Jan B. is one of the people who started a trans group in Poughkeepsie called MHVTA. She’s been helping run the group since 2001, and I’ve known her for about that long. I used to call her “perpetual lurker Jan” on my very first yahoo support group, CDOD.
1) MHVTA is a nice group – how did you decide to start it? Do you have rules or guidelines, or are you making it up as you go?
Helen, thanks for the opportunity to answer these 5 questions. This is also a nice way to publicize our group so I want to start with a Shameless Plug:The Mid-Hudson Valley Transgender Association (MHVTA), a chapter of Renaissance, is a fairly new group. It was founded in May 2001 by Nikki and I. MHVTA serves the mid-Hudson Valley area of New York (the area north of New York City and south of Albany, from the Pennsylvania border on the west to Connecticut on the east). It’s an active group with regular monthly meetings near Poughkeepsie.
We were so frustrated that nothing was local. We had to travel forty to seventy miles to find a group, so someone said. “Well, just start it yourself (and they will come).” I had never been to a TG support group before but was pretty used to other types of support groups. We met in homes for four meetings and eventually found [an affordable] place to meet, with discreet off street parking.
It varies but there are around 20 dues-paying members who attend meetings. We have more than 100 members on our list server who are interested but don’t necessarily attend meetings. The membership requirements are that you are a TG interested to know more and we are open to the TG spectrum including family if they want to attend. We currently don’t invite admirers in but they sometimes sneak in when someone brings a friend. The members seem to appreciate the level of confidentiality and the one on one interviews pre visiting the group.
MHVTAâ€™s principal mission is to provide outreach and support for our members, their families, their friends, and to be active in the Transgender Community and the greater community of the Mid-Hudson Valley, New York. MHVTA is a non-discriminatory group which is structured to allow participation by all those who support the transgender community. We respect and support the right of free and open expression and the right to be treated as equals by society. We focus on providing an understanding peer support network for anyone who would like to be a part of it and to assist others who wish to learn more about the Transgender community, acting as a Transgender advocate to other groups and institutions in the Mid-Hudson Valley area. We welcome new people with sensitivity towards their fears and concerns that accompany revealing themselves to others. MHVTA aims to accomplish this through: Regularly scheduled meetings, social events, and frequent and open communication. For more information, you can check MHVTA’s website.
2) You started MHVTA before you were even out to your wife about your CDing. How did that work? Does she know now? Were you ever worried she’d find out because you were running the group (ie, because that would make you more visible)?
Ah.. now we are getting more personal. That’s OK. My lovely wife knows but chooses not to participate. “That’s your thing and I don’t need to know about it.” I’ve tried to be as open as I can be. It’s funny that I can talk to others about things but become tongue tied talking to my wife about the same things. She knows it’s important to me and allows me the space to participate in things and I try very hard to not push her envelope. I was very worried she’d find out. Since I have been involved in other support groups, I didn’t lie when I said “I was going out to a support group meeting” but I also didn’t tell her the rest of the story. We meet in an area which isn’t too far away from where I work and I know many people in the community and I was forever worried about being clocked. It worked on me and I finally had to own up to what I was really doing and how involved I was (since I started the group). She has met a couple of our group in their different mode and is very guarded about my CD’ing. I have asked if she’d be interested to meet other couples who might explain about their situation but so far she has resisted. Everyone counsels to go slow and I would like to rush it; so far, I have tried a gentle approach which is what I think will work best with her. We recently went on a short vacation and I told her later that I wanted to bring this up but didn’t because it was her vacation and I didn’t want to spoil it in any way.
3) Since your group serves a lot of people who wouldn’t have support otherwise, how do you manage to be inclusive of everyone who might need support – people transitioning, or crossdressing, and partners?
Including everyone who comes to us has proven to be difficult at times because everyone wants to feel they are special and feel accepted. Last summer we had a problem when some members didn’t feel accepted or acknowledged and they felt we tended to dwell on things they didn’t need. A few members left but the group was pretty well grounded. It’s difficult keeping the balance of CD to TS issues balanced and we were not doing a good job. As we realized later, the people who tend to stay involved are the CD’s and the TS’s tend to come, partake, and take off when they no longer feel the need for support. The reality is TS’s and CD’s have different sets of concerns. For one, it may be “been there, done that, what’s next to reach a goal” whereas the other it’s “I really need to interact with others and I’m content with that type of support”. We changed things in the group to include a TS subgroup so there is a person to person support; the jury is out on this. Another thing we did was to ensure that we will have at least 1 TS and 1 CD elected as officers so we would get differing perspectives. We have had some partners attend and they are invited to be involved as anyone. If someone complains, they are invited to be part of the answer. We have a group of officers and we tend to discuss things before we get others involved and that’s been working well. We try to hash it out before it comes to the group but we bring it up at meetings without trying to dwell on any particular topic too long. We also know we don’t have all the answers so asking for help works really well to get a discussion going and try to gain consensus.
4) So far, what’s the most difficult thing about running the group? The most rewarding?
The most difficult is keeping the balance because everyone is special and deserves to feel like they are being heard. The blessing is that the group has been meeting felt needs since 2001. We have had members come and find out who they are and are free to explore this in a safe environment. We recently had to change where we meet and on which day of the week/month. It proved to be a challenge but members have continued to support members of the group even while others had a problem with the meeting night. One thing which has helped is having the Yahoo list server (similar to the MHB boards) so people can express a thought, concern, need, something good or bad.. and there are caring people who respond thoughtfully. Remember that old slogan you need to “reach out and touch someone”.. we try to live thatgracefully.
5) You recently did all the legwork on getting Felicity’s collection of trans materials to a library and archive. Why do you think it’s important for those libraries to have those magazines and books and papers?
Felicity is our 100 year old member and had been very involved in CD’ing in the 60′s – 80′s. She had collected a treasure trove of CD magazines, books, periodicals, etc. When I was just starting (in my teens), I remember looking at some of these magazines realizing there were others like me in the world. I didn’t act upon that until later in life but things like old copies of magazines need to be available to others so they might use them again but also to understand how the TG movement evolved. It’s a history lesson which can be invaluable to understand things. How would you have ever written MHB if you didn’t have some material to look at. I think you also said how little there was and there is more coming all the time but it’s important to save TG history in various forms what’s available. We took about 2 years to determine what would the best place to donate Felicity’s material and why. Several people offered assistance but the bottom line was where would the material serve the most people in a relatively local spot to our group. We eventually chose the National Archive of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History at the NYC LGBT Center (in NYC).