During the first week in June, I attended my first major transgender related conference. (My first major transgender themed event occurred six weeks earlier at the gala ball sponsored by Femme Fever on Long Island.)
The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference brings together speakers to present topics, arranges panel discussions, provides space for vendors to display goods, services and other things of interest, provides venues for various artistic presentations, and schedules a handful of social event opportunities. All these things, along with gender neutral bathrooms, are aimed specifically at the transgender community.
Besides the fact that it was the first time I had entered a bathroom with urinals in over 2½ years, there was something different about this conference that eluded me at first. Then, it came to me: for the first time in my life, I was at a large gathering where not only were the majority of the people transgender, but the attendees spanned the entire spectrum of the TG community. (At the gala ball, an overwhelming majority of those present appear as female and glam. And support/social group meetings have been attended by only 3-25 people.)
One of the best things about the conference is that registration is totally free unless you are there for the professional track. One still needs to budget food, lodging and transportation, of course.
The best personally affirming moments at the conference were when I received an ovation after I shared how I have reached the point where I no longer have a problem personally sharing my gender story with someone cisgender, and the couple of times people told me that they thought I was either an ally or there in support of a partner. They were surprised when I told them that I was MTF transgender. I am in no way ashamed any more of being trans, but it is always lovely to hear that I blend in so well with the general female population.
The first session I attended was “Empowering Older Trans Adults to Protect Their Rights”. Here we learned about a number of efforts underway to provide needed protection for trans senior citizens. One is to add LGBT to the Older Americans Act as a group needing extra protection and help. In general, 1 in 4 trans people experience discrimination in housing. An effort is being made to include transgender as a category covered by HUD non-discrimination policies.
It was mentioned that increased partisanship is bogging down new legislation, so most of the advances are coming through the executive branch. The importance of surveying and gathering data from older trans adults was mentioned. But it was also noted that there is difficulty in conducting these surveys because of small sample size and suspicion by some of the target group members.
Two websites of note were mentioned during this section of the session: www.lgbtagingcenter.org and www.sageusa.org. There is some overlap between these sites and organizations. There is a White House survey available on the SAGE site. To access it, you have to go to the “Advocacy” tab and click on “White House Conference on Aging”. These conferences, which are held only once every ten years and help determine national aging policy, will be held this July. So if you would like to take the survey, do it soon. It took me about 15-20 minutes and provides an opportunity for you to share your thoughts and your story (short answers). Even if your concerns about aging are not immediate and whatever your gender or sexual identity, your input is valid.
Because it is so important to share our stories, the last part of the session allowed us to do just that. We paired off and told each other our stories based on one of three themes. I chose “explain a time when you couldn’t be yourself.” I started by describing how I have not been able to be myself in the Women’s Bible Study at my church, because most of the women attending have not known my story. Praise the Lord, now they do. And so when the next Bible study is held, employing godly discernment and discretion, I will be able to share times when my experience is relevant to the lesson being taught. I won’t be taking over the study, but I will be making my contribution.
My partner for the exercise was a black transman from Montana. He shared that his employer knows that he is trans. Even so, I don’t want to say any more than that about him. Just how many black transmen are there in Montana anyway? More to the point, how isolated is he from the transgender community, from others like him, and from support services?
We were given one more website, one in which we can share our stories. I went there and didn’t see many stories and I don’t know how many visitors there have been so far. But if you are trans and have a story to tell yet do not want to go to the NY Times site, you might want to consider this one. I haven’t put my story there yet, but hope to do so soon.
On Thursday afternoon (right after I ate lunch, so fortunately there wasn’t much physical involvement by the attendees), I went to Self Defense, a beginner level workshop led by Elena Waldman (email@example.com). From New York City, she is one fierce cisgender woman.
Because of my lack of size and plenty of time spent over the years in New York City (sometimes in less than desirable neighborhoods), I had probably been more conscious of safety than most transwomen while in male mode. And I am even more conscious of it now.
