FERNDALE – About 80 people braved the rains and came out for the seventh annual Transgender Day of Empowerment on Sunday. The conference, which was sponsored by the Gender-Identity Network Alliance (formerly Transgender Detroit), took place at Affirmations.
“I was a little disappointed in the attendance, but I’m attributing that to the weather,” said Michelle Fox-Phillips, executive director of GNA. “The whole day was awesome. The vendors that were there, the programs themselves, the workshops, were totally awesome.”
At the conference, Fox-Phillips announced a new queer legal project and had participants fill out surveys to glean information about any trans bias experienced. The project is a collaborative effort of GNA, Affirmations, Equality Michigan and the Stonewall Legal Project.
“We want to get a survey and then we’re going to start doing workshops for attorneys and judges and let them know our issues in the community,” Fox-Phillips said. “Then we’re going to be setting up a legal clinic.”
During the lunch portion of the conference, Roz Keith of Ally Moms spoke about her group. Keith is the mother of a teenage trans son and founded the group after he came out to her. The group has about 70 members across the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia. Ally Moms offers phone counseling and support to parents of trans youth.
“The Ally Moms group just happened so organically,” Keith said. “It’s crazy how much support came in… it’s really intended just to be a love on the other end of the phone.”
Keith has also started a second group, Stand With Trans, which became a 501(c)(3) organization earlier this year. The mission of Stand With Trans is to provide education, advocacy, mentorship, scholarship, empowerment and support to trans youth and their families.”
‘We’re All Transgender’
One highlight of the conference was the workshop on intermarginalization. Led by Stephen Rassi and Sandra Samons, two therapists from Ann Arbor, the workshop looked at how different subsects of the trans community discriminate against one another.
“It’s that old them and us mentality,” said Samons. “We’re not like them, and they’re not like us.”
While trans folk are under the LGBT umbrella, people in the workshop learned how many groups fall under the trans umbrella itself.
“What really gets under my skin is that a lot of activists don’t agree that crossdressers are part of the trans community, or drag queens or kings, but in reality they are,” Fox-Phillips told the group. “We’re all trans.”
Samons said that growing up in an often intolerant world causes everyone — even trans people themselves — to have some trans bias.
“I do not think it’s possible for anyone, including therapists, to grow up in a society where there is stigmatization and preconceived ideas about any particular population without internalizing some of that,” she said. “If you are a transgender person and you don’t feel entirely comfortable in the world, it probably has to do with some of those things that you’ve internalized about what it means to be a transgender person.”
And just what does it mean to be a transgender person? And does that label to some degree apply to everyone?
“Even John Wayne was not completely male in every way and even Marilyn Monroe wasn’t female in every way,” said Rassi. “Everybody in this room is trans.”
“I totally agree we’re all transgender,” she said. “Everybody has some element of both genders, some more than others.”
The provocative statements were met with a mixed response.
“I feel like I kind of get the concept they’re going for,” said Jennifer Miracle-Best. “I guess the core point is that gender is very fluid. What makes it provocative is saying everyone is transgender. It’s similar to saying everybody is a little gay, which I also kind of believe. I think to say it that way is going to be met with a lot of, ‘Wow, wait, what?’ We all have masculine and feminine traits. We all have all of that. But I’ve never used the words, ‘We’re all transgender.'”
Miracle-Best’s husband, himself a trans man, was not entirely pleased.
“It felt like we discussed things like people putting labels on other people and people putting people in boxes, and then we turned around and did the same thing in the group,” said Ethan Best. “For me, personally, it allowed me to see that people with psychology backgrounds, and who work in that field, also don’t get it.”
On the whole though, the day-long conference earned great marks with attendees.
“It was exhilarating and eye opening for me personally,” said Judy Mays, a board member of PFLAG-Detroit. “I learned a tremendous amount of information that I thought I had but that I really didn’t. Friendships were made. It was just a powerhouse day.”