Our Keystone Conference Workshop

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My name is Savannah Hauk and this is my cis-female partner, Judy Swain. “Cis”… all that means is that, unlike me, she is a real girl! A crossdresser since I was young, I grew up in Detroit until my mid-twenties, moved to the big lights of the big city of New York City to seek my fortunes, and, as of last year, moved to the Upstate of South Carolina.

Quite a turn of events… moving from an environment of intolerance to the more alternative-living accepting Northeast, then, throwing it all away for life in the Bible Belt of America where guns and pick-up trucks abound. As you can see, I like to make things difficult on myself. While in NYC, I learned how to be a better Savannah. She grew out of a lifelong abstract idea and desire, finally, in the late-90s—and I continue to find out more about myself as Savannah and to find out more about the communities I associate with.

A couple years ago, I finally decided to write a book about crossdressing and crossdressing in relationships, mostly in response to a lot of the misinformation and judgement coming from available literature and social media. I tapped into the available research, conducted couples’ interviews, and drew on my own life experiences. So, “Living with Crossdressing: Defining a New Normal” was born.

The book was awarded the 2018 eLit Gold Medal for LGBT Non-Fictionand its Silver Medal for Sexuality and Relationships, which we are ecstatic about. I love Judy, our dog Holly, reading when I am not writing under Savannah’s name or adding to an ever-expanding zombie series under my male name, cosplay and comic cons, movies and whatever is streaming on Netflix.

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Judy Swain is a born-and-bred New Yorkers from Queens, who is probably one of the few who wanted to leave the hustle and bustle of NYC in favor of living on both coasts and in mid-America before settling into the South Carolina Upstate with me. She left New York and the corporate rat race in favor of working for herself.

She is a successful online entrepreneur, selling goods and services through several channels, as well as being a health and wellness advocate. She is a mother of three grown daughters and two grandkids (third on the way). Judy is happy to take on any new and creative adventure, loves and has fostered dogs, immerses herself in nature and waterfalls, cooking, and the thrill of thrift.

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GROUND RULES

  1. No two stories in this room are alike. We hope you take away something that resonates with you.
  2. I am a crossdresser who has been seeking knowledge about myself and the community for over 40 years. That is my experience.
    Judy brings with her a worldview that did not include anyone from the LGBTQ+ community prior to being in a relationship with me. L and G aside, the terms of gender-queer, gender-fluidity, crossdressing, and trans were foreign to her.
  3. If you have questions, please speak up. You will learn just as much from each other as from us. I’m sure you have all formed bonds during this conference. Otherwise, the dreaded Q&A will be at the end of the presentation.
  4. Be yourselves. You came to this conference to search of something… friendship, knowledge, makeup tips, a reason and a place to dance. The best version of you… is the authentic you. The question is whether you can accept your authentic self and whether your partner can accept that as well.

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Continuing with the same formula that I employed with all of my girlfriends throughout my adult life, I felt it was important to reveal my authentic self to her. I showed her a picture from my smart phone (yes, I had graduated into the digital age when showing photos of Savannah). Judy had seen me dressed in my superhero cosplay costumes at the office Halloween parties. She said, “So? I’ve seen your Halloween costumes before.” I had to explain that it wasn’t just a costume and that dressing as a woman was part of who I was.

It was a sobering moment and a shocking revelation to Judy. How should she respond to being told that crossdressing was part of the everyday life of the man she was interested in? What were the basis questions to ask me?

  • How long have you been doing it?
  • So does that mean you like men?
  • Do you go out in public?
  • How often do you dress?
  • Do you want to be a woman?

All were valid questions to have asked, especially from a novice with limited understanding and experience with our kind. Instead, I relayed to her a short-form of my story, preempting her questions by answering them before she could think to ask them.

Judy and I parted ways for the evening, having dropped this shocking news on her prior to having to leave for a previous commitment. But I quickly didn’t feel right about my decision to leave. She was now in a fragile state and, in my absence, turned to her best friend. Coincidentally, her best friend had herself been involved with a crossdressing man. You would think that a friend who was in a relationship with a crossdressing man would have all sorts of insight.

