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Transgender Support: Found

| May 21, 2018
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On August 18, 2014 on TGForum I asked the question “Whatever Happened to Transgender Support Groups and Conventions?” I am starting to get some answers. They have evolved with our newly found freedom.

The newsletter of The Renaissance Education Associate, Inc.

Many of the ‘70s and ‘80s style support groups used to be fear-driven. People would travel hundreds of miles on weekends to stay in hotels to stay at, or near, meeting sites. They traveled long distances, in part, so that no one from their home towns who knew them would see them crossdressed. The hotels were accommodating because they were usually empty during weekends with no business travelers staying over. The participants would transform themselves in their hotel rooms and go downstairs to a meeting room without going outside. Some groups met in a church where they could transform in Sunday school rooms and meet in social halls. The meetings met the need for information which was in short supply at the time. They provided lectures and demonstrations. After the meetings, some daring souls under the cover of darkness and counting on strength in numbers, would go out to nightspots where trans people were tolerated. The hallmarks of these groups were security and education. They acted as if they were protecting top secret information and there were real dangers to careers and reputations from exposure. Most all of the principal participants were trans women, not trans men.

In some of the more restrictive groups, trans women would take their wives on support group trips and the wives participated in support group operations. In these groups, trans women were required to be heterosexual and crossdressing had to involve a trans woman’s spouse. These policies were aimed at dealing with the fear of the wives that they would lose their husbands to other people or, worse, to transsexual transition.

Conventions were equally fear-driven and included many of the security procedures and activities involved in support groups. The conventions were cloistered in hotels although there were a few excursions, again, usually under cover of darkness. They did offer the opportunity to crossdress full time for more than a weekend.

There are still a few classic support groups and conventions in operation but they have literally evolved as in “survival of the fittest” social evolution. The main problem with support groups was that as soon as a person attended several meetings and lost some of their fear, they did not need the support group anymore. They could just go hang out in accommodating bars, usually gay bars. They had gotten the information that they needed and determined that they no longer needed to feel guilty and some of their fear subsided. Membership dwindled. Only the diehards would continue for the sake of the newbies who would arrive at meetings wide-eyed with fear as unguided missiles. In order to stay together, they undertook the organizing and running of conventions which in several cases killed the groups financially. Although transgender people come equipped with a genetic gender behavior predisposition they do not necessarily come equipped with the business skills to run a successful convention.

The TGForum logo.

Then came the Internet. The Internet provided several things that the support groups had previously provided although social contact was still needed. Information on being transgender became readily available on the web. Some of it was wrong, of course, so social interaction was still necessary to confirm or reject what they had learned and for reality-testing. Impersonal means for acquiring the items needed for their gender presentations was available. No more snickering salespeople or store detectives to deal with or worse yet, groups of teenage girls who would spot a transgender person and follow them through the mall. (This actually happened to me; I was tailed by a group of giggling girls in a mall near Detroit.) Insecure and learning about gender presentation themselves, the girls were quick to read transgender people. Chat rooms and Yahoo groups provided some of the social interaction.

The restrictive groups still follow the same scripts but some are coming unraveled. One leader told me that she now allowed transsexuals and did not really care about sexual orientation or participation of wives. Some in these groups still travel long distances to go to meetings but meet en femme along the way with friends they know.

The new breed of support group is different in many ways. They still provide the social interaction and reality testing that transpeople need and provide a modicum of security but other than that, things are different. The lectures and transgender technology presentations are pretty much gone. What remains are discussion groups in private and meetups in public restaurants and other places.

Discussion groups allow people to ask questions to clarify information and to identify good places to go to obtain needed services and products. Newbies are given sympathy but now can rely on experienced transgender people to provide examples of how they addressed similar problems or got through difficulties. The experienced transgender people become models who by their presence illustrate that problems can be solved. In some of my groups, mental health professionals attend, not to give therapy, but as a form of advertising, to keep up with what is happening among transgender people, and acquire local knowledge for their patients.

