Around this time, 20 years ago, I was experiencing suicidal ideation and debilitating depression, after being hospitalized for mania and psychosis. The #1 stressor in my life was my sexual orientation (I hadn’t yet gotten to the gender identity part). Two things saved me: therapy, and regularly attending the youth group at the Out Alliance (called the GAGV – Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley, at the time).
Learning, yesterday, that the Out Alliance was folding and laying off all its employees hit me hard, both in a community-forward kind of way, and on a personal level. We need the Out Alliance and the services it provides. The board stated, “We hope that this cessation in our services will be temporary and that, after reassessing and restructuring the organization, we will resume our vital mission, stronger than ever.” Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.
I went to the youth group for the first time on March 15, 2000. I was a painfully shy, sheltered, awkward, naive 18 year-old. I wrote about it immediately afterward, in my diary:
“I was really nervous about going, but felt like it was something I had to do. I got mom to drive me. While I was there, I badly wanted to leave, but in retrospect, it doesn’t seem so bad. We talked about dangers on the internet and stalkers. I had nothing to contribute. Dr. [Therapist] says that’s OK. It was my first time. Next Sunday might be better anyway. There’s going to be pizza and a guest speaker on relationships. Also, I noticed many bookshelves filled with books. Maybe next time all the kids are outside smoking, I’ll go check them out.”
And it did get better. I remained painfully shy and awkward. I never did connect with the other kids or make any friends, but I went every single week from then until I left for college at the end of August. At the time, the age limit was 19, but I asked if it could be extended to 22 because I still wanted to keep going. The age got changed in the “rules of the group,” and I was so thrilled I had been heard. I went sporadically when I could throughout my college years.
To back up, I started writing in a diary a year before attending the group, and my first entry starts out with a fantasy scenario in which I come out to a support group, 12-step style.
” ‘Hello. My name is Katie. And… I am a lesbian.’ ‘Hi Katie.’* I’ve gone through this scenario hundreds of times. I wish it were that easy. I’d just walk into a gay / lesbian support group and come out. I just can’t do it though; I haven’t told anyone.”
So actually attending and being around other LGBTQ+ people was HUGE for me, even if it was hard. Probably largely because it was so hard. Schools did not yet have Gay Straight Alliances. The internet was, well, you know, it was the internet of 2000. Which is to say I didn’t / couldn’t use it to find like-minded friends or look up information about sensitive subjects. I was too ashamed to take out any books about LGBTQ+ topics from the library for fear of the library clerk looking at them and deducing that I was gay. The information I would have found in those outdated books might have been more detrimental to my sense of self anyway. I was most certainly internally homophobic.
To know that there was an organization that was out and loud and proud was a revelation. I attended the Gay Pride Picnic that July, and was blown away by the number of people. Who knew?!
It took a while, but the sense of belonging and the normalization of the gay experience grew on me. I learned so much about safe sex and sex-positivity, LGBTQ+ portrayals in media, history, just a ton of feel-good stuff. We watched movies, we went on outings as a group, and yes we even got to eat pizza.
Huge shout-out to the facilitator at that time, Patty Hayes. She changed my life. I was so psyched to find that this 44 minute interview with her is out there on the internet! (Interview conducted for the documentary, Shoulders to Stand On. She has about 3 minutes of screen-time in the final product; here is the full interview):
The Out Alliance was there when I needed it, and I can honestly say it saved me from my own self-hatred, homophobia, and loneliness. Now that there are so many more options and ways to learn and connect, so what? It’s still very much needed. Every city needs something like this. It was a place to connect face-to-face and find role models and local resources. A place of hope for kids in surrounding rural areas who could drive in and find out they’re not alone. City and suburban kids too, of course. Older people just coming out. People who have been out for forever. SOFFAs and allies. It does, however, need to change with the times. There were times where I railed against it, for being too normative, too playing-it-safe, not diverse enough.
Hopefully their return will be swift, and well-thought out. The former staff have laid out some demands:
- Diversification of the board’s executive committee. They point out that the board is diverse but the executive committee members are all white and cisgender.
- Selecting a person of color to serve as the next executive director, “to reflect the necessary changes the agency still needs to take.”
- Making all board meetings open to the public and the minutes from those meetings accessible to the public.
