Keystone #4 March 10 & 11, 2018


Emily Jo Donatello

(call me Em)



Please open the audio below and listen while reading this section:



“Oh, it feels so good to know she waits at the end of the line.”


Am I on my way? Am I? Yes I am!


As heels must click through the Saturday Evening Gala, flats then, I knew, should step through the daytime. My first ensemble that day was created from an idea by my friend, Kris Green of L.A., after seeing a preview on my Flickr page.

Kris suggested, “a long sleeve t would work and also leggins or tights if its cold.” Since she’s one of the most stylishly “put-together” women I know, I could not ignore her fashion insight. And so I had the “Kris combo” ready for Saturday morning. I don’t think she, who was also a Conference attendee, saw her idea incarnated. I was so sorry not to spend much time with her; merely a passing hello and embrace. Nora Simone, Friday Co-Professor, did see the results of Kris’s vision. Thoughtfully Nora cajoled her wife into taking my photo outside a seminar room.



The seminars are a seminal part of these Conferences, Keystone and its older sibling, First Event. Their various topics and presenters offer many ideas and learning experiences – from the important to the trivial. I enjoy attending those which grab my imagination.

This year one seminar, in particular, seemed suited to me: Jenny North’s presentation on creativity in matters of communication.



I’m striving to find innovative ways to give my diary more impact, both for me and now for the scores who are reading it. (I’m so grateful to all who find this worth their time.) Jenny’s suggestions were interesting, although not well-suited to my task. But she did provide several “hand-outs,” which I’ll study more closely in coming days. Always wanting to do better am I.  (Speak Yoda Try?) I thanked Jenny and wished her well in her science fiction writing.


Both First Event and Keystone featured a vendor area. Keystone’s offered fewer vendors than FE’s, but all I met were friendly and enthusiastic; to my eye none more so than the woman marketing breast forms. At that table I found Jennie White, perfecting her own form.



Keystone’s vendor area also provided several makeup artists, ever busy throughout the days and into the evenings. Beauty does, and beauty is.



It’s a matter of obstinacy or pride maybe for me to do my own makeup. I’ve had one lesson, two and a half years ago, from a most gracious Amanda Richards. If only I had her talent!



That’s her at the Gala. She did herself after making over who knows how many others. We had a warm embrace there at the dinner. Naturally she was surrounded by acolytes. In the few seconds we had together, I promised to visit her studio one day soon for another makeover and photo shoot. She does fabulous work. Yet it’s her warmth, her enthusiasm for freeing the butterfly from its cocoon I remember best. I am so at ease in her company.


By now I’d thrown over my melancholy: Wednesday and Thursday remembered but finally put deep within mind, to be examined and reflected upon at a later date. Saturday must be the climax of what had become a good time. A Gala Day to unveil a Gala Night, gaily spent, I intended.


For the evening’s makeup? Do it myself, my stubborn (cheap?) custom. I had been tempted to book time with Amanda Richards but chose instead to do my best to mimic her techniques. Two Cassandra Storm-inspired selfies captured my finished product.



To wear to the Gala I had selected an LBD, a sleeveless mini four inches above the knees, satin neck and hem.  Against the chill I covered up with a black bolero jacket, 3/4 length sleeves.



Please open the audio below and listen while reading the remainder of this entry:



At the Cocktail Party outside the Ballroom I caught up with Andrea, dinner companion extraordinaire. We immediately agreed we’d do dinner together again.



Our friendship began at Keystone 2016, three back. We have become such good friends!


During the Conference I’d ordered a trifecta of Sheraton cuisine: flank steak for the Gala dinner; for lunch Saturday the Chicken; for Friday lunch the flounder. All were quite good. Many of us then enthusiastically concurred – much applause – with Co-Chair Dr. Jeanine Ruhsam, who complimented the banquet managers and all the other hotel staff for their great service all week.



Keystone Keynoter this year was Carmen Carrera. Wikipedia described her as, “(born April 13, 1985), an American reality television personality, model, burlesque performer, and actress, known for appearing on the 3rd season of the Logo reality television series RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as its spin-off series RuPaul’s Drag U. Carrera is a transgender woman.”


Carmen is also very beautiful.



