SLCC - the good, the bad, and the ugly
My convention started on Wednesday evening. Mery Ellen / Pebbles was already in town (she flew in from New Zealand!) so we got together for dinner. (The original plan had been to catch a Beethoven concert at the Hatch Shell but she had worn herself out walking around Boston during the day.) We had a pleasant dinner at PF Chang's, a block from the Park Plaza, and shared a bit of our life stories and convention gossip.
Thursday was a busy day, with both convention and non-convention stuff. First up was a medical exam at 9am (routine, nhey didn't find anything wrong so far though a couple of the lab results are still on the way). At 1pm I had my hair done; my stylist, Maria at Pure Hair Design, gave me a more feminine look, straightening out the bangs in the front but leaving the back somewhat curly, and neatened up my somewhat ragged ends. Then in the evening I went to the Park Plaza for the bag stuffing - that is, filling the convention tote bags with the assorted literature and schwag that the sponsors gave us to distribute. It was also my first opportunity to meet more of the rest of the convention staff (the board and my fellow track leaders) and some other volunteers. So far this was all as Mark.
Friday morning started early, it was my first day out at SLCC as Shirley so I had to spend a lot of time preparing in the morning. (Shaving all those body parts takes time, and then there is the makeup which I can't yet do as quickly as someone with years of practice.) In addition, I had gotten word on Thursday evening taht I could get an avatar picture printed out for my badge if I emailed in a 900x900 pixel file; I didn't have anything of suitable size so I went in-world, got on my photo stage to take a new one, and sent it in that morning. (Yes, it was waiting for me when registration opened.) My first SLCC outfit was a pink blouse with rhinestones (somewhat fitted at the waist, a slightly daring choice for someone with only a little bit of waist but I think I made it work), a patchwork peasant skirt, my sensible Mary Janes, and knee-high hose. (The sensible shoes were my footwear for all of the convention except the Avatar Ball.) Sadly I had forgotten to grab any jewelry before leaving the house that morning, so that had to wait until the next day. The bag stuffing ended early, so I got together with Susan for the late morning and lunch (a slice of pizza at Crazy Dough's in City Place, yum), and then she went home and let me have a bit of quiet time (which would be my last quiet time until Monday) in the lounge before registration opened. We had a meeting for bolunteers, ostensibly at 3 but it started late, and then registration opened at 4 and I got to meet people, including most of the people who would be presenting in my track. (One didn't arrive until Saturday.)
The evening activity was an offsite party at encuentro 5 near Chinatown. I changed into my evening outfit - a knee-length silk floral dress and pantyhose; I had gotten some actual stockings and a garter belt but the darned belt wouldn't stay up so I had to fall back on plan B, and the knee-length hose wouldn't work with that dress. That was a four hour event; in theory the middle two hours were to be live music organized by Ham Rambler of the Blarney Stone but that part stretched to more like three hours. Happily they kept the volume reasonable so it was actually possible to have a conversation. Susan joined me for about an hour of it (arriving late and leaving early); I think she felt left out because she didn't know anybody. More pleasant conversations, and some of the music was excellent. Things broke up around 11 and I headed home.
Saturday was the REALLY long day. First, another early start to get my look going on; today's outfit was a green floral blouse with short sleeves, a calf-length silk skirt (somebody said that style is called a broom skirt, a term which I hadn't heard), and more knee-highs. And now I had jewelry: the necklace and earrings that I bought during the morris ale in London, Ontario. Mercifully there was a convention schedule change that allowed an extra hour of sleep. Philip Linden was originally planning to stream in a presentation at 8am, but he decided to attend SLCC in person on short notice (we found out at about 9pm on Thursday evening, and our first notice was that he tweeted it!). He was taking a redeye flight and wouldn't arrive in Boston early enough for the 8am slot, so his keynote got moved back to 10:30 which required a bunch of rearrangement. I wasn't able to find Charles Mountain in time to get the video streaming working for my track's first program session at 9:30 (I provided the video camera and he provided the laptop with FireWire); we did get it going later in the day. (Sadly, nobody showed up to watch that presentation in person; a lot of convention attendees seem to have chosen to sleep in until Philip's speech.) Philip gave a good talk and released a few bits of news that I will talk about in another post. After lunch there was another keynote speech by Dusan Writer of Metanomics; after that I spent the rest of the day in my program room, either catching my own track's items or running the video stream for the Health and Support track which was sharing the room.
