40+ Years of History

Fantasia Fair Today

Fantasia Fair has been called “the queen of all transgender events,” and with good reason. We are in our fifth decade, and every Fair since the very first in 1975 has been absolutely fabulous. We are part and parcel of the fabric of Provincetown and the transgender community. Many of yesterday’s and today’s community leaders cut their teeth at the Fair, and many who attend today are destined to become tomorrow’s leaders. Fantasia Fair has grown and evolved since its early days, when it was considered an event for well-to-do crossdressers. The Fair has always been open to everyone, but in its first decade, attendees were mostly white and middle-class and identified as crossdressers. Today’s attendees are diverse and identify in all sorts of ways. The Fair’s planners and attendees have long worked to reach all sections of our diverse community– not always with success.

Our programs have evolved too, from an almost exclusive emphasis on beauty, comportment, and fashion to a healthy mix of transgender history, and culture gender theory, activism, spirituality, personal growth, relationship issues, and yes, personal presentation.

We have learned much since that first Fantasia Fair in 1975, and there is still much more to learn. Come and learn with us!

In 1975, Fantasia Fair was conceived by Ariadne Kane and others in Boston’s Cherrystones support group in response to a need for a safe space for crossdressers and transsexuals to gather. “There is a tremendous need for crossdressers and transsexuals to learn about themselves in an open, socially tolerant environment,” said original founder Betsy Shaw. “We wanted to have a program that can help us grow in practical, social, and educational ways,” said another founder, Linda Franklin.

Sunday Service at U.U. Meeting House in Early Days. Photo by Mariette Pathy Allen

Provincetown was picked as the host city because of its reputation for tolerance and because it was a center of gay and lesbian culture. Its location at the very end of Cape Cod provided isolation and therefore peace of mind for frightened first-timers. Besides, the mid-October date was after P’Town’s tourist season had ended and before the town shut down, when prices were low– and so a date was set.

The first Fair was financed with loans from members of the Cherrystones. With help from Brandy Alexander and another female impersonator who lived in town, two physicians who practiced on Cape Cod, a few cosmetic consultants, and much support from local innkeepers, eateries, and the local newspaper, and with a then-astounding 40 participants, Fantasia Fair went from an idea to reality.

Almost immediately, Fantasia Fair was getting noticed. The 1977 Fair was highlighted in Drag Magazine and in 1980 it was featured in an article in Playboy.

This was an exciting time for the Fair. It was charting new ground, since there was no other transgender-related conference to use as a role model. Fantasia Fair wasn’t just a convention for transgender people—it was the convention for transgender people. In these early years, twenty years before the term transgender came into common use, the Fair served as a model for trans events all over the world. Even today, Fantasia Fair is recognized for its leadership in increasing the acceptance of the transgender phenomena.

From its inception, Fantasia Fair honored the spouses, partners, and families of transgender people. As early as the second Fair, there were workshops for wives and girlfriends. These early programs, which have continued for more than 40 years, stressed the importance of communications between partners and fostering growth as a couple.

Also from our first year, the Fair has hosted a staff of professionals. They present workshops, of course, but also consult with individuals and groups on speech, personal presentation, surgical options, and personal issues. One or two professionals work exclusively with relationship issues, holding sessions for groups of significant others, couples, and transpeople.

The Fair soon grew to be a 10-day event and was bonding with Provincetown and its citizens. Townies would turn out in large numbers for the Fair’s fashion show and Follies talent show. At the annual Town and Gown Dinner, curious locals would show up to find out about the “men in dresses” walking around town. It was a time of big hairdos, miniskirts, custom corsets, and disco and Nu Wave music.

Registration, 1987. Photo by Emily Sheldon

In these early days, registration to the Fair included not just workshops and night events, but also accommodations. Most Fairgoers stayed at the old Crown & Anchor, where all-night pajama parties were common. Many of the workshops were pay-as-you-go, meaning Fairgoers would be charged an additional ten or twenty dollars.

Events during these early Fairs were a combination of workshops geared toward improving personal appearance, and social events where Fairgoers could practice what they were learning in the workshops. Workshops covered topics such as voice modulation, building a wardrobe, and beauty and makeup. Symposia were held in conjunction with the Unitarian Universalist Church, with the primary purpose of educating the public. Each symposium was followed by question and answer sessions to further encourage dialog with the townsfolk.

By the mid-1980s, the Fair was attracting more and more people– some coming from as far away as South America, Australia, and Europe. The focus of workshops was changing from topics like scarf tying and wig styling to personal development and activism. Now, with a combination of educational seminars and workshops and social events such as banquets, the FanFair Fashion Show, the Fantasy Ball, and the Fantasia Fair Follies, the Fair had become more than a vacation and more than a conference.

Alison Laing, Miqqi Alicia Gilbert w Reporter

In the mid-1990s Fantasia Fair looked and operated much like it does today. The duration was reduced from ten days to seven, the Fantasy Ball was removed from the schedule, and the Town and Gown Supper was renamed The Diversity Dinner. The Fair was no longer considered an event for crossdressers, but an event for transgender people of all types. We updated the Participant Guide and other publications to reflect the presence of  transmasculine attendees. Workshops addressed emerging issues ranging from facial feminization surgery to political actions to that new thing called the internet. At he turn of the century, six keynotes would be added to the schedule– and all six were free to anyone– registered or not– who wanted to attend.

Fantasia Fair has been part of the trans and Provincetown communities for more than 40 years. During this time, it has grown and evolved from a holiday experience for transgender people to a mix of practical, social, and educational opportunities designed to enhance the personal growth and awareness of one’s own gender expression.

In some ways, the character of the Fair has changed little over the years—there is still the same warmth and camaraderie. In other ways, it has blossomed into something larger than was originally envisioned.