This is the speech I wrote for the COS banquet.
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Thank you Staci, the board of COS, and all its members for inviting me here tonight to speak. I want to thank all of you who keep COS going for your time and energy and patience; without people willing to update the website and answer the phone, weâ€™d all be sitting at home in our little black dresses, instead. That really wouldnâ€™t be very fun. Besides, you all look too lovely not to be seen. The internet may be great for support, and chat, and swapping pictures, but if thereâ€™s anything I’ve learned about all of those on the TG spectrum, the real goal is going out and being seen. Itâ€™s good to be able to put faces to names and email addresses. Itâ€™s nice to be able to look out and see people who have said, â€œIâ€™m going OUT.â€ Some of you are out for the first time; others of you have been out hundreds of times. For those of you who are out for the first time, or nearly the first time â€“ try to breathe. It really does get easier. And I mean that for you partners, too, who are looking around this room thinking, â€œhow on earth did I get myself into this?â€ I love that there are partners here. I really, really love it. Thank you. I get to feel very alone sometimes when Iâ€™m out with my husband.
I’ve been wondering how I ended up being married to a transgendered person long before I wrote a book and ended up speaking at an event like this, but believe me, I wonder it more and more all the time. Me? Talking about transgenderedness? Iâ€™m not even TG. Iâ€™m not even sure I understand what my husband and most of you go through.
Iâ€™m still trying to work that one out. I had a reviewer recently comment that I had no right to complain since I knew my husband was a crossdresser before I married him. Ah, so naÃ¯ve, I thought, and cynical: are there people who really think you pick who you fall in love with? Call me a romantic, but there was no one in the world I could have married but my husband. No, I didnâ€™t plan on marrying someone who crossdressed. I certainly didnâ€™t plan on marrying someone who is transgendered. I didnâ€™t really plan on getting married at all, really. But then again I didnâ€™t plan on writing a book and I certainly didnâ€™t ever plan on speaking in front of such a large group, ever. I mean, Iâ€™m a writer â€“ and writers tend to prefer the company of cats and computers. But life sometimes has a way of throwing you curveballs, and if thereâ€™s any group in the world who would understand that, itâ€™s you. Iâ€™m sure none of you planned to be transgendered, thinking as kids, â€œwell when I grow up, I want to be completely misunderstood by the majority of the world, detested by some, condescended to by others, and otherwise terrified nearly every single second lest someone find out my secret.â€ No, you didnâ€™t. So if you can sit there in the gender identity that makes you feel right, I suppose I can quit wondering what it is that compelled me to leave my desk and stand in front of you all.
I ended up writing My Husband Betty because a friend who worked in the publishing industry happened to call me right after the infamous Dr. Phil show, and after listening to me rant and rave for a full 20 minutes about how little people understand crossdressing, and how so much of the advice thatâ€™s bandied about is based on incomplete and very very outdated information, her publicistâ€™s brain came to a conclusion: hey, you have a lot to say â€“ you should write a book! Which others had told me before but had no way to help me do so; this friend, however, happened to be the chief publicist at Avalon books, and was very much in a position to help.
I found myself not long after writing a brief essay for Avalonâ€™s editor on the mistaken assumptions about crossdressers, how they so often take a backseat to their transsexual sisters in terms of the public understanding and the media, and how the only crossdresser anyone can ever name is J. Edgar Hoover, who weâ€™re not really sure was a crossdresser after all. (No one, it turns out, has ever actually seen the photos of him in womenâ€™s clothes.) As I wrote, I found myself getting more and more frustrated; like most of you, I had found online resources, and as the then-girlfriend of a CD, had learned the lingo and found the community I could talk to. Iâ€™d completely lost track of the fact that no-one outside the TG community knew anything about us at all. And then I read Amy Bloomâ€™s book, and her smarmy attack on both CDs and their partners, and thought, â€œWell what about the rest of us? Surely the Rudds and the Fairfaxes do not represent ALL crossdressers and their wives!â€
It was like being between pillar and post, with Dr. Phil on one side saying â€œleave your husband,â€ and Amy Bloom on the other writing, â€œwhat hypocrites.â€
But donâ€™t get me wrong. Iâ€™m at heart a very practical person, and I appreciated hearing or seeing any reflection of crossdressers and their partners no matter where or how, much like my husband, as a young boy, found the definition of the word â€œtransvestiteâ€ in a public library and thought â€œat least thereâ€™s a word for it.â€ I thought, well at least some people do seem to realize weâ€™re out there, that we EXIST, but why is it, I thought, that we get such an unfair shake?
