing in the buffet line and gesturing to me saying, "Christen?  She's over there" when the retort came loud enough for others to hear, “You know”, she said to my spouse, “She's a HE”. Joanne was clearly disturbed by her claims,  as she denounced my persona as a woman inside and instead making the claim which so many non-transgender individuals make of those transgender and basing my being entirely on the physicality that I had male sexual organs.  It was a rude, arrogant and blasphemous comment to make and one which upset both her and me when I later heard it. In her mind, I was not truly transgender for I had not taken the steps which apparently need to be demonstrated that would signify that I was truly a woman. Steps such as hormones and breast augmentation and surgeries which would justify this fact.

My spouse, Joanne retorted quickly to the public denigration by extolling loudly and proudly that I was truly a transgender female and rebuked her with “Christen is a woman.   She is transgender and a woman inside” and left the conversation at that.

This same person began to make claims about how her scheduled surgery was going to provide much better results than anyone else's and how much more money hers was costing but still being covered by her insurance plan at work.

What I have just related was only one example of the many I witnessed and endured at the convention. It was the “trannier than thou” mentality and the false justification that those who live part time as women are not women at heart or strong enough to become the women they see themselves as inside. Interestingly, the “becoming the woman you see yourself as inside mantra” which is touted constantly creates levels of tension for those who really and truly are women at heart but who, as compassionate, empathetic and selfless women, choose to consider all those in their families around them ahead of their own needs. It is a strong rift, but it seems to help those who have made the leap to womanhood, and those who have made that choice and lost much of their families and former lives justify their decisions in moving forward by denigrating those who do not follow in their footsteps. Apparently, my status as a woman and being referred to as “she” rather than as a “he” in her mind, and, from what I have seen now more clearly in others, is contingent upon my taking feminization steps such as hormones and augmentation surgery to “become” the woman.

Let me state for the record that from what I have seen, those who are following this mantra that one becomes the woman through the actions and augmentations they take to adjust their bodies seem, in my mind at least, to be the least like women overall. One is either born knowing they are women or not.  One does not become a woman through rearrangement of the body.  Yes, this may be the case physically but it is often not the case mentally.  The mindset of the true transgender woman acts, behaves and emotes as female irregardless of whether they have an alignment with the female anatomy or not.  Many I met seemed egotistical and full of type- “A” male traits. The ones who are holding back in the sidelines and are trying to be empathetic to their family's and loved ones needs and lives seem often to be the more feminine and truly transgender in the relation to the natal woman.  Again, this is what I have seen and observed to this point.

In another example, while I was sitting in a local restaurant, a former acquaintance I had known prior to her transitioning stopped by the table to say hello. After a brief chat, I mentioned to her that I saw her profile on facebook and that we did not seem to be friends on there. One of my good friends at the table was already friends with her there and on FaceBook and so I asked her if she would not mind if I friended her on there. Her response to me was that she would prefer if I did not friend her on FaceBook as she had many non-trans friends on her facebook page who did not know of her status. That was a reason that seemed to hold little water as what could possibly be the differences brought into the fold for a non-op versus post-op transexual that would differ?  Interestingly, this same person who would not allow me to friend her on FaceBook WOULD friend someone who was considered post-op transexual.  In fact, she spoke to another individual who was post-op and on her FaceBook friends list just prior to my asking her this question.  It would appear that my status as a friend seems hinged on whether or not I was post-op or not. Interestingly, this behavior is more common than I had ever first thought so I was not averse to it being the negative response that it was.

Another interesting incident occurred 3 days before we were to depart for Be-ALL. I received an email from the Be-All staff noting a change in one of the off-site excursions scheduled. Joanne and I had signed up for an evening trip to a local nightclub which occurs each year on one particular night of the event. The email I received contained a notice indicating that the club which the off site was tor be held at required a valid picture id which matched our gender presentation. The staff apologized for this last minute announcement and offered instead to continue with the initial offering without changing the venue initially assigned. In effect, this singled out the evening events to only those who were either post-op or who had obtained in some other way, the proper identification necessary to attend. To the event's credit, they did offer an ON-site event for those who would be unable to attend the off-site one.

