Category: five questions with…

Five Questions With: Danielle Askini, Gender Justice League

Posted by – December 30, 2013

I met activist and Gender Justice League founder Danielle Askini a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. She was then, and remains to this day, one of my favorite trans activists and educators.

1. Tell me something about how you started Gender Justice League, and why, what you do as an organization.

The idea behind Gender Justice League was really to build on what I had come to learn from other organizations I had participated in the past such as GSA Network (where I was National Program Director) and Outright, Maine – Where I was a youth activist. Really the idea is to bring the community together through community building, social and community education events, and then to recruit and train Trans and gender non-conforming folks as leaders to engage in community wide education and training and then advocacy work both on a one-to-one level and a policy level – such as removing Trans health insurance exclusions.  The idea is really to start by building a community that is connected, informed, and educated and then develop our skills to organize, educate, and influence cultural change. As an organization what we have done has greatly varied, we have done things like hold Trans Pride Seattle – which brought together about 2,200 people in June – by far the largest single event by and for Trans folks in Seattle, we got King County Public Health and all HIV Prevention Providers to agree to both serve Trans women but also include images, messaging, and information about Trans women in HIV prevention materials, we also held a community gathering to discuss Fighting Trans Misogyny that was incredibly well attended. This is all outside of our internal training on grant writing, meeting facilitation, web/social media networking and advocacy training.  I’m so excited for all we have yet to do in the next year or two as we launch our speaker’s bureau and education plan, partner with University of Washington for a Transgender Medicine class for medical students, social workers, and nurses, and many many more things!

2.. We were talking recently about the intersection of community and politics, specifically when it comes to trans people. Do you think one has to come before the other?

I think this is a really interesting question!  As someone who transitioned in Maine — Portland specifically, a “city” of only 65,000 people — there was not a huge Trans community that was active when I fist came out. Over time, more and more trans folks and gender queer folks came out — but most identified as trans men/trans masculine which left me feeling a bit isolated.  My activism in Portland was really focused on “LGBT” activism and youth in foster care activism (I spent my Junior year homeless, and my senior year in foster care) — but it was extremely isolating to be the ONLY trans woman around in many instances. There was a sense of ‘community’ to some degree — but often I didn’t really feel “seen”. Portland is a tricky example, as everyone watched me transition quite publicly (it’s a small town) and to many, I would forever be that “Gay boi / drag queen!” that they had seen in high profile shows; this often invisible my identity as a woman. That is not to say that I wasn’t deeply effective or influential, I think even though I was young, in college, and often busy — I was of a vanguard that pushed the largely L & G leaders to include Gender Identity and Expression in Maine’s 2005 non-discrimination law. I think community is vital — but I found my community online at that time! Now, I walk out my door and have dozens of friends which is amazing. I certainly think having a solid online community through livejournal was vital to my early activism — a place to vent, get resources/connect, and feel ‘seen’. For folks who are not in major cities — the internet has really revolutionized that process. So that is to say — find a community online, do online activism, find strength where you can no matter what — but doing activism everywhere is vital!  I think that was the key for me, finding community online, doing activism even when I felt isolated and alone as a very young trans woman.

3. I think of you as a radical activist, and I mean that as a compliment. Tell me something about how you think of trans rights in the light of other social justice issues. More

Five Questions With: The GENDER Book’s Creative Team

Posted by – December 23, 2013

Three years ago, Mel, Robin, and Jay noticed a ton of discrimination and just a general lack of education around gender. They asked themselves “why isn’t there just a book you can hand your therapist and say here, read page 29 and you will understand, see you next week.”  They thought there should be a resource you can read in one sitting. It should be illustrated and as fun as a kid’s book while going into some real depth and true stories. The book should help people come out and educate their friends and family. Surely a book like that exists, right? Except it didn’t, so they made one: it’s called The GENDER Book, and it has a Kickstarter.

