Here’s my review of the Keystone Transgender Conference in Harrisburg PA. My darling Kim is joining me on this one so I’ll be reviewing the conference from her perspective as well as mine. The conference starts on Wednesday March 13th and runs until Sunday March 17th.
I’ve been told there are usually around 300 in attendance but this year attendance will much higher than that. Since the Be All Conference in Chicago has been cancelled, likely indefinitely, it seems that many of the regular Be All attendees will be at Keystone. This would make the Keystone Conference the 2nd largest in North America.
Hope the organizers can handle the sudden growth.
Tuesday March 12, 2013
My bags are packed for an early morning departure! Since the event runs over four days, eight changes of clothes should be sufficient. So I’m bringing twelve! No worries about checked bag limits this time. Harrisburg is a 6-ish hour drive … maybe 8 hours in total including stops along the way .. so waiting around the airport for a short flight in to Baltimore, renting a car and driving a couple hours back towards home doesn’t really make sense.
Rumor has it that the host hotel is totally booked, a second hotel is full and late reservations are using a third hotel. I imagine it’s just another day for the folks at the Sheraton but, personally, I worry a bit about messed up reservations when hotels are this full.
Also looking forward to spending time with my best girl friend Dianne. I haven’t seen her since last October and she’s flown over 16 hours to be here.
But so far so good. The online event registration process worked like a charm; the hotel handled our room upgrade wishes and my questions to the organizers got quick responses although general communication from the event organizers has been light.
Wednesday March 13, 2013
The drive to the conference was nice. Not exactly colorful but still quite scenic.
The hotel is very nice too. Much nicer than it appears online. Clean, modern, spacious and the staff is very nice to us.
Had dinner at a wonderful restaurant in Mechanicsburg. Carabbas Italian Grill was quite busy, but the service was perfect. After a long day, I chilled back at the hotel in the Dog and Pony Lounge with friends and went up to sleep a little past 1:00am. Service in the bar was somewhat slow.
Thursday March 14, 2013
Slept until after 9:00am … I needed that! Lunch at the hotel was nice. Excellent keynote speaker. Kye Allums is a young female-to-male transgender who spent some time in the national spotlight in the US in the basketball world.
After lunch I checked out the vendor area. It was interesting but I really didn`t see much there that appealed to me. But late in the afternoon, I attended a seminar on Comportment by Monica Prata, Feminine Image Consultant. Monica is in the process of launching Nouveau She, a service that “provides full-range femininity training in-person and online for individuals who are cross-dressing, transitioning or integrating their masculinity with their femininity.” Monica is very knowledgeable, is totally gorgeous and a lot of fun.
(Side note story about Monica: Did I mention gorgeous? She is. Picture this; she’s wearing a sexy, frilly black top, tight grey mini, dark hose and black heels .. and she’s talking to us about feminine movement and stance. With legs spread a little and her weight on both feet she said “Don’t stand like this! It doesn’t look feminine.” But when standing like that, she looked very sexy. Next she said “Shoulders back, but not your chest out. It looks off-balance and silly” but again, when she stood that way, she looked fabulous, and again, very sexy. 🙂 So for most of us there, remembering only her words will help with our appearance but we need to erase the images she presented from our mind. Only goes to show, when you’ve got it (as she does), there isn’t much you can do wrong. But when you don’t have it (like the rest of us), attention to detail is important. )
In the evening, took the motor coach to the Hollywood Casino in Hershey. Again .. nice dinner, great Merlot, lost a few dollars gambling and then back to the Dog and Pony lounge for karaoke. The place was crazy. A couple vodka tonics there (no karaoke for this girl) and I`m off to sleep again.
Friday March 15, 2013
Took it easy this morning … the late nights are already catching up with me. Coffee in the Club Lounge, got caught up on my email and went to lunch with the conference group. But on the way to lunch, I stopped by the vendor area to be sure that Scarlett from Scarlett’s Makeovers was here. I have an appointment with her right after lunch for an advice session. Got to meet Scarlett’s partner while I was there. She’s gorgeous and very sweet.
Noticed as soon as I got towards the banquet room that attendance is still growing. Wow. It seems that many don’t come for the entire conference. There might be twice as many here now as there was on the first day.
Lunch was excellent (bravo again Sheraton!) but the keynote speaker, Mara Keisling, didn’t interest me very much at all so it was okay that I had to leave during dessert for my one o’clock appointment with Scarlett. I chose Scarlett because we had met at Fantasia Fair in Provincetown last October and I thought she was very cool and very talented. She gave me a few tips; foundation is a little heavy, concealer for the darkness around my eyes (too many late nights!), heavier blush, some shading tips to take the focus away from my nose (the “nose that could stop a bus” .. hehe!) and some eye lash suggestions.
