Two years ago I went to THAT conference. I had been out for about...two months when I went (eight months on HRT). I was interested to see how things that changed in the last two years. Not just at the conference but with the way I felt and the way I would be treated. I wrote about the last time I was there, and I made sure to take mental notes to compare the experience.
One of the things I noticed was that there were more women in attendance. Not just in the sponsor booths but overall. There are a lot of explanations that I've come up with. The first thing that jumped to mind was that maybe there were a lot more children and the moms took the kids to the family events. I don't quite like that but I do think there were a fair few kids there. I also thought that maybe I just didn't notice the women as much last time, being too preoccupied by my own thoughts. Maybe I was just hyper-aware this time of all the women. There simply could just have been more women too! It's probably a mix of a few of these but it's all speculation. I was just glad to see as many women as I did.
I have changed a lot in the last two years, as you can see from the picture. I like to think that I pass a lot better. Maybe not perfect but I felt like it wasn't what made me stand out. I did get a lot of looks. I couldn't tell if it was because of being trans, having purple hair, wearing a graphic tee-shirt, or a combination of all this. Most weren't that bad, just lingering a second too long. Nobody said or did anything to my face.
One thing that didn't change was my conversation skills. I tried, at least a little, to meet new people. There were very few that I felt I had struck up a good conversation with. Most seemed to have vastly different interests than me. I could probably have tried harder but I'm quiet by nature so it was a struggle to go against that the entire time. It was wearing me down and I didn't even know it, more on that later.
Of the people I talked to a lot of them were terrible at conversations. As bad as me in some ways. The people who were good at it, not coincidentally, were people who were giving talks. There were two people that were far, far above everyone else. They were both presenters but they were on a level above everyone else I met. Both of them had charisma and an energy (like aura not like excitement) that I envy. I don't have words. Just know that they stood out and left a huge impression. I got to have dinner with them and I didn't say a lot but I was so happy to be there. It was amazing to be included. The only downside was how much I looked up to the group compared to myself. I felt out of my depth on every topic discussed and that brings me to the next point.
Even though people are, in general, bad at communicating they did come across as something I am not. Passionate. Everyone was able to speak confidently and passionately about their work. How excited they were, and what they were learning. I felt incompetent. I work in such a small team that I am the 'expert' at my job. I'm the best by default. All these people are the best of large teams, they have drive and I am inadequate. I'm no stranger to impostor syndrome being that I work in tech and I'm trans but I don't often feel that way.
This is where it went a bit downhill. Last time I was at the conference I participated in everything. I went to [board] game night, I went to the water park party, I went to every breakfast and dinner. This time I barely stayed past the meals. I skipped the water park. I skipped game night (although I was at dinner with a group that night). Even though I am farther in my transition I was more self-conscious. I knew I would be and I had planned to skip things anyways. It's weird to me that I feel like I look better and have less issue with my looks but also was more scared that others would judge me based on my looks. I think my thought process was something like: instead of being visibly a trans woman, people would see just a woman and I don't want to give them an opportunity to think otherwise. It's a silly thought but it basically came down to me wanting to be stealth and fearing that I would be discovered. An impostor! It's an odd thing for me to feel because I am generally fairly openly trans. Although it's rarely a topic, but I find I can talk about it pretty freely and assume I am quite visible already.
As I said I had planned to skip the water park already. I did have a hot tub in my hotel room though. I bought a two-piece bikini swimsuit. I put it on while the tub filled. I did not like the feeling of it. I didn't like how I looked in the mirror. I have gained all the weight I lost back. I felt wholly unattractive and undesirable. My already low self-esteem sank even lower. I can't remember the last time I was in a hot tub and that was quite enjoyable. I decided to take some pictures, maybe to bolster my confidence but to send to my fiancée later. After I was out of the tub and into pajamas I sent one to my fiancée. It was one I had deemed 'sexy' with a little lip bite (I don't know how to be and don't think I am 'sexy'). I said "of course I'm going to send a sexy pic while I'm here". Her reply was "ok let me know what you send it". I sent a different one with just a normal smile I had faked (I had taken a few in different poses/angles). I was crying before even hit send though. By the time she called five minutes later I was sobbing. She didn't know I had been hurting and already didn't like the pictures I sent. I was hoping for validation or reassurance and her reply, while meant to be cheeky was read as negative. I didn't realize how much I was bottling up that week, between missing her and trying to at least be a little personable, feeling inadequate, and that all came pouring out. She tried her best but I was inconsolable. I am so glad she has the patience she does and stayed on the phone for as long as she did.
The last thing I noticed was how heteronormative everything seemed. Every couple seemed to be straight, maybe not explicitly but most of the signals seemed to point to this. If someone was there alone they would mention their partner to confirm they were straight. Most of my online friends are very open about being gay or bi or pan or anything but straight. I am open about being gay! I mention my girlfriend all the time! I find that most people assume when I say fiancée I am saying fiancé and it doesn't give the same information as saying 'my future wife', which half the time I call her my girlfriend to make sure it explicit. It was just weirdly jarring to me that I am pretty sure most people (unless they talked to me and I said something) probably assumed I was straight. I had on this shirt the last day but I am not sure that was enough to break the assumption for some people. As I write this I realize I am also making the assumption that everyone was straight. Not really fair but it was something that stood out because that is how it 'felt' not what it really was. Maybe it's always this way and I just don't notice.
Overall a very nice trip even with the lows. Glad I got to compare this with my previous experience.