1) You explain a little about why the book came into existence – as that thing you could hand to a therapist & say, “see page 42”. Do you feel like it turned out to be that book?

Mel- Absolutely! It’s more a tool you carry around in your back pocket than a read-it-once-and-forget-it kind of book. We’ve found so many creative ways to use it for education, but my favorite is just like you mentioned- using it as a shortcut to a mutual understanding. Once we agree on the basic terms, we can talk about all the fun, juicy, personal stuff. That’s the real beauty and value in a book like this to me. It takes the burden off the trans* community to do the 101 educating work over and over again. Instead, they can use this as a fun, easy to understand primer to elevate the discussion and get past those initial hiccups to understanding so that real connection can happen.

Robin- Yes that and MORE! Plenty of people who know a lot about gender have read the book and learned something they didn’t know. Since we have leaders using the book’s images for their presentations on gender or allyship, they have come back to us and said that many people commented on they hadn’t seen the common thread through the spectrum of gender.. they are used to their boxes.. but really gender can be fluid not just in presentation but how community works together and that is a living educational experience many people haven’t had but we have here in Houston

Jay – the GENDER book has proven to be a definite starting point for those kinds of clinical conversations, which is what our intention always was: to generate an accessible primer that could leave folks with the basics to do their own personal work of data gathering to then connect through conversations that once may have been difficult to have.

2) Can you give me a partial list of identities that you cover? Were there any you hadn’t heard of before you started working on it? More

Five Questions With… ?

Posted by – December 10, 2013

I just sent out two sets of interview questions – one to an activist I like, the other to a few people who’ve made a book – and it occurred to me that I don’t do these very often anymore, but I still like to.

So who else should I interview? Thoughts?

Five Questions With… Joy Ladin

Posted by – June 18, 2013

I had the chance recently to ask Joy Ladin, the author of Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, a few questions. What followed was a conversation about transition, marriage, separation, spirituality and religion.

1)      I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more about theology, and specifically Judaism, in your story. Is there a reason you shied away from addressing the issue of transness & religion head on?

I don’t feel I shied away from talking about transness and religion; I talk quite directly about how Judaism, particularly the Torah, and Jewish communal norms, affected my sense of my gender identity when I was growing up, and the course of my transition after. But my intention in the book was to talk about trans identity and its consequences in very personal terms, rather than to reflect about general issues. As I say in the book, I grew up in a family that barely practiced Judaism; being Jewish was an ethnicity, not a religion, for us. I was religious, but I more or less invented the Judaism I practiced, based on my reading of the Torah and scattershot study of Judaism. I wasn’t interested in theology; I was interested in God, with whom I have had an intense relationship from early childhood to the present. Since the book was finished, I written a number of pieces that are part of the fledgling but growing discourse of trans Jewish theology, but I hadn’t done any of that when I wrote the book. What issues did you want me to address that weren’t in the book? I’d be happy to address them now.

** Fair enough. I guess because your employment was at an Orthodox school, and so many people seem desperate to disprove some of the Torah’s verdicts on gender and sexuality, I expected a specific take. I’d be curious to know what the themes are of the pieces you’re writing now about trans Jewish theology.