She had insight, all right.

Judy’s friend, Patty, had been involved in a very intense on/off relationship with a fetish dresser. According to her, the sex was focused on his dressing in fishnets and garters (and more). She struggled with her feelings about the intensity of the relationship and her obsessive emotions over it. Judy and Patty revealed what they knew and Patty warned her to dump me outright.

After my shortened evening out, I asked Judy if I could come back to her apartment. She relented and we found ourselves sitting on her living room couch. The space was filled with a mix of awkward silences and stilted questions from her that I answered as honestly as I could.

The experience was overwhelming for Judy – and for me. I faced almost assured rejection of a woman I had come to care about. All because of whom I was. And she faced the prospect that if she pursued the relationship she would be involved with a man who was not completely a man.

Two reasons stayed the date of my execution. The first was that she felt a strong attraction and connection to me (my male side). It was the reason that we were on the precipice of a relationship to begin with. The second reason, in her post-divorce, she realized that she wanted to try this relationship because she felt I could be The One.

What about the crossdressing bombshell?

Well, thank you for the compliment… wait… you meant the news I dropped on her lap? Sorry.

Judy admits that she compartmentalized her reservations about my feminine side because of the overwhelming notion that she could have possibly discovered her soulmate in me. With a bit of new relationship jitters, the undiscovered country of what a crossdressing partner would mean to her, and the promise that we could continue to be friends if all else failed, she ventured into the unknown with me.

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WHAT CROSSDRESSING MEANS TO YOU

  • At our core, all people just want to be happy. For whatever reason, we need our feminine persona to feel complete.
  • We are starlets, brides, or maybe just the girl-next-door reading at a coffee house. We just are… both male and female—to varying degrees.
  • Being true to who you are is going to be an important cornerstone of developing “you” and in strengthening your relationship.

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HOW CROSSDRESSING HAS BEEN STIGMATIZED

  • The label of crossdressing has been stigmatized to mean many things, most which do not necessarily apply.
  • RuPaul, fetishists, dominatrixes, flamboyant queens, exaggerated feminized sissy French maids… the list go on.
  • People outside the community tend to over-simplify or villainize crossdressing by defining it as simply a fetish, kink, sickness, or mental disorder… and a choice. Even this Wednesday, we were in the hot tub with four flight attendants on layover and they were shocked that crossdressing was not the same thing as drag.

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WHERE THE TRUTH LIES

  • We are those things… and we aren’t.
  • We love our makeup, just not as much as a drag queen does.
    Sensualized, but not Fifty Shades.
    A French maid that doesn’t do dishes.
    That blushing bride on a wedding day, an ultimate symbol of femininity.
  • The truth is… we are an amalgam of identities and desires and pursuits. We may love sex and intimacy in our feminine forms… we may love the feel and fit of corsetry and thigh-high boots way more than our cis-female contemporaries. We may even present ourselves in a more exaggerated feminine way than others want us to, because we are something more than our binary masculinity (and all it entails).

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WHAT IS YOUR TRUTH?

  • This workshop is geared to helping the crossdresser understand how to better help their partner in this “transition” in understanding who you are.
  • You want your Significant One to understand you… do you understand you?

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THE COMBINATION OF LIFE

  • We are all comprised of “at least” six determinants of gender and sexuality.
  • The Genderbread Person and the Gender Unicorn have done much to foster these ideals for four or five of them.
  • The slide we have here is my version. I call it the Combination of Life.
  • It allows you to better understand yourself through Gender Biology, Gender Identity, Gender Presentation, Gender Address, Sexual Attraction, Romantic Attraction

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THE QUESTIONS WE ALL FACE

  • Anything up there strike a chord for any of you?
  • Remember, crossdressers, you’ve had time to adjust… your partner has not!
  • Crossdressers, how do you defend yourself against this interrogation?
  • Will you be humble, open and honest… to the best of your ability?

