Philly’s Trans Wellness Conference shows growth

Philly’s Trans Wellness Conference shows growth

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Last week the Pennsylvania Convention Center hosted the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, a three-day affair, organized by the Mazzoni Center. The PTWC is the largest trans-specific conference in the world, and this year a preliminary count asserted over 11,000 people attended the event that ran Aug. 25-27, exceeding last year’s number, according to Larry Benjamin, spokesperson for the Mazzoni Center.

Founded in 2000 by Charlene Arcila, the event was originally called the Trans Health Conference. The term “wellness” was substituted as the subject matter covered by the conference expanded.

PTWC 2019 had over 200  offerings including workshops, panels, lectures, discussions and meetups, on subjects ranging from all things medical, behavioral and sexual health, financial and legal matters, aging, spirituality, programming for kids and young adults, including “Youth Space,” and a host of other subjects.

In addition, hundreds of vendors set up tables throughout PTWC’s section of the Convention Center, such as Philadelphia FIGHT, Penn Health, Women Organized Against Rape, Human Rights Campaign, Metro and Rainbow Times and many more.

Technology and Data Coordinator Jay Alston of Mazzoni, and a key member of the team that plans the conference, said the event continuously improves every year and this year’s conference had a tone of “excitement and anticipation fulfilled.”

“Even online,” he said, “the tone was joyous, celebratory, truly embodying this year’s theme of trans joy.”

As always, the conference had large medical and behavioral health tracks that referenced gender-affirmation surgeries, hormone therapy, and reproductive health, as well as suicidality, providing trans-affirming services and thinking about the role of gatekeeper.

The Trevor Project, an organization focused on issues faced by LGBTQ youth, held a panel, “Supporting Trans Youth Through Research and Education” in which the organization showcased its recent research findings from the largest ever study of trans youth between the ages of 13-24 in the U.S. The panel was conducted by Chris Bright and Amy Green, Ph.D. 

Philly local, Dr. Damon Constantinides Ph.D., LCSW and sexuality educator was on a panel — along with Andrew Christian, Nazneen Meecham and Christian Jorgen — aimed at providers titled, “Building Knowledge, Skills and Community to Support Transgender Communities: A training program for mental health professionals.”

Constantinides, a trans man who works with individuals and couples, teens and adults in his psychotherapy practice, is one of five trainers who developed a program that provides an advanced training certificate in affirmative therapy for transgender communities.

Constantinides said the program was developed “as a reaction to an increased need for trans-competent mental health providers based on community need.” He noted many programs relating to trans-competent mental health care are three hours or one weekend, but the program he and others developed is one year in length.

“I am pretty proud of it,” he said. “It is unique because it centered trans experience and trans voices from the beginning of creating the curriculum, and trans voices are considered throughout all of the program design, as well as the actual content that’s taught.”

The program consists of two training weekends, six weeks apart, each running two days. Then, throughout a 10-month period, the program offers weekly group supervision using Zoom with three supervisors that have different availability.

Constantinides said research shows “what really changes the way a therapist practices, is supervision.”

Author of the book “Sex Therapy with Erotically Marginalized Clients: Nine Principles of Clinical Support,” he said one aspect of the program is also a principle he wrote about.

“One of the principles we have for providing therapy to erotically-marginalized clients is this idea that to be a really competent therapist, you need to have your own community or you’re going to enact marginalization in the room with your client.”

He said this is because when clinicians serve marginalized communities, they also experience marginalization themselves and therefore “have a responsibility to seek out community and continue to support these communities.”

As an example, Constantinides explained that if a clinician serves erotically-marginalized groups such as LGBTQ folks or those who are polyamorous or in the kink community, often that clinician is the only one in their agency or town or county or state doing so, which leads to isolation, and the clinician is serving clients who are also isolated.

He said, “The side effect of this training [program] is that people really built community. The first cohort found what was most supportive was the support of each other. Not only the professional support, but also the personal support and then the long-term work of building a community of colleagues and a referral network, and a good referral network increases the level of care for trans communities.”

With panels like Constantinides’, Alston said centering trans voices was a focus of this year’s PTWC; the keynote speaker was transgender standup comedian and actor Dina Nina Martinez. Alston added that organizers were intentional “of bringing trans women of color, particularly Black trans women to the front.”

In a workshop called, “Interactions With Law Enforcement,” facilitated by Racial and Economic Justice Policy Advocate for the National Council of Teachers of English Mateo de la Torre, the travails often faced by trans people, particularly trans people of color, when dealing with law enforcement were discussed in detail. These included, constant humiliation and misgendering; loss of privacy; denial of medications and hormones for those in the midst of transitioning; invasive searches; and physical and sexual abuse. Many of these abuses are detailed in the Executive Summary of the NCTE’s report “Failing to Protect and Serve.” The panel was co-facilitated by Zahara Green, a trans activist and harm reductionist.

The summary included a chart evaluating the policies of various police departments from around the country relating to trans folks, and while Philly’s Police Department is by far not the worst on the list (Dallas, San Diego and Las Vegas ranked lower), Philly PD has more than its share of lapses.

Some of the more shocking failings among the country’s 25 largest police departments include: A majority of departments (16 of 25) fail to provide search procedures specifically tailored for transgender individuals; No department explicitly requires multiple hours of regular training on transgender policies for all members across rank; Twenty-three departments do not have policies prohibiting officer sexual misconduct boards members of the public.

The conference was extensive with panels titled “Binding Health and Top Surgery Recovery,” “Queering the Body: Body Image and Gender Expansive Adolescents and Young Adults,” “Money Matters,” “Raising Awareness through YouTube Videos and Short Films,” “Self Care as Resistance: Self Massage Techniques for Chronic Pain” and many others.

Alston said, “PTWC is one of my favorite weekends of the year. It feels like a reunion, and it’s so great getting to see everyone again. Watching people feel happy makes me happy, and that’s the whole reason that I do my job. The overwhelmingly positive reaction to our conference is a joy to receive.” 

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