Apparently the issues associated with picture id's matching gender presentation is a fairly recent change which has been instituted by a number of clubs in the Chicago area. Although it is an absoloute reason, the ideology appears to be rooted in the GLB community as well as with some of the hetero clubs which have taken up issue with the Transgender community and utilized this as a wedge point to discriminate. It was an unfortunate set of events but my major complaint was that the event coordinators did not consider this problem earlier and make the changes necessary to relocate the off-site event to a venue which would accept us all regardless of identification.

In several other situations, I ran across individuals who showed autogynephylic attitudes in their femininity.  These women found great pride in displaying their bodies and in the work performed to enhance their physical femininity.  The details were not just verbal, but in many cases, I had thrust upon me, photo album upon photo album of pictures of breasts and vagina's, in graphic detail.  I am sorry, and maybe it is simply just me, but even post-op, my body is a personal thing and I would not find interest or satisfaction in publishing myself as an object and a trophy attained.  To me, my body is a personal aspect of who I am and I would never impose to share it in such graphic detail without being asked first.  I can understand the pride that many have but the excitement by these individuals borders on self-lust and self-aggrandizement.   Be it known that I simply observe and will not judge.  I leave these thoughts for the reader to make their own assessments.

I learned a lot at this conference for sure.  I saw that many of those I looked up to at prior events were themselves guilty of ignorance, moral failures and callousness.  Some who had looked up to me now snubbed their nose downward in a derogatory fashion at my perceived inability to move forward.  To some it seemed that I stayed where I was because I was not truly transgender but merely a cross dresser.  I learned something about myself as well.  I chose to spend much of my time at the conference with a friends who truly meant something to me and to whom they valued my friendship for who I am inside.  I spent much of my time out and in the greater world and doing all the things I would be doing if I were living full time.  I found myself comfortable and at home within myself and I reveled in the fact that I did not have to feel like I was competing in some sort of dress up competition.  Although it may appear to many that I play up the Vanna White beauty queen role, I am in fact most comfortable to just be able to live my life as a simple me.  I'm learning who I am, and coming to terms with what it means to be a woman.  I thought I knew before but I am really beginning to just come to understand it now.  And the realization of who and what I am scares me more now than ever before.  I feel like I have boarded a plane that has backed away from the gate.  Please pray that I will find a way to be able to hold it all together on this journey.



6 comments:

Catherine Rose said...

Christen, I look at you and I see a woman. I listen to you and hear only female. I read your words and there is no doubt but that they are feminine viewpoint.

*I* look up to you for inspiration, not because you present more feminine than I, but because you are such a wonderful, loving, giving, caring person. THAT means more to me than all the makeup or skirts or heels in the world.

You seem to be holding it together very nicely, though I know how hard it can be sometimes, especially when we regularly put our loved ones before ourselves. But as you know, that carries its own rewards, and the effects are longer-lasting than those brought about by "self" thinking.

You keep on being Christen, Christen, and believe no one who tries to make you feel you're journeying incorrectly. <3

Jamie Burton said...

Christen -
Your writing is powerful and moving and I hope many more TG people from all over the spectrum get the chance to read this piece. Transgendered people all need to come together as a community for the benefit of all and yet instead divides are created and walls erected that prevent just that. I could not agree more with you that a little more decorum would be of great benefit as well.
Thank you for your openness and honesty.

Samantha Erica said...

OMG Christen!! You went through THAT??? Holy smokes... I had no idea (well I had ideas things like that happened but that's taking the cake & the silverware too!). I got a lot of looks myself when I went to FE and did an awful job with my makeup. Simply horrid. I got a few odd looks from people but no one said anything. Maybe because of a lot smaller venue, less people and more intimate since they're closer together -like local feel- but the larger venues seems to attract the oddest bunch of folks, not odd in their presentation per se, but in the fact, as you rightly called it 'trannier-than-thou'. It's really a shame that you came away with the hurt of feeling like you didn't belong there, when you are the very REASON that these events go on. To allow you to present and be open, to explore your female self and reach the direction in your life YOU need to go in. It's a terrible shame that you got treated like that. Because Christen and Joanne are beautiful.