- Including dollar figures, not just percentages, in all future annual reports. The annual report for 2018 showed a dollar figure for contributions, but nothing else.
- Changing agency bylaws to give the board greater oversight over the executive director and “veto power” over major spending and investment decisions.
- Creating a mechanism for agency members and community members to weigh in on who sits on the board.
Sources: CITY News article by Jeremy Moule
Shoulders to Stand On, documentary film
*At the time, I thought my name was Katie and that I was a lesbian. Now I know it’s actually Kameron, and that I’m a queer person.
Last week was Pride in this mid-sized city I live in. The theme this year was “Stand Out: [Live] in Color.” For the first time ever, I attended a week’s worth of events; it was pretty awesome!
On Monday, my spouse plus my drag buddy and her boyfriend and her friend from out of town all went to a panel discussion / conversation called “Fabulous Lives: [Drag] in Color.” The purpose was largely to honor a bar owner and drag queen named Naomi Kane who had passed away a few years ago. Everyone wanted to share their impressions of her (both her essence, and literally doing hilarious impressions of the way she talked and her signature phrases / philosophies). My drag buddy and I used to perform at her bar. One of the old school drag kings from that time was on the panel, as well as the drag queen who regularly hosted the weekly show. We got recognized as fellow drag kings; the vibe of the event was full of love and emotion for the scene and community.
On Thursday we went to another venue for a DJ night and drag queen show. I got picked out of the audience (unwittingly but not totally unwillingly!) along with 2 others to play a game involving a bucket strapped to my groin area with a dangling tennis ball – thrust your body in such a way as to get the ball in the bucket. I lost, but still got a complimentary beer koozie. The important part is I felt more than comfortable up there on stage doing something so completely silly.
Satutrday was the parade. My spouse and I (again) marched for their employer, a food co-op. It was just us and 2 other people! We had a lot of fun though – it felt like the perfect combination of laid-back and exciting. We were right behind the local goth nightclub, and the DJ was driving his goth-mobile, playing gloomy / angsty mostly 80s music, which was a great soundtrack! One of the other marchers with the club told us he’s taking requests. I asked for “Swamp Thing” by The Chameleons. After we were done in the parade, we stepped to the side to watch the rest. When there was a lull, two kids, probably around age 10, ran across the street, directly to me, and handed me a heart shaped rainbow balloon. I have no idea why, but it pretty much made my parade! My spouse and I used the balloon in our photo shoot we did back home.
Then that night, I went out to a dance party with my spouse’s sister and a group of her friends. It felt really good to get wrapped up in dancing. And!!! Completely out of nowhere, a guy approached me and said,
“Hey, are you Kameron.”
“We did a David Bowie thing together.”
“Oh, yea, cool… At The [name of venue.]”
“No, it was the one at The [different venue.] I was the promoter. I never paid you.”
“Oh, OK yeah I remember.”
“I owe you $50. Here!”
And he just handed me the money! This was like 6 or 7 years ago, and I hadn’t seen or heard from him since! I didn’t even go by “Kameron” at that point. I was so amazed this was happening, I gave him a hug. He laughed. Then I went back to dancing, but I’ve been telling this story over and over again ever since, haha.
Sunday we went to the picnic. Saw more drag. Hung out with friends. Said hi to more people.
I like the fact that this year it was a full week of festivities! Here are some pics:
So, our city celebrates Pride long after the anniversary of Stonewall, for some strange reason. It is always the 2nd full week in July, with the parade and festival and picnic landing right in the middle of July. I was overly busy at that time, and kept stalling on writing a re-cap. But I feel motivated, largely because it’s something I’ve kept up with every year, thus far. Here are posts about past Prides!
This year, I had ideas for what to do in the parade, but had zero time for prep-work. Good thing I had a lot of stuff on hand! I woke up at 9am and needed to meet my spouse’s employer’s group (a Food Co-op) by 12:45, about 2.5 miles from our house. This proved difficult because I had a funky ride I was trying to pedal (see below!) The store had no cohesion – it was a total free for all. In the past, we’ve handed out coupons, or people have walked with a shopping cart, dressed as vegetables. But there was nothing like that this time ’round.
