FIRST EVENT DIARY – 2018
DAY 8, Sunday 02/04/18
Emily Jo Donatello
(call me “Em”)
Please open the audio below in another window and listen while reading this entry:
Visions and Vignettes
On Thursday, not long after arriving at First Event, I slashed my right thumb – yes on the lock of a stall door in the Ladies Room! For half an hour I was slinking around in Tranny Triage, toilet paper tightly wrapped around the wound. By some strange twist of premonition I had packed a few band-aids with my other toiletries. I was able to stanch the wound with a pair of those. Fickle finger of fate, I cursed.
Cheap Chilean Chardonnay has the same relation to Pouilly Fuisse as Pinochet to Lafayette.
Cheap Chilean Cabernet has the same relation to California Cabernet as Senor Wences to John Ford.
One can never have enough “makeup wipes.” Daily, along with an empty packet from the wipes, leave a note – in English and Spanish – requesting more/”mas.”
With makeup blend, blend, blend.
Hemingway wrote, “If you want a friend for life, leave a big tip.” Transgender folks have many lifelong friends.
High Heels cannot defy gravity.
Despite discarded ripped pantyhose, empty water bottles, and other expended items, the load for the return trip is always heavier than the one on arrival. The journey back home is always shorter than the one coming.
By Saturday morning at a conference with 900 attendees, the cash machine will be broken.
Selfies are self destructive.
At the Gala, server Patty, who’d befriended me at the Comportment Luncheon, arched an eyebrow and whispered in my ear, “You know they put their used toothpicks on the trays with the fresh hors d’oeuvres! Gross.”
At Allora’s for dinner I stepped into the Ladies Room for a makeup freshening. A cis-woman followed me in and immediately began speaking banalities about the towels, the mirrors, the room itself. I spoke banalities in response. She kept talking banalities to me. Delightful.
In the volunteer’s Break Room Kimberly, our server, noticing my name tag (misspelled with two n’s) exclaimed, “Donatello, the Ninja Turtle!” I said softly, “No, the Sculptor.” Oblivious, Kimberly blundered on. “I like Raphael the best.” Turtles pull their heads in, Kimberly. Sculptors, Michelangelo, not the Turtle, said, release the figure from its stone prison.
…I’ve been havin’ a sweet dream
I been dreamin’ since I woke up today
It’s starrin’ me and my sweet dream …
Please after finishing “Daydream” open this in another window and listen as you read on.
The dramatic climax of First Event each year is the Gala Cocktail Party and Dinner. It’s the best attended occasion within the conference week – more than 350 this year, Grace Stevens, a Co-Chair, announced. Scanning the room I thought she was correct in her count. Indeed I know tickets are much sought. That very afternoon, for example, while nominally in charge of the Volunteers Break Room, I was accosted by a couple who wanted to get tickets for the dinner only. I told them I couldn’t promise anything but sent them on to Registration.
When First Event says Gala, it means GALA. Gowns, Suits, even a Tuxedo or two. It’s the last time in the week all get to look “absolutely fabulous,” “abfab,” some of the girls say.
…But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away…
Of course, the Gala is not solely about GLAM. This evening we heard the Valedictories from Grace Stevens and Andrea and Mechelle Ziff, all descending from Chairmanships and passing the torches to a new Committee, new leaders too. Andrea and Mechelle will stay on as advisers, Andrea told me. But new people, new energies, new ideas will bring us to First Event #39 next year. Yes, 39. 2020 will leap to a 40th Anniversary event! I want to be there for both 39 – my age, over and over – and 40, a birthday to which I look forward – one day, far into the future!
The Keynote Speaker for this year’s First Event was Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a young transgender woman who tells a story of courage and wonder, laced with great determination.
After being the first transgender woman to provide perspective and advice within the Obama White House, she’s moved now to an advocacy group, The National Center for Transgender Equality. She spoke of her particular interest in encouraging those present to tell their stories. NCTE, she noted, has a module within its website which facilitates doing just that: tell your story so that you “encourage policymakers to change laws and policies, allow media to tell authentic stories of transgender struggles and triumphs, and help us introduce transgender people to potential allies who may not know any out trans people in their lives.”
…But now old friends they’re acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day…
Somehow Jennie’s posse appointed me “point” for the Gala. Serpentine I led us through the scores of tables to find just the one, centered before the podium and with five seats together. I found it. Three people were already seated there, leaving seven empty places. As I approached, I asked the woman closest to me if we could join her party. She looked to her companions, and all three nodded yes.