It took me a long time to come up with that answer, and Iâ€™ll get around to telling you what I came up with. At the time, though, I had my hands and head full already with learning the alphabet soup (TG, TS, DQ, SO, CD, etc) of this so-called subculture I found myself in, and alternately wondering where on earth my husband had left my new lipstick. It took me an extra 20 minutes to clean our apt for visitors, because I had to make sure the transvestite refrigerator magnet, given to us by a lesbian friend, was put away. Had to hide Miss Veraâ€™s Crossdress for Success, make sure the breast forms were in a drawer, – and where to hide size 10 pumps? Wigs and wigheads, away. Clothes my friends would know werenâ€™t mine, away. I was starting to feel like I might as well be dealing drugs out of my apt with the kind of front operation we were living in. And by then we already had a dozen friends who knew, most of whom were gay or lesbian. We went out to dinner with one couple one night. One of them was job hunting. She told me the story of an interview sheâ€™d gone on, and couldnâ€™t find the exact address as she was about to leave. She called her contact at the company and left a message on the personâ€™s voicemail, and then called her own apt when she got near the place. Her girlfriend told her someone had called with the room #. Relieved, she made it to the interview on time.
All was going swimmingly until the interviewer quite casually mentioned speaking to my friendâ€™s â€œroommate.â€
She told me from that moment on she could hardly listen or answer questions as she was plagued with doubt. Should she tell the interviewer her â€œroommateâ€ was her girlfriend? Did she have to? Would it be important? If she got the job, would she clarify then, or only when sheâ€™d been invited to the first office party? Did she have to stop the whole interview to announce she was a lesbian, and if she did, would that mean she was being too strident? Or should she just let it slide so that if she didnâ€™t get the job she didnâ€™t have to wonder forever if the reason she didnâ€™t get the job was because she was a lesbian?
I donâ€™t remember what my friend decided to do. I donâ€™t even remember if she got the job or not. But I do remember how her story plagued me afterwards. It had honestly never occurred to me that a lesbian doesnâ€™t have to be out. She could pass as a straight woman quite easily. There wasnâ€™t any need for her to be a lesbian at work â€“ honestly, it didnâ€™t have anything whatsoever to do with her being capable of doing a certain job. It got me wondering. Why are gay and lesbian people out? I started asking other gay friends why they were. â€œItâ€™s nice,â€ one told me, â€œto go to my boyfriendâ€™s familyâ€™s wedding and be able to hold his hand.â€ Despite what Michael Bailey has to say, you canâ€™t tell if someoneâ€™s gay by his voice or his mannerisms. Some, perhaps. Sometimes if youâ€™re already in gay spaces where gay men and lesbians are free to be themselves. But the reality is, it wouldnâ€™t take too much work for your average gay man or woman to pass for straight. Believe me, they did it for centuries, and lots still do.
So what does that have to do with us? My husband and I were lucky enough to know gay men and lesbians. One lesbian friend gave my husband an out of print copy of Mariette Pathy Allenâ€™s book Transformations, which I read about a dozen times after he told me he liked to wear womenâ€™s clothes. Another sent me a copy of Leslie Steinbergâ€™s Stone Butch Blues. And being a reader, I read. I read anything I could get my hands on. I think I’ve started the Brooklyn chapter of the International TG Library, at this point. But the point is â€“ it was our gay and lesbian friends who tried to help. When I called them concerned about our safety, it was a butch lesbian who told me you never get a cab right outside of a lesbian bar; you walk a block first, and then get the cab. You never knew who is friend or foe, and it paid to be careful.
And I took anything and everything I learned and tried to share it with the people I was meeting online. And I kept trying to figure out why it is that a lesbian has a talk show while no one knows I exist. Why is it crossdressers are still completely invisible in an era when men can kiss on television? Why was it that Dr. Phil was so wrong? And why did Amy Bloom make all us partners look like long-suffering 1950s housewives?
One of the conclusions â€“ the more historical one – I came to is that a long time ago, some crossdressers were so worried about being assumed to be gay that they distanced themselves from the gay and lesbian community. And look where that got us! Gays and lesbians are out, respected, demanding equal rights in all ways. And where are crossdressers? In the closet, for the most part. Imagine â€“ we might already be out if we hadnâ€™t isolated ourselves so early on.
