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IFGE 2004 Conference (2004)

IFGE 2004 Conference (2004)

©2004, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2004, Summer).Coming together 2004: A review of the 18th Annual IFGE conference. Transgender Tapestry, 106, pp. 32-36.






IFGE Conference 2004

By Dallas Denny

April Fool’s Day saw the opening of IFGE’s 18th annual conference at the Airport Hilton Hotel in Philadelphia; there was a special emphasis on trans youth. Under cloudy and usually rainy skies, 250 transgendered people, their friends and families, and helping professionals assembled for three days of presentations, workshops, and celebration.

We present here our editor’s experience at the conference.


I knew I was in for a memorable time as soon as I looked up after taking my seat in the Delta jet at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.  Making her way up the aisle was none other than 91-year-old Virginia Prince, known with good reason as the “godmother of crossdressing.” Certainly she is a pillar of the transgender community; her work in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s laid the very foundations on which organizations like IFGE stand today. Virginia is the subject of a newly-published biography by Dr. Richard Docter; look for a review next issue.

Virginia and I had a good chat before she took her seat across the aisle from me. Later, I hitched a ride with the welcoming committee that was waiting at the Philadelphia airport to meet her— IFGE board member and conference co-organizer Alison Laing, IFGE Board member Catherine Andrews, and Lynda Frank.

My first sight on coming through the door of the hotel was— you guessed it— none other than our very own Christine Hochberg.  You gotta love her. There she was in her usual over-the-top garb, working the registration desk, where she could be found throughout the conference— when, that is, she wasn’t collecting tickets at the luncheons and banquets. She gave me a smile and a registration packet and immediately began working me for a scholarship to Fantasia Fair. She may get it, for Christine is a Do Bee, even if her mother dresses her funny.

The Hilton was fine: clean, nice rooms that didn’t smell of stale smoke, staff who, if they didn’t like us (and I rather think most thought we were okay) kept their mouths shut about it. I would have liked to have been downtown, but considering the price of hotel rooms in Philadelphia proper, I think Cioe Enterprises (i.e., Kristine and Alison) made a wise choice. The restaurant had surprisingly inexpensive items, and the adjoining sports bar was large and there was (a must for me) no karaoke. I skipped the optional Wednesday dinner and spent the evening in the bar, swapping stories with old friends and meeting new ones.

My only gripe with the hotel is with the food. I’m on the Atkins diet and wasn’t planning to eat most of the banquet food anyway, but even the breakfast buffet was weak, with strawberries that tasted like plastic, hard scrambled eggs, and undercooked bacon. The meat loaf at Thursday’s luncheon was memorable, and not in a good way. I think it was made with Quikrete.

The workshops kicked off on Thursday morning and continued through Saturday afternoon. There was a wide variety— usually two or three running concurrently—ranging from presentation of results of research; to how to go from the closet to sex reassignment surgery in six months; to issues regarding adolescents and children and their families; to the usual sessions on hormones and plastic surgery. Unlike the workshops at many transgender conferences, which sometimes have only two or three people in the audience, most of these seemed to be well-attended. The sessions on children and adolescents and of course those on surgery (a topic of perennial high interest in this community) played to packed rooms.

Presentations began with a plenary by historian, nurse, and sexologist Dr. Vern Bullough, who talked about historical events of the second half of the XXth century. Thursday lunch featured the presentation of the IFGE Diversity Award to IBM by Board Chair Hawk Stone. Saturday’s luncheon featured the presentation of Trinity awards to retired IFGE Board Chair Julie Johnson, Brenda Thomas, and Angela Britefeather, who graciously acknowledged the importance of her spouse of many years. Saturday’s luncheon saw a keynote by IFGE Chair Hawk Stone and the well-deserved presentation of the Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Award to Marcia Botzer, whose work in Washington State has been stellar for at least 25 years. She is, among many other things, the founder of the Ingersoll Gender Center. Her efforts have made not only Seattle, but Washington, safe and affirming space for transpeople.

