October 14-21, 2018 Provincetown, Massachusetts
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History of Fantasia Fair

Looking Back At The World's Longest Running Annual Transgender Event

Fantasia Fair has been part of the community for 40 years. During this time, the Fair has grown and evolved. Affectionately known as "FanFair" Fantasia Fair has progressed from a holiday experience for the transgender community to a mix of practical, social, and educational opportunities designed to enhance the personal growth and awareness of one’s own gender expression. In some ways, the character of the Fair has changed little over the years—there is still the same warmth and camaraderie. In other ways, it has blossomed into something larger than was originally envisioned.

In the early 1970s, the Transgender community as we know it today did not exist. This was a time when the Stonewall Riots were still recent memories and when a man found dressed as a woman was subject to ridicule, social oppression, and, in many places, even arrest. Many people falsely assumed that being gender-variant and being homosexual were the same and both were a mental illness. Most transgender individuals were isolated, afraid, and alone. A few reached out to one another and corresponded with letters and newsletters. Some secretly met on occassion to form small social groups, such as Freedom of Personality Expression and the Mademoiselle Society.

In 1975, the Fair was conceived in response to a "need for cross‐dressers and transsexuals to learn about themselves in an open, socially tolerant environment." Provincetown was picked as the host city because of its reputation for tolerance and it had become a gay and lesbian Mecca. With some help from a couple of female impersonators who lived in town, some doctors practicing on Cape Cod, a few cosmetic consultants and about 40 participants, Fantasia Fair went from an idea to reality.

Female Impersonator News 1975
1975 Female Impersonator News
In the first years, the Fair was guided by Ariadne Kane, Betty Ann Lind, and several others from "The Cherrystones," a transgender support group from Boston. "There is a tremendous need for crossdressers and transsexuals to learn about themselves in an open, socially tolerant environment," said original founder Betsy Shaw. "We wanted to have a program that can help us grow in practical, social, and educational ways," said another founder, Linda Franklin.

To help facilitate the Fair, the “Outreach Institute for Gender Studies” was established in 1976. The Fair was just part of the programs offered by this foundation to help educate and share ideas for the cross‐dressing community and interested lay persons.

Events during these very early Fairs were a combination of workshops geared towards the “definite needs of the cross‐dresser” and social events where Fair‐goers could practice what they were learning in the workshops. Workshops covered topics such as voice modulation, scarf tying, and beauty & makeup. Additional symposia were held in conjunction with the Unitarian Universalist Church with the primary purpose to "education the masses." Each symposia was followed by question and answer sessions to further encourage dialog with the townsfolk. Nearly since its inception, Fantasia Fair was honoring the spouses, partners, and families of transgendered people. As early as the second Fair, there were workshops given for wives & girlfriends. These early programs, like today, stressed the importance of communications between partners and fostering growth as a couple. Almost immediately, Fantasia Fair was getting noticed. The 1977 Fantasia Fair was highlighted in Drag Magazine and by 1980, the Fair was garnering national attention with an article in Playboy magazine.

This was an exciting time for the Fair, as it was charting new ground, since there really weren't any other transgender‐related conference to use as a role model. Fantasia Fair wasn’t just a cross‐dresser convention—it was THE cross‐dresser convention. In these early years, the Fair served as a model for transgender events all over the world. Even today, Fantasia Fair is recognized for its leadership in increasing the acceptance of the transgender phenomena.

The Fair had grown to be a 10-day event and really started bonding with our host city. At the "Town and Gown Dinner" many curious locals attended wanting to find out about all these "men in dresses" strutting around town. Workshops were centered on wigs, makeup, and scarf tying instructions. It was a time for big hair do's, miniskirts, custom corsets, and Nu Wave music.

In these early days, registration to the Fair included not just the workshops and night events, but also accommodations at an inn. Most Fair‐goers stayed at the "old Crown & Anchor" where all‐night pajama parties were quite common. Many of the workshops were "pay as you go," meaning a Fair‐goer would be charged an extra $10, $20 or more in addition to their registration fee to attend some workshops.

By the mid‐1980s, the accent of workshops was changing from such topics as scarf tying and deportment classes to personal development. With the combination of educational seminars & workshops with social events, such as the annual banquets, fashion show, Fantasy Ball, and Follies, the Fair became “more than a vacation and more than a conference.”

With each year, the Fair was attracting more and more people - some coming from as far away as South America and Europe. In addition to such notables as Virginia Prince and Holly Boswell, the Fair attracted many of the "movers and shakers" in the transgender community. These individuals were helping to guide and shape the community's identity and helped keep Fair‐goers on the leading edge of things. In fact, by the mid‐1990s, you could take workshops that range from "connecting to the Internet," through the latest in gender theory, to advances in facial feminization surgeries.