But the more important answer as to why a man in a dress is still funny is because weâ€™re not out. Tonight, we are â€“ and that is absolutely something to celebrate. But to shut down the ignorance of the Dr. Phils of the world, weâ€™re going to need to be out a lot more than one night a year.
But Iâ€™m not here to tell anyone to throw caution to the wind. Helen Boyd is a pseudonym, after all, which I started to use because my husbandâ€™s ex-girlfriend had started blackmailing us around the same time I went online to get more information about crossdressing. I had already learned to hide, because of her. Ironically perhaps, itâ€™s because of her that Iâ€™m here tonight â€“ a fact sheâ€™d probably find pretty frustrating!. An experience like that plants a seed that grows and grows inside you, like a vine. It grows till it fills your heart and your soul. We didnâ€™t even think we were hiding anything; as I said, we already had friends who knew. But did we really want Bettyâ€™s parents to find out about their son from the vicious words of a hurt ex? No. Did we really enjoy telling his sister because we needed her to check their momâ€™s mail for anything incriminating? No. Did I enjoy worrying about running into my boss, or a co-worker, or a friend, when we went out? No. There were ways around it. We could simply not go out. We could use tricks CDs taught us, like if we were walking together and saw someone we knew, I could say hello while my en femme husband would keep walking. We could find our way around it.
But that seed his ex had planted grew. And neither of us liked it. That seed was all about fear, and lying, and hiding. And fortunately or unfortunately, my parents were both children of alcoholics. And in AA, they have a metaphor for alcoholism â€“ itâ€™s the elephant in the living room that everyone pretends isnâ€™t there. Oh, you can walk around it, you can get under it, you can paint the room grey so you donâ€™t notice it as much â€“ but itâ€™s still there. For me, my husbandâ€™s crossdressing was starting to feel a lot like that elephant. We went to meetings with others who had elephants in their living rooms, and people gave us great ideas for how to continue ignoring it. But as I said, Iâ€™d been warned. Itâ€™s really just not healthy to pretend there is no elephant in your living room. It was the blackmail that we endured that made that point very, very clearly.
The first step, of course, is saying it out loud. Itâ€™s admitting it. People I’ve met doing the research for this book have found way to admit it in many ways. A lot of them admit it online. Others tell a close friend. For many, many crossdressers, they finally find the courage to tell their life partners. Others are discovered by a photo, a hidden pair of shoes, a tattered copy of Transgender Tapestry. Others find marriages ending in divorce, and have their crossdressing exposed to the courts and their community in vicious custody battles. One crossdresser in my book decided to come out when his wife said heâ€™d tell everyone they knew if he didnâ€™t fork over $100,000, so he told everyone they knew first. He saved himself humiliation and a hundred grand. No matter how horrible the reasons someone came out, I’ve yet to meet anyone who regrets being out.
We found that telling one more person â€“ another friend, actors at my husbandâ€™s theatre â€“ weakened the fear. No one we talked to â€“ including our gay and lesbian friends â€“ really understood what transgenderedness was about. But none of them stopped being our friends, either. When it came down to finding community and support, I still had to go online to find other partners to talk to about sex and sharing clothes and the um, interesting ideas my husband had about femininity. The real nuts and bolts stuff â€“ like how to shop for three on a budget built for two, or where to find a gender therapist â€“ required the kind of networking and support the Internet and groups like COS provides. It meant realizing that some people we knew would see us very differently than they had before. It meant I had to have a few long talks with girlfriends who were worried my husband was gay. It meant explaining to gay friends that my husband wasnâ€™t gay. It meant people assuming I was a lesbian sometimes, and having to explain I wasnâ€™t. It meant a LOT of talking, to each other, and to others. Every time we went out strangers asked us personal questions, and still do.
But let me stop a minute and clarify: my husband and I just donâ€™t care anymore if anyone thinks weâ€™re gay or lesbian. Unfortunately for gender variant people the world over, any variation from traditional gender roles â€“ or presentation â€“ immediately results in relegation to being gay or lesbian. But as many of you can attest, we know thatâ€™s just not the case. But does it matter? Iâ€™ll tell you when it matters: when your mother worries your marriage isnâ€™t happy or wonâ€™t last because she thinks your husband might be gay because he wears a dress â€“ which is when you can tell her he just loves women in a way most straight guys canâ€™t imagine. It matters when gay men or lesbians assume weâ€™re gay because weâ€™re both closeted and ashamed of ourselves. It matters to me when the wives of crossdressers assume I must be lesbian or bi because I can enjoy my husbandâ€™s femme self emotionally and sexually, and so dismiss anything I have to say about how I got my head around being with someone who is transgendered. (Iâ€™m not sure how they work out the little problem of how a lesbian ended up married to a man, but I digressâ€¦) And it matters when my husband asks to try on pumps and the clerk immediately assumes Iâ€™m his friend and not his wife, because I am proud of our relationship and want it recognized by others.
