Interview with Jan Brown, Fantasia Fair 2010 Workshop Program Director

Fantasia Fair is the oldest running transgender conference in the U.S. and possibly the world. It also shares a unique heritage with First Event in that the start of Fantasia Fair and First Event came out of The Cherrystone Club (our readers can check out that history by clicking to our history of TCNE). It’s truly an endearing time as the conference is in Provincetown, MA. This gorgeous town on Cape Cod, Massachusetts is welcoming and fun. Having Fantasia Fair in P-Town (as Provincetown is often known) is a treat since it provides a complete town to be yourself in. Pretty nifty! An added social justice bonus is that Fantasia Fair as a whole gives back a good deal of money to Provincetown to fund various good works. I had a chance to catch up with the super busy Jan Brown who is this year’s Fantasia Fair’s Workshop Program Director to see if she could give our readers some insight into her position as Program Director and to see if she could give us some inside scoop on what is going on at Fantasia Fair for 2010.

Beck’s Cafe: Can you give our readers a sense of what kinds of workshops will be featured at Fantasia Fair this year?

Jan Brown: There are a variety of workshops at this years’ Fair. There are basically TG help workshops, AS/CD focused sessions and we continue to have daily spouse support workshops provided by two experienced gender specialists.. Dr. Maureen Osborn and Dr. Sandra Cole. There are daily keynote addresses from noted TG’s in the community (Dallas Denny, Ethan St. Pierre, Tony Baretto-Neto, Miqqi Gilbert, Dr. Cerise Richards and Chloe Prince). The daily morning and afternoon workshop sessions range from how to handle safety situations, TG diversity in the workplace, makeup and deportment, daily voice and movement as well as first person talks about gender and living their lives.

Some workshops are focused on technical issues like trans healthcare and legal issues and then there’s a wealth of transgender support kind of sessions. We have medical professionals presenting surgical options and even a historical slideshow of the Fair by Mariette Pathy Allen as this is the “oldest” of the TG Conferences. Some presentations may be oriented toward the greater community while there are ‘how to’ sessions about the internet and other subjects. Several presenters are from the greater New England area including Tiffany’s Paula Howard talking about how Tiffany Club has been a mainstay of TG support in the area. I also tried to reach out to some of the local Provincetown vendors to include them and showcase their business and support for our community.

Beck’s Cafe: Since this is your first year being on the team leading Fantasia Fair and leading the workshops, can you tell our readers what led you to be involved in the first place?

Jan Brown: Oh gosh.. what to say? I have attended several conferences including First Event and others and always tried to see what made them tick. What were the type of things I would like to see and hear about and what were other things I didn’t know much about. I did an analysis once of the different types of workshops so I had some clue as to where to start and I had the help of the existing Fair board who were great with counsel. There has to be variety of things which will interest a variety of different people but also allow for different viewpoints. Another thing which helped me was that I was also the program chair for my local support group, Mid-Hudson Valley Transgender Association (MHVTA) in Poughkeepsie, NY. and have had to coordinate the people and programs for our group with a variety. I tried to find presenters I knew or knew about and felt if I would be interested in what they want to share, others would be as well.

Beck’s Cafe: Jan, you must have some special moments from being the Workshop Program Director? Can you share a nugget or two from your interaction with so many excellent speakers? Anything that really struck you as important, insightful or just really got to your heart as an “A HA … we need this at Fan Fair”?

Jan Brown: In many cases, I didn’t personally know all the presenters and an “A HA” moment was when a potential presenter responded with enthusiasm about participating. It was like .. “someone really wants to present”… “WOW!!” One “A HA” moment was introducing myself to a speaker at a conference and seeing that there was interest and a connection I hadn’t expected. She was really interesting and a nice friendship has been built. We initially put out a call to a wide distribution of various presenters and then there were several added. There were several people who have gone out of their way to participate. One speaker is coming back from an overseas vacation and coming directly to the Fair.

Another “A HA” moment was someone who unfortunately had to beg off participating because of a conflict in their life and they were genuinely apologetic about not being able to attend. There were several special friends who went out of their way to introduce me to potential speakers including you Becki.. many thanks for that. I should also say that I didn’t originally look for the job. As it turned out, I was the registrar for last year’s Fair and fully anticipated doing that again this year but someone who was the designated program chair bowed out and I was asked to step in. “A HA”.. I can do this was the realization after I mulled it over and worked it through with spouse support. There were any number of special moments. Also being part of a working committee of people who work to deliver the bestest TG event ever is special and it’s been a learning experience.

Beck’s Cafe: You’ll be as busy bee at Fantasia Fair no doubt but, if you were attending the first time, how would you navigate all the workshops to choose those you would find of most value to a first years?

Jan Brown: Great question.. find the things you’re interested in and plan to attend those but also try to find something you aren’t too knowledgable about and attend that. Each day there will be a special “Newcomers Chat” session first thing in the AM so all the first timer attendees can find out about what’s happening daily and pick and choose. Hopefully they’ll develop a bond with someone else. I always had the problem wanting to see several things at the same time and can choose only one so I hope that happens for others at the Fair so you’ll want to attend again (or another conference). And if you find something you’d like to know about, let me know so I might consider that for future Fairs.

Beck’s Cafe: A quick review of Fan Fair’s workshops schedule reveals one that is different than what might be seen in other transgender conferences. In fact, one could argue that Fan Fair’s got a bit of an eclectic mix of topics led by an outstanding set of speakers. Can you talk a bit about how and why your workshop schedule has evolved in this unique way?

Jan Brown:First.. check out http://fantasiafair.org/Schedule.aspx to see the schedule as it is now. It’s going to change as there will be some adds or deletes.. it happens.

Oh.. the question.. how has it evolved. Trying to have something for everyone was unique. Some presenters were able to attend early or later in the Fair so it’s a bit of a juggle. I know there are some who attend all the sessions without fail and others pick and choose. I wanted to find those sessions which would be unique and stimulate people. I remember meeting a couple of presenters at First Event and I knew they would be wonderful for the Fair. The other thing about the Fair that interesting and maybe a little intimidating at first is we have the run of Provincetown for a whole week and we have things including workshops in about 5 – 7 different places. You will get out and about and learn that it’s fun as well. You know that it was be lovely in Provincetown in October as well as not so lovely (yes.. bring an umbrella).. I remember the thrill I got the first time I attended of being with a wide variety of people and mixing during meals and sessions. I think that’s what the Fair is all about.. coming together and learning and mixing and enjoying our lives in a very natural way.

There’s a story I can share which shows how it affects people. We had someone attend for the 1/2 half of the Fair last year and they were very timid standing back away from people.. almost next to the door. This is a TG person I had previously communicated with on the internet before the Fair and she commented that one of the reasons she came was because I encouraged her. “OMG..” I worried that she didn’t have a good Fair and what did she think about the Fair. Whenever anyone tried to help her, she graciously but adamantly rejected getting more involved. No.. she didn’t want to join this table or that. No.. she was OK staying in the background. I was concerned that she was OK. We kept in email contact after the Fair and I found out she’s attending this year.. for a full week!! And not only that, she’s bringing a new friend who’s never been out before. It’s kinda like my caterpillar has blossomed into a beautiful butterfly. That’s kewl!!

Beck’s Cafe: Thanks so much Jan for taking a quick break to fill us all in!

Jan Brown: My pleasure Becki! Now off to Provincetown!

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