I tricked out a clown bike I got from a friend with balloons and signs that said, “WAYO 104.3” and “Kryptic Pop Thrills” (just because I wanted to do some self promotion for the fact that I am a radio DJ!) plus I made a sign for my spouse that said, “Summer of Love Trumps Hate.” The theme of the parade was Summer of Love. I brought a boombox for my sister-in-law (actually, she gave me the boombox for xmas one year), and we played an old mix tape entitled “Pride Parade Jamz” – a remnant of a parade of yore, in which my drag buddy and I marched to the beat of our own drum. I was dressed as a snazzy mis-matched dandy bicyclist, and my spouse was dressed in some sort of psychedelic fashion. It was us, 3 friends, two shareholders with their kid / toddler, sister-in-law, and a former employee with his wife and baby. I was sometimes pedaling / sometimes walking, straddling the bike. I was alternately shouting about WAYO, the Co-op, and Pride. I handed out pop rocks to like 5 kids, and a whole movie-theatre-sized spree to a group of teenagers, and sweet tarts to an unsuspecting woman who was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Vagetarian.” I told her I liked her shirt because I am a “Sagittarius.” I realize this doesn’t make total sense, but if you say the words out loud, they sound close enough! I also told an audience participant that he “looks just like Boy George,” and I got my pic taken a lot and I hugged a lot of friends on the sidelines, if I was fortunate enough to spot them.
Afterwards, we skipped the festival and just hung out at home. Later, I texted my friend who had given me the bike, and they had vague plans to go to a gay bar, but he quickly changed his mind and said they’d meet at this new bowling alley, etc. which is what I suggested. This place is insane. It is a warehouse turned bowling alley / ping pong, ski ball, shuffleboard, astroturf lawn games / restaurant / whiskey bar / cocktail bar. The four of us chatted in a super animated way for about an hour, and I was in bed by 9:30.
I also participated in an event at our local art gallery, the following day, which was new for me. I got roped in, last minute, to set up a table to show some historical / archival gay stuff from our city over the years (I just got connected to do this based on some old photos and things I had been posting on facebook to gear up for Pride!) The event was not super well attended or anything (people were probably busy day drinking and picnicking) but I had a lot of fun anyway. I got to meet some people and explore the art gallery (there was a specific video installation of a drag queen which was sooooo amazing!)
My spouse’s family met us down there, and we then went out to eat and then to a movie.
I loved the fact that I saw every one of my spouse’s immediate family members over the course of the Pride Weekend!
This post is a continuation I started last summer, basically in celebration of the fact that I can now wear t-shirts without feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious. Hooray for top-surgery, which was now a year and two months ago.
This beautiful specimen of a shirt was uncovered in a thrift store in Spencer, MA, just outside of Worchester, last summer while my spouse and I were visiting one of my friends from high school, and her husband and toddler. In case it’s hard to make out the print, this says,
“THE MORAL MAJORITY IS NEITHER.”
What does that mean??? At first, I didn’t know, and I don’t have a smart phone to “gooooogle” the phrase ASAP, so I just bought it an forgot about it. I did know I needed to have it, but I wasn’t going to start flaunting it until I found out what it was all about. I had a vague recollection of the term “moral majority” and that it was bad according to me (It really does just sound bad!!!), but that was about it.
I’m sure there’s more to the story, but according to wikipedia, the Moral Majority was a political organization started by Jerry Fallwell (The New Christian Right), mostly active in the 1980s. Critics started stating that “The Moral Majority is neither,” meaning the organization was neither moral nor a majority, and the slogan spread to bumper stickers, and other “swag” items.
This appears to be a homemade t-shirt from that time period (I’m following clues from the tag of the shirt. I could be mistaken), and it seems like it’s iron-on letters that are slightly felted. This added to me falling in love with this shirt. I feel that it is a good time and place to be wearing this t-shirt out and about, frequently, and proudly!
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a singer/songwriter from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, named Evan Westfal. He said, “Thanks for sharing your blog with the world,” and he directed me to his website where you can stream his music. He recently put out a new EP, called “Gay Pirates.” He says, “I was hearing a lot of love songs, but none of those love songs had any queer representation. I wanted a narrative that spoke to my identity as a gay man. So that is how gay pirates came to be. I describe the EP as a series of lamentations and exaltation of a very gay love.”
