Esprit Conference returns to Port Angeles for 18th Year
Friday May 12, 2007
PORT ANGELES -- Esprit 2007 - promoted as "The Pacific Northwest's Premier Transgender Convention" - begins today at the waterfront Red Lion Hotel.
Dedicated to the transgender issues of people born as men trying to live as women, the conference is meant to provide new participants with confidence to be women, strengthen the transgender community and give participants a week's vacation where the mountains meet the sea.
Workshops at the convention focus on transgender identity issues and support for significant others and offer tips on fashion, hair and make up.
The convention also raises thousands of dollars for its "charity of choice," the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.
The conference is open to male cross dressers, the small percentage of those who have had gender-changing surgery.
Some bring their wives with them to the convention.
Esprit begins with an icebreaker cocktail hour this evening and caps off with a ballroom dance on Saturday.
"From the carloads of dressed-to-the-nines ladies who descend on the city's finest French restaurant, to the tarts who roar into a local pool hall to compete in the annual Esprit pool tournament, Esprit has woven itself into the fabric of Port Angeles," according to the conference's Web site, www.espritconf.com.
Esprit started when Janice Van Cleve organized the "90 in 90" conference to bring together the 90 members of Seattle's Emerald City transgender organization in 1990.
Port Angeles was chosen to host the first conference that year because of the area's beauty and the hospitality of local officials and businesses, according to Esprit's organizers.
It was also chosen because transgender issues were not as accepted then as now, and Port Angeles was deemed a safe place to gather, organizers said.
Since then, Port Angeles has embraced the conference, the attendees - and their tourism dollars, said Kevin Thompson, president of the Port Angeles Downtown Association.
Thompson said the yearly conference is a major boon for businesses, especially those that cater to female fashion needs.
Thompson expects a spike in business at his downtown store, Family Shoe.
He recalls being a bit wary of Esprit at first, but then he and some other business owners met with participants at the Red Lion.
"I went down with some merchants, and we had drinks, chatted with them, and one hour turned into two hours, and turned into three hours, and we had a ball," Thompson said.
"We were learning. It was a great learning experience."
Esprit organizers have also scheduled several panel discussions at Peninsula College on Tuesday and Wednesday for students and the public.
The public is also invited to other events, such as a Friday night talent show at the Naval Elks Lodge at 131 E. First Street, and Saturday's dance in the Red Lion's second-floor ballroom.
For more information, click on www.espritconf.com.
Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News
Shae O'Doul of Seattle thought he'd come to the Esprit Gala once and get cross-dressing out of his system. That was 2004 -- and he's been coming back to the convention every year since.
Transgender Convention Wraps Up
Friday May 18, 2007
PORT ANGELES -- Shae O'Doul, a man in a low-cut top, speaks in a voice as soft as his smile is sweet.
"Three years ago, I thought I'd come here for a week and get it, out of my system," O'Doul said Wednesday afternoon while having his nails done.
"It" is cross-dressing, something O'Doul began dabbling with around 2004.
"I thought I'd move on with my life,"following that trip to Port Angeles.
Then, "my life got better."
O'Doul is among the 160 attendees of the 18th annual Esprit Gala Transgender Convention, which wraps up this weekend.
It includes sessions such as "The Transgender Journey," "Makeup Basics" and "Chess for TG Couples," plus today's Port Angeles shopping trip and a Saturday night dance that's open to the public.
The transgender attendees -- and in some cases their wives and girlfriends -- have been coming to the Red Lion Hote1 for the convention every spring since 1990.
"Port Angeles has pretty much opened up to us," said Dana McDonald, a man with silver hair, and earrings, who's known as Esprit's "founding mummy."
"My first karaoke as a girl was at the Moose Lodge," McDonald added.
"The local businesses are very supportive."
It's not easy to imagine McDonald singing karaoke.
He's a tall, dignified cross-dresser.