Marcia gave the absolute best speech I have ever heard. Unfortunately, no one (including myself) thought to record it, and she spoke from notes rather than a written copy, so only those who were in the room will be privileged to hear it, but let me you tell you, it was a humdinger! Marcia is so soft-spoken, usually, I couldn’t believe it was really her— but it was, and boy, does she burn bright!

Saturday nights’s entertainment was by Kate Bornstein, who read from her forthcoming A Queer and Pleasant Danger.

There were several receptions during the afternoons, including a Thursday wine and cheese held by Fantasia Fair and hosted by Phyllis Fink. Friday’s reception by the new nonprofit National Center for Transgender Equality, which turned out to be an ambush fundraiser, though. It was so cynically and expertly done that I broke for the door without even having a chance to work my way up to the crowded buffet table to grab some peanuts. If I hadn’t left when I did, I’m sure I would have been shaken down on my way out the door; people were getting into position even as I was leaving.

Perhaps I was naive in thinking it was a “getting to know you” reception and not a fundraiser. I just know I felt manipulated and uncomfortable. I don’t mind giving to nonprofits— often do— but I detest and resent being maneuvered into doing so, especially by an organization that has yet to demonstrate its efficacy. I found myself wondering why IFGE would allow another organization to aggressive raise funds at a conference which, among other things, is IFGE’s own primary fundraising activity.

That said, I’m sure NCTE will soon have a stellar track record. I’ll keep them in mind for contributions in the future, but I’ll avoid their receptions so I won’t be ambushed again.

A big focus of the conference was trans families. There were panel presentations giving the perspectives of parents and youth themselves. It became apparent to some at the conference, myself included, that our community has not yet grappled with the ethical issues involved with having children at our conferences and particularly with them giving presentations. Is it proper, for instance, for a therapist to present a child as if at medical conference? There was some disagreement among the therapists present about the particulars, but most agreed it’s important for our professionals to talk about and come to agreement on what is appropriate and what can be done to safeguard the anonymity and look after the best interests of the young people involved. (Here’s a question for the community: is it appropriate for a six-year-old child to be present at a slice-and-dice two-slide-carousel SRS presentation? I saw it happening.)

For me, the best part of any transgender conference is the people. I got to meet any number of delightful new friends, and catch up with old ones. Many community leaders were there, including Dr. Sheila Kirk, who I hadn’t seen for quite some times, and dozens of helping professionals; I got a chance to break bread, have a drink with, or otherwise spend time with many of them. I particularly valued my time, extended or brief, with Dr. Vern Bullough, Dr. Sandra Cole, Dr. Sandra Samons, Dr. Ariadne Kane, Yvonne Cook-Riley, Virginia Prince, Catherine Andrews, all the folks I went to dinner with on Friday, and Phyllis Fink, with whom I got to shop for wine and cheese for the Fantasia Fair reception. You should have seen us Thursday afternoon, running up and down the aisles of the Acme grocery, throwing fruit platters and paper plates and bags of cheese cubes into the cart!

IFGE Board Chair Hawk Stone was everywhere—holding meetings, dealing with crises of various sorts, putting programs ont the tables at the Saturday banquet. IFGE Executive Director Denise Leclair had driven down from Boston with a van full of books, most of which she sold in the vendor area. She worked just as hard as Hawk.

I was happy to see in the vendor area another face I rarely see these days–JoAnn Roberts, who showed me the new look of her magazine, Ladylike, and the person responsible for it—her fianceé.

Early in the conference I shared a moment of disappointment with Monica Helms, who received word via her cell phone that the Georgia legislature had just passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; it will go before voters in November, and will almost certainly pass.

Monica and I happened to ride home on the same plane. I gave her a ride from the airport to her car and we talked over a Sunday evening dinner about how we might best respond to the latest prank of our state legislature.

I’ve lots of happy memories of the IFGE conference. I hope I’ll be able to go next year. It’s in the only Texas city I’ve ever had an interest in, and about the only one to which I’ve not yet been—Austin. Of course, the conference would be more than worthwhile, wherever it was held. I think it’s still searching for both its focus and its constituency, but it’s moving in the right direction rapidly. Both the number of participants and the quality of the presentations is up, and it can only get better.