You can check it out here: Evan Westfal
The music is fun and catchy; the lyrics are full of stuff like coy promises and sweet deceits, treasure chests and booty, tight shirts, resiliency, and a “raging sea of hormones.” My favorite is probably the title track.
I asked him a couple of questions, because he’s got a lot going on behind the scenes, and because I was really curious what it’s like to live in Edmonton. He said,
If I had to explain Alberta to an American, I would say that, culturally, it’s the Texas of Canada. Politically Alberta is fairly conservative, and it’s also a Province that is rich in oil. A lot of our citizens are tradespeople that work on oil rigs. As for my city, Edmonton itself is a really cool city. A river valley runs through the centre of the city, it’s rich in wildlife and flora. The city has a fantastic pride centre, and lots of other queer organizations. To answer your questions regarding weather and topography, Edmonton is really cold in the winters, and really hot in the summers. You are correct, the surrounding areas are prairies.
The pride festival is really cool. Edmonton had it’s first parade in the 1990’s, and it was very small, and most of the participants wore bags over their heads to hide their identities. Flash forward to the millennium, and things have changed quite a bit. In the last few years our city hall has raised a pride flag, the Edmonton public school board was a marshall for the parade, and the Canadian Forces Base in Edmonton raised the pride flag. Each year over 30’000 people attend the parade. This year the pride festival’s theme is “one pride many voices.” The festival says they’re taking strides to become more inclusive. I think this is a great approach, as pride could definitely stand to be more intersectional and welcoming.
I asked what his musical background was, and also what instruments he plays / does he collaborate? He said,
My background with music begins with my schooling. I am a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, it’s a musical theatre program in Victoria, British Columbia. I think you’ll notice some heavy influences of musical theatre in my songwriting. I then decided to focus on commercial contemporary music, I achieved that through matriculating at MacEwan University. As a musician I’ve had the opportunity to sing backing vocals for Josh Groban, to play for the opening ceremony for the Edmonton Pride Festival, I’ve performed with Opera Nuova (an Edmonton based opera company), and I’ve produced and performed in many cabarets. Right now I’m working on a music video for my song “Gay Pirates,” it should be out in a month or two. As for instrumentation, I play the piano and sing. On my track Gay Pirates, I wrote all the song, but I had some great musician’s record with me. I have to send a thank you to my drummer Julissa Bayer, guitar player Andrew Brostrom, and Bassist David Pollock.
He also mentioned that he volunteers with an outreach program called fYerfly, so I asked him to elaborate on that too:
fYrefly is a great program. The name is an initialism that stands for: fostering Youth resilience energy leadership fun leadership yeah! You might notice the Y is capitalized, that’s because youth are the most important part. fYrefly originated as a summer leadership camp for LGBTTQ2SIA+ youth between the ages of 14-24. I attended the program as a teen, and it changed my life. For the first time in my life I got to be surrounded by people like me, I got to share a sense of camaraderie, and I got to feel pure acceptance. I loved the experience so much that I spent over a decade volunteering for fYrefly. Every year it’s a treat to see the difference the camp makes for youth.
I’m just going to repeat that acronym: “fostering Youth resilience energy leadership fun leadership yeah!” Haha, I love that! Evan will be performing for the opening ceremony of the Edmonton Pride Festival, coming up on June 10th. If you’re able to get up there – I just looked it up, and for me, it’s 34 hours away, by car! It’s up there!
Also, related, here’s one of the first posts I ever wrote – an experience I had at a wedding:
Effeminate Pirate Orders Fruity Drink on Party Boat
I’ve had the ability to hear my voice played back to me a whole lot, lately. For the past 4 months, I’ve been doing a weekly radio show, and this going to be ongoing for a long time. At first, I didn’t want to listen to the recordings at all. Then for a while, I was scrutinizing every little sound: I keep inhaling too sharply, I keep enunciating strangely, it’s not masculine enough (that’s a big one) etc. … By now, I’ve started to accept my “radio voice” for what it is, but I’m still thinking of ways to improve at the same time.
Last week, my spouse and I worked together to produce a “Special Gay Edition” of my regular show, and we both talked together, which was really fun. We used the word “gay” instead of “queer” or “LGBTQ+” because of the era: I normally play music from the late 70s and 80s (punk, post punk, new wave, goth, weird stuff), so we put together a set list from that time period and researched the musicians. Here’s the result! (Edited slightly for anonymity.)
