MATT SCHUBERT'S OUTDOORS COLUMN: Spring light is just around the corner
By Matt Schubert
STAY WITH ME, my dear Peninsulites.
We're almost out of the darkness that is a North Olympic Peninsula winter.
Soon enough, we'll be dusting off those flimsy flip-flops and tangoing with transgenders in Port Angeles drinking establishments (gotta love Esprit Gala).
Unfortunately, we must first endure the last grisly gasps of a sorrow-filled season best known for snowpocalypses and stingy steelhead.
It will be cold, it will be wet and it will be dark.
It's always darkest before dawn...
Esprit convention gives attendees a chance to be themselves
By Tom Callis
They come from all over the Northwest and all walks of life.
But beginning today, the 159 transgender people participating in this week's Esprit conference will come to Port Angeles simply to be themselves.
"For people actually coming out for the first time, it's huge for them," said Karen Williams, one of the conference organizers.
"It means a lot.
"It's a life-changing event."
The Esprit Gala is the annual conference for three transgender organizations located in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C.
The participants range from men who simply enjoying dressing in women's clothes to those, like Williams, who have taken on a female identity.
In PA since 1990
The conference has been held at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles since its inception in 1990.
That year, the Emerald City Social Club, a transgender group, chose the city to host a conference for each of its 90 members.
Dubbed "90 in 90," the conference also included the Portland and Vancouver organizations.
Port Angeles was chosen because it was far enough away to feel like a vacation and had a hotel affordable enough to host the event, Williams said.
But the location wasn't supported by everyone, she recalled.
"People were afraid that the loggers were going to beat us up," Williams said.
"It turns out that the community was really welcoming.
"It was unbelievable."
The conference will run from today through next Sunday, May 22.
Most of the events — which include classes on crossdressing, transgender legal rights and even belly dancing — will be held at the hotel.
Events open to public
On Friday, a Western-themed talent show will be held at 8 p.m. at the Elks Naval Lodge, 131 E. First St.
The show is open to the public with a $5 donation. Proceeds go to Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.
Also open to the public with a $5 donation is a gala with live music and dancing, to be held at 9 p.m. Saturday at the hotel.
The Nasty Habits, a transgender band, will perform at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights at Bar N9ne, 229 W. First St. The performances, which are listed on the Esprit calendar as non-Esprit events, will go on until 1 a.m. and are open to the public.
Esprit enjoys its freedom in Port Angeles
By Arwyn Rice
PORT ANGELES — Billed as the "Pacific Northwest's premiere transgender convention," Esprit is in full swing this week, and the participants are happy to be back in Port Angeles.
Since 1990, members of transgender communities from Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., have met each year at the Red Lion Hotel, and organizers don't see that changing anytime soon.
"The people are so nice, the view is wonderful and the Red Lion inn is great," Esprit Secretary Karen Williams said.
Members of the Seattle-based transgender group Emerald City chose Port Angeles 21 years ago with some trepidation, Williams said.
"It's a logging town," she said.
"We were worried we might get beat up."
The organization eventually decided to give the town a chance, and participants said they were pleasantly surprised by the reception.
A few high school-age teens hooted and catcalled, but there were no major problems, she said.
Today, residents openly expect the annual presence of more than 150 tall, deep-voiced, large-handed women.
"The way it is now, it's open and accepting," Williams said.
"Everyone knows about it. It's like the swallows returning to Capistrano."
Many similar conventions are held in large cities, often rotated among cities where members live.
At one time, Esprit organizers considered doing the same, but found compelling reasons to stay in Port Angeles.
Williams said Port Angeles is big enough to support the convention, but small enough to seem contained &mdamdash; so that convention guests are less likely to wander off to other interesting events.
While in Port Angeles, Esprit attendees take classes such self-defense, makeup, sewing, style and dance.
But it's the after-hours camaraderie at the Red Lion that is often what is most valuable, Williams said.
Trips to Hurricane Ridge, Victoria and a winery are offered for those who want to see what the area offers beyond the classes and activities at the hotel.
There's also shopping downtown, and many merchants welcome Esprit participants with special promotions and merchandise.