Traditional Judaism doesn’t directly address transgender identity. There is the prohibition against cross-dressing in Deuteronomy, which I discuss in my memoir, rabbinic prohibitions against doing anything that would impair male fertility that are taken by many Orthodox rabbis as prohibiting male-to-female transition, and a brief discussion in the Talmud about how to integrate intersex Jews into Jewish law and community. Strikingly, the rabbis WANT to include intersex Jews, and reinterpret the law to make that possible. Yeshiva University made Orthodox Jewish history when it allowed me to return to teaching after transition, but that was clearly in response to secular law rather than a desire to be a trend-setter in terms of Orthodox Judaism. However, there are many trans Jews living in the Orthodox Jews. Most are in hiding, but many are “out” to their rabbis, who are privately empathetic. I have recently heard of one Orthodox community whose rabbi has explicitly welcomed a trans member, and the Orthodox world is in the midst of an intense discussion of how to respond to LGBTQ Jews in their midst who can no longer be quietly ignored or exiled. There are now several organizations, including Eshel and Keshet, of which I am a board member, working toward full inclusion of LGBTQ Jews in the Jewish world.  I think it’s a time of difficult but positive change. My work on trans Jewish theology is still preliminary, but you can hear some of my thinking in this podcast of my talk to rabbinical students and their teachers at the Jewish Theological Society, and read some in this essay, written for the first Jewish Trans Gathering last fall in Berkeley, CA. I discuss the intersection of trans and Jewish identity more generally in this podcast of my conversation with Lilith editor Susan Weidman Schneider at last fall’s  DC JCC Jewish Book Festival.

Also, there is this conversation with Rev. Shay Kearns which took place at the Encountering Sacred Texts panel at the 2012 Philadelphia Trans Health Conference – in conversation with Rev. Shay Kearns: Part 1 and Part 2.

2)      Betty has commented that she thinks she wound up an actor in order to find some kind of man she might be able to be (but didn’t). I’m wondering if the conservative gender roles assigned by religion now seem like a bulwark against your own sense of gender incongruence.

As I discuss in the book, I found in teaching literature as a profession – a vocation – in which I could feel close to people in a way that seemed to me to temporarily transcend gender. As I said in the book, I’m not and have never been an Orthodox Jew, or a practitioner of any conservative or traditional form of Judaism. I commute to the Orthodox world, because I teach at an Orthodox Jewish university, but I don’t live the way my students live, and my gender identity and expression have nothing to do with theirs, or with Orthodox Judaism’s gender roles. I’ve never looked to Judaism for guidance about my gender identity or expression either when living as a man or now that I’m living as myself. More

Five Questions With… The Collection (Pt. 2)

Posted by – June 1, 2013

Here’s the second half of that interview with a few authors of the anthology The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, published in 2012 by Topside Press. The Collection is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Transgender Fiction and was selected by the American Library Association on their 2012 list of top LGBT books for adult readers.

(Here’s the first half, if you missed it.)

Why is transgender literature important to you?

Casey Plett:  Because I love books and I’m trans! Duh!

Red Durkin:  It’s actually really simple: every culture has stories. That’s one thing that fundamentally distinguishes us as a species, I think. Literature possesses an incredible power to influence the way a group of people sees itself and is seen by others. I think trans people are at a point where they need this validation. We’ve been maligned and mischaracterized for too long. We deserve a change.

Imogen Binnie: Because it sucks never to see people like yourself represented anywhere! I’ve been reading all the time for almost thirty years and a lot of books have resonated with me for a lot of reasons- for example I have been disappointed with the world and found it reassuring to see that reflected in novels. I have been dazed and had trouble feeling feelings, and it has been reassuring to see that reflected in novels. But very few novels- if any at all- have resonated with me in a way that reflected myself as a trans person with a three dimensional life. In other words, whatever pleasure, joy, frustration or reassurance I have felt in a text has been mediated through the fact that I have rarely if ever been able to directly identify with a text: these texts are for cis people, not for trans people, and so I usually the best I can hope for is to identify as best I can with a cis character. Like, has anyone addressed, in fiction, the subtle ways that being trans can complicate the experience of falling in love with a cis person? Where are the class- and gender-conscious bildungsroman about trans women? Where are the stories in which the trans woman characters are different at the end from who they were at the beginning- not counting those where they’re different at the end because they’re dead?

How do you see your work fitting (or not fitting) in with trans literature?

Casey Plett: I really don’t know. I hope it does fit in in some way and I hope that trans people read my stuff. Beyond that, I dunno.

Red Durkin: It’s hard to say, really. I mean, there’s no doubt in my mind that the work I create is trans literature, but I don’t know where that puts me among other writers. I’m not writing for teens, if that makes a difference.