He wears an impeccable coif and a bulky red sweater; both his skin and his skirt are smooth.
Esprit, though not connected with the Esprit de Corps apparel company, is a celebration of diversity in fashion.
The men here cross the Red Lion parking lot like peacocks, pheasants, and understated doves.
The first time I put on a dress, I was about 4," remembered O'Doul.
As he went through school, fears of ostracism kept him from cross-dressing,
But then, a few years ago, a friend invited him to a party where some guests came as the opposite gender.
"It was a blast," said O'Doul.
He felt freed, if only for one evening.
Later O'Doul used the Internet to find organizations such as The Emerald City, a club for transgender people in his home city of Seattle.
And he found Esprit, the conference that has come of age in Port Angeles.
The best thing that O'Doul has learned here: that he's not alone.
"There are so many people here who share my story," he said.
About 60 percent of attendees are in the process of transitioning from male to female through, physiological means such as hormone treatments and surgeries, said conference organizer Jacqueline Allan of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia.
The rest are cross-dressers like O'Doul, who said he has no desire to change his gender.
| His romantic relationships are with women.
But he also enjoys presenting himself as female, using cosmetics, accessories and understated outfits.
At Esprit, "I gained a better understanding of being a woman," he said.
"It's the best of both worlds."
Not a lark
Not all of Esprit's devotees are as lighthearted.
Cross-dressing -- and taking a step into the public eye - is not something these men do as a lark, said Allan, 59, who first came to Esprit seven years ago.
Most people wander through life not thinking much about gender, he said.
But imagine how it would feel to be in the wrong body, expected to behave in ways that feel wholly unnatural.
"There's this knowing, from a very young age: You want to wear women's clothes," said Allan.
"People go through hell to come to these decisions. For many people, it's eating at them all the time."
Either the man does something about it, or he may turn to something to numb his pain: alcohol, other drugs - or suicide, he said.
At Esprit, attendees find time and space for exploration -- and more important to them, acceptance.
"A lot of people come here not knowing where they stand," said McDonald.
"They come away with a better understanding of why they have the feelings they do."
Claire Winter, another Esprit organizer and the self-described "town tranny" from Duvall said the conference -- and life as a transgender man -- isn't just about clothes and makeup.
"Nor is it about "gender issues," Winter said.
"It's about human issues, about the freedom to be yourself," something many people take for granted.
So why go to all the trouble of concealing one's masculine attributes and replacing them with things like hosiery and high heels?
Allan answers that with a question.
"How do you express yourself as a woman?" he asked the woman reporter interviewing him.
Well, OK: Clothes and makeup are the currency for a lot of us.
First time out
Cross-dressers such as O'Doul spark many a doubletake around Port Angeles.
That can be disconcerting to someone who hasn't been "out" much, he said. "What we tell new girls is: Smile.
"It's a very feminine thing to do. And it makes it easier for other people," to feel comfortable.
"We're seeing more people coming out," Allan added, "because there's more help now."
The Internet is a primary avenue, helping people contact counselors, groups and conferences such as Esprit.
"So many girls come here for the first time. They've never been out," Allan said.
"Once they decide to take the journey, counseling is usually the next step."
Esprit, he added, "has been a life-turning event for many of us."
Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News
The Esprit Gala Transgender Convention may be a kind of fashion show, but it's not just about clothes and makeup, said organizers Claire Winter, left, and Jacqueline Allan.
Life with a partner who cross dresses: Some wives and girlfriends join in at the Gala
Friday May 18, 2007
PORT ANGELES - Lorraine Livesey has been in a relationship with a cross-dressing man for 18 years.
Livesey, 48, an ebullient house painter from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, helps coordinate the "S.O." -- significant other -- program at the Esprit Gala, the transgender convention at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles that will wrap up this weekend.
Among the 160 Esprit attendees are 26 wives and girlfriends, Livesey said.
They came for classes on sexuality and other relationship dynamics; wine-and-cheese socials; "chick-flick frenzy" movie nights -- and community.
