Where to begin? What a day, what a conference! The TIC conference (which stands for “Translating Identity” and is pronounced tick) in Burlington, VT was probably the single best conference Betty and I have attended. Aside from the fact that it’s FREE, the workshops were informative and covered a huge range of issues – from intersex activism to partners’ issues to “not feeling trans enough.” They addressed both real world concerns and theory, and the presenters were all inspired, educated, and well-spoken.
Eli Clare did the plenary session on the idea of “translating identity.” Eli is a really engaged person – he speaks about his twin identities as a disabled person and transman as if there were no shame in the world. Aside from being so pleased that he came to my roundtable at the Women’s Center the previous day, I found conversations with him enlightening and funny. He asked hard questions about trans-people and intersex outreach in an intersex forum I went to later in the day, too.
My biggest surprise of the day – which hopefully didn’t show – was that when I walked into the room where I was going to give my “trans-sex and identity” workshop, I discovered a LECTURE HALL full of people: partners, transfolks, allies. TIC tech were on hand to find me a mike, since this is a workshop I usually give to a small group of 15-30 people, and it’s usually interactive. So I had to think on my feet; I had an hour and a half, and normally I ask the group to participate, but with a group that big – that wasn’t a possibility. Luckily I had some friendly faces down front: aside from Betty and David, Myrna and Kyrie (p. 46 of MHB) came down from Montreal, and Cindy – a partner in a yahoo group I belong to – were also there.
I am continually amazed that I can speak to people. It’s like someone else is channeling through me, to be honest. I’m normally so shy – shoot, I used to sit in the back of my graduate classes! – but now I find myself talking without shame about strapping it on in front of a lecture hall full of strangers. Granted, I’ve always liked talking about sex, and since I’ve met Tristan Taormino, the rest of my hesitancy has fallen away. Betty – who is one of the most private people I know – has also come to enjoy and celebrate my being able to talk about these things, and that is indeed a gift. For those of you who are often in audiences, please know that those of you who nod and smile are the single best encouragement a speaker could get.
I explained a little what I was doing there, why I wrote My Husband Betty, and about what our road has been like in exploring our sexuality. When I said, “sometimes trans-people seem to be more gender-constructed than the rest of us,” instead of the usual deer-in-headlights looks, I got a lot of nods. It was a great group to talk to; I felt like I was home. (How and Why Betty and I feel so comfortable in younger groups of transmen and their (mostly) lesbian partners could be the subject of a whole other essay.)
On top of everything else, I sold every book I brought with me, even selling the one I’d intended to give to Leslie Feinberg!
After that, TIC provided a $5 lunch that was delicious. Nothing elaborate – just sandwiches and salads -but it was all very good – and very cheap. Much better than the rubber chicken we have to pay $20 for, usually.
After lunch, I went to a workshop on Intersex issues by IS/TS activist Raven Kaldera. His story is full of pain but also of redemption; his spiritual center is nearly visible. I was touched when he explained that he felt he has to be doing what he’s doing – that it’s his job, according to “the goddess that owns my ass,” as he put it. He really helped clarify, too, the intersections of Intersex and Transness, since he was raised as a girl and identifies as both. When Eli Clare mentioned that as a TS activist he is often asked about IS issues, Raven clarified that as long as TS educators are clear about the different issues and provide accurate information, he’s happy to have us do it, too – since there are not so many IS activists – not enough to go around.
The last workshop slot of the day I was presenting a partners’ caucus with the partner of an FTM named Jill Barkley. Jill is a short-haired, high-heel wearing dyke, and I loved her energy and her concern. She, like me, is tired of the partners’ lists being full of “perpetual cheerleading” and we both wanted to provide a space where partners could talk about how hard this life is sometimes. From the girlfriend who was dying to know what her trans boyfriend’s female name was, to the wife of a CD who was frustrated by the lack of male sexual energy, to the story a partner told about being asked what her partner’s name was (“Steven,” she said, and her questioner said, “but I thought you were a lesbian?” To which she replied, “I am.”), the stories of partners should be required hearing for anyone who is trans. Betty suggested that in some ways, even the language we use is defeating us, and that maybe if the transfolks themselves identified as partners first, and trans second, that our relationships would not always seem to be an afterthought for the transperson.
Alas, we didn’t have enough time, though we did manage to make a list of “issues” and “solutions” that I hope to post here. (To the TIC committee: we want a double session next year!)
Next we were all off to hear the closing remarks, given by the one and only Leslie Feinberg. Wow. I read Stone Butch Blues a long time ago, and I knew Leslie was a powerhouse, but hir speech blew everyone away. At one point, ze asked the 700+ of us in the chapel to shout out our identities: “trans,” “boi,” “femme,” “queer,” “ally” – even “republican” – there must have been a few dozen called out. And then Leslie asked us all to applaud our identities. It was a moving moment.
But hir speech – I’m going to see if I can get a copy – was astounding, drawing parallels with the Women’s Movement, abolition, and social justice movements everywhere. He told a story about how Frederick Douglass was gender- and trans-baited when he stood up for the right of women to vote, having his own gender questioned, and how he stood up to them and affirmed that he was a “woman’s movement man.” Somehow – especially for a mostly younger crowd – Leslie knew exactly how to make all of us feel not so alone, not so brand-new, not so much like we were reinventing the wheel.
Afterwards, Betty and I watched for a while as person after person went up to Leslie tongue-tied and twitterpated. Leslie – aside from being one snappy dresser – is a warm, sympathetic, direct person. As soon as I introduced myself ze apologized for being on the road when I sent hir a copy of MHB (which I didn’t expect ze’d even remember). Ze also apologized for assuming Betty still identified as a CD. It’s that kind of human connection that was so apparent about hir all night, from when we were ordering pizza with the TIC committee later, to hir being in pictures with MTF trannies that were nearly double hir height.
To be honest, I knew I was in the presence of greatness – so humble, so intelligent, so caring. And – good news for the rest of us! – ze just finished hir new novel!
And of course, I have to say too that flirting with transmen is way too much fun. Samuel (who we’d met the day before) had just shaved his head, so I asked if anyone had licked it yet. He said no, and invited me to be the first, so I did. Believe me, I didn’t hold a cigarette for longer than a second before I had a transman with a light a foot away. They really are the coolest guys ever.
Finally – yes, there was more! – our own NYC drag king (Mil)Dred did a great performance. We’d seen Dred before, so took seats at the back, but there was tons of hooting and hollering. Mildred is a powerful force on stage, slipping between genders with a pair of shoes.
And finally – exhausted and happy – we went back to our hotel and slept.
Thank you to the TIC committee, to Tim Shiner, David Houston, Leslie Feinberg, Jill Barkley, and to all the others who welcomed us and who thanked us for our work. I have never felt such a strong sense of community, inclusiveness, and joy – despite all the shared suffering.
< Here’s a picture of us with CDOD veterans Gary/Kyrie and Myrna.