Even so, knowing that we could not be taught any sophisticated techniques in 80 minutes, I was interested in what tips I could pick up. I did learn a few things and was refreshed in other areas of knowledge.
Because any inaccuracy on my part could possibly endanger someone more than help them, I will let those of you interested in learning more on the topic to contact Ms. Waldman directly.
After that session, I went to something far less intense. Gender Reel presented a mini film festival: three short videos that fit the 80 minute time frame (minus something about who Gender Reel is and time taken to give away a few t-shirts and posters). One film was very campy. The next one was a play within a video that described the lives of nine transwomen in New York City. The last film dealt with violence against LGBT teens/young adults (specifically a younger transman) in London. It also included a discriminatory attitude against transmen by a nurse. I felt that the last one was the best of the three, but all were somewhat disappointing in quality.
My last session on Thursday was a panel discussion entitled “Age is Just a Number”. While age presents challenges for all people, for transgender individuals, it can be even more challenging. For those of us who transitioned late in life, we did not plan on living life in our target gender. And we may have used up considerable resources to transition, resources no longer available for retirement years.
Those who transitioned at an earlier age are likely to have been too concerned with survival to do much planning for old age. At times, the odds of even surviving to old age might have appeared to be slim.
Age can also be a relative thing in the TG community. In some ways, it can represent how long it has been since a person transitioned. It can also be cultural. For transwomen of color, 40 can represent old age since so few make it to that age.
There are issues relating to sex, dating and relationships. Those who transition late in life may experience sex in a new way for the first time. It is not uncommon to see changes in sexual orientation in response. And in addition to dealing with the same dating and relationship issues that cisgenders face, older trans people are very likely to stay with someone not good for them, simply because they are afraid they won’t find anyone else. (This is something experienced by trans people of all ages.)
Older trans people are more likely to be isolated. This makes a difficult time of life even more complicated and problematic.
Major concerns of older trans people:
- Discrimination issues
- What will happen if it is medically advisable to adjust HRT levels downward
- Health insurance coverage, especially for those on Medicare (necessary services may not match one’s gender marker)
- Poor job skills and education for those whose income potential faded when youth did
- Dealing with medical practitioners who tend to blame any of our medical problems on being trans.
- Not being able to complete transition when other major health issues arise
- Burial rights (will our families bury us under our preferred name and gender)
- Failure to have a will or leave final instructions
- Bereavement for those who have seen many trans friends die.
The first session I attended on Friday was the “Out Late Discussion”. Aimed at those who have recently taken steps to transition at age 40 or older, the attendees filled three sheets of easel paper with specific concerns. That took about 25 of the 80 minutes allotted for the session. Then we grouped those concerns into four major areas: personal choices, relationships with family, relationship with society and biological needs. The rest of the session was spent on a free-wheeling discussion with the attendees describing significant elements of their particular situations. The conversation leaned toward sharing individual experiences and emphasizing the validity of each rather than providing answers, although this does not mean that attendees did not gain insight from the stories of others.
The last session I attended at the conference was a talk about transgender surgery by Dr. Keelee McPhee. She is plastic surgeon based in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Most of her experience is in the area of facial or breast surgeries for both transmen and transwomen. She has been the primary surgeon on only one MTF “bottom” surgery, having recently studied with Dr. Marci Bowers. Since my primary decision at this time is “bottom” surgery, most of the talk was only of academic interest to me. Dr. McPhee did display extensive knowledge in those areas with which she has done many surgeries.
Instead of the final two sessions that I had planned to attend on Friday, I went to a gathering of transwomen at one of Phiadelphia’s LGBT-friendly bars. I mixed and mingled for a while, although I am not enamored with the bar scene as I find it too noisy and cramped for me.
Finding myself fatigued, I returned home Saturday morning rather than attend the last day of the conference.
Would I recommend that members of the trans community attend? Yes, there are plenty of topics available for all members, young, old, binary or non-binary. I would especially like to do one of my own presentations in the future. The topic would be in line with this blog’s purpose.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. – Revelation 3:7-8