West Philly Trans Femme Conference Attempts to Serve Marginalized Community

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“The Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference (PTHC) was founded by trans women who had no forum for their voices to be heard,” says April Anderson. “But every year, we’ve seen the amount of programming devoted to [the trans woman’s] needs shrink to the point that we’ve been crowded out of a desperately necessary space.”

Anderson, along with other local trans women, are trying to address this issue by establishing the first West Philadelphia Trans Femme Conference, which is being held this year on June 5th and 6th at A-Space on Baltimore Avenue. Two of these dates overlap with the Mazzoni Center‘s three-day PTHC. Of course, this has caused some intrigue and serious questions—particularly, why the need for the divide?

“Out of all the programming this year [at PTHC], well over a hundred panels and workshops—a grand total of eight presentations are devoted exclusively to [the trans woman’s] needs,” Anderson says. “Of those, six are basic hormones-and-surgery retreads that get trotted out every year. The whole of the transfeminine experience outside of that is limited to two workshops.”

When asked about the programs, panels, and discussions that would take place at the West Philadelphia Trans Femme Conference (WPTFC), Anderson states that she “would prefer not to name any individual presenters just yet, because there’s a genuine concern about making too many waves with the establishment.” I also asked if she has tried to work with Mazzoni to address the concerns of trans women who felt excluded from the previous conferences: “We’d be willing to talk to Mazzoni and PTHC,” she says. “But we have severe doubts that any discussion could be held in good faith. They’ve proven themselves dismissive—even hostile—to our needs for years now, so the onus would be on them to show that they’re willing to do more than pay us lip service.”

I talked with PTHC Coordinator Samantha Jo-Dato, about the concerns raised by the WPTFC. “There’s a lot of misinformation,” she says. “Dividing an already marginalized community may not be as beneficial as one may think.”

Jo-Dato has been at the helm of the PTHC for just about two years, and says that she has been working hard to put the female perspective into the conference. “One of the first things I noted was the lack of trans-women visibility. From the very beginning, this was a conversation that I had with my director. It had been a boys club, and very male-heavy,” she says.

I asked if any of the organizers from WPTFC reached out to her to express their concerns. She says, “I totally stand in solidarity with trans women to have a space for them. I have still not talked to the logistical person behind [WPTFC]. I left a link for people to join a working group whenever they wished, and my email is all over the website. I’ve never had a conversation with anyone about the group. I have to ask if this is intentionally to help our community or to add chaos.”

Some of that chaos, she says, deals with potential unsafe conditions for the women attending WPTFC. “The safety of trans women to and from that event is very important to me,” she says. “I’d like to be transparent with this group to make sure they have safety for a community that has been traumatized.”

Anderson says that’s not an issue: “This is an event being held in broad daylight in the middle of the biggest trans enclave in the country. People in attendance have much less to fear than they would even a block away from PTHC.”

Jo-Dato also states that she wishes the WPTFC group had reached out to her so she could have “provided them space to have their own moment at our conference at the PA Convention Center. You can’t get any better than that—the room size, the equipment, projectors—all of these things are so amazing, and they could have utilized them,” she says.

“There’s no intimidation when someone says they’re going to have another conference,” Jo-Dato adds. “And I’m okay with that. But in the city of Philadelphia, I’d hope we’d be able to unify and share notes on perspective things.”

However, Anderson takes issue with the “corporate sponsorship” of events like PTHC, and says that “trans women—as the most traditionally-marginalized group on the queer spectrum—are the ones who see the least benefit from that attitude. We’re the outcasts, and outcasts prove the lie to the myth of a big, happy queer family eager to assimilate into mainstream culture.”

Potential visitors for Mazzoni’s Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference can visit their website for further details on the program. Those interested in more information on the West Philadelphia Trans Femme Conference are encouraged to email TransFemmeSubmissions@gmail.com.