Here’s the playlist:
Culture Club – Miss Me Blind
Fred Schneider and the Shake Society – Monster
Klaus Nomi – Total Eclipse (live)Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – Cherry Bomb
Husker Du – Find Me
Wayne County and the Electric Chairs – Thunder
Wendy and Lisa – Waterfall
Sinead O’Connor – I Want Your (Hands on Me)
Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
Grace Jones – Warm Leatherette
Tom Robinson Band – Glad to be Gay
And just a quick note about blogging: for the first time since I started this blog, I’m finding myself way behind on reading others’ blogs – like about a week behind. It doesn’t feel like I can catch up at this point, and I’m not sure if this lag is ongoing or just a blip. Either way, I’m still around and I still want to know what’s going on with everyone! I’m just finding myself more immersed in music, which is proving to be really time consuming! Ultimately, it’s enjoyable – I had been going through a very long lull where music didn’t seem important to me anymore. I’m glad music matters.
I’ve been corresponding with Linda Coussement, a video artist from the Netherlands. She reached out because she recently made an awesome short video (3 minutes) about a transgender artist in Berlin. She thought people who read my blog would enjoy it. So, here it is, along with further information about Linda and a short interview:
Miss Tobi is a 44 year old anarchist who makes amazing metal sculptures, plays in several performance art groups, and is also a part-time physical therapist. Check out the video!
Linda: “My background: Well, my name is Linda Coussement, I’m 36 years old and I’m from the Netherlands. […] I’ve only recently decided to step out of the business world and follow my (he)art on this epic adventure. I used to work as a business coach but I now plan to make a living through these videos somehow. On the short term I will probably have to get by on donations and funds, on the medium to long term, I plan to have books, events and workshops to sell.
What’s perhaps also good to know is that I’m not just doing this for myself and my own personal growth as a human being. I ultimately wish to inspire as many people as possible. To show that we’re all human beings, no matter what we look like, where we’re from or what we do. We all love and fear. We all have hopes and dreams. And we all sometimes struggle with relationships, money, confidence and loneliness. Personally, I’ve learned that the moment you realise this is the moment you can empathise with another person and because of that build a meaningful relationship. And that’s what I would like to see more of in the world!”
JQ: How did you get into this project? What inspired you?
LC: I’ve spent about 12 years in the business world (amongst other things as a business consultant and startup cofounder) but I’ve always had a keen interest in the more human side of life. This expressed itself through teaching yoga, doing lots of personal development training courses and coaches and being overall very reflective of myself and life in general. Though this question popped up in my head a few years ago, it was in May of this year that I realised that it was this human side that I wanted to explore more at this point in my life and I made a spontaneous decision to ask the question ‘how is it to be you?’ to all sorts of people around the world (hence renting out my house and traveling) and document it through blogs and video.
JQ: Is this video part of a larger series, or does it stand on its own?
LC: This video is the first of a much larger series. There will be supershort videos on Facebook (where I randomly ask people in the street this question), these 3 minute videos (the next one will be about a banker turned hand made paper maker in the Czech countryside) and ultimately a book, a long documentary and live events. Concerning the video of Miss Tobi, it’s very likely that I’ll also make an 8 minute version that will be sent into several festivals.
JQ: How did you meet Miss Tobi? What came first, meeting her, or the idea for the video?
More information can be found here: How It Is To Be Miss Tobi: I Don’t Feel Like a Woman, I Don’t Feel Like a Man, I Feel Transgender
My partner and I uncovered a video I had gotten while in a support group about 10 years ago – a collection of trans-related TV programs from the late 90s / early 2000s. We’ve been spacing it out, watching some of it each weekend.
Part 3 was a program on A&E from 1998 called, “The Transgender Revolution.”
As soon as we started watching it, my partner said she remembered seeing it in a class at College – that’s pretty cool. And her reaction was positive, like it had been worthwhile. And it was – it showcased a few trans-people in respectful and dignified ways. It was also the most political, by far. There was a clip of Leslie Feinberg, and there was footage of Riki Wilchins talking about hate crimes and founding Gender PAC. She talked about going to senators to get policies changed, and going to the APA to get “Gender Identity Disorder” changed. Brandon Teena was talked about, as well as two more recent cases of the murders of trans-women.