But despite all of the questions we are asked, and the curiosity people have about who we are and why we are and what we are, the reality is â€“ coming out to our friends and family meant that we didnâ€™t have to be scared anymore, and that we could start to speak up for others in the same situation who couldnâ€™t take the same risks. We are a writer and an actor living in New York City, after all, and we donâ€™t have children and donâ€™t work for giant corporations. Not everyone has the same luxury. We knew our only risk was to ourselves, and we took the risk because for us, not taking the risk meant being in the hands of someone who sought to hurt us.
Since the book, weâ€™ve told just about everyone else we know â€“ including my 70 something Catholic parents. And my father, who is a devout and private man, said simply, â€œdonâ€™t ever let anyone treat you like a 2nd class citizen.â€ When my parents met Betty en femme for the first time, my mother ended up wiping Bettyâ€™s lipstick off my fatherâ€™s cheek, and the both of them laughed about as hard as Iâ€™d ever seen. They laughed â€“ and then they asked me when Iâ€™m going to publish a book under my real name.
But more importantly is that since the book came out, I get emails â€“ wow, do I get emails â€“ from all sorts of people. Husbands who have realized they are TS and donâ€™t know how to tell their wives. Wives who donâ€™t know why their husbands are so angry. Girlfriends who want to know if TG is more about sex or identity. Young CDs who have decided to be honest with girlfriends and find themselves single again after telling. And the one thing I can tell you â€“ if youâ€™re not sure of this by now â€“ is that there are a LOT of us out there. TG people and loving partners. Parents, friends, and children. P-Flag (the organization of parents and families of GLBT people) estimates that if 1 in 10 people are GLBT, then 1 person in 4 knows or is related to someone who is GLBT. One in FOUR. Thatâ€™s the kind of thing itâ€™s useful to keep in mind. Next time youâ€™re in church, or stuck in traffic, or listening to President Bush talk about the Federal Marriage Amendment, remember â€“ one in four people out there is related to someone who is GLBT. One in FOUR.
Now imagine what would happen if all the stealth transsexual women and men, and all the closeted crossdressers stood up to be counted.
Imagine what would happen if all of us came out to a family member or close friend. Imagine if we all decided to do that this coming Tuesday. Imagine, by Wednesday, how many more people would then know someone who was GLBT. Imagine. And then imagine what would happen if we organized for protection against discrimination. If we fought for inclusion of transgendered education for all. Imagine what it would be like not to have to start a conversation with a friend or boss or co-worker with what â€œtransgenderedâ€ means the same way that no-one has to explain what â€œgayâ€ or â€œlesbianâ€ means.
Imagine boys and girls who could grow up without spending so many years in the closet. Imagine husbands who could marry women who knew long beforehand what having a crossdressing husband meant. Imagine what it would be like if your mom could have bought you a doll instead of a car for your 12th birthday.
Shoot, imagine how many more brands of shoes would come in size 11, if thatâ€™s what you need.
Right now, the gay and lesbian community barely knows who we are, or what we do, or what problems we face. They are â€“ maybe by default â€“ our closest allies, only because theyâ€™re the most recent group to fight the discrimination against them. We can learn from them. They need to know who we are, and we need to tell them. But if they donâ€™t know us â€“ if theyâ€™re only beginning to get an idea of how many of us there are â€“ imagine how invisible we are to the rest of the world. The media may be catching on to transsexual experiencess â€“ the recent shows on CBS and NBC and HBO have proved that â€“ but where are the rest of us? Where are the people who identify as TG, because theyâ€™re in the middle or unsure exactly as to where they fit? Where are the crossdressers? Weâ€™re not on TV, and Iâ€™m sure Eddie Izzard is really, really tired of being the only out there.
