Coming out so late in life, for me, was not just about sexuality. It was about discovering all aspects of the gay world. One of those discoveries happened this week.
After work on Thursday, I drove to Harrisburg, PA, about an hour and a half from Baltimore where I work, to see the comedian, Ian Harvey, with my friend Mike who lives in Harrisburg. Harvey was performing at the Keystone Conference, a four-day event that celebrates gender diversity, specifically trans men and women, and was put on by a group called TransCenterPA.
For the past year, I’ve been reading and learning about the trans experience and was excited about this event. But upon arriving at the hotel, I knew I was, at least initially, going to be more uncomfortable than I thought. From the parking lot to the front entrance, to the lobby, it seemed that there were transgender and cross-dressing men everywhere. In fact, it seemed like there were more men who appeared to me to be cross-dressing than transgender men. But then again, I do not know if my perceptions were accurate.
When I got to my hotel room, I texted Mike, who was meeting me later at the dinner and show. “Just a heads up. Even though we both know what kind of event we’re coming to, I was surprised at my own discomfort at seeing so many trans men or men in drag. It’s definitely one of those experiences where we are going to have to push through some discomfort.” Michael responded, “I’m wearing jeans! Thanks for the heads up. I’m good.” I laughed and texted him back that I was wearing jeans too.
But then something wonderful happened. As I went down to the ballroom for dinner and the show, I started to talk to some of the trans women walking in the same direction, since the registration desk for the event had closed. My discomfort immediately melted away. Everyone was welcoming and helpful.
When I sat down at a table in the ballroom, I met Andrea, a lovely older cis woman who was married to a cross-dressing man and were both attending the event. Andrea shared with me that she and her husband ran a yearly trans conference in the Boston area where they lived, but that her husband was not out to his family or at work, and that they lived their lives in two completely separate communities.
In my conversation with her, Andrea broadened my understanding of the trans community. I had seen trans women as only women who were transitioning or had transitioned. I hadn’t imagined that a crossdressing man and his wife would be at this event. From Andrea, I realized how much more I had to learn.
I got into a great discussion with Andrea and a trans woman friend of hers sitting to her right about how to define trans. Andrea thought it only meant women who had gone for surgery while the woman on her right, who had transitioned through surgery, defined it as any man who had decided to live full time as a woman, independent of what surgery or drugs they chose to do. I agreed with the second definition.
On my left was my friend Mike, and sitting next to him was a lovely trans woman and her cis wife. While I didn’t get all their story, I learned that they had met when both in the military. That he had transitioned MTF and now works in the government and that they live in Columbia, MD, and were raising their two children. They were also were so different than my predefined assumption of who would be at the conference. In this short dinner, my understanding of the trans community was widened and changed beyond just men who had transitioned with surgery and hormones.
Then there was Ian Harvey. Before his show, we met him on the way to the men’s room and I introduced myself and shared with him that I had come from Washington, DC to see him. He was genuinely excited that I had come so far to see him. We had a great conversation. Then he performed. His humor was wonderful, well-timed, and edgy. I was so glad I had made the trip to see him. While he played to the mostly trans audience, he told me after the show that he had other material for when the audience was made up more by gay men. I gave him my card and said that I would love to get him to Washington, DC to perform.
All in all, it was a great experience and one that I was really glad I went to. Pushing past my discomfort is always powerful and expansive. So my motto as I explore the nether regions of the LGBTQ+ community: I’m game! Bring on these boundary-stretching experience. I love it.