Michelle, left, who organizes the Esprit fashion show, and Esprit Secretary Karen Williams are helping to put on what is billed as the "Pacific Northwest's premiere transgender convention" in Port Angeles this week. They are shown Monday at the Red Lion Hotel, where more than 150 participants are expected to gather. -- Photo by Arwyn Rice/for Peninsula Daily News
A supportive Port Angeles has meant freedom for some guests who are unable to be "out" in their home communities.
"I have an overwhelming desire to dress, to be that person I want to be," Michelle said, "but to please society you have to have this facade."
Michelle, who said she is completely closeted at home so she didn't give her last name, organizes the Esprit fashion show.
She visits stores in Port Angeles to provide a fresh, new look each year, expanding horizons long denied.
"It's so fun interacting," she said. "Port Angeles has these great big welcome arms.
"You can't imagine how easy it is to be in this town."
Port Angeles residents have also embraced one of Esprit's offshoots, the transgender cover band, The Nasty Habits.
The Nasty Habits is not a part of the convention, but members of the band are part of the community, Williams said.
"On their own they rolled off into taverns," Williams said.
The shows serve as a bridge between the transgender community, which attends the band's performances in a show of support, while local residents who simply enjoy the music join in the fun.
The Nasty Habits will perform at 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Bar N9ne, 229 W. First St.
"It's a place to mingle," Williams said. "We all like the band."
'Rocky Horror Show' comes to Little Theater at Peninsula College
By Diane Urbani de la Paz
PORT ANGELES -- The looming question about "The Rocky Horror Show," said Richard Stephens, "was not 'Should we do it?' but 'Why haven't we done it yet?'"
So, a cast of young and nubile to slightly older, agile performers are just about to do it: the "Time Warp" dance, the "Sweet Transvestite" serenade and ditties like "Hot Patootie" and "Toucha Toucha Me!" in this, the outrageous rock musical.
Generations have been jumping into the Time Warp, tossing toast and singing along with "I Do the Rock" ever since the first "Rocky Horror" spilled across the London stage in 1973. And that, of course, was followed by "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," the movie version, whose midnight showings made it a cult classic from 1975 onward.
Tweaked for 21st century
But beware. Stephens and company have switched up this creature to highlight what they call "the hot buttons" circa 2010.
Back in the '70s, those hot buttons were the bawdy getups barely covering the bodies of characters such as Dr. Frank N. Furter, his handyman Riff Raff and the alien Transylvanians.
But transvestism just isn't so shocking anymore. Little Port Angeles hosts the Esprit conference for cross-dressing men every spring, after all.
So Stephens, "Horror's" production designer and maker of its 30 costumes, went a little bit further. Let's just say there's a lot of leather and chains in this version.
The show also has a cast that's been having a Rocky good time.
There's the bunch of dancing phantoms and Transylvanians, festooned with riotous wigs, shimmering bodysuits and LED lights; the beautiful blond creature played by Blake McCabe; and our engaged couple Brad and Janet, played by Steven Canepa, 20, and Nikki Adams, 21. They -- and everybody else on stage -- are breathlessly awaiting opening night this coming Thursday.
Sean Peck-Collier, 23, slithers in one of the more voluptuous outfits as Dr. Frank N. Furter. His bustier has conical protrusions from the chest, parts of his legs are decorated with fishnet stockings, a fluffy feather boa encircles his neck and beneath it all are shiny red platform shoes the actor says he got for his birthday.
"Wear it enough, and it becomes like a second skin," he said, straight-faced, at a dress rehearsal this week.
What drew Peck-Collier to "Rocky Horror" was the show's "absolute wackiness," he added. But wait. "Wacky" doesn't do it justice.
"It is so campy, so out there, so different from everything else," he said, shaking his tall-wigged head.
"Rocky Horror" is a sendup of 1960s horror movies, Stephens says, with a sexy 1970s sheen laid over that. His production is to be an audience-participation extravaganza, with performers Time-Warping among the patrons, who are urged to come dressed in their most flamboyant ensembles.
But again, this stage production is no imitation of the film.
"Not all of the props that people expect to bring to use in the movie theater will be needed," said director and Peninsula College drama professor Lara Starcevich. She and the college crew, frankly, would rather people didn't bring the traditional toast or other foods that would litter the Little Theater.
