You may find it more meaningful to hear the thoughts of attendees themselves. The following are excerpts from a few of the many wonderful stories we have received.
My wife and I had tried couples counselling. The results were, well, worse than disappointing.
But look at what can happen when you do find a counsellor who knows what (s)he is doing. I have a friend who tells the story of going to a counsellor with her ex. The counsellor asked them what the problem was.
"Well, I'm a cross-dresser."
"Yes? So what's the problem?"
At this point the counsellor turned to her wife and said, "Well, I'll have to ask you, then, since (s)he clearly doesn't know. What's the problem?"
"Well, he's a cross-dresser."
"No," said the counsellor. "I'm not being clear enough. If you came to me and said, 'He's a race driver,' that wouldn't be the problem. That's just who he is. The problem might be that he's spending too much time with his buddies, and you're feeling neglected, or that you're worried about his safety, or that he's spending all of the household budget on fixing up the car. Do you understand what I'm saying? He's a cross-dresser. That's who he is. What's the problem?"
Do you see how this reframes the whole issue? What must be fixed is the problem between the two of them. I can speak from personal experience: nothing good can happen if one person or the other is feeling attacked. Nothing.
This is where the SO program can help. We both agree: Dottie is amazing. One of the things that really impressed my wife was that there is no pressure on the SO's to "change." Dottie helped us redefine the problem, supported us both in our needs, introduced us to others who have dealt with the same issues, gave us some tools to deal with our issues, and simply helped us feel better in the process.
I'm not saying you should pressure your SO to go to Esprit. But I did at least let my wife know there was an SO program, and that I'd heard good things about it. She was the one who looked at the website. She was the one who looked over my yearbook. She was the one who decided she wanted to come.
That was a huge shift for us. My first Esprit was about me. The second one was about us. It was worth the trip, just to work with Dottie. No pressure, but maybe you might want to let your SO know. If she wants it, Esprit is for her, too.
It was wonderful to receive the memories of Esprit 2006 in the Year Book. I was overwhelmed and amazed at all the time and effort and endless hours that it must have taken her to put such a Year Book together. I loved the articles and I thought the last two pages of the Year Book were a great touch: the "Graduating Class Of Esprit 2006" and "The Graduating Couples And Families Of Esprit 2006". It also made me very aware of the amount of volunteer work and planning that goes on to make such a great convention.
As I flipped through all the pages of the articles in the Year Book, my time at Esprit came zooming back to me. I was so happy once again to reminisce and see all those wonderful smiling faces of my new found girlfriends and Esprit family! As I glanced over all your faces I remembered all your personal stories, friendships and comradarie from that week last May, it brought tears of joy to me and me tummy. Many of you have kept in touch through e-mails during the past year and I thank each one of you for your friendships.
I got my yearbook on Friday, last. (Thank you, Stephanie, so much!) Needless to say, I just wanted to drop everything and go over it, cover to cover, but I was good...I waited until kids were abed, and I had some time to myself. But my wife was there, too, looking over my shoulder as I pointed out the various friends I had made, my big sis (Hi, Susan!), her spouse, (Hi, to you, too, Lee!), and so on, and so on.
Now you must understand that our relationship has been pretty strained by my being TG, and it's been particularly hard for her. Just looking at it in my presence would have been almost impossible for her, only a year ago. It was still hard for her; I know it was, but that's not what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to say was that she told me last night that she had looked through the yearbook again, on her own, while I was out, and (as she says, "A picture is worth a thousand words...") what struck her was that every one of us in the yearbook, whether we were "passable" or not, looked happy. And that was true. For some of us, our first Esprit may well have been the first time we truly were. (I might have used an even stronger word: joyous.) Then she added something absolutely unexpected: she wants to come, too. This is a huge, huge step for her, and it's not one that I've tried to push at all. She knows there is an SO's program. She knows there is a couples program. She knows I will be dressed. (At least when I am out and about, and except for the pictures in the yearbook, she's never seen me.) And still, she wants to come. This Esprit isn't for me. It's going to be for us.