A big difference now for support groups is that they hold events that are strictly social and some of them are for children and teens. Yes, Virginia, we are finally paying attention to children who know they are transgender and who need to interact socially with their peers. They need social contact, just as other people their age do to learn about people and make friendships. Some have trouble finding accepting friends at school and in their neighborhoods. At some monthly support groups, the young people and their parents have the opportunity to meet separately. At one of the groups I attend and help lead, we frequently divide into two or three groups for part of a meeting — transgender kids, older transgender people and SOFFA’s (significant others, family, friends, and allies) to allow freer discussion. And there are picnics and other events for young people. I am told that they have their own Internet networks.

A Meetup group in the Philadelphia area.

And then there are transgender meetups which are get-togethers over dinner that are open to transgender people who register and RSVP on the meetup website. The only reason that they must register is that the organizers need to make reservations at the grateful restaurants. Groups just take over the restaurants. So far, (fingers crossed) I have not met with any harassment at such meetings. They are generally held ITP (inside the Atlanta perimeter beltway) rather than OTP (outside the perimeter) because transgender tolerance drops off rapidly OTP in rural areas.

Some of the meetups are experimenting with other events. Things like bonfires and pool parties, happy hours, and dance meetups. (Actually, tonight in Atlanta, they are holding their swing dance meeting.)

My social calendar is usually full here in Atlanta. In addition to frequent support groups and meetups, I have lunches with “some of the girls” every Wednesdays organized by my best friend. One of these was held in a restaurant near the police training range but the police behaved themselves as we girls had lunch sitting next to them. (There were no arrests for crossdressing.)  I also go to a lesbian meetup which now has spinoffs such as coffees and cocktail parties. I go to meetings and weekend classes of WIFTA — Women in Film and Television in Atlanta. (With some trepidation, before I joined, I asked whether they admitted trans women which met with a resounding “H#*L Yes!) I have taken their script writing classes, a couple of improv lessons and gone to several mixers. And then there are trans meetings and LGBT meetups that I see advertised that I have never attended because I simply do not have the time.

One of the support groups I attend and help lead was started by a church in a religion that does not particularly accept transgender people but the local church detected a need in their community and they just started it. I went to the first monthly meeting to see what it was about and 65 people showed up. We are now down to about 20-30 people per meeting but we meet more frequently, now fortnightly. The more frequent meetings are because, as we polled the attendees and they did not like having to miss a session and not be in touch for as long as two months. All types of people including trans men, trans girls, trans boys, gender non-conforming people, gender queer, questioning, transsexuals, and SOFFAs show up. Recently I helped lead a subgroup of kids 9-13 who were mostly trans boys.

Several transgender conventions are thriving. In particular, Gender Odyssey in Seattle which is the largest and usually meets in the huge Washington State Convention Center.  It has a professional pre-meeting, a day camp for kids which takes over a wing of the center and is now starting a spinoff meeting in Los Angeles. They still have workshops which are well attended; my workshop had over 150 people. Some other conventions are still going strong notably First Event in Boston and Keystone in Pennsylvania, where I just gave a presentation. And Esprit will have just concluded when this is published. It has been there for 20 years in, of all places, Port Angeles, Washington. It has morphed into more of a vacation destination than a traditional convention, taking advantage of the vacation facilities on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. I have always wanted to go to Esprit so I could catch the ferry to Victoria, B.C., Canada where one is expected to dress for a proper English tea in one of the hotels and where I want to go to raid the transgender library there. Elsewhere, serious meetings have grown up specializing in transgender health, legal issues, and advocacy.

One trend to watch is the “vacation gathering” which is the antithesis of a convention. Gatherings like Diva Las Vegas have now evolved to become vacation meetings, with no convention fees, hotel cloistering and minimum infrastructure. No workshops or lectures only a few set public meetings to ensure that people get to meet each other. The rest of the time they are on their own.

So, what has happened to support groups and conventions? They have evolved away from the emphasis on education because information on being transgender is readily available. Humans are gregarious by nature; most people crave it. As we have begun to exercise our freedoms and become more visible, support groups are evolving to meet our continuing need for social contact with other transgender people.