Playboy Magazine
Playboy Magazine wrote about the Fair
Just as the Fair became more and more important to the professional and academic community, it had firmly established itself in the lives of many Fair‐goers. Although the Fair was drawing about 100 Fair‐goers each year, the Fair remained a personal and intimate experience. Relationships were established and renewed, such as when Kathryn & Lauren Bode renewed their wedding vows during the Fair of 1995.

By this time, many of the traditions that we know today had become solid fixtures at Fantasia Fair. Andrea Susan Mallick was hosting the Fashion Show, Sandra Cole was presenting fabulous seminars on growth within our community, and Mariette Pathy-Allen was showcasing her photography of the trans community and allnight house parties at Rumors, a favorite inn of Fair‐goers . A few traditions had been relegated to the pages of history, such as the "Fantasy Ball" costume party and the "Red Nail Run"—a foot race with runners proudly displaying their red painted fingernails.

As the 1990s progressed, the Fair was being attended by not just heterosexual cross‐dressers. Male‐to‐female transsexuals were participating in considerable numbers as well as cross‐dressers who identified as gay or bisexual. Female‐to‐male transsexuals and intersex individuals were appearing more and more frequently and the Fair was regularly drawing partners and significant others.

In 1999, with Fantasia Fair 25, the Fair itself started to undergo its own transition of sorts. Long time Fair leaders, Dotty & Alison Laing, encouraged others to become more actively involved in organizing and running the Fair. Pamela Geddes stepped in as an interim Fair Director and helped usher in a number of significant changes. One of which was focusing on the activities and the programs of the Fair rather than housing by letting each Fair‐goer book their own lodging. This helped drive prices down by letting the marketplace keep lodging prices low.

Another change established by Ms. Geddes was to demonstrate the gratitude of Fair‐goers to the people of Provincetown by raising for various civic organizations that support the town. Since 1999, through advertising sales from the program book, ticket sales and tips to the performers from the annual Follies, more than $50,000 has been given to organizations that serve the people of Provincetown and Cape Cod. Monetary contributions have been made to the town library, the local police, an AIDS support group, a local hospice facility, the town soup kitchen, a senior services group, and we helped buy the fire department a life‐saving defibrillator.

These and other changes led the Fair to a new management team in 2000 by incorporating as "Real Life Experiences, Inc." Under the leadership of Dallas Denny, along with Miqqi Alicia Gilbert, Alison Laing and a small team of dedicated volunteers, the Fair expanded its offerings. Since then, Fantasia Fair has developed a comprehensive partner-focused track, has held academic colloquiums, and a variety of workshops covering such topics as medical procedure for the transsexual, employment issues when transitioning, voice training, trans spirituality, and gender theory. All this accomplished while reducing costs to the average Fair‐goer.

Every October, people from across the globe came to participate in the "Mother of All Transgender Conferences", including locations such as Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Hawaii, Japan, Uganda, and Venezuela. Award-winning authors have presented their work as have Oscar and Emmy Award‐winning filmmakers. Leading scholars and community activists have given workshops and addresses. There were book launches and film debuts, including special showings of such noteworthy films as Susan Stryker's Screaming Queens, Kate Davis' Southern Comfort, and Annie Goldson's Georgie Girl. The Fair has held art exhibits, high teas, poetry slams, live radio shows, and even the occasional game show. The Fair also showcased talent from the trans community including performances from internationally‐renowned classical pianist Sara Davis Buechner, award‐winning folk musician Namoli Brennet, critically‐acclaimed Scott Turner Schofield, and many others.

The community of Provincetown has always been and always will be an integral part of Fantasia Fair. The Universalist Unitarian Meeting House has grown to be more than simply a church to visit while away from home. Shopkeepers, restaurateurs, innkeepers, business people, and artisans have all come to look forward to our annual October arrival. During Fair week, Fair‐goers bring to Provincetown over 1,000 room nights, over 1,000 lunches, over 1,000 dinners, and countless shopping excursions. Fantasia Fair not only brings another weeklong event similar to Women’s Week and Entre Nous, but an event with a special panache; the townspeople have gained a genuine affection for the ladies and gentlemen of the Fair.

For the 2017 Fair, long-time Fair contributor Jamie Dailey held the reins as Fair Director and had enlisted the help of veteran Fair-goers Donna Cartwright, Mary Beth Cooper, and Karen Marie Jandro while Dallas Denny held the Chair of Real Life Experiences, Inc.

Although there have been changes over the years, Fantasia Fair is still a place for friendship, learning, and growth. The Fair is in the forefront for personal and professional development, and its stature has only grown. It will be exciting to see how the Fair grows over the next four decades.

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