"But you'll still need your newspaper to protect yourself from the rain," she said, "and we invite people to hold up their cell phones" when the cast sings "There's a light on over at the Frankenstein place."
Special guest appearance
The college is tossing something else into the mix: On opening night Thursday, Peninsula College President Tom Keegan will make a one-time appearance in "Rocky Horror," as the criminologist who narrates the show.
Set in the 1950s, our "Horror" tale opens with Brad and his sweetheart Janet in normal clothes. Brad proposes marriage, and after Janet accepts, they go off to see an old professor of Brad's. A fierce storm hits, they get lost in the woods, and then they find a castle and decide to venture forth to use its phone.
Sean Peck-Collier stars as Dr. Frank N. Furter in "The Rocky Horror Show."
Riff Raff, played by Andrew Shanks, brings them inside and, via the Time Warp, introduces them to festivities the likes of which they've never dreamt. The couple's outlook is changed forever as they meet Frank N. Furter, who's built a beautiful creature -- and is poised to bring it to life.
What ensues is "mature content," as the show poster says. Frank N. Furter, see, is a bisexual alien whose voracious appetites lead him to go after anyone he encounters, including Brad and Janet. The big "Horror" dance numbers are punctuated by a lot of pelvic action, and the songs are not your usual wholesome Americana.
All of this is a collaboration by Peninsula College and the Port Angeles Light Opera Association, with the intent of giving students and other amateur actors the opportunity to perform in a lavish, high-caliber musical, said Stephens.
And it has been a blast, said his 20-year-old daughter, actress Tia Stephens, who plays a dancing phantom. She said she's lost 20 pounds while preparing for the show, via much onstage gyration and by working out more often to look good in her costume.
The show is just an hour and 40 minutes -- "really short," she added.
"But a lot happens," said Canepa. Both he and Adams, as Brad and Janet, said the highlight for them is "Dammit, Janet!" the song around the marriage proposal.
The production, with its infectious, irreverent rock music, has attracted people who've never been on a theater stage before. Lisa Welch and her daughter Sarah McFadden, a couple of phantoms, are two such performers.
Like the rest of the cast, they're fully made over by their wild wigs and costumes. During the day, the "Rocky Horror" players can be found in Peninsula College classrooms and working in coffee shops, mortgage companies, Westport shipyard, Bella Italia and in the case of Peck-Collier, Sequim's Domaine Madeleine bed and breakfast inn.
Richard Stephens, who sewed every last "Rocky" outfit, is a Peninsula Daily News advertising executive -- and the director of another production just down the street. "Meet Me in St. Louis," about as far from "Rocky Horror" as you can get, opens at the Port Angeles Community Playhouse on Friday, Nov. 19. The "mental gymnastics" as he prepares both shows are quite contorting, he said.
The "Rocky" production crew, meantime, includes stage manager Illa-Marie Bjelland, production manager Jon Kacirk, technical designer Jim Doell, special effects orchestrator Russell May, sound man Tim Brye, lighting designer Bob Lumens and wig master James Rose. Together, they have assembled one dazzling spectacle, Stephens said.
He then offers a moral for this gleefully immoral story.
"Don't dream it, be it!" Frank N. Furter urges toward the end of "Rocky Horror." To Stephens' mind, that means be your biggest, most outrageous self and embrace life.
"The Rocky Horror Show" takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday and Friday, Nov. 12, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, and the short run ends with an 11 p.m. performance Nov. 13. Tickets are $15 at the Bookaneer bookstore at Peninsula College, online at www.paloa.org, at Sequim Gym, 145 E. Washington St. in downtown Sequim, and at Northwest Fudge and Confections, 108 W. First St. in downtown Port Angeles.
Transgender panel redefines gender
By Viola Ware
"Welcome to transgender 101," said Karen Williams, self-described crossdresser. Williams wore a black sweater, red lipstick and nail polish as she stood in front of Dr. Jeff Mauger's sociology class leading a panel discussion of transgendered adults.
Mauger hosts Esprit panel discussions every year at Peninsula College as part of an outreach program. This year the panel spoke in Mauger's sociology class, open to any who wished to attend.
When he first received the phone call from Williams offering to speak with college students, Mauger had no interest in gender issues, but the first talk piqued his curiosity.