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WHAT DOES YOUR PARTNER NEED?

  • Personal Space
  • A Support System
  • Reassurance
  • Resources for Education
  • Patience
  • Communication when ready
  • Understand what she is going through.
    • Depending on your relationship and when your crossdressing was revealed to your partner, there will be hurt, loss of trust, a sense of betrayal, a lack of understanding, an attack on an accepted belief system or social construct.

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SIGNIFICANT ONES NAVIGATING THE RESOURCES

  • Go to Amazon.com – Type in “Crossdressing Book” into the search bar… your partner is going to be slapped across the face with enough crossdressing, feminizing and sissifying erotica to choke a horse.
  • Even the valid non-fiction sprinkled through the list is not necessarily targeted to the crossdressing man and what motivates him.
  • How are those findings going to reinforce her engrained assumptions about who you are?

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SHOW, DON’T TELL

  • It’s easy to say, but more difficult to accomplish.
  • All we have are our words. By speaking, we are giving our word.

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JUST ACT NORMAL*

I have a pet peeve about the words “just”, “act”, and “normal”. We are not “just” crossdressers. We are not a sub-class to be considered less than any other class on the transgender spectrum. When we are presenting in our feminine personas, we are not “acting”. While we may adjust our mannerisms for a better feminine effect, our female personas are as much a part of our identity as our male side. And, finally, what is it to be “normal”? We are so engrained with what is socially acceptable that we forget that it’s perfectly normal to be who we truly are.

You put those three seemingly innocent words together and you have suddenly created and crafted a powerful statement that forces you into a gender and social conformity box of your own making.

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HAVE PATIENCE

  • You’ve screwed up the courage to reveal yourself… that doesn’t mean that things are going to be instantly or magically better (or back to pre-reveal normal)
  • Conversation about “normalizing” over five years (acceptance, feeling okay about telling kids, more matter-of-fact, going out more often, changing dynamic of visibility in the community, etc.)

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UNDERSTAND IT ALL

  • Understand yourself better, understand your partner better.
  • Understand the situation.
  • Continue to grow in your understanding.
  • Every moment you spend to empathize with your partner and put yourself into her shoes (not just her heels), you gain a better appreciation of what she may be thinking and feeling… and why.

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COMMUNICATE

  • Everyone talks about “communicating”
  • Has the topic of crossdressing become an animal? The elephant in the room? Is your head in the sand like an ostrich?
  • Do you think his crossdressing is all you talk about now?
  • Do you want a situation like the “Great Hand-Holding Incident of 2015”?

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There is a private annual gala event each spring on Long Island hosted by Femme Fever for crossdressers, transgender individuals, their partners and admirers. Years before, after mustering enough courage to tell my previous girlfriend that I was intending to go, the event had been cancelled and had gone on hiatus for several seasons.

But now it was back on, like Donkey Kong!

Judy and I ordered custom dresses for the gala ball. Since it was a long awaited event for me, I ordered a sparkly dress with a flowing train and black opera gloves. I was excited and ready to go. This moment was years in the making and I was filled with anticipation of the event and the joy of sharing it with Judy. We booked a hotel room at the venue and planned to make a whole weekend out of it.

The gala was on a Saturday so we arrived Friday night. After settling in, there were vague plans to meet up with some of the other gurls. I dressed as Savannah and we headed down to the lounge. I was in my element and happy.

Without even a second thought, while we were heading toward the front desk to ask about another blanket for the room, I reached out to hold Judy’s hand. She quickly pulled her hand away. For me, it was instinctual and natural to reach out to her. To Judy, it was a moment of sheer panic… something she was totally unprepared for.

I was devastated.

After putting in the request for the blanket, we went to the bar. No one was there to meet up with. Additional disappointment took hold of me and took us back to our room. I quickly changed back into my boy clothes, taking off my wig and wiping off my makeup. It didn’t seem worth it anymore to dress. The woman I love had rejected me.

