Southern Comfort—Historic Gathering

What is “gender non-conforming?” “What does a transexual person have in common with a part-time cross-dresser? or with a transgender person who identifies as neither?” “Can transgender and gender non-conforming people, cross-dressers, transexual men and women who have undergone Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS), and other segments of this diverse cohort group ever speak as one?” To feel the power of collective action that is sleeping beneath us? “What are the limits of working in coalition with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and interesex people?” “What are the shared policy priorities we can all work on together, in unity without uniformity?

These are just a few of the brain-twisting questions we heard and engaged in while attending Atlanta’s Southern Comfort Conference, our second year at this awesome and inspiring event. There were many firsts in this 21st gathering, now closely associated with the name of Robert Eads, a transman who died 13 years ago in Georgia because not one doctor would agree to treat his ovarian cancer. Eads’ case was internationalized with the release of the 2001 documentary film Southern Comfort, which received awards at the Sundance, Seattle, and Berlin film festivals. Talking to some social workers from Japan, I found his cause and the American trans movement is known in Asia as, simply, Eads. Just now, the CAP 21 Theatre Company in Manhattan is presenting a new musical, Southern Comfort, based on the 2001 documentary.

Southern Comfort was featured last year in Chaz Bono‘s history making documentary, Becoming Chaz, about his transition from Cher and Sonny Bono’s daughter Chastity to the Chaz he always knew he was. Bono attended last year’s conference and met many of us, and at the same time has emerged as a fierce advocate for trans and equality rights. This year he called into the Saturday night gala to say hello to everyone by phone, saying he couldn’t be there this year because he’s in training for his groundbreaking appearance on TV’s popular Dancing With The Stars.

This year, Southern Comfort broke all attendance records and must be credited with bringing together the largest gathering of trans men ever, 60 among a crowd of nearly 1000 dominated by feminist expression. Noteworthy to the media was the first-ever joint seminar with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) that comprised Southern Comfort’s last day.

You can call this one of the happiest week in the calendar, where all these segments get together in an environment of safety, acceptance, and celebration. It is the courageous lives of these most tolerant, compassionate, relatively highly educated people on the front lines of obtaining full legal equality and the freedom they deserve to live their lives as they choose and in peace. It’s the happiest because it’s a taste of a world totally free from sexual oppression, free from government interference, man-made religious precept, and outdated social customs and discrimination. While the questions we wrestle with often disable an otherwise productive unity of purpose among this most select community of gender benders, every encounter leads to more shared understanding of what we are fighting for.

For this and many other reasons we are trying to get an online national conversation going about building trans unity and trans leadership. Together we can bring the rest of the world to understand that gender freedom is a crucial and unfairly maligned gateway to creativity, truth, and love. Together we can move the political debate forward, influence state and federal policy and lawmaking, and bring about trans-inclusive legislation that will save so many lives.

We welcome guest bloggers and cross-posts, or just leave a comment here or on Facebook or Twitter. Let us know what you are doing to educate and advocate for trans equality. If you work with one or more organizations, are they making trans rights a priority? What will bring about comity among superficially different segments of the trans community? What are the shared policy priorities that will have a universal appeal, not only in the gay and trans community, but to all Americans and citizens abroad?”