By John Hanright
At the beginning of this month, a group of eight students from Cape Cod Community College’s (4Cs) LGBTQ+ Club went to the 38th annual First Event, billed as “Massachusetts’ premiere trans* and non-binary conference.” The trip was sponsored by the LGBTQ+ Club.
The Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel in Marlboro, MA, has for the past three years opened its doors to First Event, placing in their conference rooms all of the several seminars and providing for registrants lunch and a banquet. This year, the conference was scheduled from January 30 to February 4.
A main sponsor of First Event is the Greater Boston chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* Youth (PFLAG). According to Mark Mettler, the board chair of the Greater Boston chapter, the organization has for three consecutive years sponsored the youth and family program at First Event. Registration of young people and their families is increasing every year, with this year clocking in at roughly “120 youth and family participants,” said Mettler.
First Event is presented by Tiffany Club of New England (TCNE), which is one of the oldest trans* support groups in the New England area. Tiffany’s Closet, a thrift shop connected with TCNE, provides for transitioning individuals many articles of clothing, jewelry, and other accessories. Most of the youth- and family-oriented workshops and seminars are limited to young people under the age of 18 and their parents and family members. There are also numerous other seminars to attend at the conference.
Trans* literature was the subject of one of many seminars featured. “I set up the session to be a participatory discussion rather than a lecture,” Larissa Glasser, the presenter of the seminar, said. Attendees were given a packet of excerpts from books and memoirs by trans* authors, such as Janet Mock’s Redefining Realness and Kate Bornstein’s Queer and Present Danger. Covered in this seminar were subjects regarding surviving abuse and trauma.
Trans* literature is always aware of the content that may be useful and needed for other trans* people to understand abuse, hate crimes, and discrimination.
“Trans literature is still growing, and the best way to spread the word about writers and their work is to generate discussion and provoke interest,” said Glasser. The author, if they are a trans* or non-binary person, is always conscious of the experiences that may trigger in a reader traumatic reactions, whilst also candidly and openly dealing with the subject. The publication and availability of trans* literature also helps to affirm people’s gender identities by giving a voice to similar life stories. A novel or a memoir by a trans* writer may encourage someone who may fear or feel nervous about transitioning or about dating as a trans* person.
“Being survivors of abuse doesn’t mean that we are damaged goods,” Glasser said, “Although this is a difficult time for trans rights . . . , I feel like we are fortunate to be witnessing a literary movement that is legitimate and enriching, not just for trans people but for everyone.”
For an extensive bibliography of trans* literature, Jessica Mink has compiled a huge e-library on her website, which one may access by going to jessicamink.com/tgbooks.html.
In addition to literature, First Event also offers to adults of all ages a wide variety of seminars. Some seminars included presentations of top and bottom gender-confirming surgeries (GCS) for people assigned female at birth (AFAB) and assigned male at birth (AMAB) and discussion of sexuality among female- and male-identifying people, including asexuality in the trans*, non-binary, and cisgender communities.
After lunch was a presentation by the Massachusetts Trans* Political Coalition (MTPC), which advocates policy change at the state and local levels in Massachusetts and whose affiliated Transgender University & College Activist Network (TUCAN) is present and active on several campuses across the Commonwealth. Recently, MTPC successfully fought to more easily change one’s gender marker on one’s driver’s license.
However, Mason Dunn, the MTPC’s executive director, was at First Event to discuss an even more consequential matter. The Massachusetts Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Veto Referendum is a state-wide measure to repeal this year on Election Day a law that was signed into law in 2016 that prohibits in public accommodations discrimination against trans* people. Dunn and the MTPC, in addition to Freedom for All, are at the forefront of the effort to protect the law and mobilize activists to ensure success at the polls.
“I think the most enjoyable part of our trip to First Event was the fact that I was 100% comfortable with myself due to the fact that I was in an environment filled with people who are either in similar situations to myself or people who are there to learn how to support people they care for,” said LGBTQ+ Club president Levi Bourke, when asked in an email interview about his time at First Event.
Bourke also found much helpful information regarding top and bottom surgeries, which only further reassured him.
“I think that the entire trip was a learning experience; everyone I talked to educated me in some way or another,” he added. Prior to the conference, Bourke was not, in his words, very “well-versed” on the various possibilities for bottom surgery. After going to some seminars with surgeons presenting at First Event, he now feels “confident that [he] can make a well-educated decision once the time comes.”