Friday, September 28, 2018

So I Went to the Philadelphia Transgender Wellness Conference

Recently I attended the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference for the first time. And spoiler alert but I had an absolutely fantastic time. It was truly a wonderful time and I can't wait to go back.

When I had first heard of the conference I was a bit apprehensive. My history with transgender groups and people has often been one of denial and self-segregation. That might sound weird, but I think I tended to shy away from other transgender women except online. Online I could develop friendships but actually hanging out with other trans people? That made things feel too real for me. Better to keep things at a healthy distance right?

Well, when I finally did end up finding a local transgender women's group, I went and found that I didn't really feel like I fit in. Most of the people were much younger than me. Many were still in college. So the group felt permeated by some aggressive far left thought and dominated by a handful of strong personality individuals. It was a safe space, but I didn't feel that comfortable. It wasn't quite my scene.

Politically I'm pretty fair left (at least farther left than most) and consider myself a progressive or even a democratic socialist. And yet, I occasionally find myself annoyed by the far left. So, when I thought about travelling to Philadelphia for a transgender wellness conference I wasn't super excited. In my mind I pictured a large group of people walking on eggshells, afraid to speak for fear of being jumped upon but a tiny minority of loud spoken holier than thou trans activists.

Another reason that I felt a little apprehensive is that I'm usually the only the only transgender person in the room. It kinda makes me special. Around my friends being transgender is my thing! Being at a conference full of other transgender people? Suddenly I'm no longer special. I'm ordinary.

I was totally wrong to be apprehensive. In fact, the conference was welcoming and accepting. There were no loud mouth activists trying to assert holier-than-thou dominance. Everyone was relaxed, cool, and having a great time. From the moment we walked in to the moment we left I felt amazing. I didn't feel like a freak, didn't feel like an outsider. I felt welcomed and accepted and it was awesome. There was such an upbeat positivity to the whole event. The organizers really did a fantastic job.

Each day there were tons of different classroom sessions all all different aspects of transgender life; everything from surgery to insurance to religion, voice, criminal justice, political activism, and more. Kath and I did a whole episode about the conference so I won't go into detail on each particular session suffice to say that they were (for the most part) highly interesting and informative.

In general these were fun and informative. Once I heard our first speaker (in the silicone injection talk) swear and joke around I knew we wouldn't be walking on eggshells. The Gender Minorities in the Bible was super fun for me, even as an atheist. Until we were talking about queerness in the Bible, I hadn't realized how I kind of missed good discussions on the Bible. The voice talks were quite helpful and gave me some good tips and tricks, including on how to cough in a feminine manner. The humor was great but the witchcraft one was a bust as was the non-theistic perspectives talk. But the Biological Studies was fantastic. It was about the science behind gender dysphoria and it was a standing room only crowd. Spoiler alert - there's lots of science but nothing conclusive. And getting FFS covered by insurance was a great boon as I had never even realized it was possible!

Plus Kath and I got recognized about ten or twelve times. So my fears of being ordinary in a room full of other transgender people turned out to be false! It really does make one feel pretty special to be recognized. Of course we weren't anywhere near as famous as some attendees. One YouTube channel was there and had a long line of people waiting to meet them. So I can feel special but without it going to my head too much.

Beyond the talks, there were social events scheduled each evening. Kath and I tend to be introverted, but thankfully some cool people introduced themselves and we had a blast making new friends. The first event on Thursday night was a party (with open bar) at a nearby museum. I'd always wanted to attend a party at a museum. Kath and I even dressed up. Though sadly, no super villains showed up to steal the museum's prized collection of jewels. You can't have everything right?

There was another party on Friday night. At this point I should say that the convention center doesn't seem to be in the best part of Philadelphia. There were a lot of homeless people around. And our hotel, which we picked for its close proximity to the convention center, was next door to a half-way house. There was a long underpass (maybe a hundred yards long) between our hotel and the convention center. As Kath didn't want to attend Friday's party due to tiredness, I decided to go by myself. That meant walking a hundred yards by myself through a poorly lit underpass past about twenty homeless people. I did not feel safe. Thankfully I wasn't harassed or anything and there were other convention attendees also walking along so it wasn't that unsafe. But I didn't quite feel safe. That party turned out to be more of a drag show than a real party. As I don't personally care for drag I didn't stick around for too long.

Now, as I had never been to Philly, we had to try out the local delicacies (I apologize right now for the food pictures in this post. Delicious though they are, these are not photogenic foodstuffs). The convention center was across the street from the Reading Terminal Market, which is a gigantic open area with various shops and restaurants. Apparently it features some of Philly's most famous foodstuffs (or at least the ones that tourists love because they were on Food Network). 

We had the famous roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich that people told us about, but it was mostly just bland. Kath didn't even finish it and gave the other half of it to a homeless person. There were a lot of Amish stalls including one that did amazing barbeque and another that made equally amazing (and equally greasy) breakfast sandwiches. We finally got to try pork roll/Taylor ham, which is apparently a New Jersey specialty food. It's basically saltier, fancier baloney. 

We also had to make sure we tried Philadelphia's most important culinary export; the cheesesteak. For this we walked to Pat's, which is apparently one of the two most famous cheesesteak places in Philly. The other is racist, so we didn't go there. 

And we discovered that the cheesesteak is best when covered with Cheeze Whiz and grilled onions is the best option. Who wouldn've thunk that Cheeze Whiz would be good? We were seriously surprised and ended up eating two more cheesesteaks (at different places) with those same fixins. Tough later we would discover that hot peppers make it even better.

On Sunday, since the conference was over, we decided to go see Eastern State Penitentiary. It's the first penitentiary in the United States. Plus one of my ancestors did time there back in the 1800s for some sort of insurance fraud.