It was the yearbook that made the difference. She saw the joy on all those faces, and knew that there was a place for her, too. I know it's been said many times (and I've said it, myself, too,) that Esprit is "life changing." It's true. What I hadn't realized until this past weekend was that the process continues even after we've all gone home: there is still the yearbook. It does more than remind us of what we had "way back then." It helps change the lives we live today.
Thank you (again), Stephanie, and thank you, too, to all those who contributed to the yearbook and to the whole experience! You've done more for me...no, correct that: you've done more for us than you know.
See you in May! (And there will be hugs all around!)
Esprit is amazing. The variety of girls, their personal journeys, and ultimate desires are unique and personal, but as a group we all aspire to be who we are and Esprit has helped me discover a lot more of who I am as a whole person. My many desires can be expressed here with support and understanding.
To the people that worked so hard to put on Esprit, the vendors that pampered, encouraged, and shared their friendship, the participants, the SO's, and the pets...what a family. Esprit gives us the environment to be ourselves and do it with pride and respect. What a gift. Thank you so much for that and the help.
I think Esprit is so important since there are so many girls that need a safe place to get out for the first time and meet other girls and be accepted. There are so many formal presentations that they can learn from. Even with the internet, there is no substitute for meeting others like yourself face to face.
I've been thinking a lot about the wide variety of girls who attend. There are those like me who are likely to fully transition someday and those, who because of personal circumstance, Esprit might be the only time they get to get out, and many in between. For all of us, it is great to have the opportunity to meet so many others like ourselves and celebrate who we are. It is so easy to feel alone without events like Esprit. Sure, there are the gay bars some of us go to but they are not for everyone, especially the first-time girls.
My wife, Lupe and I had heard so many good things about the conference and both wanted very much to attend. There are no words that properly describe what a week like this can do for the people in our community. We met many wonderful ladies and had so many memorable moments that will stay with us forever. I went there with questions in my mind as I am sure most do. Many of those questions were answered and helped me grow more than I dreamed possible.
As we all know, getting to really know ourselves and accepting ourselves is one of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome. I had lowered those hurdles quite a bit before attending Esprit but with the help of all involved and probably without their even knowing it, those hurdles don't exist anymore. This shy girl with many questions has blossomed into a happy, confident woman thanks to this opportunity. It allowed me the chance to totally find myself, to be happy and even like myself. How special are those gifts???? THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU each and every one of you.
Kristy and Lupe Hollen
I went to Esprit to learn a few things. I thought make-up and how to move as a woman would be nice. Things not expected were:
The speeding ticket on my way there. I wanted to get to Esprit too fast.
A whole town that accepts us.
160 TG's at one place and time.
The variety of classes.
The sheer volume of training and learning.
Party, party, parties! What fun!
The bonding, love, and friendships made.
How about all the SO's there to support. I applaud them!
What I took away with me:
A NEW and BETTER ME!!!!
So much love from people I just met.
Many new friends and some close neighbors too!
Just knowing I was not alone as a TS woman.
To be with so many like-minded and their SO's was awesome!
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. I took and gave too.
A whole lot of friendships made there.
My butterfly. I keep that next to my heart now.
The scholarship made this possible for me. At this time in my life when I needed it so much, you allowed me to go and to be ME. I truly am a changed person. I now know my direction in life. I did not know who I was until Esprit! You gave me a new meaning in life, my life!
THANK YOU ALL
I wanted to thank you and the Esprit Committee for the wonderful conference and your kindness. Of all the places I go, I love Port Angeles and Esprit the best.. As long as you will have me, I will come.
With deep respect and gratitude for the work you of the committee do on behalf of all of us.
Sara Becker, MD (previous attendee and recent presenter)
"How was Esprit?" my wife asked.
I took a deep breath and braced myself. "How much do you want to know?"
"Whatever you want to tell me."
It wasn't easy, but I told her everything: that Esprit was probably the most amazing experience of my life; that Esprit had turned everything upside down. Living as Karen, I had discovered she was a better person than I was: kinder, wiser, and more open than I had ever been; the kind of person I had no idea I knew how to be. Through my tears, I told her that Karen had taught me how to love her, that I loved her more than I could say; and far more than I had known.
