Specialists in the Medical & Psychological Aspects of Transgender Health Care
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Splendor of Gender Conference
Article by Kimberly L. Westwood, CPE, CCE
The Splendor of Gender—that phrase denotes a celebration of gender diversity and the first of its kind gender workshop recently offered in Florida's Tampa Bay area. On November 18th & 19th, 1994, a ten hour seminar was held at the Marriott Hotel located at Tampa International Airport. The Splendor of Gender Workshop, hosted by Tampa Stress Center's Tampa Gender Identity Program, dealt exclusively with the issues faced by transsexuals, transgenderists, and those who crossdress.
The Splendor Workshop was well past due here in Florida. I was very excited, both as a transsexual woman and as an individual who provides services to our community, to see so much offered in the way of education, personal growth, and a sense of community. The Splendor Workshop was designed to provide continuing education to mental health professionals, but also to allow our own gender community to become informed consumers in the process.
The presenters were an interesting mix of professionals who work with our community. The Tampa Gender Identity Program, who brought together six presenters in differing fields of interest, is the center of a local gender team comprised of psychological, medical and allied professionals. The presenters, discussed later in detail, included Pascual Bidot, M.D. (hormonal treatment); Carl W. Bushong, Ph.D. (psychotherapy); Dallas Denny, M.A., (director of AEGIS); Eugene A. Schrang, M.D. (sex reassignment surgery); Barbara Warren, Psy.D. (writes extensively on gender issues); and Kimberly L. Westwood, CPE, CCE (blend electrology).
As organizer of the Splendor Workshop, the Tampa Gender Identity Program decided to put on a show that would be noticed. We booked our seminar at the posh Marriott Hotel which is located adjacent to the Tampa International Airport airside. Besides lovely meeting areas and accommodations, the nighttime view is glorious! The location proved to be a perfect setting for those attending. Attending mental health professionals and the gender community both felt very pleased with the setting. As a friend later commented, "The hotel staff accepted us openly . . . and gave us that 'warm and fuzzy feeling.'"
For those of you not familiar with the Tampa Bay area, we're located on Florida's gulf coast—about seventy miles from Orlando and the Disney World complex. Although our gender community is large in number, a sense of openness and inclusion does not seem to be as noticeable here as in other cities with a large gender population. We hoped the Splendor Workshop would provide the necessary setting to bring people together, not only physically, but in spirit.
Being the first of its kind, we decided to step out of the closet with a little flare. We shared news of the Splendor Workshop with local support groups and the local media. And the media did pay attention! And WOW, Tampa Bay, welcome to the nineties. Yes, we do exist—and not just on Geraldo.
Through local newspaper articles, radio shows and a television appearance just hours before the beginning of our seminar, Tampa Bay began the process of acknowledging, understanding and finally accepting our transgendered presence. The Tampa Tribune wrote a lengthy and decidedly positive piece on transsexualism and "Splendor." Two radio shows discussed the seminar with one of the presenters, Dr. Carl Bushong. And finally the Kathy Fountain Show, a local TV talk show which is also syndicated into other areas, featured two of the six presenters, Drs. Bushong and Warren. Dr. Warren later commented on the audience's acceptance of transsexualism and other forms of gender diversity.
Seeing others' acceptance was beautiful, but even more important was watching our self-acceptance grow. Sisters who attended were not only from local support groups, as some were unaffiliated and others came from out of state. And what a difference! Some who before were timid in their feminine expression seemed to come alive before my eyes—and others' eyes for that matter. Remember, the setting was not in a small motel room or in a alternate lifestyle bar, but at a major airport hotel complex! And attitude shifts did not stop with a much needed dose of self-esteem. We all left more informed, and much more in control of our lives. Here are the highlights:
Dr. Carl Bushong, Ph.D., director of Tampa Gender Identity Program, is a psychotherapist who deals extensively with transsexuals and crossdressers, and is the central figure in our local gender team. "He is the team leader." As Eugene Schrang, M.D. says. "Carl is like the quarterback, giving the other team professionals the direction needed during the overall treatment process." Dr. Bushong, the workshop's host, gave the opening address to the conference.
Like any good psychotherapist, Dr. Bushong helps his patients with the inevitable adjustments to one's chosen gender, but also acts as a helper and facilitator with other professionals. Of course the best outcomes occur when our therapist is also our teacher and our guide. Dr. Bushong discussed the ways which we can choose a good therapist-someone who will be an advocate. He also released an important (theoretical) paper entitled the Multi-dimensionality of Gender. His paper describes five different attributes other practitioners (and ourselves) can use to better understand gender. Dr. Bushong plans to write a lay version of his scientific article for the gender community.