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at [email protected]

Comments (2)

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  1. tasidevil tasidevil says:

    I fear Graham is all too right. Too many of us still won’t stretch our boundaries beyond TG and gay places. I personally have never feared going out in public to just wherever I wanted and though I’ve spent time in TG and gay places, I’ve spent even more time in just everyday regular places. Now I want to help others experience the same exhilarating fun.

    Sister House and Pride World Travel are sponsoring Magic in Merida in November and details will be out shortly. It’s just having fun as a girl doing touristy things in an exciting both old and new world city in the Yucatan, Mexico without fear of being harassed by anyone. Merida is the 3rd safest city in Latin America.

    Next.Sister House will be providing femininity coaches to help you experience the real world of women as only women know it. DonnaKelli in California and Vikki Lafontaine in the NJ/NY/PA area will be your guides in experiencing the real world of women

    Just by way of example, I met with the General Manager of the Fiesta Hotel Chain in Merida and then with the owner of a local beauty school here in Merida. Both are older professional women and Tasi could not have been more accepted by them. And they were complimentary of my appearance which always makes a girl feel good.

    Point is that you need to get out and not within the narrow boundaries that Dana and Graham have described above. I make no bones about being a crossdresser/trans girl but I do act as a lady and I’m treated as one. It’s empowering.

  2. Graham Graham says:

    The situation regarding crossdressers may be more evolved in some parts of the US than in the UK, but the main reason I see that support networks have lost their appeal specifically for crossdressers in the UK is that they no longer offer the targeted support which the community needs.

    When I attended support group meetings in the late 1990s, the majority of members were closet crossdressers like myself – the presence of a transsexual starting out on the route to transition wasn’t unusual, but the numbers were heavily weighted against them, and the state of our knowledge at the time meant they were treated pretty-much as regular crossdressers. Since then, transsexualism has become a political issue, and the societies I once knew and frequented are now transsexual-dominant – if not in numbers, then certainly in content: gender recognition, birth certificates, and social and legal rights are frequent topics for discussion. Meanwhile, humble gender-motivated crossdressers – for whom the physical support networks were originally founded in the latter half of the last century – have been relegated to second-class status, often denigrated and insulted as “pretend women” by the transsexuals they once welcomed to their meetings. It’s little wonder that many have handed in their membership.

    Make no mistake: closet crossdressers are just as numerous as they once were – indeed, some estimates put the incidence of crossdressing at 10% of the male population … but even if it’s only 1% or 2%, that’s still several orders of magnitude larger than the small number who attend the sort of meetings you mention in this article. So where are all the others??? No – the decline in opportunities for face-to-face interactions at meetings isn’t because it’s not required.

    So has the internet taken over the role of face-to-face meetings? No, I don’t believe it has. Mentoring is a key part of the interaction necessary to help a closet crossdresser gain the confidence to step outside their house, and it’s most effective when it’s conducted in a physical environment where body language and nuance is clear and transparent. The internet is no substitute for this. Sure, the internet may have allowed crossdressers to share their photos to a secure online chatroom … but in terms of The Big Picture, this is totally insignificant. When was the last time you heard of two disabled people sharing pictures of themselves online because they feared going out in public in their wheelchairs? Good grief!!! In my view, the internet has taken over from the gutter media as the main conduit for spreading the same harmful and destructive lies about the crossdressing community that I had to deal with twenty years ago – except that it’s infinitely better-adapted at doing so.

    Transsexual politics has seized modern technology to get its message out into the world … however, the social and legal issues surrounding crossdressing have been left on the starting blocks. The risks of losing family, housing, and employment still force the majority of us to live a lie – how can the crossdressing community justify that in a world where every other minority has taken up the struggle for rights and recognition? It saddens me to say it, but crossdressers have missed the boat, and we have a lot of work to do to catch up. Every walk of life now involves people from the BME, disabled, gay, and transsexual communities; when I see the same proportion of crossdressers out and proud in positions of power, only then will I concede that progress is being made.

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