There was a long pause at the other end of the line, then she said, "That's the first time I've ever heard you say that there was anything in all of this for me."
It was true. I finally understood. I am Karen, but after Port Angeles, being Karen is no longer just about me.
A TG friend said the loveliest thing to me in her reply: she said, "Welcome to the sisterhood."
I know I've said it before, but thank you all. I've waited all my life. This is exactly where I want to be.
I've always loved dancing. I've always wanted to dance en femme. Wow. Wow wow wow. I have never ever felt as connected to my body as I did out on the dance floor. Even when one of my breast forms hit the floor at Castaways. And you know, completely uncharacteristically for me, but increasingly characteristic of Phoebe, it didn't bother me a bit. Once I finally retrieved the offending form, that is. I just figured that if that was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me while I was dressed, that I would be a very lucky woman. And then moved on.
Graduation was extremely emotional, as you may imagine. Each of the first-timers (including SOs) is introduced by their Big Sister, presented a really nice butterfly pin, and then given an opportunity to talk a little bit about the week. Very intense, especially since I connect very deeply to rituals. Everyone there had something moving to say (except probably me), and as one person said to me later, "You know, I only cried sixty-three times at Graduation." I know that I was completely overcome by the enormity of everything as I came off the stage with my pin. Thank goodness (once again) for my Big Sis.
Thursday I was able to attend the classes that I wanted and met so many other people. It was Thursday, that I really realized what a truly wonderful, incredible, amazing, group of girls were participating in Esprit. Frankly, I was so very surprised as my previous experience was being with "normal men". I felt so damned good, I couldn't get enough of my sisters. This shy introvert even found three other girls to go to dinner at the Italian restaurant - only problem was that it was closed! We ended up at the East Indian restaurant by the hotel where we had a great dinner with a couple of hours of girl talk - god it was nice and so were the other folks in the restaurant. My first conversation of the night with my wife did not go well - she was angry, frustrated, scared. The second call better.
Friday was a day for pushing my envelope - you see I signed up to participate in the fashion show! I still can't believe that I did that (I'll do it again next year). Even though I ended up missing participating with the girls that went to the high school because of practice, it was such fun and a very enjoyable experience - yes even though I lost my shoe as I stepped on stage (thanks for rescuing me Suzanne and the gentleman at the foot of the stairs). What was really beautiful about the fashion show was what only the girls preparing to model experienced behind the scenes - the preparation, the helping and encouragement - gawd the girls were wonderful! Afterward at lunch we talked and had all become aware of the same thing - we, as women, were totally different people, we had become people that we actually liked and appreciated. Good, caring, sharing, warm, loving people - what is wrong with the world?
Graduation was nothing if not so very emotional and not just for the first timers. There were so many tears. But yet once again, I found out just how very much alike we are - I wasn't the only one who had these feelings! AMAZING, I'm not the only one! No words were adequate to express exactly how I felt about all of my sisters, but at least I didn't break down bawling like I had anticipated. In my "normal" life I am prone to be rather emotional anyway - at Esprit it was actually OK, a good thing as girls are allowed to cry.
In retrospect, Esprit was probably the fourth most significant experience of my life following the birth of my two daughters and my marriage to my wife. My goals for Esprit were exceeded greatly. Esprit changed me for the better, forever. I miss all of the other girls so much already. Some I have already talked to since. No one really cared what we looked like on the outside, but on the inside I found and saw things that I never new existed in myself and others. Where is this metamorphosis taking me - I'm not sure. Since returning, my wife and I have cried, talked, and hugged like never before - so open and honest.
I thought that I went to Esprit knowing Cheryl reasonably well, understanding. My sisters helped me to see things differently. It's scary to me right now. But also so liberating. I like Cheryl, she may be more than I had thought she was. Whoever she is, she will be at Esprit next year, so much better prepared. I feel a bit guilty now because I feel that I gave so little while taking so much from my sisters. We are truly a community of kindred spirits, more alike than I ever imagined. I miss you all so much. The good news - the dates for Esprit 2007 have been set and hopefully you will all be there.