Yes, I got selfies in a place that was known for its human suffering! See, there were no photos allowed at the conference except for certain designated areas. And those areas did not have the best lighting so I ended up with only a handful of photos from conference. And the other spot we visited on this trip, the Mutter Museum, also has a no photos policy. So I  had to get my photos somewhere!

For those who don't know, the Mutter Museum is a large collection of biological oddities and specimens. They have some sections of Einstein's brain, the liver of Cheng and Eng (the original "Siamese" twins), a whole ton of skulls, pickled punks, and other human specimens. It's fascinating but we had planned it for before lunch and it kinda killed our appetite for food.

Eastern State was fascinating however and they made sure that the entire tour was quite education. Though there were also plenty of nice and spooky still abandoned parts of the prison. 

On the whole we had a lot of fun in Philadelphia. The conference was the really fun part though. Fun though Mutter and cheesesteaks and prisons are, it was amazing to find myself in a friendly and supportive environment where I could learn so much about transgender issues and topics. It was fascinating and I learned so much and had so much fun!

It's funny but when we got back home, I literally felt a little bit deflated. Like I was on such a high being able to just fit in with people like me. When we got home it was kind of a let down. I wanted that high to continue! I wanted to see more and talk to more people and learn and share so much more.

We'll have to come back next year! And hopefully have a table in the vendor section. If you see us stop by and say hi.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Pre-Electrolysis Blues

A couple weeks ago I made an electrolysis appointment. It was to be my first. While I have had about eight sessions of laser, I still have some pesky hairs on my face. There are actually two slightly thick patches on either side of my chin that have survived despite repeated laserings. So instead of going to get more laser I thought it would be better to just go with the nuclear option. Or rather the electrical option.

So I consulted some local trans women and got some recommendations. Then I picked a place that seemed like it would be good. I hoped. It was someone operating out of their apartment. That did seem kinda sketchy but everyone seemed to love them. You don't want to take a chance on your face but everyone who had tried this person recommended them so there you go. I booked my appointment for a Monday after work. What's a weekend? It's not like I have plans every weekend. Half the time I'm doing chores or playing video games in my grubbies.

These are not my grubbies. 
Now, that left me with one slight problem. For electrolysis you have to let your hair grow out for three days before the procedure. I figured a weekend wouldn't be that bad. Sure I don't love the idea of having hair on my face but my beard is not that thick at all. Laser has done some pretty good damage. Before laser I used to shave in the morning and then get a noon o' clock shadow. Yeah, I was one of those guys. If I shaved before I got dolled up by the end of the night you could kinda start to see it even with makeup. Thankfully laser had done me well. Now I can go a day without shaving or makeup and still get female pronouns when I go out, even in my grubbies. That's been nice.

The Saturday before my electrolysis appointment I actually had plans to meet up with friends. That was okay. A liberal application of makeup was all I needed. Sure, I cold feel the hair if I brushed my hand against my face. But you couldn't really see it. It didn't make me feel great but at least I was still managing to look pretty enough.

Sunday we had more plans! Gosh I'm a social butterfly sometimes (psht- and I call myself an introvert). More makeup. I asked my partner Kath if she could see anything. She told me that she could see some texture but she couldn't actually see anything dark. There was no shadow at least. And I could feel the texture too. I wasn't happy but it seemed to be okay.

By Monday the hair was long enough that makeup wouldn't quite hide it. What's worse is that I wore my glasses that day. Here's some background. I have glasses. But I don't need glasses. At least I don't think I need them. I can see pretty well without them and generally I used them when driving or when watching movies. Or sometimes I wear them just to look smart and nerdy.

Pictured: Smart and nerdy. 
But glasses also mean I can seen fine details. So on Monday, with my makeup not really hiding three days of beard growth I could really see it. I could look in the mirror and see the jungle on my chin, slathered thick with dream matte mousse foundation but persistently visible nonetheless. Plus unlike my weekend days with friends this time I was at work. And I felt like an absolute freak.

My coworkers didn't know I was growing my beard out so I could get it burned right off. All they could see was a transgirl who apparently couldn't figure out her shaving. Since I had come out at work I had striven to make sure that I took my transition as seriously as possible. And that meant always looking my best. It's not quite right, but people tend to take trans people more seriously when they look the part and are definitely putting in a lot of effort to look the part. It's not right but I always want to look my best. I shouldn't have to but that's life.

And here I was looking like a freak. I felt like an utter and total beast. At my desk I desperately tried to add more thick layers of foundation in the hopes that it would hide my beardly shame but it was to no avail. I started to break down and had to retreat to the bathroom to cry. Normally a good cry makes me feel better but this didn't because as soon as I came out of the stall I could see myself in the mirror. Now not only was my beard showing, but my eye makeup was all smeary.

I knew there was only another five or six hours to go. I knew that it would be the last time that at least one postage stamp sized section of this hair would ever bother me again. But I couldn't take it. I couldn't bear seeing myself in the mirror one more time. It was too much. My dysphoria had gripped onto me tightly and wasn't letting me go. I felt as awful and ugly and freakish as I had back in junior high. And that is not good. Nothing that reminds one of junior high can ever be good.

So I went home at lunch and shaved. And cancelled my electrolysis appoint. I would love to tell you that I have a new appointment scheduled but I haven't done that yet. Maybe I will soon. Or maybe I'll do another couple laser sessions to thin things out a little more. Well, when I do finally get electrolysis  I'm going to do it on a Monday morning of a no plans weekend. And maybe I'll only let a small patch grow out.

There was only one positive from the whole experience. While I was on the way home from work I took a selfie and texted it to Kath. She thought it was me post shaving. Maybe it was all in my head. Stupid brain.