The first portrait focused on Tonye, from Tampa, FL. He lives on a farm, works as a sheriff, has a wife and 8 year old daughter. He talks about all the discrimination he has been up against at his job. He also says his community has been hostile – his farm animals have been killed; other times they have been turned loose. He started an online group called TOPS – Trans Officers Protect and Serve, in order to get support for people like him. He had to undergo an internal confidential criminal investigation at his job, which he says is just a pretext for prejudice. It was left on an uncertain note – we don’t know the outcome of his struggles at work.
Next the program focused on Nancy Nangeroni, an engineer from MA. She talked a lot about overcompensating and living as a very macho guy, taking a lot of risks. The turning point for her was when she endured horrible injuries from a motorcycle accident – she realized she could not keep living the way she had been. One great quote from her: “I’m not a pre-op or a post-op because that’s not what defines me as a person.” She founded the IFGE – International Foundation of Gender Education.
The third portrait was really moving because it was done anonymously. “Terry” never showed his face, and neither did his wife and his mother. He owns a construction company and lives completely stealth. He equated being trans to having cancer – it’s something that you live with, and getting treatment is a matter of life and death. His story focused on him getting metoidioplasty. It was made clear that he needed this procedure to be legally recognized as male – he was living in fear of being outed because his documents all had an “F” on them.
The program wrapped up by discussing the extremes of gender in the society we live in. Toys, etc. “In time, the movement may leave America forever changed.” A nice note to end on.
My partner and I uncovered a video I had gotten while in a support group about 10 years ago – a collection of trans-related TV programs from the late 90s / early 2000s. We’ve been spacing it out, watching some of it each weekend.
The first weekend, we watched The Discovery Channel’s “Changing Sexes.” It was appalling.
Last weekend, we watched an Oprah show from 2004 about transgender children. Surprisingly, it was so well done that it felt relevant and spot on, for children today, more than 10 years later. Oprah made some blunders in terminology and wording (“transgenders,” “When you grow up, what? You want to officially have an operation?” “Children who suffer from gender confusion”), but other than that, the tone was surprisingly respectful.
The show focused on 3 families:
Kaden, an 11 year old FTM trans-person, and his mom.
Dylan, a 5 year old child who strongly feels he is a girl, and his parents.
Hal, a 9 year old FTM trans-person, and his parents.
Kaden’s story focused on how horrific it was to start puberty, his social transition, and how hard it’s been for his mom, although she is supportive. His mom talked about him being able to take further steps, (hormones and surgery), when he’s 18. I found this video and article on Huffington Post – a Where Are They Now from 2013, where Kaden is 20. He ended up getting to start testosterone at age 14 and get top surgery at 16. He seems happy.
Dylan’s story focused on the tension between the parents and between Dylan and his dad. His mom is fine with his son’s preferences and who he might turn out to be. She will buy him dolls and engage in discussions about how he feels he is a girl. His dad does not approve, and there is already a big rift in his relationship with his son. The parents fight about it. The dad stated, “I discipline him.” Things seemed skewed in a way in which the dad was demonized. Dylan was not on the show, but he was shown backstage, happily coloring.
Next, a gender therapist talked about the best practices in how to handle a child going through this. To just be there for the child and love them no matter what. And it might be a phase; it might not – and that’s OK. She claimed that about 1/3 of children grow out of it, 1/3 grow up to be gay, and 1/3 grow up to be trans. I wonder if these statistics hold up?
Hal’s story focused on how open and accepting his parents were, after he verbalized suicidal ideation at 6 years old. His parents claimed that Hal can make his own choices about his path, when he is ready. They talked about difficult moments, and Hal was kind of put on the spot. At 9 years old, I think he was too young to be on the show, talking about his story. He was crying through it. That was hard to watch.
Lastly, a MTF trans-adult came on the air to talk about her life path and how much easier it could have been if she had been able to transition at a younger age. Instead, her doctors were suggesting a lobotomy, and her family was seriously considering it. Luckily they didn’t go through with it, and she grew up as male, had a family (is now divorced but it seems amicable) and is living more authentically now.