Dallas Denny, M.A., director of American Educational Gender Information Service (AEGIS), set the tone of the transgendered/transsexual experience with her presentation. Even with many past experiences remembered, I was awakened by her slide presentation, "Gender-A Historical Perspective." The portraits shown were of our transgendered ancestry. The people depicted were remarkable in their ability to convey emotion and understanding. I watched and looked-into the faces, into the eyes of others who preceded me. I realized these people helped make my dream a reality. Dallas' narration, her way of showing our community's transition, was beautiful. As the story unfolded, I felt suspense, poignancy, and a happy ending. For many, that happy ending was not so much felt from the on-screen ending as it was displayed in the audience. We, the transgendered men and women present, are succeeding to a great extent because of others' groundwork.
Many have heard of Eugene Schrang, M.D. He is the Wisconsin based sex reassignment surgeon specializing in male to female gender reassignment. I had the pleasure to speak with Dr. Schrang after the seminar. He is very friendly, very accommodating. Dr. Schrang appears as a man who loves women-their presence, their form-and it shows in his work.. Dr. Schrang's slide presentation did justice to the enormous undertaking in turning male into female anatomy. I, again, was interested in looking at the faces. Unlike Dallas' portraits, this time I was fascinated by the audience as much as the on-screen surgery. Some looked away. Most looked in amazement as the patient, already feminized by hormones, first underwent breast augmentation and then genital modification. Dr. Schrang ended his presentation with slides of genetic females along with some of his SRS patients. Dr. Schrang needed to let the audience "in on" which was which!
Barbara Warren, Psy.D. is director of the Mental Health and Social Services Program for the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City . She writes extensively on gender differences and transsexualism. Dr. Warren, a dynamic speaker, caused the transgendered members of the audience to realize a renewed sense of self-worth. She destroys the false goddess of "passing" through her assertion that femininity, or even femaleness, is no less "real or experienced" for the transsexual/transgendered woman.
Pascual Bidot, M.D. is a board certified endocrinologist and a specialist in metabolism whose professional interests include the hormonal aspects of transsexualism. Dr. Bidot's slide presentation clearly showed the complexity of readjusting a male metabolism to a female norm. In the past, I have seen physicians lambaste us for taking too many hormones, explaining excess hormone doses are like a glass of water-it cannot be filled past the brim. Unfortunately, I never understood the process in real terms, and more importantly-what are the alternatives? Because of Dr. Bidot's detailed discussion I'm happy to say that hormonal management does offer better and safer solutions. These solutions produce not only better health, but an increased degree of feminization.
Kimberly Westwood, CPE, CCE, also of Tampa Gender Identity Program, is a 'blend' method electrologist. —Well, enough of referring to myself in the third person. Electrolysis is just a generic term used to describe several methods of permanent hair removal—and treatment technique varies greatly. I discussed these widespread differences and the importance, both practical and psychological, of ridding oneself of facial hair before crossliving. Practical examples were given of how the client can tell if her electrolysis is safe and effective, and how to pass up those practitioners who may do you harm. I discussed my practice—my best results are seen with blend electrology. The blend method, when performed knowledgeably, saves the client time and money—it kills about 50-75% of the hair follicles treated. There is absolutely no reason why the process of permanent hair removal shouldn't leave your skin, your complexion, anything but beautiful.
At the workshop's end, we distributed a questionnaire to give us an idea of what those attending thought of the conference. The general response was absolutely great. Some of the comments noted were "Fantastic!", "This [experience] has really opened my eyes, and made me feel proud.", "Hope you offer more workshops." And, yes, we're planning on it.
We knew this would be an important event, but not all would be able to attend. So we videotaped the conference and are in the process of producing the video taped highlights of the workshop. Please look for the of the Splendor of Gender video in the upcoming months.
And a special note of thanks to Yvonne Cook-Riley and IFGE for their kind donation of current and back issues of Tapestry which were offered to those attending the Splendor Workshop. IFGE's presence was certainly felt as several professionals as well as unaffiliated sisters were surprised in seeing the many faces and community events depicted in Tapestry.
Prior to the seminar, several sisters asked me, "What can you talk about for ten hours?" Interestingly, at the seminar's close the typical response heard was, "The seminar was great-but, you know, you really should have made it a full weekend event!"
I think we've started something!
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