TG History – Girls Night Out, The Early Support Groups

| Sep 28, 2009
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“And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance – I hope you dance” – Lee Ann Womack


Where else?

In 1974, Ariadne Kane and a hardy band of crossdressers known as The Cherrystones had just wrapped up a successful Halloween party in Provincetown, Massachusetts and decided to hold an annual event there. But this event would be wholly unlike anything else before – this one wouldn’t be held in secret or confined indoors. Instead Kane and his cohorts conceived of a weeklong crossdressing event involving the entire town. Provincetown seemed a likely place to try such an audacious affair as it was historically an artistic haven with a sizable gay community. In fact the local joke held that Provincetown was the site of the first Mayflower landing just so they could drop off their gays and keep going. But Provincetown of the 1970s was still a fairly conservative town, so Kane and Company began a series of community outreach efforts, the first such interaction between crossdressing conventioneers and local citizens. A string of open houses, cocktail parties, and sit-down dinners allowed for townspeople to interact with Fair participants.

Located at the tip of Cape Cod, scenic Provincetown is itself a travel destination with unique shops, recreation, seafood, unspoiled beaches, and a charming coastal atmosphere. But by October the summer tourists depart, resulting in lower crowds and lower prices. To take advance of these attractions Fantasia Fair (or FanFair) began offering something never tried before: the opportunity for previously closeted crossdressers to live full time as women and interact with the general public in a normal community setting.

To further encourage interaction, instead of being confined to a secluded lodge or hotel participants stayed at local inns and bed & breakfasts around town. Each was served by a volunteer “House Mother” who looked after her charges, involving everyone to the most shy, closeted first-timer. This was bold stuff for the mid-1970s.

With financial backing from three Cherrystones, Fantasia Fair I in 1975 had about 40 participants — then grew rapidly. Kane founded the Outreach Institute of Gender Studies, which became an influential organization for educating professionals and the public on transgender issues. Using its resources to publicize the event and combined with major media coverage by often-incredulous reporters, “FanFair” quickly became an internationally attended affair. Locals of this Portuguese fishing seaport soon began referring to this as “the week the ‘tall ships’ come in.”

Ariadne Kane
Ariadne Kane

As time passed, FanFair moved from being a local curiosity to an integral community member, donating thousands each year to local organizations including the Soup Kitchen of Provincetown and Our Women Now, a non-profit serving women with chronic life-threatening illnesses. In previous years Fantasia Fair has donated to the Council on Aging, contributed to the new Library fund, and purchased a defibrillator for the Provincetown Fire Department.

While producing a wealth of positive outreach Fantasia Fair also proved an incalculable boon to the transgender community in a different way. Many of the community’s most influential members first emerged there and the subsequent boom of crossdressing support groups starting in the late 1980s was in no small part due to their networking at FanFair.

On October 23, 1999 in Provincetown a public dedication ceremony was held at the Town Hall, unveiling a permanent stone marker commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Fantasia Fair. This symbolic act served to highlight the historical progression from those early pioneers who first met in secret and left little record of their existence to the current transgender groups that have become such a visible, permanent fixture in today’s society.

Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O. Cauldwell, Richard Ekins and Dave King
The Transsexual Phenomenon, Dr. Harry Benjamin
Crossdressing, Sex, and Gender, Vern & Bonnie Bullough
A Year Among the Girls, Darrell Raynor
Sex Research at the Borders of Gender: Transvestites, Transsexuals, and Alfred C. Kinsey, Joanne Meyerowitz
Carol Beecroft, Director Emeritus, Founder, Jane Ellen Fairfax.
Transvestites & Transsexuals: Mixed Views, Deborah Heller Feinbloom
The Man in the Red Velvet Dress: Inside the World of Cross-Dressing, J.J. Allen.
Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism, Pat Califia
Transgender Warriors, Making History From Joan of Arc to RuPaul,  Leslie Feinberg
Virginia Prince interview, Gendertalk, May 10, 1999
The Girl Within, Robert Hill
Nostalgia Is Better Than It Used To Be, Kate Cummings
“A Safe House for the Girl Within,” NY Times 9/7/06
Pam Geddes interview Gendertalk, October 4th, 1999
Queens of the Catskills: Casa Susanna, Jay Blotcher
Five Questions With… Ariadne Kane, Helen Boyd blog
Fantasia Fair website
“William Ringel Is Dead at 97; A Zesty Figure on the Bench,” New York Times, June 1, 1999
“Kane Keeps Exploring the Feminine Mystique,” Provincetown Mirror, October 30, 1997

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Category: Transgender History


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  1. ronnierho ronnierho says:

    Well written, and apparently thoroughly researched. Again. Well done! Again!