3 S's of Tri-Ess
By Jane Ellen Fairfax
I sent my letter of inquiry to Tri-Ess twenty-one years
ago. 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 heterosexual crossdressers and their families!
Hardly daring to hope, they write that tentative letter of inquiry, and
back comes the reply. There really are others! And there’s a chapter of
them within driving distance! They send in their membership, and join that
secure online forum, CDTRIESS. The minute their name appears, sisters
greet them with posts of welcome and kindness. 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 Liza
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
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 celebrate the chartering of
a new Tri-Ess chapter, we ask 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.