History of Fantasia Fair
Looking Back At The World's Longest Running Annual Transgender Event
Fantasia Fair's service to the community now spans four decades. Like the LGBT community itself, Fantasia Fair has grown and evolved.
Affectionately known as "The Fair," Fantasia Fair has progressed from a holiday experience for transgender individuals into 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.
Commercial Street in Provincetown
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, Fantasia Fair was conceived in response to this "need for crossdressers 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
somewhat of a LGB 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.
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.
This was an exciting time for the Fair, as it was charting new ground, since there really weren't any other transgender-related
conferences to learn from. In these early years, the Fair served as a model for later transgender events all over the world. Even
today, Fantasia Fair is recognized for its leadership in increasing the acceptance of the transgender phenomena.
By the early 1980s, Fantasia Fair was getting noticed - there was even an article about the Fair in Playboy Magazine. 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 fairgoers 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 fairgoer would be charged an extra $10, $20 or more in addition to their registration fee to attend
By the mid 1980s, the accent of workshops was changing from such topics as fashion and deportment classes to personal
development. With the combination of educational 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 fairgoers 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.
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 fairgoers. Although the Fair was then drawing more than 100 fairgoers 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. Sandra Cole
was presenting fabulous seminars on growth within our community, and Mariette Pathy-Allen was
showcasing her photography of the trans community. 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.
Dotty and Alison Laing
As the 1990s progressed, the Fair was being attended by not just heterosexual crossdressers. Male-to-female transsexuals were
participating in considerable numbers as well as crossdressers 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
In 1999, with Fantasia Fair 25, the Fair itself started to undergo it's 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 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 fairgoer book their own lodging. This helped drive prices down by
letting the marketplace keep lodging prices low.
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, classical concerts, voice training workshops,
hosted appearances from noted authors and filmmakers, and sponsored a wide variety of LGBTI-related seminars. Every October, professionals
and academics from all over the world made the trek to Cape Cod to present at the "Mother of Transgender Conferences."
All this accomplished while reducing costs to the average fairgoer.
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. We not only bring another week-long 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.
Miqqi Alicia Gilbert
Fantasia Fair has had a tremendous impact on Provincetown too! During Fair week, fairgoers bring to Provincetown over 1,000 room nights,
over 1,000 lunches, over 1,000 dinners, and endless shopping trips. In addition, each year fairgoers give back to our host city by
raising money for various community-based charities and organizations in town.
Today, long-time Fair contributor Miqqi Alicia Gilbert has taken the reins as Fair Director and has enlisted the help of Barbara Curry, Jamie Dailey,
Mary Beth Cooper,
and Jan Brown.
Each year, the Fair continues to grow in size and quality. 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!