Imogen Binnie: Ideas about being trans among trans people have been evolving really fast for the last, like, ten or maybe twenty years; eighteen-year-olds who grew up on social justice tumblr are a literal generation after of the groundbreaking work of Susan Stryker, Kate Bornstein, and others who put together the original framework for the way we conceptualize ourselves as trans now. It’s amazing and I feel like that body of work- the stuff people are saying about gender and queerness and intersectionality and identity and oppression on tumblr, which seems to have migrated from livejournal, and which also shows up on WordPress and blogspot and places like that- is more relevant to the lives of most of the trans people than, like, John Irving’s last book that probably had a trans woman in it. And while my characters themselves have not tended to be particularly invested in that culture of progressive trans politics, I think my work as a whole, like thematic stuff or whatever, the questions I’m interested in, are very much a part of and in conversation with that body of thought.

What challenges do you see trans writers facing in the writing world? What challenges do you face? Any suggestions to address those issues? More

Five Questions With… The Collection (Pt. 1)

Posted by – May 31, 2013

It sounds a little ominous, but it’s not. The Collection is an anthology of fiction by trans writers edited by Tom Leger and Riley MacLeod. The below interview questions were borrowed from T.T Jax’s article on the Lambda Literary Review. Interviewed below are Casey Plett, Red Durkin, and Imogen Binnie, three trans women authors who contributed to The Collection: Short Fiction from the Transgender Vanguard, published in 2012 by Topside Press. The Collection is currently a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Transgender Fiction and was selected by the American Library Association on their 2012 list of top LGBT books for adult readers.

Do you consider transgender literature to be based on content (trans characters, trans experiences), theme  (transformation/displacement), form (experimental, hybrid), and/or transgender authorship? None, some, or all of the above? Please explain.

Casey Plett: When I think of trans lit, right now, for me personally, I think of trans content by trans authors. And the odd book by a cis person that involves trans people but isn’t stupid and terrible.

Red Durkin:  For me, trans literature is defined by its content. Specifically, trans lit prominently features trans characters, preferably as the protagonist. Everything else follows from that. I’d reject any classification that limits trans literature to a particular genre or theme.

A lot of people think authorship is important. Until recently, I would have agreed. However, I don’t believe that only trans people can create “authentic” trans narratives. Actually, I think that’s incredibly othering. It sets trans people apart as quintessentially unrelatable to cis authors. Admittedly, cis writers have tended to fail to write realistic, fully-developed trans characters, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. What’s more, I’ve seen plenty of flat, lifeless trans characters come from trans authors. Stereotypes and clichés don’t hinge on the identity of the writer.

Imogen Binnie: The term “transgender literature” doesn’t come up in my life that much, maybe in part because there’s so little “literature” that reads to me like it was produced for trans people?  Though I guess I’m answering my question- I consider trans literature to be literature that reads like it was produced for trans people. I mean, even Kate Bornstein’s first couple books were explicitly inclusive of cis people, they weren’t necessarily for trans people.

I think Whipping Girl was an important turning point in transgender literature. While it was written in a way that included cis people, it also popularized some really useful frameworks of understanding trans experience for trans people.

I keep coming back to this quote from Jean Baker Miler’s Toward a New Psychology of Women (it’s here: http://www.keepyourbridgesburning.com/2012/02/toward-a-new-psychology-of-women/) that describes the moment when the writing of an oppressed class stops using the terms created by the oppressor class and starts coming up with its own terms to describe its own experience among its members. I feel like Whipping Girl was a salient instance of that change starting to take place for trans people. I haven’t seen that change happening in fiction very much, but it’s something I tried to do in my novel Nevada. It’s the premise of Red Durkin’s upcoming novel Ready, Amy, Fire. I mean, it’s been going on in zines for forever, as well as on blogs, email lists and message boards, literally for decades at this point–though those things, of course, tend not to be framed as literature.

