Monday May 17, 2004
By Emeline Cokelet
Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles -- Almost 200 people from as far as New Zealand are gathering this week for the city's largest convention, the Esprit Gala.
They will fill the waterfront Red Lion Hotel where they have gathered for the past 14 years, attend classes by renowned professionals in several fields, and have the chance to be themselves at one of the country's premier transgender conventions.
"For many of the attendees, this is about the only time they get out," Suzanne Adams, secretary for this year's Esprit committee, said last week.
The conference draws people from throughout the transgendered spectrum -- from heterosexual men who enjoy dressing as women to those who have undergone "sexual reassignment" surgery to change their genders.
They risk losing their families and their jobs, so it's important that they maintain their confidentiality, Adams said.
Full schedule of classes
The week's lineup of classes includes everything from makeup and hairstyling to exploring the "mysteries of girl talk" and learning about genital reassignment surgery from a Colorado-based surgeon.
Esprit is also one of the only transgender conventions that offers programs for spouses.
Last year, between 25 and 35 spouses attended, Adams said.
Esprit grew from three of the Northwest's major transgender organizations -- Northwest Gender Alliance from Portland, Ore., the Cornbury Society of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Emerald City from Seattle, of which Adams is president.
In the 12 years that Adams has been involved, the conference has grown from two days to a full week, and has evolved from a cross-dresser theme to a more transgender aspect that encompasses the whole realm, she said.
Esprit has slowly opened itself to the public and has received support from the community.
"We're treated so graciously from most of the town, with a few exceptions," Adams said.
In 2002, Esprit began inviting the public to an evening dance.
This Wednesday evening, doors open to the public at 9 p.m. in the Red Lion ballroom for "A Southern Dysfunctional Family Reunion" with Annieville and the Annieville Blues Band.
For security and confidentiality reasons, Esprit plans to ban cameras and camera phones from the dance, Adams said.
Throughout the week, the attendees will also patronize numerous Port Angeles merchants. Last year's conference brought in more than $300,000 in revenue for the city, she said.
Most participants will arrive between today and Wednesday. Esprit wraps up Sunday.
Port Angeles merchants gear up for Esprit customers
Visitors to city's biggest conference enjoy the fineries
Monday May 17, 2004
By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles -- Downtown merchant Jean Laidig has been gearing up for what is now believed to be the longest-running annual conference in Port Angeles history.
The owner of Electric Beach, 117 N. Oak St., substantially stocked up her wig inventory.
"I've actually made special buys because I wanted to be ready," said Laidig, who has sold wigs at her business for eight months.
"Esprit people are looking for really natural looking wigs and I just added more colors and more styles. They love wigs. It's a really easy way to have pretty hair."
The 15th annual Esprit Gala, a conference for transgender people, once again kicks up its high heels starting today at the Red Lion Hotel, where it started in 1989.
Transgender is a term that covers cross-dressers, transsexuals or intersexed people.
Besides wigs and hairpieces, Laidig's Electric Beach also offers gifts, waxing, tattoos, body piercing and jewelry, pedicures, eyelashes, massages and facials.
Any of these services may attract some of the thousands of dollars Esprit visitors have dropped on downtown Port Angeles merchants for the past 14 years.
Besides wigs and women's clothes, Esprit conference-goers will be stepping out to eating establishments and spending big money around town.
"The Port Angeles community, besides being in a beautiful setting, welcomes Esprit with open arms as well as do the various merchants," Esprit's web site states.
"We are accepted and respected for who we are and treated with a genuine hospitality. Therefore, you may feel free to go to most any place in the community without trepidation and I would urge you to do so."
At least 150 are expected to show up for the 2004 Esprit Gala, filling most, if not all of the Red Lion Hotel's 106 rooms for the week.
"This particular group from an object business standpoint is important to us, politics aside," said Red Lion general manager Michael Luehrs, recalling some letters to the editor that were critical of merchants and the hotel for catering to Esprit.
For the Red Lion, however, acceptance of Esprit has meant customer loyalty for 14 years.
The group first approached Red Lion in 1989, long before Luehrs was the top executive.
"Many are returning here like it's a little reunion each year," Luehrs said, who last year reported that the event pretty much covered the Red Lion's business needs for the entire month.
The gala's timing -- mid-May -- launches the hotel's summer season, Luehrs said.
The Esprit Gala is the largest convention for transgendered people in the Pacific Northwest, and downtown merchants are rolling out the red carpet in some of the same ways they welcomed visitors off the cruise ship MS Zaandam last Thursday.
Arla Holzschuh, Port Angeles Downtown Association executive director, said the association's merchant members will again display storefront signs as they did during the cruise ship's visit.