Inside and out, without compare, you are my two best friends. You deserve the happiness, the joy and the love that comes from exploring your TRUE self and not worrying about what schedule you need to keep or what direction is or is not right for you to go in. You are not merely a 'cross-dresser', no WAY, SHAPE or FORM!! I've told you this before but I'll say it again, spending time with you is like manna from heaven, you are kind, sweet, compassionate and you fill my soul with completeness I have never found with anyone else. You and Joanne are not only the best friends I could ask for, you are an amazing couple who offer yourselves freely to your friends and also to people who are just starting out on this journey. I don't know where I would be but I know one thing's for sure-- I would be a lot less 'out', a lot more scared and a whole lot lonelier.

What I can say after reading that blog is a sense of personal disappointment and being treated as an outsider in a community where you should definitely NOT be an outsider. When these things disappoint you, do me a favor: think of me. Not in the sense of me telling you some amazing anecdote or having a witty line, but instead of the me that you helped nurture out of a very scared and lonely shell. That the hurt done to you is done to me as well, because I share part of your souls on this journey. We are friends on so MANY levels that I cannot say you are just my "friend". It's not fair. You are my SISTER, you are like my very own soul, projected further along this journey than I, but you share many, many things in common with me. Think of me and how I was at FE 2010 the first time we met, scared and uncertain but having the best time I could. It was the first time I had met humans like me, in real life, who felt one way but were forced into another. It was not our decision to be born male, but it IS our decision to do something that reconciles our true inner feelings with those we show outside. You showed me through confidence, compassion and deep spiritual friendships that it WAS possible, I COULD reconcile myself and my feelings, I did NOT have to be an outsider looking in through a foggy window, wondering what it would be like to get warm and sit by the fireside having a cozy chat.

You are more than a woman, Christen and you know this to be true. I just want you to think about me and all the wonderful things you have done for me when these situations come up. Because there is a beautiful person inside of you, she is the most wonderful friend I know. Her and her spouse love and respect one another and are made for each other. You have the spirit there, all there, inside of you and that is the most special thing of all. You are truly my sister AND my best friend. You are unique and so very special. I love you both and you have made me very, very happy every time I see you or talk to you.

Love and HUGS
~Sammi

Christen Bustani said...

Thank You for comments all. I just added another piece to the entry as well. You know, I'm beginning to feel that I am more the woman than many who I have looked to as icons. I say that humbly, with modesty and with deep regret as I would wish to have not seen what I did see. It is truly a test of time for the true colors and motivations of many to come through. It is not that these individuals were ever hiding any of it... but it was me who wished not to see.

Monica said...

I always cringed seeing that type of behavior being played out. My attention was never drawn at the one on the receiving end but zeroed in on the person with the huge character flaw. I always put more emphasis on being a better human ahead of my gender which for almost all humans can be questionable in one way or another.
It is a pity that a person would put all that time, money,pain and effort to end up still being less of a person.

Victoria Price said...

It is more than ironic that there seems to be such a discriminatory environment at play in the tg community. Heterosexual married crossdresser trumps guy with a fetish. Transgender beats heterosexual crossdresser. Full time beats part time. On hormones is over non hormones. Implants over hormones only. And post-op. Over pr-op. And honey, don't forget your ffs. We all hate being stuck in a binary gender world and then turn around and want to segment anyone and everyone we meet and identify them as "something" while we buck at being labelled ourselves. Sometimes I think we can be more bigoted and sexist than the public at large. Some actress just came out as gay and in her announcement said something to the effect that it would b nice if we could just recognize and celebrate the beauty in all of us. It would be so lovely if we could all support o

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