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Keystone Redux

Today we are experiencing a solar eclipse and a beautifully written first-person essay on this year's Keystone.

By Fiona Black

Editorial comment: To quote the great Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely!”.

I started writing this article on Monday the day after returning from the 14th annual Keystone Conference in Harrisburg, my second time there. Yes, I’m exhausted and my feet still hurt but I wanted to put some thoughts on paper while still feeling the glow from being surrounded by hundreds of trans ladies for five days.

First thing I want to do is to thank TransCentralPA and the other local trans groups and individual volunteers who worked hard all year long so that the rest of us could enjoy ourselves. Take a minute to think about all the coordination needed in dealing with scheduling so many presenters, dealing with the hotel on guest and conference rooms, planning numerous activities, dealing with restaurants and the associated transportation, communicating with the public, coordinating the printing and collating of guest badges, meal tickets and welcome packets along with the production of the 92 page conference guidebook and you can get an inkling of what goes on behind the scene. A well deserved thank you to all involved.

In my totally personal and highly unofficial guesstimate, I felt that total attendance was down somewhat from last year when 750 people attended. I heard one unofficial comment that put the number around 700 but I think it might be somewhat lower than that. But it was still a good size crowd and a good time was had by all. The city of Harrisburg is a good location for the event. Attendees can visit the Susquehanna Art Museum, the National Civil War Museum or the State capitol building for tours. The Hilton’s downtown location is convenient because there are restaurants, drug stores and nail salons within easy walking distance. The Hilton is a very good venue for the conference but there is one highly annoying problem there that I noticed at the 2023 event, namely the so-called toilet paper they put in the bathrooms. I swear the manufacturer must have achieved some sort of manufacturing breakthrough by producing paper only one atom thick. It is almost completely transparent, virtually invisible. You have to use at least a dozen sheets at a clip, anything less invites disaster. So after experiencing the horrors of said paper last year, I suggest people do what I did this year and pack a roll of Charmin Ultra Soft in your luggage. You will not regret it! Editorial comment: You do not get advice like this anywhere else!

So armed with my Charmin, I arrived in Harrisburg late on Tuesday and spent Wednesday settling in, meeting friends and deciding what seminars to attend during the week. At Thursday’s lunch I met a lady named Andrea and found out that she lives a half mile from where I grew up so we had a nice chat about my old neighborhood. That evening it was off to Rubicon for dinner which was good but after getting back to the hotel I discovered that my gold bracelet was missing. This was very upsetting because the bracelet belonged to my late wife and had significant sentimental value. Every time I leave the house I wear at least one piece of her jewelry as a way of remembering her. I got a hold of Vanity Club sisters DeeDee Allen and Coleen O’Donnell who put me in touch with our bus driver. He searched the bus but no bracelet. I then called Rubicon and the waitress who answered just happened to be holding it in her hand after finding it! She then told me she was just about to leave for home but volunteered to drive by the Hilton and return it to me. Sure enough, five minutes later, she stopped by and, after explaining how important the bracelet was to me, I gave her a well deserved hug. A very happy ending and a super nice gesture on her part.

Friday was a special day for me but first a little background. At last year’s Keystone, Kandi invited me to dinner one night where there were around 25 of us sitting at a long table. At my end, I was sitting with Kandi, and four other ladies who all happened to be Vanity Club (VC) members. I had a nice time and later met a number other club members over the next few days. I came away from the conference impressed by how welcoming, open and friendly everyone was after meeting me. I soon contacted Jan, a VC member I knew, who sponsored me for membership and I was voted in last summer. Friday was special because at the Vanity Club dinner in the hotel there was a welcoming ceremony for new members. Jan could not attend Keystone this year so Katie O’Malley, the club’s President, officially welcomed me into the club by presenting me with my VC pin and a red rose. This was the highlight moment of the conference for me.