"For my generation, it was, 'Should we tell the secret?'" remembered Livesey, who added that these days, she and her partner Stephanie Mitchell are relatively open about Mitchell's cross-dressing. Livesey learned early on that her man liked to dress as a woman.
She's been coming to the Esprit conference since 2002, while Mitchell is one of the organizers and takes photos for the convention yearbook.
Back home in British Columbia, Livesey and Mitchell go out together -- both dressed as women -- to shop or attend social functions put on by the Cornbury Society, a club for transgender people and their loved ones.
While this is a monogamous relationship both believe will be lifelong, Livesey has no interest in a wedding.
She's divorced, a grandmother, and content.
Mitchell, in contrast, would like to be married.
"She's quite conservative," Livesey said of her partner.
The question S.O.s often hear is: Why stay with a man who wants to move back and forth across the gender line?
Livesey has no trouble answering. "My partner is caring and loving, a gentle soul," she said.
Mitchell "is respectful of who I am as a woman. What's not to like about that?
"And we share clothes.
"We're a good couple."
Married and cross-dressing
Jacqueline Allan, 59, is a transgender man who'll celebrate his 33rd wedding anniversary this year.
"I adore my wife. She has been very supportive," Allan said.
The couple have two grown sons who know their father is a cross-dresser.
Allan is aware, however, that others at the Esprit conference cannot be open with those they love.
"Many people lose their families totally," he said.
"It's rare that the wife actually stays with a transgender partner."
Dana McDonald, who was among the founding attendees of the first Esprit conference in Port Angeles; in 1990, came out as a cross-dresser in 1962, not long after he married his wife.
"I don't understand" everything about being a transgender person, McDonald said.
So, in the S.O. discussions during Esprit, attendees talk about letting go of the expectation that their spouses ought to comprehend it all.
Instead, "we should all try to accept, rather than understand." McDonald's wife and grown daughter are aware of his cross-dressing.
His spouse's main concern, he said, is that neighbors and friends may find out about it.
So he declined to be photographed for the newspaper.
Yet "things are really good between us," McDonald said, while acknowledging that there have been tough times over the years, with many arguments and tears shed.
Photo by Keith Thorpe, Peninsula Daily News
Stephanie Mitchell, seated, and partner Lorraine Livesey, both of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, sit in a room of the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles.
Relationships are, of course, as varied as the outfits Esprit-goers wear.
One S.O., who didn't want to give her real name since she lives on the North Olympic Peninsula, said she never considered her 30ish partner's cross-dressing to be a challenge that needed to be overcome.
"It's like having a best girlfriend . . and a hot boyfriend," she said.
At this year's conference, Livesey met an older woman who recently learned that her husband of many years cross-dresses.
"She's had so much fun with it," Livesey said, grinning. "She's just bloomed."
While many transgender men undergo surgery and hormone treatments, others choose only to dress as women, Livesey said.
That's the case with Mitchell, who's been cultivating a feminine wardrobe since the days when such men were called transvestites.
Today the preferred term in the transgender community is cross-dresser.
Mitchell has had no surgeries.
"We can't even pierce her ears," Livesey said, smiling again.
Once in a while, Livesey slips up: "I forget my pronouns," she admitted.
"And if I use her masculine name, she doesn't answer."
She and Mitchell do face hostility now and again. People stare and make unkind comments.
Like all couples, their lives are a mix of joy; and struggle -- "quite a journey," said Allan.
"We like our partners because of their soul," Livesey said.
"It's not about sex and gender, male and female.
"It's about love and acceptance of who they are in their soul."
On July 31, 2007, Esprit proudly donated $2194 to the Clallam County Hospice. This money was raised through dances, a raffle, and private contributions. The Clallam County Hospice provides care to the terminally ill and their families in Clallam County at no charge to the patient or family. Esprit is proud to continue its support of this wonderful organization.