“What really burns me up,” Dr S. Kristine James said to me, “is watching old guys who just stay home and watch TV, or maybe drive their wives around. Hell some of them don’t even drive anymore, they just follow their wife to the story like a puppy dog.
“Why don’t they volunteer, at the library, at the museum, something? Why don’t they?
“Everyone has something to offer,” she told me. “Everyone.”
“You realize what you just said, don’t you?” I asked.
“It’s the theme for your keynote speech.” She laughed.
Kristine isn’t a speaker, not a talker. Kristine is a doer, and that’s why she has built special conferences and places for her people since 1986 when she formed CrossDressersInternational in NYC. Twenty seven years of offering her service to people she cares for, twenty seven years of trying to get other transpeople to see that everyone has something to offer.
She may bark orders and play tough, but I saw her run around the table to hug a frightened newbie. She told the story of a terrified CD on their first night at the CDI apartment who was too scared to move, so she and another gal each took and arm and carried the new gal to the restaurant, where a few glasses of wine loosened her up and started her exploration of self.
TBB and I chatted about this. TBB started Southern Comfort Conference after her experience at IFGE 1989 with the goal to bring together a wide range of trans communities in a southern style. She was arguing that she was a CD voice there, but that’s not the way I saw her.
On my first evening at SCC 1993, I came up to her at dinner after chatting in a session. She told me that she was hosting the talent show, and I joked “I always knew you wanted to be a mistress, just not a mistress of ceremonies.”
“That’s funny,” she told me. “Come on up and host the talent show with me. You can do it.”
“Don’t you have a script already?”
“I have nothing.”
I scrambled around to get something ready, smashing the leg off a hotel table as I carried it to the stage, a bit unsteady in my heels, and we did our first show together. I set it up like the Tonight show, and I played Edwina McMahon who chortled and guffawed as a toadie to the host, all the time giving TBB funny lines to transition between the performers. You can’t put a writer on stage, but if you disguise the writer as a stooge, well, that will work. Next day, though, many people came up to me and commented how drunk I was. No.
The next night, the performers didn’t show and TBB had to vamp. I tried to cue her to a piece I gave her the night before and she hauled me up on stage. That’s how The Drama Queens (We have no act! We have no talent! We are The Drama Queens!) were born.
“The first time I met you,” I reminded her, “you told me that I had something to offer, and I had to do it now. Onstage. I find it hard to believe you only did that with me.”
TBB agreed. “Yeah, that’s probably my primary contribution. I always could see talent in people and help them bring it out. Everyone has something to offer.”
Holly Boswell has long brought her own nature based spirituality to the SCC. “I really didn’t get what Holly was doing,” TBB told me. “To me it seemed like bullshit, as I’d rather belt out a showtune. But I did get how many people said that Holly’s sessions were the absolute best they attended, transformative and empowering, and that’s why I always supported her.”
In the end, the most important thing isn’t becoming the same, but becoming ourselves. Both TBB and I agree that what we want is for Holly to be more Holly, for everyone to be more themselves and to offer their own unique and potent gifts to the group and to the world. We each need to fight our own fight for authenticity and power, not getting lost in the struggles of others.
In fact, what TBB did at SCC was to keep the hoards of crossdressers at bay, so diverse voices always had space in the spotlight and not just around the edges. She left and that diversity suffered, so while SCC still has diversity at the margins, it’s not quite so queer in the centre.
What both Kristine and TBB know, know deep in their bones, is that if you give someone the gift of trusting in what they have to offer — and everyone has something to offer — that you give them the gift not just of giving, but also of receiving.
When you open yourself to give to others, you open yourself. And that means you are also open to receiving as you work with others. This is one reason that service to others is always service to ourselves. You build relationship and value, so everybody benefits.
Number five on my “What You Need To Know” piece is “The most painful thing about trans is not being able to give your gifts and have them accepted.”
Kristine knows this. So does TBB.
They know that everyone has something to offer, and when you make a space, give them a chance and encourage them to offer it, you build better people and better communities.
This is what they offered. And I thank them for it.
And so, I offer what I pulled to play when I toasted Kristine at her last gala as conference chair on Saturday night.
This one’s for you, Doc.