But like I said, Iâ€™m not here to tell people to throw caution to the wind. We all know there is danger out there â€“ danger of job loss, child custody, blackmail, and even to our own physical safety â€“ danger to our very lives. I donâ€™t want anyone to be unsafe, or to throw the work of a lifetime away. But I do think many of us can find a way to take it up a notch. How?
First, admit to the elephant in the living room. Use whichever words or labels you like. â€œIâ€™m a crossdresser,â€ or â€œMy husband is transgendered.â€ Admit it, first, to yourself. Get used to it. Find a therapist if you need to.
Then, tell someone else. An old friend, a hairdresser, a clerk in a store youâ€™ll never see again. I remember one Valentineâ€™s Day shopping for my husbandâ€™s present, and having the clerk look me over and tell me the size I was holding would be fine for me. â€œOh, but theyâ€™re not for me,â€ I said, â€œtheyâ€™re for my husband.â€ She was embarrassed for me, and a few other customers swiveled their heads. â€œHeâ€™s transgendered,â€ I added. Iâ€™m sure I was blushing from my shoulders to the top of my head, but Iâ€™d said it. And then I did the same thing with the florist. And at the card shop. I outed myself and my husband all over the West Village that Valentineâ€™s Day. And you know what? I’ve never seen any of those people again. And you know what? They didnâ€™t care. I didnâ€™t care. But it made it a lot easier down the road when I needed to tell my mother.
Then find a group like the CT outreach society, or a group online. The NTAC. GenderPac. Tri-Ess, even. P-Flag. The HRC. Use your femme name to join if you need to, and get a PO Box for the mail. But Join. Join one local and one national group. We need to be countable. And give those organizations money. Volunteer. Make sure you get the newsletters and emails that will keep you up to date on whatâ€™s going on with GLBT-friendly legislation.
Once you know whatâ€™s going on, you can get involved. Vote. Vote as a GLBT person, however you need to do it. Write to the President using your femme name if you need to. Tell your story. Tell it to anyone who will listen. Know who your elected officials are, and make sure they know there is a GLBT person â€“ you – who votes in their district. The more local the rep, the more likely that one of their staff will actually read the letter.
I hope, for the most part, Iâ€™m preaching to the converted here. My real message â€“ for all of us, myself included â€“ is that those of you who canâ€™t be out for the million reasons not to be, you can still be heard and seen and counted. For those of you who are out, spend a little more time on issues and outreach and education. Get outside of our community and its alphabet soup and insular battles and tell someone who doesnâ€™t know we exist who we are. And be patient. Donâ€™t scream when someone uses the wrong pronoun. Explain. Remember that they have not read the message boards and the books, and they donâ€™t know the fine distinctions to be made between a crossdresser and a transvestite. Half the time we donâ€™t even agree to definitions like that amongst ourselves.
In closing, let me say this. As a partner, I’ve seen firsthand how hard this is for my husband. He shook with fear the first time he let me see him en femme, and he shook with fear the first time we went to a club, and the first time we went to a restaurant, and two months ago he had to meet my parents en femme, and he was terrified then, too. Sometimes I think itâ€™s been easier for me because Iâ€™m not TG, and I havenâ€™t built up a lifetime of hiding and shame that I have to get past. That might be one of the best reasons itâ€™s vital for us partners to get involved, and another reason Iâ€™m so happy to see other partners here â€“ we are part of this community, the source of strength and love for so many of you. One of the things I learned publishing the book is that people might be willing to listen to me and ask me questions when they felt embarrassed to ask the TG person â€“ because they didnâ€™t want to offend, or pry, or upset them. But they know Iâ€™m an insider and an outsider, and I’ve learned how to live as one of you. The entire TG community needs to put more effort into making us feel welcome. Years ago my husband showed me TG forum, and I remember looking at it and quickly coming to the conclusion that it wasnâ€™t for me â€“ it was only for the trans people themselves. But if women and men are going to decide to be with trans people, we need to feel welcomed â€“ not everyone is going to be as stubborn as I am. And while youâ€™re at it, read a book about womenâ€™s lives â€“ it is National Womenâ€™s History Month in March, after all.
This life isnâ€™t easy on any of us, and although we have differences â€“ partnersâ€™ worries are different from the TG personâ€™s, transitioning people have different worries than CDs, and the T part of the GLBT has different issues that the rest of the GLB â€“ we can only work for common goals if we can see past our differences, and focus on the issues that concern all of us. Right now, the choice is quite simple: we need to work on visibility. And as I said at the start, you are all too lovely NOT to be seen.
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