After the day activities ended, I went on the expedition to Cheers Beacon Hill (the bar formerly known as the Bull and Finch, the one that the Cheers television series was based on) for drinks and dinner. It wouldn't have been my first choice of places to go but I wanted to join Joel and Lina's event, though sadly I didn't end up at their table and we didn't get to talk much. But I was at a table with the people from Ozimals, and they were also good company. Susan came by near the end to say hello and have a bit of my beer and some leftover food; it was too late to order more before we were going to leave. When that broke up, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the social night.
So, Shirley's really big coming out was ahead; the Avatar Ball. To prepare I cleaned up my face, shaved AGAIN (a bit of shadow was showing by then, even through the foundation), and got into my ball outfit: a red polka-dot dress, just above the knee length with petticoat and red open-toe sandals with 2.5" high heels. To complete the look, a pearl necklace, a matching pearl bracelet, and red drop earrings with three glass beads taht I bought at the Camden Lock market in London during my first trip to the UK in 1999. I had planned to wear more pantyhose with that but the toes looked wrong in the sandals -- the hose weren't nearly sheer enough -- so I just had to go with bare legs. (Fortunately they had been shaved nice and smooth.) I emerged from the hotel room at about 9pm because I wanted to get out and be seen, so I caught a little bit of the live music showcase and then hung out until the ball started. The contest for the Best Dressed Avatar and Worst Dressed Avatar started at about 11:30; the contestants danced two songs while the judges looked on. The winner -- ME!! It helped that Tuna was one of the judges and had seen the in-world outfit that my dress was based on, so he knew that I really was dressed as my avatar and let the rest of the judges know, but I think I also looked good in the dress and that my joy at being out there on the floor as Shirley was apparent. Aside from that, the other highlight of the ball was dancing with all the cute women as one of the girls, not as a male interloper. (Yes, it did feel different that way and I liked it.) I managed to get to about midnight wearing the heels, including some dancing, and never fell down! After that I took them off (certainly another girl thing to do :) and danced barefoot for the last hour of the ball (which made it just as well that I wasn't wearing the hose). Somewhere along the way Winter Nightfire, one of the people who was doing the Art-A-Thon benefit for Virtual Ability, painted a portrait of Shirley in the polka-dot dress; on Sunday night I made a donation so I could keep that portrait. She also gave me permission to scan an in-world version, which will be hung soon on a wall at my house. Then off to bed - yawn! (But I stayed at the Park Plaza the one night so I would at least get SOME sleep; if I had also had to travel home and back it would have been REALLY hopeless.)
Sunday started earlier than Saturday because the 8am keynote was on. First getting ready; today's outfit was a short red blouse (which would have shown some midriff if I hadn't been wearing a high-waisted skirt), an Indian silk skirt which was calf length but slit to mid-thigh on one side, and the pantyhose that I had eschewed the previous night. (Knee-highs were right out with a slit like that! It's a pity that the stockings and garter belt didn't work out though, it would have offered the occasional peek at the stocking tops.) Sunday's jewelry included the necklace I bought from Columbine at the Fetish Fair in July and some Indian-looking earrings. The morning event was an inspirational speech by John/Pathfinder Lester about the importance of virtual worlds, and the necessary traits for pioneers. His speech is the only place where the ugly came in; he played a clip from the movie The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly during it, which contained the lesson "don't talk, shoot". At 11am was my own panel: "Virtually Transgendered: On the internet nobody knows you're a man". (The subtitle was inspired by the famous New Yorker cartoon about how nobody knows you're a dog.) Me and the two other panelists, Ivy Lane and Marly Milena, talked about the nature of gender in virtual worlds, why people choose to be a gender other than their real life one, and what we can learn from the experience. A dozen people attended it and seemed to enjoy it, so I feel it was a success. Then lunch, and the final keynote, a keynote panel by three Linden Lab developers about the future of viewer development.
