Why I Love Fantasia Fair
©2016 by Dallas Denny
Why I Love Fantasia Fair
Long ago I opened a copy of Playboy and came across an article about Fantasia Fair. The Fair was, according to D. Keith Mano, an event for well-to-do crossdressers, held every October since 1975 at the very tip of Cape Cod in a small tourist and fishing village called Provincetown. Within two weeks the sixth Fantasia Fair would commence.
I read Mano’s article in October, 1980, when I was 31 years old. I was newly divorced, with no children, out of graduate school, and had not yet established a career. I was desperate for information and for community and quite certain I was transsexual. Mano was emphatic about the high cost of Fantasia Fair and its focus on crossdressing, but he wrote about making out with a transsexual woman, so I thought I might be welcome. I was free to go, and I had money enough to buy gasoline for the long trip from Tennessee to Cape Cod and back, but I certainly didn’t have funds for lodging and food for a week. The event would be starting in only a few days, so an instant decision was required. I reluctantly elected not to go.
Vanessa Edwards Foster
In Texas, another young transsexual read the same article. She was short on funds also, but loaded her car and headed for Provincetown. Her name was Vanessa Edwards Foster, and when she arrived, nearly penniless, she was welcomed and supported by Fair attendees and management. A memento to Vanessa’s courage can be found in Mariette Pathy Allen’s 1990 book of photo essays, Transformations: she is one of the eleven trans people who were featured.
Vanessa in 1980 in Mariette Pathy Allen’s Transformations
Both Vanessa and I transitioned gender roles, and both of us became activists. It would take me ten years, however, before I found the community Vanessa’s courage led her to in 1980.
Alison Laing (L) and Me, 1994
Fantasia Fair entered my life again in 1992, three years after my gender transition and two years after my surgery. Alison Laing, who had already become a dear friend, phoned me on behalf of the Outreach Institute for Gender Studies to ask if I would join the board of directors.
In the early 1990s Fantasia Fair had a less than stellar fiscal reputation and I agreed— provided, I told Alison, we would work together to ensure the Fair was managed in an ethical fashion.
Alison Walking On Commercial Street
When October rolled around I found myself flying from Atlanta to Boston via Delta and then to the very tip of Cape Cod in a tiny Cessna operated by Cape Air. I immediately fell in love with the fishing and LGBT-friendly tourist village of Provincetown.
The 1992 Fair was a chaotic event, launched with a welcoming reception which came as a surprise to the manager of the Crown & Anchor, who scrambled to provide us with hors d’oeuvres and drinks. The Fair itself, I soon discovered, was a magical event and the staff and attendees wonderful people. I returned year after year, serving on the board and as a member of the staff and often in both capacities, and indeed worked to make Fantasia Fair fiscally honorable. That proved a difficult task, akin to nailing jello to a wall, but eventually, with the help of Alison and many others, Fantasia Fair was relaunched under management of the nonprofit Real Life Experiences. I have continued to serve on the board and planning committee, sometimes on one, sometimes on the other, and sometimes on both. I am still in love with Fantasia Fair and I cherish my annual week in Provincetown. In all that time I have missed only a single Fair (2010)—meaning I have made the pilgrimage to Cape Cod 24 times.
Why do I love the Fair? I love it because of its location. Provincetown is an amazing place, the original landing site of the Pilgrims, simultaneously a largely LGBT resort and a working fishing village. The food is wonderful, with fresh-caught seafood of all types and other fare as well. During the Fair shops are winding down their season and offer all sorts of sales and discounts. The sea is feet away and whales can occasionally be spotted from MacMillan Pier and always from whale watching boats in October. There are dozens of art galleries and the national seashore is close by, with beaches and bicycle trails through the scrub forests.
I love the Fair also because of its people. I have met hundreds of attendees and become fast friends with many of them; to give just two instances, there’s Diana Lombardi, who is program director for the Transgender Lives conference in Farmington, Connecticut and Miqqi Alicia Gilbert, who is Professor of Philosophy at Toronto’s York University and past director of the Fair. Provincetown has been wonderfully receptive to the Fair since its inception in 1975, and many townspeople become acquaintances or friends of Fairgoers. Many attendees establish relationships with innkeepers and occupy the same room year after year. Some Fair attendees become part of the town, buying condos or even working bed and breakfast inns. Many transpeople who are not officially part of the Fair miraculously pick the same week to visit Provincetown and while we sincerely hope they will eventually formally join us, we provide free and low-cost activities in which they can participate. Many of them, too, become friends.
I love the Fair because of its intimacy. I don’t think we have ever gone above 160 attendees, so there are lots of yearly-renewed friendships and lots of time to spend with new and old friends. On nice days it’s possible to people-watch for hours from the benches in front of the Town Hall or from the pier and over the years there have been hundreds and possibly thousands of late-night discussions and guitar round robins at the assorted inns.
I love the Fair because I’m not stuck in a hotel. I once went to an IFGE convention in Austin, a town I had always wanted to visit. The hotel was far away from downtown and the only thing I saw of Austin was the conference hotel and the airport. In Provincetown I wander around and every year I make new discoveries in alleyways and side streets. I love that people who are reluctant to show themselves in their own communities have a week in which they celebrate themselves and be celebrated by others. I love being out in a gale in a slicker and sunning myself on a beach chair and dodging skunks on Commercial Street late at night.
I love the Fair because over the years I can watch others become themselves. The frightened first-year attendee soon becomes the season veteran and quite a few become organizers or board members. I also watch as they become more confident with their presentations and explore their options in life. Many Fairgoers eventually transition.
I love the Fair because of its inclusiveness. An event I was a bit frightened to attend in 1980 because it was advertised for crossdressers included transsexuals even then, and by the time I first attended had come to officially embrace transsexuals and welcome transmasculine and androgynous people. Implementation has not always been perfect, not every attendee understands every other attendee’s identity or presentation, and the remoteness and cost of the event will probably always draw an older demographic, but the Fair today welcomes every gender nonbinary or gender nonconforming person, everyone who identities as transsexual or transgender or as a crossdresser, every ally, every family member, every professional who works with us or is interested in learning more about us.
I love other trans events as well and have been involved with launching a few of them, but I’m especially proud of my association with Fantasia Fair. If you come you will see me there, every year, for as long as I’m able.