Road Tripping, Skinny Dipping and Other Lessons from the Philly Trans Health Conference

PhillyTransLast weekend I embarked upon a cross-country drive to the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference with a gang of fierce queer folks. Armed with road-grub, latex and queer novels, I excitedly stuffed myself into a friend’s Honda and headed out. The workshop line-up for the conference looked incredible, and I was prepared for my mind to be blown by the impending education.

The content of the conference was certainly informative and important; I expected that. What I wasn’t as prepared for was all of the informal learning, challenging and philosophizing, and the intimacy created by travel and shared spaces. I spent time with folks who intentionally or unintentionally left psychic marks on me, expanding my thinking and motivating me to reflect with a critical eye. Even skinny dipping held educational value and transformational potential (in addition to the birth of the idea of a queer ‘chicken’ league).

I came to the conference seeking concrete practical information; definitive answers that I believed would make me a better ally and social service provider. Instead, what happened more often was that I engaged in extensive conversations that deepened my understanding, but didn’t necessarily produce conclusions. It seems that with some issues (or perhaps all issues) the more you explore the nature of it, the clearer it becomes that everything is relative, layered, changeable and evolving.

Walking into the conference center, I was struck by the sheer number of trans* and queer folk in one place, and of course, by how gorgeous I thought everyone looked. My heart felt full of pride in our communities, and I was inspired by the radical and intergenerational nature of the conference spaces.  For a bit of background, the Philly Trans Health Conference is in its twelfth year, and by all accounts has grown exponentially in the past few. It is organized by and for trans* and non-binary folks and allies, and is a program of the Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ health center in Philadelphia. This is how the organizers describe the event:

“PTHC proudly offers a space for Trans* people and our allies, families, and providers to come together to re-envision what health means for Trans* people. The focus of this unique conference is promoting transgender health and wellness in mind, body, spirit, and community.

This year, the conference had two tracks: one for service providers, the other for community members and allies. The track for service providers came with a fee and the potential for earning CEUs (continuing education units), but was full by the time I registered for the conference. There was workshop crossover, and I focused my schedule on sessions that I thought might help me improve my practice as a social worker and health provider. The workshops varied widely, and included the personal, the existential, and the practical. There were sessions on top surgery, spiritual health for TIGN folks, trans* sex work and the law, increasing trans* representation in research, and post-gender confirmation surgery satisfaction, to name a mere few.

I could process around the conference experience for pages, but a thoughtful weekend with dykes/queers had me processing more than you can imagine, and my brain has turned to (more enlightened) mush. For now, I have highlighted a few of the issue areas that piqued my particular interest.

Utilizing ‘non-traditional’ (which are actually the most traditional) health models & providers for promoting TIGN/queer health

Hospitals and health clinics have long been traumatizing and anxiety-inducing spaces for trans* and queer people. Though some progress has been made in recent years, many mainstream service providers are not culturally competent with or respectful of trans* and queer patients and their identities. So it was meaningful to me that radical health workers presented alternatives to the modern medical model as a way for trans* folks to access more affirming care. Radical doulas and midwives spoke about providing pelvic and reproductive care to folks across the gender spectrum, and naturopaths reported on utilizing natural medicine to achieve desired transition results. Community care and holistic models resonate deeply with me, and I feel there is great potential within our communities to meet many of our own health needs without needing to access (or needing to access less frequently) institutional medicine.

Global trans* activism & the need for solidarity & representation

Trans* and queer activism is by no means unique to the U.S. Our ethnocentric public education, along with our government’s values, has led some folks to intentionally or unwittingly ignore global perspectives and the need for international solidarity. There were a few workshops at PTHC focused on ‘international issues’.  I attended a workshop on trans* activism in East Africa, and was deeply affected. Activists spoke about the need for more African representation at conferences and in international decision-making bodies, and about their alienation from the lesbian and gay movements in their countries. They addressed issues like LGB(T) funding not reaching trans* communities , transphobia and the targeting of trans* people as a result of anti-gay legislation and their personal experiences of challenging power. This session motivated me to research current efforts and ways to connect to some of these movements for gender justice, and hopefully had the same effect on others.

Mental Health Diagnoses & Dissecting Dysphonia

There were a number of workshops at the conference on issues related to Gender Dysphoria – reform of the DSM (the APA’s diagnostic tool for mental health providers), pathologization of identities, and the processes required to access transition-related healthcare. This is an issue area in which there is no consensus, but a great deal of meaningful debate.  As someone who provides mental health care, I simultaneously abhor and utilize the DSM and other standardized tools in the care of clients because of billing requirements, medical need and even client desire to ‘name’ or conceptualize their mental health experience. This is an issue that requires much more time than there is space for here, but folks can check out GID Reform Advocates for additional information on Gender Dysphoria and the DSM.

While I was inspired by many of the workshops, my most treasured memories of the conference will be the conversations I had with trans* folks that educated and challenged me, and allowed me to verbalize and sort out my thoughts in a space that was safe for sharing. I was motivated to reflect, re-wind, re-align and consider ways to be a better, more active ally. I’d like to extend an enormous, queer-tastic thank you to all the folks who spent time, chatted, commiserated, debated, and played semi-nude pool games with me.

If you were mildly interested in any of the above issues, be sure to check out:

GID Reform

The Wright Doctor. Naturopathic Transition Care

Sexual Minorities Uganda

Radical Doula

Healthcare Equality Index  

GLMA – Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality

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3 Responses to “Road Tripping, Skinny Dipping and Other Lessons from the Philly Trans Health Conference”

  1. Would trans* folk still consider you an “ally” if they knew that you were attending the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival? This is a festival that restricts the attendance of trans-sisters, and several transgender activists have called for it’s boycott.

    Posted by Concerned Ally | June 25, 2013, 7:47 pm
  2. Hmmm, how interesting that you know my travel plans concerned ally! Sadly, you are incorrect. I am not attending this year, after Lisa’s irrefutable statement released a few months ago. I attended the fest for the first time last year – as I believe you know – after reading and hearing that the exclusion policy was no longer in place and adored it. I connected with womyn (including trans* womyn) and found it incredibly powerful.

    I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the lack of movement, and if fact the digging-in of heels around inclusion. I very much want to attend the fest, but at this point am not able. When organizers change the policy, I will be the first at the gate, because I found the experience grounding, affirming and healing.

    I don’t think it is at all appropriate to anonymously call into question someone’s allyship with no actual knowledge. I suspect I know who concerned ally is, but if you’d like to identify yourself and have a conversation, I’m open to that.

    Posted by Cassandra | June 26, 2013, 5:18 pm
  3. *irrefutably trans*-exclusive that is.

    Posted by Cassandra | June 26, 2013, 5:18 pm

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