"I thought, there has to be something in Anthropology about this," Mauger said. "And so I started doing a little bit of research and a little bit of reading about gender issues cross-culturally and the definition of more than two sexes and gender being a cultural definition."
The concept of two, three, four or five genders snared Mauger's interest. "As far as sociology is concerned, it relates to contemporary issues like gay marriage. I saw it as all relating to this issue, for example, is a transexual a homosexual or heterosexual? It helped me reframe these issues," Mauger said.
Five Esprit participants sat on the panel and began the discussion by introducing themselves then marked their places along what Williams called the transgender spectrum.
"Part of why I draw this spectrum on the board is to talk about our motivation, why do we do this?" said Williams.
"For a fetishistic transvestite, that's somebody who generally is male trying on women's clothes in the privacy of their own home, and the reason they do it is because it turns them on sexually, that is their motivation," said Williams. "There are transsexuals that are male to female. And there's transsexuals going from female to male. A transsexual has a different motivation. They have a G.I., a gender identity issue."
Williams went on to explain, "Those of us who are transgendered a lot of times wake up in the morning and go, 'Oh, crap, I'm in the wrong body. I feel female yet, I have a male body.'"
"It's gone beyond choice. There must be a drive in those of us that do it," Williams said. "It's not something you do haphazardly."
Williams attended the University of Washington earning a bachelor's and Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering. She has also been married for 30 years and says her wife is incredibly supportive. Williams has been involved in the conference since it first began.
"I can remember feeling this way when I was three years old," said Williams.
Susan LaLone, who retired from the National Park Service in 2004, earned a Bachelor's Degree in Criminology after three years in the Marine Corps and is a Vietnam Veteran said, "I've been crossdressing most of my life."
LaLone has never been attracted to a man. Williams explained, "Those of us in the transgender community are sexually oriented like most of humanity. And who we are attracted to gets a little confusing if we use the words like 'lesbian' or 'gay,' so, I just use the terms male and female."
Alyssa Lee called herself a late bloomer as her self-discovery and exploration did not come about until her college years.
"It was about the clothes. To this day, it is still about the clothes," said Lee. "I like being able to act as a girl and just switch around and be a guy."
"I do a lot of male things as a guy. I play a lot of sports." Lee placed herself in the spectrum as attracted to females and males. Lee would never date a man but sees males dressed as females and is attracted to them as females.
This discussion marked the first panel to include a female to male transsexual. Jace Turner stood up and introduced himself.
"I'm a transman. I was born female, transitioning to male." Turner explained that growing up, "I got to live as a boy. My grandparents were really awesome and they let me just be me and I ended up being really masculine. I was running around the streets barefoot playing basketball, playing baseball with all the boys." As Turner grew older he chose to try and lead a Christian life and married as a heterosexual female, but realized he still felt different, out of place.
"As a kid I saw myself as male, and I didn't really know how to express that. I just lived that way. I didn't ever think it was possible to be thinking in masculine terms of myself and for that to make sense in the way that I am able to express it now," Turner said.
Turner explained further that his attraction does not involve biological gender, but rather the energy the individual possesses.
Stephanie Binschus is a full-time student at Peninsula College. "I started my transition back in July," said Binschus. "Growing up, I always felt that I didn't fit on either side of the gender binary. I didn't really fit as a male, and physically I wasn't female so I didn't fit there."
Mauger is fascinated with the Esprit participants, "I find them to be really neat people because they know exactly who they are. They've defined themselves. Most people don't know who they are and haven't defined themselves," Mauger said. He found a sense of self-assuredness and openness in the transgendered community because of their struggle against normative society to define themselves and their gender identity.
"You can't ask them anything that will embarrass them. It might embarrass you, but not them. They've achieved a comfort with themselves that very many of us don't ever get," said Mauger.
Gender socialization begins at day one, he said. People relate to infants based on their biological sex and most gender behavior is learned. Even within gender roles, one can find a lot of flexibility such as feminine behavior in men and masculine behavior in women.
"The degree of congruence that we see in masculine behaviors in males and feminine behaviors in females, yes, there is a biological element as far as some of that is concerned," Mauger said. "But the bulk of it is socialized and learned behavior."