In her remarks Carmen spoke enthusiastically and confidently. She lacked rhetorical polish, but her energy carried the audience. She received a standing ovation.


My reaction was decidedly mixed, however. Another celebrity, following upon the heels of Caitlyn Jenner, was proclaiming herself a spokesperson for “the community.” Of that I am most skeptical. I do accept that positive images of transgender people are needed to ease tensions with the nation’s other citizens. Yet I am uncomfortable that now two, at least, emerging from the reality television business, have financial interests which may well “trump” their self-proclaimed spokesperson status, or at least compromise it. To me Dr. Ruhsam, for one, would be better touted as an exemplar to our often intolerant culture. There are many more like her (for example, several of my fully transitioned friends, articulate professionals all). We must be inclusive, I agree. There should be places for all, even minor celebrities, who support full equal rights for all, I agree. But we cannot be blinded by the light and miss the meat.



After dinner I went back to the Dog & Pony for one final glass of wine and one last chance to see friends in their finery. I caught up with Corinne and Kris and a few more. At the bar I sat next to Jill Catherine Smith, whom I follow on Flickr and who follows me. It was the first time we’d met in person. She’s gorgeous. Alongside I was unsightly and best unseen. I do hope to see Jill again.



Before bed, as that Gala Day was slipping away, I began to edit (now completed) the marvelous photos taken by Cassandra Storm that afternoon in the last of my three visits with her. Anticipating poor efforts by myself and others in an ill-lit, tipsy evening, I’d decided to enter my final Cassandra session dressed as I’d later be at the Gala. Photos taken by her, I knew, would be my best mementos of the Gala. And so they are.



My tour book notes, “As we bid farewell to Harrisburg, and our vehicle hurtles through the helix of highways, north then east, we think back upon the sights, the sounds, and, most of all, the people of the Keystone State’s Keystone. We remind ourselves how they brought smiles to our down-turned lips and lifted our spirits. They, feeling our need, unselfishly offered their endemic charms. One bright example: Maria Gonzalez, housekeeper at the Sheraton Hotel, ‘Soy Dominicana,’ ella dice.”



“Encantado, Maria. Encantado.”



The last item on my Keystone agenda was Sunday brunch (after all, attendees got 10% off).


(At this point in the narrative 21st century rhetoric dictates the insertion of the acronym “LOL.” As I’m more of a 20th century person, I’ll forego that flourish.)


Instead I’ll remember that, sitting alone at a four person breakfast table, I was soon joined by three congenial companions. One was Kristy Snow, Conference Co-Chair. Of course, I thanked her for her efforts to make the event successful. Out of courtesy I chose not to complain about my unsatisfactory volunteer experience. Later she and I exchanged views about that by email. Ironically another who sat with me that morning was himself a volunteer, who lived nearby and recounted to me his efforts to save cats, all black. He said knowledgeably those cats were the most abandoned and the least adoptable. Did he, a transman, identify with those creatures of superstition, I wondered?


Before leaving the restaurant I noticed my friend Joan Porter nearby. We hugged and chatted just for a minute. Among seven hundred fifty attendees, we recognized, it is so hard to find all we know and want to embrace. How regrettable we did not have enough time these past three days!


Ah, but I did also meet one who has been for three years a most special friend, a woman who had adopted me – black cat? – first at First Event 2016. There she alone sensed my terror; my sense of abandonment. Slyly she then asked if I’d let her have dinner with me. That was such a gesture of empathy, one I will never forget. It gave me a glimpse into the prospect of acceptance. Since that evening, Christine Zuba and I have periodically exchanged emails. In that interval she’s completed her transition, been fully accepted within her profession, and will soon take her rightful place at a daughter’s wedding. In those three years Christine and I have seen one another at five conferences. From her always a hug; always a bright word and a kind, supportive remark. From me always joy in seeing her. Yet never, not once, did we get a photo of us together. That Keystone morning, I declared, we must prevent another miscarriage. A bystander obliged.



Clearly I need more practice in the posing principles of Cassandra Storm! Nevertheless, I shall remember the grace of Christine. I hope one day we’ll have another meal; this one on me.



During the drive back to NJ I decided I’ll return to Keystone (and First Event too) next year.



“Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humor.” Stephen Hawking (R.I.P.)




Psychic Hugs.



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