In the evening we had the organizers dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy, which went somewhat less than perfectly. I had only 6 RSVPs but we ended up with over 30 people and the restaurant had to struggle to accommodate us, and they also straggled in late. As a consequence, the start of the showing of Life 2.0 had to be delayed a bit even though people mostly took their desserts to go. The dinner was yummy and people seemed to enjoy the food and the company; major props to the restaurant for their Herculean effort of seating and feeding all of us. By the way, eating family style works really well for a crowd of this size; I pre-ordered the food so the only choices people had to make on site were beverages. Life 2.0 was a mixed bag; The film was well made and the filmmaker handled the stories that he chose to tell very effectively. But I have doubts about his choices of story to tell; they struck me as giving a rather negative view of Second Life, highlighting the potential dangers to personal lives and relationships without any counterbalancing message about the positive effects that Second Life can have. I still couldn't quite escape; after the movie I made a copy of the videotape of a presentation for ECPAT Ihnen, one of the presenters in my track, and spent some time talking with Achilles Emerald. Finally it was time to wrestle all the stuff home (a big task, as I had brought the video gear on Thursday and the suitcase of clothing on Saturday but had to get it all home at once) but I managed it somehow, and even got to Park Street in time for the NEXT to last Red Line train. (The last train would have gotten me home much later; it stops at every station while the crew gets out and locks up the stations.)
So, that's the outline of what happened... but how did it all make me FEEL?? Good in a lot of ways. First, it was good to jump into my first SLCC with both feet, helping to run it; sometimes it seemed like everybody already knew everyone else and if I hadn't had a role in the organization I might have felt like I was on the outside looking in. Even more important, the experience of being Shirley went really well. People were supportive and accepting, and I got a lot of compliments. (It's hard to know whether "you look good" really meant "you look good" or "you look good for a guy in a dress" but I'll take it either way. And at least they were paying attention, I was anything but invisible.) The woman at the desk of the Park Plaza made my Sunday morning by addressing me as "ma'am" rather than "sir" when I checked out; I guess that diversity training pays off :) (The point here is that it is courteous to address people as they are presenting, even if you are aware that their birth gender might be different.) And there were lots of new people to meet, lots of good conversation, and lots of warm hugs - always an important part of a good convention in my book.
My fashion choices were fun: flirty and colorful in the way that Shirley is in-world, showing significant amounts of skin especially at the shoulders, and no earth tones. Shorter skirts might have been fun and I have the legs for them, but they would have also required more attention to sitting carefully, perhaps not the best thing for a busy organizer. I often wear dangly earrings to parties so that wasn't new, but the necklaces were; men's clothing and a hairy chest don't show most necklaces to good advantage so I don't bother when I'm dressed that way, and I enjoyed the opportunity to showcase that area and the fact that I had gone to the trouble to get it smooth. I didn't wear any low-cut blouses, which work a lot better if you have real boobs, though at the convention I saw a look that I COULD wear effectively -- a low cut blouse worn with another one layered underneath, more modestly cut but with cute lace edging. As someone living in a male body I had to dress more femme than most of the women attending; if I just wore jeans and a T shirt I'd be read as a man.
So... will I do it again? If I get to SLCC next year, definitely. I'm also strongly considering attending Transcending Boundaries, a convention in November about gender issues, en femme. Aside from that I remain undecided; I'm going to relax for now and take some time to process the feelings that this weekend brought up.