As far as biological indicators, "Gender identity seems to be biological. That's why they think they are in the wrong body. The body part may be biological but the identity is up here," Mauger said, pointing to his head.
"Attraction may have a biological component, too, in the sense of gender identity. That doesn't deny there is some gender identity that is learned or there is some intimate attractions that were learned, but at the same time, some people say it is all learned, but that's not true," Mauger said.
"That is the hard thing talking about this because so many people come to the same place under the umbrella that is transgendered; crossdressers are different from transvestites who are different from transgendered and so on. Yet, we put them all under the same umbrella."
"I find it really interesting. It's one of the many facets of humanity. It's changed the paradigm of how I look at people and redefined things that many other people take as givens in their lives, that there's two sexes, two genders; heterosexual attraction," Mauger said. "But it's a different world entirely."
What Esprit brings to Port Angeles
On May 15, signs appeared in storefront windows around Port Angeles declaring, "Welcome Esprit." According to Mauger, the annual Transgender Convention brings in more business to Port Angeles than any other event all year. In 2008, the Seattle Times estimated Eprit week brought upwards of $300,000. Port Angeles has been hosting Esprit conferences since 1990.
As well as holding classes and cocktail parties for Esprit participants, many functions are open to the public for a nominal fee, including an auction. At the end of the convention, all fees and auction proceeds are donated to the Clallam County Hospice.
JOHN NELSON'S LIVE MUSIC COLUMN: Toe-tappin' tunes spice up week on Peninsula
By John Nelson
HERE WE GO with another week of the finest and best live music that can be found on any level in the state.
Those gals with the Nasty Habits are back in town, and the Bar N9ne, 129 W. First St., has 'em. They'll be dressed to the nines (no pun intended) and rockin' Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. They consider Port Angeles their home base as their first gig ever was for the Esprit convention some years ago and are enjoying a long run in Port Angeles this week.
At the Red Lion Hotel, 221 N. Lincoln St., Port Angeles, the Esprit Convention invites one and all to the talent show Friday and the dance Saturday.
JOHN NELSON'S LIVE MUSIC COLUMN: Get out with the vibe for summertime fun on Peninsula
By John Nelson
SUMMERTIME, AND THE dancin' is easy. Get out on the floor and don't be queasy. Just take a step or two, that' all you have to do, and the rest will be easy.
Now here's a list of places, times and dates to put that into practice. If not to dance but at least to tap to the beat, get the vibes, shake your booty and let this summer's doldrums out.
On Friday at Bar N9NE, 229 W. First St., come for the glam, hard-hitting, slam-dunk, classic top 40 rock 'n' roll as only those gals of Nasty Habits can do. They'll rattle the rafters and shake the floor till you dance your socks off from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. $5 cover.
Sequim and Blyn
On Saturday, those glam gals The Nasty Habits bring their outrageousness for an outrageous dance party from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. "Glam up" and get down!
JOHN NELSON'S LIVE MUSIC COLUMN: Get out of blues funk with live music
By John Nelson
FALL HAS FALLEN with a decidedly sloshy thud and put many of us into a blue funk — not to be confused with the music genre of the same name.
This week, take advantage of blue funk antidotes at many of the live music venues across the North Olympic Peninsula.
If you like your rock 'n' roll raucous and outrageous, you won't want to miss the Nasty Habits when it returns home to Port Angeles and the Bar N9ne, 229 W. First St., on Friday and Saturday. These gals will amp up your energy level on the dance floor from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. $5 cover.
JOHN NELSON'S LIVE MUSIC COLUMN: Take part in costumes, music, dancing
By John Nelson
OH, THE SPINE-TINGLING screams, the frightening costumes of zombies, vampires, werewolves, aliens, Wall Street brokers or classic cowboys, Native Americans, cartoon characters coming to life such as Minnie Mouse, Capt. Buzz Lightyear and others.
I can see them all now dancing in various clubs and having such a good time.
Beginning Friday, there's four days of such revelry, and you'd better take part or the goblins will get you if you don't watch out.
Sequim and Blyn
[At Club Seven Lounge at 7 Cedars Casino, Blyn,] Saturday's big Halloween party features the Nasty Habits and its glam rock from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. The costume party features $500 in prizes.