The Vanity Club had a little over 50 members attend this year and I had a chance to meet many new members in addition to those I met last year. I consider myself very fortunate because, besides VC members, I have many friends and acquaintances in attendance at Keystone through my membership in both the CrossDressers International (CDI) organization which had 25 members attend and the Crossdresser Heaven (CDH) web site which had close to 50 members attend. Every time I turned around I ran into someone I knew which made being at the conference an extra special experience.

And speaking of CDI, two of our members came to the rescue when the Keystone organizers ran into a problem with Saturday night’s entertainment. Originally, a duo consisting of a standup bass player and a piano player were going to preform at the pre-Gala cocktail hour but the piano player couldn’t make it due to illness. Keystone contacted two CDI members who are musicians, Maria (piano, vocals) and Burnice (accordion) who stepped in and rehearsed for three days with Nikita, the original bass player, and they came up with 15 songs to play at the cocktail hour. The set included a mix of jazz, rock and some songs written by Maria and was well received by the crowd. Maria is a prolific songwriter and has recently completed writing a musical about her emergence and life as a trans woman.

The Saturday night Gala was a lot of fun. The guest speaker was Gabbi Tuft, a former WWE wrestling star who came out publicly as trans in 2021. She is now a fitness coach, keynote speaker and an advocate for women’s rights, both transgender and genetic. I urge you to google Gabbi and check out the before and after photos, it was a stunning transition. A nice moment occurred after dinner at the Gala when I had the opportunity to introduce my good friend Allison Davis, CrossDressers International’s President to my new friend, Kathleen O’Malley, the Vanity Club’s recently elected President. In the accompanying photo, Katie is on the left and Allison on the right.

A different band entertained after dinner this year and in my opinion they were much better than last year’s band. After a lot of dancing, it was down to the bar to socialize and finish out a wonderful evening and eventually to say goodbye to all the friends and acquaintances we may not see for another year. Sad to say goodbye but glad to have seen them once again. I want to take a moment to urge anyone sitting on the fence about attending a large gathering such as Keystone to please give it a try. Your makeup skills may not be perfect, you may not have the most glamorous wardrobe and you may never have been out in public but it does not matter. You will find everyone welcoming and friendly no matter what stage you are at in your journey and you are guaranteed to make new connections with others that can only enhance your dressing experience. Try and attend at least once and, if you find it isn’t right for you that’s fine, just cross it off your bucket list and stay within your own personal comfort zone.

In closing, I want to share a nice moment that unfolded late Saturday night as I headed to my room. As I got off the elevator another sister who I did not know got off the adjacent elevator at the same time. As she passed me she said “hello” and headed off in the opposite direction down the hallway. As I walked away I softly called out “goodbye”. She in turn then softly called out “Hello, hello, you say hello …..” (paraphrasing the line from the Beatles song “Hello, Goodbye”) and I responded with “And I say goodbye”. It was a wonderful way to end my time at Keystone and is also an appropriate way to end this article. So to all of you I say goodbye!


8 Responses

  1. Hi Fiona – Thank you for a beautifully written article on this year’s Keystone Conference. It was my second year also. I did not think it was possible to enjoy the conference more this year than last, but I did. Knowing far more persons helped a lot – making the socialization aspect easier, as did my familiarity with the surroundings. I’m still very much on a high filled with pleasant memories and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
    All the best,
    PS – I did not notice the toilet paper deficit, and I preferred last year’s band, altho I thought both were quite good.

  2. Fiona,
    I’m happy you had such a fabulous time.

    I love the long dress, very elegant looking.


  3. Thank you for sharing such a detailed narrative, Fiona. I wish I had been able to attend and will hopefully see you there again next year. Keystone is an unforgettable experience every time!


  4. Thank you Fiona for your wonderful story of your visit to Keystone. This year would have been my 9th or 10th attending the conference. Unfortunately I had to cancel my visit a week before due to family health issues. I have been going out as my femme side since 1978. I’m 75 and have a big family. Keystone I believe is the best event for our community. I have met Allison and Kathleen also . I have met so many wonderful people over the years in our community. Hopefully I will be at Keystone next year.

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