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Coming of Age, by Zander

Zander is a well known veteran of the FtM community. (It’s almost unbelievable, but very true, that everywhere you look, Zander is probably somehow involved!) He’s attended Gender Odyssey since 2006, and each year he leaves with more than just his luggage.

I’ve come of age, so to speak, through my trips to Seattle for GO.

Zander KeigHi, my name is Zander, I live in groovy Northern California with my beautiful wife, Margaret, and I am a clinical social worker with the Veterans Health Administration, where I work with military veterans confronting homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness. I have been involved with the Trans* community since 2005 and was previously involved with the LGB community starting in 1987. In 2011, I published the Lambda Literary Award Finalist Letters for my Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect (Wilgefortis, 2011.)

I attended my first Gender Odyssey Conference in 2006. It was my first time at a trans* specific conference. I had attended many LGB conferences over the years, some with as many as 2000 attendees, but I was not prepared for the impact of being around 400-500 FtMs at Gender Odyssey (GO). It was like coming home for the first time!

My first two years at GO, I went solo, but the third year (2008) Margaret accompanied me. Fortunately, it was the first year GO offered a partner specific track of workshops and events designated for couples. We had a blast! We met other couples and Margaret got to hangout with other partners. My favorite partner workshop title, hands down, has to be “Fierce Dyke Seen Doing Husband’s Laundry,” which was facilitated by Jessica Pettitt.

I’ve come of age, so to speak, through my trips to Seattle for GO. My first year at the conference, which coincided with the anniversary of my first full year on T, I facilitated a well attended workshop on identifying as a Virago (A woman of masculine strength or spirit). It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, because, I was not then identifying as a man, or an FtM, or a trans man. I felt part of something bigger, that was emerging both within me and in the FTM community: the public ascendance of multiple non-binary identities.

My second year at GO (2007), I decided not to present a workshop, but to instead attend all the workshops focused on the experience of identifying as male: Boys to Men, Seven Year Itch, and a few others. I was interested in hearing about the experiences of the FtMs who identified and lived as men. What surprised me the most, were the responses from some of the audience members: they loudly and unkindly objected to the way the trans men described their experiences.

Following these workshops, I found myself surrounded by trans men feeling dismissed and marginalized by people they thought were members of their own community. That experience inspired me to create a space for these men to feel supported and welcome: to create a sense of brotherhood. I approached Aidan Key, the GO producer, and inquired into the possibility of having an impromptu workshop in an unused room. Aidan said yes, and The Men’s Room was formed. It was a huge success and sparked an energy in me I had not known was present: I was beginning to develop a strong male identity.

2007 was the last year GO was officially an FTM conference. This was also the year I decided to begin researching bottom surgeries, which was prompted by an experience I had in a workshop where trans men on T 5 or more years discussed their lives post-transition: the challenges and celebrations. A few of the guys talked about the regret they felt for not getting bottom surgery. I did not want to feel that same regret, so I embarked on the long and difficult journey of genital reconstruction. I regret nothing!

2007 was also the year I began co-presenting workshops with Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA) executive director Kim Pearson at the GO Family Conference. Workshops like Minimizing the Top 10 Fears, I also co-presented with Kim at GO 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. It was truly amazing to see trans boys as young as 4 years old, but my favorite was interacting with the FtM teens, who were seeking mentorship and asking nonstop questions fueled by their curiosity about their future as men.

My third year at GO (2008), I presented at least three workshops. My favorite being No Apology Necessary: Celebrating Masculinity, which Aidan co-presented with me. It was a huge hit. We hit an exposed nerve, that has only grown more painful as the years progress: the FtM community has become a hostile place for some transsexual men. I found myself part of a growing group of transsexual men at GO 2008 who refused to be pushed out of and silenced in FtM space, a space popularized by Lou Sullivan in 1986 in San Francisco. Lou was a pioneering trans man who coined the phrase Female to Male Transsexual, in response to the custom of medical doctors and psychologists labeling us ‘female transsexuals’. To honor Lou’s legacy I co-founded the Lou Sullivan Society in 2007 and included his writings in Letters for my Brothers.

GO 2009 and 2011 (there was no GO 2010) were like family reunions for me. I met up with many guys I met at GO 2006-2008. We shared stories about our lives. Over the course of 6 years I have met men from many US States, several Canadian Provinces, a few European countries, and a couple of guys from the Australian, African and South American Continents. GO is truly an international conference where one can make friends with FtMs of all gender identities, sexual orientations, relationship compositions, interest areas, political affiliations, religious denominations, racial and ethnic identities, etc.

At GO 2009, in addition to my No Apology Necessary workshop, I began offering my Ups & Downs of Phalloplasty workshop. It has become a very popular workshop for those considering genital reconstruction. One main difference between my workshop and other trans* conference FtM bottom surgery workshops is that it do not include photographs or a show and tell portion. I am more interested in discussing the emotional, mental, spiritual and physical dimensions of undergoing such a somatic paradigm shift: female-bodied to male-bodied, which is how I frame my medical, social and legal sex reassignment process. It is all too common that people ask, those of us who have undergone genital reconstruction, about the aesthetics and functionality of our penises, which often is based on unrealistic notions and images, without considering the other realms of our lives enhanced and disrupted by the multi-staged surgery process. The workshop gives those present a more comprehensive understanding of the surgery process. The workshop struck a chord and I am happy to report it inspired the recently published anthology Hung Jury: Testimonies of Genital Surgery by Transsexual Men (Transgress Press, 2012.)

GO 2011 and GO 2012 were more great years of presenting and attending workshops, hanging out with old and new friends and relaxing at the Silver Cloud Hotel.

At GO 2012, I attended the first GO Professional Day for therapists, lawyers, doctors, teachers, social workers and others. I had the pleasure of welcoming the attendees and presenting them with an overview of the terms they would be hearing throughout the day, like gender non-conforming, transgender, transition, etc. It was a fun day of being a professional trans man among other trans and non-trans professionals.

I must admit, I discussed skipping GO 2013 with others at GO 2012. At GO 2012, I started to feel like I was an old man among youngsters: I was a 46 year old settled and content married guy, surrounded by restless single (hooking up) twenty-somethings, but now that I have realized that I will be unable to attend GO 2013 – I’ll be in Scotland with my wife and mother-in-law. I am especially bummed to be missing the amazing workshops, hearing my mentor Jamison Green‘s keynote and seeing all of my GO friends.

See you all at Gender Odyssey 2014!!!

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