I came up with a good idea for my 2014 Left Out Festival, which features the work of LGBTQ artists. In the previous 7 years of this festival, all of the contributors have been either lesbian or gay. And the work has been spectacular. But I wanted very much to shine a light on the transgender population, which is underrepresented and about which there is much curiosity and conjecture.
I reached out to my friend Regina Quattrochi, the CEO of Bailey House, and set up writing workshops with a group of her transgender clients, all male-to-female and all lovely human beings. I am having such a good time with them. We are meeting every other week. My original intention was for them to write stories about their lives, and to produce an evening of them telling those stories, or of me finding other people to tell the stories, if they didn’t want to deliver them themselves.
What I have discovered is that my assumption that they would want to write their stories might have been based on my identity as a writer. I don’t know why I assumed everyone wants to write, but I guess I did.
The five clients I worked with on my first meeting were engaging and engaged in our conversation, but I thought I detected a slight reluctance to write. It was slow going, and they seemed tentative. Some good material was produced, but the conversation after they read their stories was far more sparkling (in most cases) than what had been put on the page. I put it down to the newness of the experience and figured the next session would be more fruitful. We made tremendous progress in getting to know each other. I found out that “T-gurl” is a friendly way to say male-to-female transgender, and they told me I could use that term in describing them. I like it – T-gurl.
However, in my next session, three of the five T-gurls did not return. However, I had a new client show up. And I had two willing Bailey House counselors in the room, who also participated, so we had a quorum. I brought up my list of topics I thought we could write about, we did some preliminary conversation and then I said, “Let’s write.” I felt the energy in the room drop immediately.
So I said, “Maybe you’d rather not write. Perhaps you’d rather just talk about the topics?” There was an instant yes from everyone. I said, “May I videotape your responses?” For various reasons, mostly having to do with bad hair days, etc., no one wanted to be videotaped. But audio was fine. So I took out my cell phone and turned on the voice recorder.
What followed was the most scintillating discussion. We talked about topics that were ordinary or important, deep or trivial, but all of it was enthusiastic and willing. I got an hour of great stuff – and if none of my clients want to deliver it themselves, I can always sound edit, or transcribe and read it. The material exists – and they didn’t have to write it down on paper themselves. And when I asked if I could bring my video camera next session, they all said ok. I figure they’ll be sure to have their hair looking fine and their make-up beautifully applied. And I asked one of the counselors to please let the clients who had not shown up know that writing was no longer a requirement of the workshop. I am hoping that will entice them to return to the next meeting.
All of this teaches me that we have to be flexible – ready to change our approach at a moment’s notice, to be willing to see what’s going on and make adjustments. I’m thrilled to be working with my T-gurl clients and I think I am going to be producing quite a fine documentary – my first T-party.