Only this time, the Esprit signs are in hot pink, saying: "Welcome Esprit, we're glad you're here."
Uptown at 230 W. Eighth St., Just-N-Love Bridals and Formals has plenty of plus-size gowns in stock for those attending the Esprit Gala.
Co-owner Cindy Gustafson, co-owner of Just-N-Love Bridals and Formals, 230 W. Eighth St.
Just-N-Love's adjoining businesses, Creative Touch, a full-service salon, and The Petal Shoppe, often provide convenience for transgender shoppers in need of a gown, an elegant hairdo or a corsage.
As in the past, Just-N-Love will be joining in the Esprit fashion show Friday and will host an after-hours event on Wednesday.
Said Gustafson: "I think they give business in the entire community a shot in the arm."
Esprit Gala fashion tip: 'Cross-dress for less'
Thursday, May 20, 2004
By Emeline Cokelet
Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles -- Like a fashion guru leading the uninitiated toward style enlightenment, Suzanne Adams started her class with the basics.
Where do you find clothes in your size? She asked.
"Goodwill!" someone shouted.
"Ross!" another intoned.
"That's Ross Cross-Dress For Less, by the way," Adams said.
On Wednesday afternoon, the former policeman who now favors short skirts and keeps her nails expertly groomed shared her tips for passing as a woman in "Cross Dressing 101."
Inside a small meeting room at the Red Lion Hotel, 17 of the more than 150 people attending this week's Esprit Gala transgender convention soaked up Adams' advice.
Adams, wearing an above-the-knee skirt, close-fitting white V-neck, black blazer and heeled loafers, called it "the big B" -- blending into a crowd so men who dress as women can pass for the latter gender.
Make sure your clothes fit and are stylish, she said.
"Does everybody have a little black dress?"
Made-up faces nodded beneath shiny coifs. "If you don't, get one," Adams said.
Keep it feminine
"Fetishwear" in public should be limited to appropriate occasions, and fragrances should be applied "light, light, light."
Keep it feminine, she said.
"What about Old Spice?" someone joked.
"Wrong!" came Adams' reply.
The class is one of many on Esprit's schedule this week geared toward helping transgendered people feel more comfortable with their feminine selves.
The Esprit participants range from heterosexual men who enjoy dressing as women to those who have undergone "sexual reassignment" surgery to permanently change their genders.
The convention also offers some specialized courses for people attending with their spouses.
About 30 spouses attended last year's Esprit, which has been held at the Red Lion in Port Angeles since the convention's inception 15 years ago.
The convention grew from three of the Northwest's major transgender organizations -- Northwest Gender Alliance from Portland, Cornbury Society of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Emerald City from Seattle, of which Adams is president.
Adams is also the secretary for this year's Esprit committee. The week's agenda includes shopping trips, mixers, talks by renowned physicians, a pajama party, a graduation ceremony and a clothing exchange, with the unclaimed items donated to a local women's shelter.
At Adams' cross-dressing class Wednesday afternoon, the participants were all dressed as women, including the natural woman who attended with her spouse.
They listened and offered their own examples as Adams talked.
Dangers of malls
Shopping malls are a great place to observe what women wear and how they carry themselves, but they do have a drawback, Adams said.
"What is the danger of going to the mall?" she asked.
"Teenage girls!" almost everyone responded in unison.
"Most dangerous species in the world," Adams agreed, noting in adolescence they observe everything with a highly critical eye.
The talk turned to grooming, and Adams produced a small purple box containing nail polish and other accoutrements.
"How do you find faux nails that fit the broad beds of men's fingers?" one person asked. Adams recommended cutting one's own custom-fit nails from the clear, rounded plastic of a 2-liter pop bottle, painting them, and affixing them to the fingers using contact cement.
She held up the plum colored nails of her right hand.
"Your nails always look salon-perfect," she said.
Though the talk leaned toward the light side, the class took a serious tone when Adams -- who teaches about the transgendered community at a Seattle-area police academy -- talked about what to do if stopped or questioned by an officer while cross-dressed.
Don't panic, she said, and be honest about yourself.
Same goes for traffic accidents, crossing international borders and navigating airport security, realities for some of this week's convention-goers who have traveled from around the United States, Canada and even New Zealand to attend Esprit.
"Just handle it the best way you can," Adams said.
"That's the only advice I can give you."
Sunday July 11, 2004
Peninsula Daily News
[An Esprit officer presented] a check for $1,528.10 to Rose Crumb, director of Hospice of Clallam County, at the hospice offices in Port Angeles on Friday. The money was collected at the annual Esprit cross-dressers convention in May at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles. Convention attendees made donations at several events and workshops and at a formal dance.