by Carma Lnu
I recently attended my first Esprit Gala in Port Angeles and wish to open a window to others showing and sharing my experiences and feelings regarding the event.
My first sense of what Esprit would mean was that for the first time in my life I could be “en femme” for 24/7. The Gala occurs over a week beginning and closing on a Sunday and during most of that time I was provided with an offering of activities both social and enlightening that can only be likened to a banquet. From the opening registration where identity cards were made and the full program distributed (along with meal tickets) to the closing brunch where the obligatory raffles were held it was a whirlwind of activity that left me excited, fulfilled and eager to return another time.
The program choices were usually selected from a variety of activities spread over three time slots running an hour and one half and normally starting at 10:00 AM. I found out first hand that it’s not easy to dress and present as a woman and still be “on time.” If you attended one of the Birds of a Feather sessions you could have “classes” starting in the morning and running on to 6:30 that evening. Lunches were sometimes provided along with dinners but ample time was given to have a leisurely lunch either on the convention site or at nearby restaurants.
During my stay at Esprit I had to select activities that were important to me from a wide range of interests. The offerings were so numerous and so diverse that while you could attend a maximum of four (usually three) on any given day you had to make hard decisions because there was no duplication of classes. If you missed an event you had to live with it and move on because there were no second chances on any topic. Classes were usually small, in the single digits, or in the low teens. While a few exceeded these figures every class that I attended offered ample opportunity to interact with others present.
Classes were usually presented by capable, knowledgeable facilitators with clear direction and goals. I attended two sessions offered by academics well respected in the TG community as well as less rigorous classes offered by practitioners with regards to makeup, poise and dress. If you couldn’t find meaningful activities to attend it had to be because you partied all night and slept through the day!
One particularly “heavy duty” session regarding depression and the transgendered seemed to push all my buttons and afterwards in the women’s washroom (reserved for Esprit Attendees) I happened upon a sister who also attended the same session. Where else do sisters meet?
We got to talking. Her in the stall and me at the sink before I realized that maybe we should continue this conversation together alone somewhere else. I was at an emotional low and through the patience and kindness of a sister who I had only the briefest of conversations previously, I navigated around the shoals my emotions, not always very successfully. I left her companionship a little misty eyed but I managed to get on with the rest of the day and enjoy myself. So Esprit was not only a time of fun and games but also a time of serious reflective thinking, emotional growth and meaningful social interaction. The chat we had and subsequent introspection I engaged in promoted a new level of comfort with my femme persona.
My new level of comfort did not go unnoticed. Many made comment on it and that positive feedback in turn pushed me on to new levels. I felt a blossoming was happening in my presentation and others seemed to agree. At “Graduation Night” where the all the ”newbies” were introduced on the stage and presented with an attractive butterfly pin, a new award was made to the first timer who was “most inspirational.” Only the newcomers voted and much to my amazement I was selected! As I walked back to the stage to accept the honour I savoured every step I made. Upon getting to the stage and again with watery eyes I accepted the award and thanked all who made my attendance at Esprit so meaningful and enjoyable. The vestigial joy of that experience remains crouched in my emotional psyche to this moment.
Afterwards I was met and hugged by so many sisters that I “sprung a leak” from all the squeezing and had to go back to my room for repairs. After stripping off my jacket, blouse, slip and bra (not for the first time I realized presenting as a woman is not easy!) I washed myself off and my clothes, redressed in my original garb and ended up in the bar at the hotel surrounded by sisters intent on extending their evening. For the first time I was in a public setting where the transgendered outnumbered the non transgendered and it felt so-o-o-o good to be the “dominant” group!
The social aspect of Esprit was very well done with banquets, bands & entertainment. Of course I also had the opportunity to meet kindred spirits and make friends and share experiences and it is in this area that I left Esprit feeling particularly good. From simple hellos to one another in the hallways to heavy duty private discussions about the joys and limitations in your femme life I found and reaffirmed that our community is filled with caring, sharing, giving people. One couple saw me in the parking lot packing up to leave and made their way to me to offer me a gift of ear rings. When I thanked them for their generosity the spouse responded, “it is not a gift, it is an act of friendship.” ‘Nuff said!
I found the friendship so genuine and so deep that on more than one occasion I was reduced to tears and Carma doesn’t cry - or at least didn’t, until Esprit. During the week I had three “GGs” come up to me and out of the blue, complement me on my presentation. Given the sources I was truly flattered. One spouse seemed to make it a point in her day to seek me out and compliment me. I was on such a natural high that I rarely imbibed any alcohol and almost always drank soda water (except for the odd glass of wine at dinner and in my room) and I had a ball! In the process I lost a few pounds to round off a “win win” situation!
The Gala offered me the opportunity to meet an “e sister” with whom I’ve been corresponding for two years. This event provided the means where two sisters who had never met became “roomies” and participated in the femme activities that women together do. We shared not only our clothes. jewelry and experiences but also our emotions and aspirations as we rattled on relentlessly, ever mindful that our time together was limited and the clock was running. I believe that a deep and enduring friendship was made possible because we had the chance to meet each other in the neutral, gender friendly venue provided by Esprit.
From the Gendreville High “Prom” to “Moulin Rouge,” onto the fashion show and Graduation of first timers, the social aspect of Esprit magnified and amplified my emotions and social contacts. I left the event saddened that it was over but heartened in the knowledge that over the week I had felt Carma ‘s femme side grow as she experienced an empowering and liberating phase of her journey.
The toothpaste is out of the tube and I do not know where my odyssey will take me but I left Esprit with a sense of completeness and fulfillment that I never before sampled. Esprit made me a much more complete person in all aspects of my life and for that I am deeply indebted and truly grateful.
Thank you, Esprit.