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.
It’s strange to stick to this same title, “without noticeable masculinizing changes,” because lately, I have started to aim for masculinizing changes. But it still fits because nothing of note has changed yet. About 6 weeks ago, I doubled my dose. I’d like to see my face change shape, and I’d like my voice to drop. Ultimately, I’d like for strangers to gender me as “male,” as the default, instead of “female.” At least more than half of the time. As of now it’s maybe 10% of the time. We’ll see. So far all I’ve noticed is more acne… Oh, also some beginnings of a “happy trail,” which I’ve always hoped to have!
So I’ve jumped from 1 pump of 1.62% to 2 pumps. I might even go up to 3 pumps just to see. Alternately, I might stop all together, just to see. I have my whole life to be on testosterone or not be on testosterone, and now that I’m finally starting to feel more mentally stable again, I’m just kind of really curious.
Here are some other posts from this series, to fill in more information:
As of now, I feel more sure about other transitional steps than I ever have before. I just can’t seem to get there yet. I feel sure about legally changing my name and about top surgery. And I can imagine some first steps. I just can’t wrap my head around implementing them. A part of me feels like this attitude is a hold-over from feeling so unstable for so long. Not a good time to pursue permanent changes. Just wait for more forward momentum to kick in naturally. A part of me wonders if I should just push myself to get the ball rolling, and positive feelings about it will follow. Right now, I just feel scared. And I guess I’ll sit with that. I don’t think it will last forever. I reached a tipping point with testosterone. (That one, in my mind, felt comparatively easy, I guess!) There’s no reason I won’t reach that point with other changes. I don’t want to force it.
The newest change is that my mom told extended family about my new name (super grateful to her), and people (almost everyone) were using it at a recent family gathering. This felt really validating and also alarming(?) I guess would be the word? I have to say that I’m still alarmed by my new name. It still feels like, “is that me?” I definitely still feel like I have to change it, and if I were to go by a new name, that would be it. There is no better name. But I guess ultimately I feel like, why couldn’t the name I’m used to just have worked out. (I’m super slow to warm up to change – if it’s not obvious.) This tells me that it’s not quite time to pursue legally changing my name. There will be a time – it’s just not yet.
To conclude, here are some face shots:
This is a follow up to the largest (at the time) survey for trans-people, conducted in 2009. At the time, 6,400 people participated – this one is aiming for upwards of 700,000!
Take the survey here: U.S. Trans Survey
It is available through September 21, and it will be repeated (probably with changes) every 5 years. It will help policy makers enact change, so it’s super important! It covers a wide range of topics and possible types of discrimination, from housing to health care, coming out to relationships, sexual orientation, disability status, education level, income, etc. Interestingly, it didn’t cover mental health status. It asked a couple questions about suicidality and current levels of depression, but nothing about mental health history or diagnoses. That was the one thing I found to be lacking.
At the end of the survey, there is a chance to write in your own story! Whether you want to elaborate on a time you were discriminated against or you want to share a time you were treated with respect, you get free-form write. I’m not sure how long they let you write – I wrote pretty briefly about the time I was hospitalized and the staff treated me with respect.
The survey is pretty lengthy – it’ll take 30-60 minutes. But it doesn’t time out or anything – I came back to it about 2 times because I was doing some other things.
If you identify as trans in any way (genderqueer, bigender, agender, transman, transwoman, etc.) you should totally take this survey! (And there is a place to write in how you identify, if you don’t identify with any of the choices offered!)
My partner and I met up with friends in Pittsburgh last week. We did a bunch of fun stuff – Andy Warhol Museum (on his birthday!), ate at a church converted into a brewery, saw an outdoor concert at an art gallery…
But I was most impressed by a contemporary art museum called The Mattress Factory. It was housed in 3 buildings on the same block. There were some permanent art installations that took up whole rooms and kinda blew me away. One in particular was called, “It’s all about ME, Not You,” by Greer Lankton. I’d never heard of her before, so I did a little bit of research (both at the gift shop and later, online).
The room was a fantasy version of her actual bedroom in Chicago. It had an astroturf carpet and was filled with hand-made dolls and shrines. Shrines for Jesus, Patti Smith, Candy Darling… There were Raggedy Ann dolls and Troll dolls. It’s hard to see, but the bedspread and floor next to the bed is overflowing with prescription bottles (all hers).
Greer Lankton was born in 1958. She transitioned in 1979, which was so long ago that it’s still simply stated that she had “sexual reassignment surgery,” or “a sex change,” as if that’s all that transition entails, as if that’s an appropriate way to sum it up. I wonder what it would have been like to transition in that era. She went to Pratt Institute and lived in NYC for years before moving to Chicago. She made a name for herself in the art world by making realistic dolls of friends and celebrities.
Wikipedia says she transitioned while she was a student at Pratt, and it states, “She had previously been the subject of a local newspaper article about people transitioning to a new gender.” I tried to search for this newspaper article online with no luck. I am so curious about what it would have said!
She struggled with drug addiction and an eating disorder and passed away in 1996, shortly after finishing this installation at The Mattress Factory. It became a permanent room in 2009.
At the gift shop, we saw a poster that featured Greer Lankton and many other famous transgender people. My partner ended up buying one and so did our friends. The posters were made as a way to raise funds for MOTHA (Museum of Transgender Hirstory and Art.) This is a museum that is not physically in existence yet, but it will be once enough money is raised. It’ll be in San Francisco (of course!) Even though it’s not yet built, the MOTHA is already doing all kinds of stuff – just check out their website.
If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, make sure to check out The Mattress Factory, and especially this one particular room on the third floor of the main building! And if you’re ever in San Francisco at an unspecified date in the future, be sure to go to MOTHA!
I know I’m behind on the celebratory Pride post – this really is when my city celebrates Pride. Why it’s not in June, I’m not sure. Yesterday was the parade and festival, and today is a picnic. There were some other events throughout last week too, but I wasn’t really in the loop. Usually we just march in the parade, whether it’s with an actual group, or just kind of infiltrating, doing our own thing.
We dressed up in fun outfits, like every year. I gotta say though, that personally, it’s losing its excitement. It used to be such a thrill. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older, or because I’ve done it so many times, but it’s just sort of meh, now. Nothing lately has felt exciting – maybe that’s part of rebounding from all I went through lately. I hope the world takes on a shimmer, once in a while, again soon…
This year, my partner’s employer (a food co-op) was in the parade, so we marched with them. They had 2 banners, some people dressed up in produce costumes, and a couple of shopping carts holding buckets of soapy solution to make giant bubbles with. And also a dog, riding in a cart. I handed out coupons for $5 off $25 purchase – we got rid of 600 coupons!
After the parade, we went and ate burritos and then came home to relax. We watched a documentary on Tig Notaro.
Then we went out to a bar for an event called BRAWL (Broads Regional Arm Wrestling League). They sporadically hold events at different bars, and it’s always a fund raiser for some organization. This time it was the gay alliance. Lady arm wrestlers take on a whole persona and have an entourage go out into the crowd and drum up bets for who will win. There are two winners – the strongest arm, and the one who raises the most $$. They had names like Malice in Wonderland and Beth Amphetamine. It was pretty entertaining. There was an announcer, referee, and DJ to enhance the hype.
I guess it was cool to see some people while we were marching and to go out to an event. I haven’t been doing much of that lately. I asked my partner about it, and she said I haven’t seemed very engaged lately. I agree with that. When will that return? She says I should just keep putting myself out there and going through the motions. I agree with that too.