Our co-founder, Neish McLean, attended the First Event Conference recently held in Waltham, Massachusetts from January 20-24, 2016 at the Westin Hotel. The event was attended by over 700 persons within the transgender community and featured a plethora of workshops as well as social activities. The workshops offered participants an extensive array of gender specific topic options to choose from and catered to therapists, youth, family, transmasculine persons, transgender women and cross-dressers. In addition, there were general-focused workshops ranging from professional development to meditation.
Each day kicked off with a new-comers orientation session. This was a great way to start the day as it afforded the opportunity to meet other new-comers and explore what brought each person to the conference. After the orientation session, persons dispersed to their different workshops of interest.
Of particular interest was the transmasculine track of the programme which had workshops such as ‘Masculinity and the Trans Masculine Person’, ‘Show Me Your Package’, ‘FtM Chest Surgery Show and Tell’, and ‘New Directions in Surgical Gender Confirmation for FtMs’. One of the more impactful sessions was the FtM Chest Surgery Show and Tell as it gave a live and personal exchange between the volunteers and the audience. The volunteers were able to stand up, bare-chested and explain their procedures and experience.
Some of the general workshops included topics such as ‘Preparing a Successful Transition’, ‘Building a Support Team’, ‘Professional Workplace Transition’ and ‘The Power of Voice’. The Building a Support Team workshop highlighted the importance of creating a safe space that supports the transgender individual through their journey.
In addition to the workshops, the conference also featured a vendors’ area displaying products and services being offered by businesses and professionals for the community. In addition, Tiffany’s Closet was a budget-friendly, high quality offering of clothing and accessories for the shoppers to take advantage of.
In the evenings, there were scheduled social activities to attend. Thursday evening featured event was a Black Tie/Red Carpet Community Service Award event. Friday night featured the John Warrener Memorial Fashion Show and Saturday night’s main event was the banquet with keynote speaker – Dr. Renee McLaughlin.
First Event Conference provided a wonderful opportunity for attendees to learn, explore and challenge the restrictions that often prevent the freedom to express and live an authentic life. It afforded a safe space, especially for those who didn’t have a supportive environment, to embrace all that they are, all that they deny and to let themselves out; let themselves be. Many lives were changed over the course of the conference. Many mental barriers were broken and many lives were set free.
The Way Forward for the Jamaican Transgender Community
After interacting with individuals in the transgender community and participating in the workshops, TransWave is charged with thinking about a way forward given our local context. Jamaica has a far way to go when it comes to equality for the transgender community. However, 2015 reflected greater visibility and increased engagement with civil society and government agencies. For 2016, further collaboration with our partners such as J-FLAG, We-Change, Colour Pink Group and Aphrodite’s Pride is integral to paving the way for increased access to services for transgender Jamaicans. The work continues.