The Semi-Sweet and Maybe Life-Changing 2012 Be-All Conference
Each Be-All has a life of its own in terms of personal experiences, and I knew this one would be special if only for the fact that the 2012 Be-All was where my novel was released.
It was even richer and more pleasing than I anticipated.
My Best Book Launch Ever
Well, okay, it was also my only book launch ever, but it was great! We had wonderful attendance, even though the time competed with a casino outing and a seminar on polite BDSM. My project manager, the lovely Francesca Amari, wooed conferees in by opening and closing the show with her spectacular singing…Francesca is a cabaret singer (a brilliant one) in her ‘other’ life.
The audience seemed to enjoy the readings and raffles, and Windy City Publishers president Lise Marinelli made the entire presentation go perfectly.
We sold a number of books and several people actually read them before the conference was over…oh be still my soaring ego!
My heartfelt thanks to all who attended and all who helped with the event.
Honoring transgender veterans
My book launch wasn’t the only emotionally stirring event—there were several. The most remarkable of them was a special luncheon ceremony to honor military veterans from the transgender community.
One of our number, Ashley, conducts honor ceremonies for veterans as part of her job. She presented the program, complete with color guard and music.
The ceremony produced many memorable moments included the sight of the transgender veterans standing simultaneously to receive group recognition. There were a lot of us! At least one out of four people in the room were veterans—and impressive sight when our federal government is still dithering about “allowing” LGBT people to serve in the armed forces.
In point of fact, when things are tough our country has trouble attracting enough people to serve without injecting gutter-level bigotry into the equation. Most of us in the ceremony served in our male birth gender and dealt with our gender issues later in life. It was an extra burden to carry, certainly, but we served honorably…some (not me) heroically.
An interesting footnote to that last remark: one of my sisters was cited for serving a second tour in Vietnam years after her first, to honor a fallen comrade. I can’t even imagine the courage and sacrifice this took…it would be like voluntarily re-entering a nightmare and staying in it for a full year.
Think about that lady next time you hear Rush Limbaugh or any of this country’s other draft-dodging cowards sound off on the fitness of trans, gay or lesbian people to serve!
Stirring the Ashes of Vietnam…Again
For me personally, the most moving moment of the conference came when Ashley welcomed home the Vietnam veterans in the room.
Many of us came home to a society that was variously hostile or indifferent to our service. People who supported the war sometimes regarded us as drug abusers and losers, while those opposed to the war considered us baby-killers. My personal experience coming home was that no one else in my circle of friends and business acquaintences had served and no one cared one way or the other about the war. So I had no one else to talk to about what I had experienced for the past two and a half years, including an 18-month stint in Vietnam.
Even though I had an easy and safe job, coming home from Vietnam was a very difficult transition. For several years, I didn’t feel comfortable talking to other people and had feelings of alienation for longer than that. I can’t even imagine what it was like for those who served in combat roles.
So Ashley’s welcome home to us was special. Surprisingly so for me…I don’t engage much in sentiment. Maybe because of my gender and service issues, I tend to maintain an emotional distance from ceremonies like this one. But even for me, it was nice. It felt good.
And the feeling kept growing as the presentation went on.
Ashley concluded the presentation by having us sing God Bless America. This is where it really got to me. Picture if you will an army-hating transgender atheist standing at attention in full salute singing a song that she always considered corny.
But going through my mind was the final scene of the movie The Deer Hunter…the close knit family and friends of the three young men who had gone off to war have just buried one of them. Still in their mourning clothes, they huddle together in a dim, dingy bar and grill after the funeral. The mood is strained, depressed. There is no traction for conversation. The owner of the bar and grill starts making scrambled eggs and hums to himself to break the tension. He hums God Bless America. Slowly, in small, broken voices, one after the other of the gathered friends begins to sing along…not as a Hollywood chorus but as a tightly knit community of friends who have come together in grief.
It wasn’t corny. It was the homecoming I never had. Most of us never had.
Until 2012, forty years later, standing there in a dress, trying to remember how to salute, singing the words, tears welling up, my mind playing flashbacks of The Deer Hunter, and the blizzard of names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the people I knew there, the trans people sharing the moment.
In a strange and admittedly corny way, I feel like I’m finally home.
And then a dose of reality…
As a trans person, I’ve come to believe that life is full of bruising missteps just to keep us appropriately humble.
Any threat of an ego trip in my life was cured by a very brief visit with one of our speakers, a high-ranking federal government employee who delivered a brilliant speech about her career as a transgender woman.
At the end of the session, I approached her to ask if we might have a copy of her remarks for the Chicago Gender Society newsletter.
“No,” she said. It was a rebuke, as in, how dare you ask. Not, sorry but I really can’t because of department regulations. Or no, it’s against policy. Or, no, I’ve had some bad experiences.
It was, no, you’re an ass for even asking.
The funny thing is, in any other environment, I would have assumed the unpleasant response was rooted in an objection to my transgender presentation, but that was not a factor here. She was warm and pleasant to everyone else.
I spent a lot of time puzzling over what might have set her off, but couldn’t come up with anything other than maybe she confused me with a journalist from a major news organization. I’ve given up solving that riddle while I wrestle with a more challenging consideration: which is worse, being scorned for how I look (ie, transgender) or what someone perceives me to be?
I probably won’t solve that, either, but fortunately I have a lot of government-hating conservative friends among whom drawing the ire of a government bureaucrat has sent my street cred soaring.
It’s good to live in America….