I have a confession… And I am sure it will come as a total shock to you… But I am a pretty conventional woman. Maybe even a little boring. After all, my usual idea of a good time is a quiet dinner with my wife and friends with a glass (or two) of good wine. Most nights, while friends of mine are out singing karaoke I can be found lolling on the couch watching TV and most weekends I am in my basement working on my model railroad. Yeah...I don't get out much. Exciting life, isn’t it?
My Weekend Adventure
So imagine my feelings when a year ago I was contacted through our transgender support group website by a gentleman from the gay leather community. Todd had recently been named “Mr. Woods Leather” buy the leather community at the Woods Campground a LGBTQ resort that is located in the beautiful Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania. Todd’s email said that in his new role he had selected Lehigh Valley Transgender Renaissance as his primary charity for 2017 and that he intended to raise money on our behalf.
For safety reasons, most trans women and men focus on blending-in to their surroundings. We try to lead “conventional” lives. I certainly have many LGBTQ friends and have attended LGBTQ functions, but I am not steeped in gay culture – certainly not “leather culture.” So, in all frankness, I did not know how to react and I had many questions. First and foremost being “why would this person - who I have never met – want to help our organization?"
A Relationship Grows
After some stops and starts I have come to know Todd and his husband Don and they are wonderful people. Throughout the year they worked hard on our behalf. Their fund-raising activities included everything from bake sales to drag shows and they conducted events on our behalf throughout the Midatlantic region. They even got other people involved in their fund-raising activities including Pola Frost a wonderful drag performer.
Todd and I corresponded and chatted throughout the year and then, a few weeks ago, he reached out to invite me up to The Woods Camping Resort where they were going to have a leather event that culminated in the election of Mr. & Ms. Woods Leather 2018 and the presentation of the checks the 2017 representatives designated charities.
Just A Little Trepidation
So, this past weekend 3 of our members and myself headed north to the event. Now, it should be said that in addition to it being “leather weekend” (and all that entailed in my mind) this weekend at the resort was clothing optional - definitely a little scary for a conventional woman like myself! So, when I pulled-in to the parking lot my heart was pounding.
Sure enough, the first person to great me was a middle-aged man walking across the parking lot in his birthday suit. He greeted me with a smile and said “The office is that way and, by the way, you look great!” As a trans woman, that type of compliment means a lot and that graciousness set the tone for the rest of the evening.
The Gift Of Giving
As the evening wore on there was certainly a lot of eye opening sights. There were a number of leather groups represented. There were womyn and men. There were fetishists and more conventional people on site as well.
But the most important thing there was a sense of community and an appreciation of the diversity of the human race. There was no doubt that everyone there was focused on one thing and one thing only. That was supporting LGBTQ people and others who need support and assistance.
You see, these people – our people – deeply believe in helping others. One of the women there, Sandy "Mama" Reinhardt came in from across the country to help judge the contest. She is the leader of a “family” of leather people that is over 2,000 strong. In order to be a part of her family you have to commit to doing good works. To paraphrase, her motto is that “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something and together, we can do anything.” The result is that she and her family have raised millions of dollars for charities across the country.
At the event I attended, our group and others including Toys for Tots and hurricane relief received donations. By my calculations, approximately $10,000 was raised and donated for various charities and non-profit organizations. Truly amazing!
The Growth (Or Decline) Of Community
My experience at this event got me thinking about community, what it means and how communities grow.
Communities of people are the result of people with common interests and needs coming together. In the LGBTQ community different sub-groups (leather, drag, trans women, trans men, etc.) tend to band together because our compatriots understand our issues and our desires. In other words, there is comfort and safety in numbers of people who have commonality. To put it simply, we take care of each other.
But just like me, it is all too easy for us to stay in our lanes. To stay in our comfort zone. That can result in stunted growth, a lack of empathy and, ultimately, political and social weakness. Things that we cannot risk in these challenging times.
In his 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Robert Putnam used the decline in membership in bowling leagues to illustrate how people are growing apart and becoming less social. He believes that there is a reduction in in-person social intercourse - the same social relationships that Americans rely on to educate ourselves and enrich our democracy.
A Lesson Learned
So as I was driving home that evening I thought about the lessons that I learned from a group of people that I had never met – and may never have met – if it wasn’t for the courage and caring of my friend Todd.
To quote the Dutch Priest Henri Nouwen, “We all gather among ourselves to be accepted, to be consoled. But we are more powerful in a larger group.”
Or, in other words, it goes to show that even people who are as misunderstood as the trans community - people who preach about acceptance - can have their eyes opened to the beauty of diversity and to people's giving hearts.
For that lesson I will be eternally grateful to my friend Todd.
About Lehigh Valley Transgender Renaissance
The leading organization for support and education around transgender issues in Eastern PA and Western NJ, our focus is on supporting transgender individuals as they work through their journey to become their authentic selves while helping the community at large learn more about what it means to be transgender.
If you would like to learn more about our Lehigh Valley transgender support group or to write an article for our blog please contact Lehigh Valley Renaissance or better yet join us at one of our monthly transgender support meetings!
Note: The opinions in this article are those of the author and not necessarily that of Lehigh Valley Renaissance or the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.