That’s a bit melodramatic, isn’t it? Sounds like you were being a diva and a drama queen.

You are right, of course, dear reader. I was overreacting. Just because she wasn’t ready to hold my hand in public didn’t constitute a wholesale rejection of me (or my crossdressing). It represented the struggles she was working through. In a very selfish way, I had ignored so many obvious points. She was still coming to terms with understanding my dressing, was still worried about what other normal people might think about me (and us as a couple), and was dealing with the fact that a strange woman – not her boyfriend – was trying to hold her hand.

After I dressed down in the room, she asked why I had done so. She said that we still could have gone out for a walk or a drive or something. In spite of all of her fears and worries, she was still willing to support Savannah in some way. That simple act should have been enough.

But we gurls sometimes cannot see what we have. I was grateful that Judy had agreed to come with me to the ball. That was a heartfelt and heartwarming gesture. I wanted to show her my love and appreciation. Unfortunately, I found myself in a strange place. I was with the woman I love, but was forced to treat her like just a friend. I had to consciously remember that she was off limits in a more intimate way. So while I was wrestling with the idea of unrequited affection, Judy was struggling with the notion of being on a date with a beautiful feminine stranger (yeah, I said it… beautiful).

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YOU”RE THE PROFESSIONAL

  • Remember, ladies, you are the pro when it comes to crossdressing.
  • Your partner is not.
  • You’ve had a lifetime to come to terms with who you are on your journey, your partner had just been hit by a freight train.
  • It’s going to take education, presentation, representation, repetition, and positive re-enforcement for you, as a couple.

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PARADIGM SHIFTS

  • What is a paradigm shift – fundamental change in the way we think.
    • Remember “Must See TV”?
    • Remember telephone land lines hanging in the kitchen?
    • Remember having to use printed maps?

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PARADIGM SHIFTS

  • Poignant Issues
    • Social Gender Constructs
    • Acceptability of Crossdressing
    • Defendability of your Partner
    • Gender Roles and Presentations
    • Traditional Ideas of Sexuality
  • What shifts in thinking did Judy experience?
    • First thought was crossdressing = drag
    • Entire spectrum of identities from fetish to girl-next-door, what defines a crossdresser.
    • Embarrassed that people would find out = No fear about telling kids.
    • Savannah and DSW cashier;
      Pantyhose and the cashier = “for my sister”
    • Entire world has grown of this community she didn’t know about.
    • Open mind.

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PARTING IS SUCH SWEET SORROW

William Shakespeare may have said it best. Juliet uttered those words to her lover Romeo. She acknowledged the feelings that accompanied their reluctance to part ways for the evening, but also affirmed their longing for the next moments where they could share their hearts’ love for each other in person.

Crossdressing is like that for some of us. We pour our hearts into our craft of feminine being, living those moments like they are our last, then suffer our sweet sorrow for the end of each feminine episode and our longing for the next time where we can feel so free and whole as a person again.

I pursue my love of the written word, provide positivity and hope for people around me, and devote my whole heart to my true love. I do these things as both a man and as Savannah (except writing, since it is somewhat difficult to type with French-manicured nails).

I long for a world where our masculinity and femininity are both celebrated as normal. I long for a world that doesn’t judge us on currently established social constructs of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman. Maybe intolerance will become tolerance, and tolerance will become acceptance, as people learn more about what a crossdresser is and is not. Understanding of what our individual truth is may become an enlightenment of a new universal truth.

I hope I have helped you, dear reader. I may not have answered all or even a few of your questions. I hope, at the very least, I helped you to ask more questions of yourself and of your partner. The pursuit of knowledge comes at a price. That price should be gladly paid in order to come out the other side a stronger and more enlightened individual.

Don’t be afraid of your truth. Cast aside your assumptions. Show honor to yourself and to your partner. Just take that first step and show up.

With warmest regards and love,

Savannah Hauk

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