Diana Aitchison WOBS
Women of the Beaumont Society Helpline.
The Beaumont Society was originally formed to provide a safe haven for men who cross dressed, and couples attending were a later development but the BS is the prime example of how, if the will is there, people who need help and support can find other like minded people. It has helped thousands of people in its nearly 40 years existence and hopefully will continue to do so for as long as the requirement exists. Although primarily for non-transsexual women, never the less many transsexual people have emerged from the membership over the years although there were times when this phenomena was treated with some suspicion by 'traditional trannies'. What is now seen as most important is that the BS is no longer exclusive and now welcomes all transgendered people. Their quarterly magazines keep members informed of meetings, venues, suppliers and other supporters.
Surprisingly the BS doesn't fit everyone's criteria and individuals will seek an alternative form of socialising especially if they are 'keen to be seen' rather than hiding away in closed meetings. Sometimes they have a real phobia toward organised groups and search for more organic freestyle companionship. This may involve simply attending a given public venue on a certain day either weekly, fortnightly or monthly where both trans and non-trans folks co-exist naturally. Pubs are common favourites although smoky atmospheres may discourage some people. The advent of non-smoking pubs will be to their advantage and hopefully more informal groups will come together in the future.
The informality of such gatherings often attracts lonely isolated people because they can attend anonymously at first by just entering the pub and observing from a distance - who is there that night, what are they wearing and are they the sort of people one wants to be seen drinking with! Of course the success of the gathering will depend very much on the landlord and if he/she is willing to provide changing facilities as well as being supportive, friendly and interested in the clientele. If they are quite happy for their pub to be advertised as 'trannie friendly' or at a more low key level are equally happy for it to be listed with the Citizen's Advice Bureau, libraries and other public agencies under transgender resources so that people seeking help can find the information - then they have a loyal bunch of regulars for years to come!
Small hotels are also good for informal gatherings and some may well accommodate a Dinner Club or Candlelight Supper theme for those seeking a variation on just drinking and talking. Again these events should be as organisation free as possible in terms of raffles, memberships etc. One good thing about using public venues is that there is no rent to pay and all those attending these ventures can be held together by an e-mail group such as Yahoo Groups (East Anglia has tgcamb, tgnorthants and tgnorfolk). Groups generally find that within a few weeks of regular attendance a natural leader emerges who is willing to monitor the list and also hold a dedicated mobile phone for newcomers to contact for confidential advice and that elusive friendly voice who not only approves but also encourages what will for many become the 'first day of the rest of their life'.
Where groups are already well established their existence becomes well known to people such as Dr Russell Reid, the nearest Gender Identity Clinic, sympathetic and helpful GP's and other lay people who are keen to help people out of their isolation and into mainstream society. Being cushioned and advised by experienced and understanding helpmates who you know you can find every week in a certain place from opening to closing time is just a pipe dream for many but it doesn't have to be that way. All it takes is for someone to make a suggestion that another venue is available to just walk into, order a meal if available while they pop out to the changing room if they need to, have a glass of something and natter away with friends just like everyone else without fear of retribution. Looking for problems and pitfalls will kill the venture stone dead so having made sure that the venue is totally accepting and supportive Just Do It! No committees, rules or prejudices, just the love of your fellow person to drive it all along. Soon others will take turns to welcome newcomers, offer advice and befriend, start a website and be there with that shoulder that everyone needs to cry on sometimes. Wednesday is a popular night as it breaks the week up and with football dominating the box it is also a good reason to escape into another world.
Getting this information out to those who need it is of paramount importance. Unfortunately there is still a tendency to be ultra secretive about what by now should be a matter-of-fact occurrence the informal coming together of people who enjoy each other's company and have a common interest. This is where networking is so crucial nowadays. Sadly unnecessary information can often bog us down and a laissez faire attitude to the delete button in our mailbox can sometimes mean that we throw the baby out with the bath water!
Being 'Trans' is now something to be proud of; organisations such as Press For Change have slaved for over a decade to put into place the safeguards that people asked for. Now is the time for encouraging openness and comparing strategies with each other so that we can provide the best facilities for those people who are coming out and looking for the way forward. Often they have unrealistic expectations and it is only by meeting up with those compatriots who have also floundered in the early days of discovery that they start to see the future in a positive light and have loads of fun doing it too. Gendys Network is underused and I know that the will to extend its purpose is there to be exploited.
This piece is written in fairly generalised terms. My next piece on the subject features the Cambridge Girls, a venture that has an 8-year history and still going strong. Perhaps it will give some of you food for thought!
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 16.08.06