This show touched ever so briefly on heavy issues, but shied away each time. Hate crimes were brought up. Homelessness. Suicide rates. Racism. Class issues amongst the families could have been explored. Oprah tends to focus on the positives, which is definitely doing a disservice. But in terms of talking about what kids need, she directed the conversations in the right directions.
The show closed with Dylan’s dad proclaiming that he is now going to go buy his son some dolls when he leaves. When Oprah asked why, he said, “Life is more important.”
Stay tuned for part 3: A&E The Transgender Revolution from 1998.
My partner and I were recently sorting through / condensing our VHS collection. We came across one that was labeled “transgender videos,” and it sparked a memory. I was in a support group in 2005-2006, and one of the facilitators put together this tape and made copies for everyone. It has 4 parts. Parts 1 and 2 are from 2002 – a program on the Discovery Channel called Changing Sexes. My partner and I watched this over the weekend.
We knew it was going to be really bad, but we could not envision how utterly atrocious it turned out to be. This was only 13 years ago, and it’s amazing how far we’ve come; it’s like a public opinion time capsule…
First off, the term “transsexual” was used, and they got it wrong. They referred to FTM trans people as “transsexual women” and MTF trans people as “transsexual men.”
Part 1 was about MTF trans people, and they focused on the stories of 3 people. One was just coming out, one had been out for about a year, living her “real life test,” and one was getting ready to have surgery. A LOT of time was devoted to her (Angela’s) journey toward surgery; they even followed her to Montreal and were in the operating room with her and her wife. Angela was 59 and had just recently come out and starting taking hormones. This last step would “complete her.” (Her words.) They pointed out how lucky she was, in that she could pass and in that her wife stayed with her. She lived in Fresno, CA, and hosted a monthly support group in which people came from upward of 100 miles away to attend.
There were a lot of sensationalistic soundbites. A couple:
“What pushes men to risk everything they have to become women?”
“Believing you were born in the wrong body may be a delusion that won’t be corrected with surgery.”
“Watching a parent change from male to female is bound to leave a strong mark on a child’s psyche.”
A therapist was quoted as saying, basically, that people may be convinced they are a transsexual, but once they start the theraputic process, they may come up with alternatives to having to go through a sex change.
Kenneth Zucker, from the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, was on the program, basically saying that transsexual tendencies come from one’s upbringing, and that kids have developmental plasticity, even if there is a biological predisposition. I recently read this blog post, partially about Zucker – apparently he is still around, but his clinic is under review, and is not accepting new patients.
Part 2 started out with, “The story of four transsexual women, and their quest to live as men.”
Someone named Thomas Wise, MD, from Johns Hopkins, was quoted liberally in both sections. More than once, he made an analogy to people struggling with anorexia. Basically, would you allow them to continue to make changes to their bodies because they see themselves as too fat? No? Why should we allow people who see themselves as the other gender make changes to their bodies?
One of the stories was about someone named Dirk. He was getting testosterone through a urologist, and he was binding with a combination of ace bandages and sports bras (no mention of how dangerous this is.)
More sensational sound bites:
“What defines a man? Can women ever become one?”
“Are they real men? Imposters? Or something else?”
“She has started hormone injections, rendering him virtually unrecognizable.”
Again, the segment focused heavily on surgeries (both top and bottom), again with footage from the OR.
Twice, a study was brought up, from the Netherlands, in which scientists thought they may have pinpointed a part in the brain, the BSTC structure. In autopsied MTF people, the size was closer to that of a biological woman, and in FTM people, the opposite. Other scientists debunked the findings, saying that it was the cross-hormones that changed the brain structure. It was unclear what finding or not finding this evidence might imply for trans-people.
This program was worthwhile in showing human stories, and that’s what I remember taking away when I first watched it in 2006. Although it was invasive and sensationalistic, these were real people going through real adversity, and it felt important to me at the time. I told a friend who was also in the group that I had unearthed this video, and he said he has purposefully never watched it. I don’t blame him. I mean, it’s not something I would consider “supportive” of trans people. (That’s a huge understatement). So for it to be given out at a support group – I mean, that’s all that was available at the time – it’s what was out there.
It’s reassuring to see that public opinion is changing, but there are still plenty of people who hold on to archaic notions about “transsexuals.”
Stay tuned for part 2 – talking about an Oprah show about transgender children, and an A&E investigative reports: Transgender Revolution.