The 3's of Tri•Ess
By Jane Ellen Fairfax
I sent my letter of inquiry to Tri-Ess in 1984. I was giddy with excitement upon receiving that fat envelope containing the brochure, complete with pictures, and the reassurance that I was not alone. Nevertheless, I was a little put off by a couple of things. “A Sorority Without Women!” the front page screamed. Strange, for a crossdresser-focused organization that took pride in supporting families! Worse still was the name: The Society for the Second Self. As I learned more about the Society, and gained insight into what my crossdressing means, I was even more puzzled. After all, we are not two selves. One of the lodestars of a crossdresser’s existence is the quest for integration. It has always seemed healthy to blend masculine and feminine traits, incorporating the noblest aspects of both genders into one happy and fulfilled persona. And why should the femme self be “second”? Crossdressers range across a wide spectrum of gender components. To me, it seemed more appropriate to emphasize the togetherness of the two genders within one person, rather than the priority of one over the other. Being ignorant at the time about our MTF brothers, I asked, “Why not ‘the Society for the Integrated Self (SIS)’?”
In the course of time, our wise Board of Governance solved my problem, designating as our motto, “Support, Serenity, Service.” What an inspiration!!! Seldom have I seen three words so embody the heart and soul, goals and purpose of an organization! Each word has a depth of meaning that gives one goosebumps. Let’s take a look at those three words.
Support! When I joined Tri-Ess, I was like so many others. Crossdressing was just not “normal.” Or so I was taught in my socialization process. I must be “the only one.” And yet those soft, lacy, colorful fabrics seemed so right for me! What did it all mean? Over the years I have counseled many sisters just emerging from the cocoon of secrecy and guilt. Most started early in life, by sneaking their mothers’ or their sisters’ clothing. When caught, they were frequently shamed, thus taking up a heavy load that burdened every aspect of their lives for years. Many are still bowed down by this soul-weight.
Then came the day when they saw a distant ray of light! Perhaps it was from an advice columnist, or a literature search, or the internet, or even a stray card in a library book. But there it was! Tri-Ess! An organization just for heterophilic crossdressers and their families! Hardly daring to hope, they write that tentative letter of inquiry, and back comes the reply. There really are others! They really are nice people, and it feels so good to be addressed by one’s femme name! The realization begins to sink in. I really am a lady among ladies!
Now to join the chapter! Uh, oh! Here comes the barrage, a bombardment of reasons why I should not attend. “What if the neighbors see me leaving the house in a dress?” “My feminine presentation is not polished. Maybe it’s best that I work on it for a few months.” “I know I’m OK, but what about those other people in the chapter?” “I’m an introvert, not a joiner. How can I make friends with people I don’t know?” “What if I meet someone from work?” “Am I really, really sure I want to do this?” Many sisters become paralyzed at this point. It is hard for them to realize that they stand at the threshold of unbelievable joy and fulfillment.
When the new sister enters the meeting room, she is at the critical point. Here is where chapter sisters have a deep duty to put forth a sisterly hand. They take the new sister in, introducing themselves and congratulating the newbie on her emergence. They may compliment her on her color coordination, accessories or makeup. The message starts to come across: “I’m not only a lady, but I feel pretty!” Perhaps the meeting program is “makeover and photography night.” The veterans ask the newbie if she would like to be the model. Does she ever! And she gets to go home with pictures of her beautiful feminine self. Like Eliza Doolittle, she feels as if she could have danced all night!
But this is only the start. The barrage has been scotched, but not disarmed. Having joined the chapter, the sister joins the chapter’s online forum. She is gaining confidence and feels free to bring up questions. At this point in their journey, many sisters feel lost and confused. This is a critical time, but her sisters are up to the challenge. Gently, many share from their hearts, and offer the wisdom of experience. Now the new sister begins to open up as well, and that reserve and fear are replaced by the warm bonding that is the hallmark of the most successful Tri-Ess chapters.
Little by little, the new sister becomes more confident. Perhaps she benefits from programs on feminine arts and skills. When the sisters go out for a late supper after the meeting, they invite the new girl along. One’s first time out in public is a little daunting, but less so in a supporting group of caring sisters. And, chapter sisters find ways for the new sister to participate in the work and life of the chapter. The newsletter editor invites her to share the story of her first meeting. Perhaps she publishes a personal profile as well. The Facilitator invites her to serve on the food committee. The idea that a newbie cannot contribute to chapter life is mythology. Not only can the newbie participate in the work, it is a part of the support duty of the chapter to encourage her to do so.
Having thrived off the support she gets in Tri-Ess, the sister achieves that second wonderful “S,” Serenity. She has come to understand that her femininity is a part of who she is. Although she may regret the years spent in misery, all that is over now. She has come to enjoy her life as a feminine person. Little by little, she has become more confident going out in public. By now she is proud of who she is. At the chapter, she is one of the gals. She and her wife may still be negotiating various boundaries, but their relationship is on a pretty even keel. In fact, drawn by the wife-friendly atmosphere at her Tri-Ess chapter, her wife is participating with her. Life is good!
Even so, this phase of serenity marks a critical juncture. It is easy for the sister to become complacent, and even cocky. Because she has made such steady progress, she may feel there are no new worlds to conquer. If she remains heedless of where she is, she may get drawn into dare-deviling behavior that can pose great risks for her career, social standing and family life. She may start to “push the envelope” on boundaries, edging her wife past her comfort zone. There are those in Genderland who are always ready to encourage her to “be the woman you are” and run amok over the concerns of her wife, family and friends.
If she lets her pride run unbridled, she may eventually come to think that she is somehow better than her sisters in the chapter. Perhaps she looks down on those who are struggling where she once was. She begins to think of her chapter as a “bigger closet,” a sort of first grade class for those who are just now learning what she has already accomplished. Now it’s time to graduate, and leave the others behind. She has been fertilized and watered by the support she has received. She is a tree, tall, leafy, blowing in the wind. But she bears no fruit.
Whenever Mary Frances and I celebrated the chartering of a new Tri-Ess chapter, we asked the officers to light the three candles of Support, Serenity and Service. It is no accident that the white candle of service to others occupies the central, highest position on the candelabra. For it is in service to others that the cycle of life in Tri-Ess reaches infinity, and the trees bear fruit that will nourish other new sisters for generations. The sisters and brothers are Tri-Ess. Our Society is the sum of the talents they are willing to contribute.
And there are so many, many talents among us! Every single Tri-Ess member has something to contribute. Some are writers. Some are counselors, gifted in leading new people out of fear and shame, toward self-acceptance and confidence. Some provide humor – oh, how we need that in this community! Some have special gifts in one-on-one support; others have a knack for financial management; still others know how to organize events. Some have the ability to sell advertising, while others have the outgoing personalities that enable them to be effective outreach workers. Those who speak foreign languages have the ability to spread our message literally all over the world. Especially needed are leaders committed to make our programs and services available in new areas. There is more joy in our Society over one new volunteer than over a thousand dry branches who are unwilling to contribute, and fall off the Tri-Ess tree.
I have come to love the name of Tri-Ess. Support, Serenity and Service live here, but the greatest of these is Service.
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