A Safe Space for Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens

A Safe Space for Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens

By: Lee Kirby (he/him pronouns)

I heard laughter before I even opened the doors. Entering, the first thing I saw was a burst of color. A person—pure magnificence—strutted by in their newest heels and packer.

The entire spectrum of gender and then some was proudly on display at the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, the largest free, trans-specific conference in the world. The annual conference is dedicated to empowering trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary persons on issues of health and well-being and teaching our allies and loved ones how to support us.

Kings, queens, and in-betweens rally around a simple, yet powerful message:

Alone and isolated we feel disenfranchised, oppressed, and underrepresented, but together we can conquer the world.

Being transmasculine, I often feel this way. Blunt transphobia or more insidious implicit biases creep into every aspect of a trans person’s life and can slowly erode our spark. So we need these safe spaces to connect with others like us, to learn to harness our inner strength, and emerge ready to take on the world. At the conference, my gender variant siblings and I learned to advocate for competent care and network to fuel community-building and systemic change.

The conference was jammed packed with educational workshops, tables offering information about hormones and surgery, and vendors selling everything from binders to strap-ons. The workshops were just as diverse the attendants—there was something for trans individuals, even a giant dress up wardrobe for youth to explore their gender. There was something for parents of newly “out” trans-children and information for allies in the health and legal professions.

I valued most the sessions on how to legally change your name and gender marker, and the show-and-tell of trans men who have had top surgery—two steps I plan to take to better present more masculine. I’ve been on Testosterone for eight months now and look forward to continuing this journey. My nursing cohort has been so supportive of me, even as my voice cracks during presentations.

Furthermore, all the surgical options (from top surgery to facial augmentation) and insurance coverage loopholes I learned about benefit the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, where I have a work study job. Ultimately, my goal is to work in global health fighting epidemics like Ebola, but for now I enjoy helping my community twice a week.

Paramount was the power, strength and resilience surging in everyone’s veins as we connected—we learned how to thrive, not simply survive. And the Gertrude Stein Society, the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing’s LGBT+ group, is keeping the momentum going.

Upcoming events from the Gertrude Stein Society

We are raising awareness around gender diversity—in health care and in society. We have hosted panels on gender-affirming care in nursing, photo installations that showcase the full spectrum of gender, and more. Another student and I are even planning a training to educate medical staff at our OB/GYN clinical site how to better care for pregnant trans men. We hope to continue incorporating more inclusive practices into the curriculum.

The possibilities are endless. Together we can change the world! And I urge you to join the fight.

Check out Gender Projected, an exploration of gender through photography and dialogue. An installation featuring Lee Kirby was exhibited at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing through September. 


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Lee Kirby (he/him) is a transmasculine, fourth semester MSN (Entry into Nursing) student, HIV tester and counselor, and active LGBTQ+ advocate. He recently returned from Mozambique, where he worked as a Peace Corps health volunteer working primarily on HIV and malaria education, and empowering women and youth. His goal is to eventually travel and assist with Ebola crisis relief with international NGOs. Until then he is on the executive boards of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Gertrude Stein Society, and Men in Nursing, hosting events to bring awareness around equality.

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