I chose so well! The table was well placed for seeing and hearing the speakers. A particular crowd favorite was the team leader from Sephora.
She and her teammates had been giving away little gift bags in the vendor area throughout the week, even to me. But that afternoon the Sephoras had unwittingly given me some anxiety in my role as volunteer “Room Monitor.” They had many aspiring makeup experts jamming my hall while the assigned room was being rearranged into a faux salon. With quick help from the hotel staff we got the extra tables and chairs needed. The aspirants were admitted, and I moved to other, thankfully less intense, crises down my hall.
To cap Sephora’s First Event week, at the Gala two raffles, each a large basket of Sephora products, raised much money for “Freedom For All Massachusetts,” First Event’s designated recipient for proceeds from raffles during the week. This organization, according to its website advocates: “A broad coalition…joining together to defeat a dangerous initiative on the statewide ballot in Massachusetts in November 2018 that would repeal our state’s non-discrimination law ensuring fair and equal treatment for our transgender neighbors, family and friends. Faith leaders, public safety officials, major employers, top educational institutions, key labor unions and more are standing together to affirm: Discrimination has no place in Massachusetts!”
Earlier Grace Stevens had noted from the podium that should the anti-equality initiative pass in November, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to repeal a transgender equality law after legislatively enacting it.
…I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all…
With all that amplified speaking and raffling going on from the podium, it was hard to engage in conversation at the table. I tried and, pleasant surprise, succeeded. To my left was Jenna, one of the members of Jennie’s posse whom I’d not met before conference week. She has a fascinating life story, filled with travel and living in beautiful places around the world. Her work too – research and medical professionalism – is uniquely meaningful to herself and to many others. I so enjoyed getting to know her and hope we may meet again soon.
To my right was “Gabby” (not her real name), a member of the “Dignity Movement,” as were both of her companions. They’d spent the day offering information and counseling from a table among the advocacy groups within the vendor area.
The “Dignity Movement,” according to its national website, declares this as its mission.“We believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex Catholics in our diversity are members of Christ’s mystical body, numbered among the People of God. We have an inherent dignity because God created us, Christ died for us, and the Holy Spirit sanctified us in Baptism, making us temples of the Spirit, and channels through which God’s love becomes visible. Because of this, it is our right, our privilege, and our duty to live the sacramental life of the Church, so that we might become more powerful instruments of God’s love working among all people.”
Through the dinner “Gabby” told me her personal story as the mother of a young transgender boi, now deceased. It was heart-breaking to hear. Yet she told it with grace and love. Then, as we were to depart the dinner, “Gabby” asked me, having heard some of my story, if she could give me a hug. No way could I refuse. And she did not refuse my request for a photo of the two of us together. Absent-mindedly I neglected to ask her permission to use that photo in my diary. I’ll remember all of it, but here I’ll post only a highly edited version, which suggests but does not show my new and so very dear friend, “Gabby.” Peace be with her.
…I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all…
After the Gala, parties, dancing, singing continue well into the night and early morning. Some never go to bed at all. For myself, overcome with emotion, I repaired to my room, there to work for a time on this diary and later to begin the sorrowful task of packing to leave.
Sunday morning the breakfast room is an omelet of scrambled farewells. I even say goodbye to some I barely know. I did catch Grace Stevens and Shelley Hart, the Volunteer Coordinator, for thank yous and goodbyes. Dr. Leis, oatmeal, as always, in hand, had one hand left to take mine. So many others…fare thee well.
Checkout took mere seconds. The Front Desk staff is fully at ease with us. Yes, it’s their job to be courteous and helpful. Yet I felt they crossed from professional to genuinely friendly and hope to see them again next year.
I looked in the lobby for Benjamin the Bellman to help me with my luggage. Alas, he was off duty. Instead I found Ryan the Bellman, young enough that if the fates had fallen fittingly, he could have been my grandson. He was, as Benjamin before him, very shy. Or maybe he was, so young, unsure how to act with someone like me. I gently directed him. Together we loaded my luggage onto his (defective) cart and rolled out to my SUV. (Ryan did give me permission for his picture.)
As he turned to return to the lobby and another client, Ryan, over his shoulder, said, “Have a safe trip.” Recalling his absent colleague, Benjamin, I replied,
“Have a blessed day.”
It rained during the four hour drive back to the apartment and from there, returned to my other life, rained all the way home.
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