I don’t wear false eyelashes all that often but the one’s I do wear are a little extreme for my face. So I’ll be replacing by Red Cherry #100’s with #510’s … and I need to start trimming the lash length (left to right .. not the length of the individual lashes). All great advice. I left Scarlett looking much nicer and am very appreciative of the time I spent with her..
Dinner was downtown at Raspberries. Around 40 of us were there. Food was very good and the staff treated us fabulously. It was a short walk to the Open Stage Theater. The theater was great fun! The cast is very talented and the other theater-goers were cool with us joining them. Christy Snow and Hayden were our escorts for the evening and they took wonderful care of us. Christy’s a darling and she works so hard to keep us organized. And Hayden was awesome too. It’s great having a trans guy looking out for us.
Saturday March 16 2013
The “faces” of the attendees seems to have changed again. The crowd is even larger, which I imagine confirms my suspicions that many only come for the last couple days.
Another wonderful lunch provided by the nice people at the Sheraton, and another token keynote speaker to tell us the same old story. This time it was Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. , and personally, I found her political references silly, boring and exclusionary to those of us in attendance who are not from the USA . So what if she met Michelle Obama? I met Judy, the bus driver, and I sincerely believe Judy wasn’t nice to me simply because she wanted my vote. haha!
Back to my room to dress for the gala. Three outfits to choose from!
I met quite a few local people at the Gala on Saturday evening that identify as lesbian or gay. Although it’s considered to be a great party, many appeared to be there mostly to support the local trans community. I found it very impressive that so many in the central PA LGBT really do support each other. We spoke to several gays and lesbians in attendance and they were funny, sincere and just a pleasure to chat with.
Now about that party. Hors d’ovueres we’re everywhere and the cocktails were generous but not exceptionally pricey. Dinner was very good (I had the pork ..lol).
But the speeches .. hmmm. Another self-serving Keynote speaker .. this time it was Dr.Jillian Weiss, Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College. .. who basically gave us yet another of those rah-rah pep talks about how the trans community is “one”. Wishful thinking for the activists and those who are looking to advance the acceptance of those of us who have or will transition. But I personally believe that majority of those in attendance didn’t fit into that category. (Dr Weiss is currently on the board of Lambda Legal .. an organization I respect a lot. )
Aside from the keynote address, the conference organizer spent much podium time thanking some vendors and those who provided financial support for the event but I would have much rather been able to applaud the individuals who’s hard work made the event possible. I prefer to think of them as the heroes and heroines as opposed to those who were there to generate revenue, regardless how generous they were.
So to those who worked so hard behind the scenes, please know that many of us think you’re awesome and are very appreciative.
On a personal note, I’d like to give a special shout-out to the following people for making my Keystone Conference so memorable:
- Value related to the cost: Very good. Lunches every day were great, the Gala dinner was very nice too. Tickets to the Open Stage Theater were at no extra cost to us. And although gambling, most dinners, all drinks and dancing in and around Harrisburg were, of course, our own responsibility, transportation to all events was provided.
- The Venue: Very good. The Harrisburg Sheraton is a great hotel and every staff contact I had there was fabulous. My room and room rate was better than expected; the hotel property was modern and meticulously maintained.
- The City: Very good. Who knew that Harrisburg, which is located in very conservative/fundamentalist/religious central Pennsylvania, could be so welcoming? Yet they were, to the point where I (the person) as opposed to I (the wallet) felt their kindness was sincere.
- The Attendees: Same old combination of attention whores, egomaniacs, party animals, shy newbies and seasoned veterans as one would expect at an event like this. But all of us fall into one of those categories, I suppose. I don’t know this for a fact but it did seem that the number of couples in attendance was higher than I would have expected. Bravo spouses!
- Dining: Continental breakfast for me was included with my room since I managed to get a room on the club (top) floor. All conference-included luncheons at the Sheraton were very good. For dinner, we had several choices each night and had the opportunity to book them when we registered. We paid for our own dinners. The choices were very good; nice variety and several price ranges. My dinner at the Casino/Racetrack was an example .. casual food in a somewhat elegant dining room overlooking the horse track
- The Event: Very good. I was a little concerned that the organizers might have found it difficult to manage the arrangements for a larger-than-usual crowd but no .. they was no indication that the 100-200 additional people caused any issues at all. In my opinion, the organizers get an A+ for, well, organization. The seminar selection, in my opinion,was mediocre. There was less “fun and informative” and more “take things to the next level”. One of the biggest issues for me, and this might seem trivial to most, was that they spelled my first name wrong on my name tag. I learned long ago that the best way to make someone feel insignificant is to either forget or misspell their name. And spelling mine “Selena” makes me much less easy to find in the online world.
Will I return to the Keystone Conference? Quite possibly. I really did have a great time but, as always, the fun comes from the socializing that goes on during and after the scheduled events.