So I don’t think it has to be by trans people, or about trans people, I don’t think it’s about form, theme, or content. And my answer ultimately isn’t that useful because how do you quantify the audience for whom a book is intended? Is it a “you know it when you see it” kind of thing? I guess so. One thing that I think this understanding of “transgender literature” does do, though, is explain why so many works of fiction by and about trans people end up being so disappointing for trans people: it’s because despite having trans characters or trans authors, these works simply are not for us.

What are some of your favorite works of transgender literature? More

Five Questions With… Zach Wahls

Posted by – March 27, 2013

I was lucky enough to meet Zach Wahls at a recent fundraiser and awards gala for Fair Wisconsin. He gave such an amazing talk and was such a cool guy that I couldn’t help but ask him a few things.

Zach Wahls: My Two Moms(And how can you not love the adorable cover of his book? It’s good, too. )

1)      You are sometimes referred to as an “ally” of the larger LGBTQ communities but I don’t think you see yourself that way. Can you talk a little about what it means for you to be called an ally as opposed to being a community member?

I’m most often referred to as a “straight ally” by both the public and members of the LGBTQ community. And that’s usually fine, I don’t correct people or feel that it’s necessary for me to do so. But personally, I don’t feel as though I’m truly an “ally” because, in my mind, I’m a member of the LGBTQ community even though I’m not, personally, LGBTQ-identified. I know that the last thing any of us want to do is add another letter to the acronym, but the reality is that I do feel as though I’m a member of the community. Like LGBTQ people, I was born into this community. Like LGBTQ people, I have felt the shame and humiliation of being in the closet. Like LGBTQ people, I am regularly stigmatized by those who oppose LGBTQ rights as inferior, defective and sinful. The parallels are not perfect, of course, but as a community, we need to figure out a way to create spaces and community for those of us who have grown up with queer parents. So, to be clear, it’s not that I’m LGBTQ-identified, but that I feel the LGBTQ community includes its children, and that, to the extent that that’s true, kids like me are a part of the community. More

Five Questions With… Christine Benvenuto

Posted by – January 29, 2013

Thank you so much for this opportunity to discuss my new book, Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On.

(1) Your ex husband has, as well, written a memoir about her experiences. Did you write yours in response to that? Or were you both writing simultaneously?

By the time I heard that my ex had written a book, mine had been completed and was scheduled to be published a few months later.

(2) I know quite a lot of time passes between the experiences, the writing, the editing, and the publication of the book. Have there been any major developments during that time?

The most significant recent development is the book’s publication. It took a long time for me to decide to tell my story. Now my story is out in the world where others read and interact with it, and with me. It is an amazing experience to hear from readers. I feel profoundly honored to receive letters from other women who have gone through similar experiences and felt isolated, alone and disregarded. At the opposite end of the spectrum but equally moving are the letters from readers who haven’t gone through anything like this, but have lived through other kinds of loss, bereavement, the need to start over – and feel that the book speaks to their experiences in a personal and meaningful way.

Having these wonderful opportunities to talk about the book with readers, one of the things I am offered a chance to discuss is my reasons for writing the book. One of those reasons is what I’ve just alluded to: the desire to reach out to people in despair over major life changes not of their own choosing. I wanted to offer hope to people who may wonder if they’ll survive having their lives turned upside down, and who doubt that they’ll do much more – that they’ll ever be happy again. People need to hear that it’s possible to find the strength to create themselves and their lives anew.
Another important reason I wrote the book is that I believe my experiences illustrate the importance of supporting young people who express a need to explore their gender identities. Exploration, not suppression, is essential for a young person who feels uneasy growing into adulthood in a gender identity that doesn’t feel right. Parents need to support their children in this exploration, but they must not be asked to go it alone: we as a culture need to support parents in supporting their children. I feel so strongly about this. The more parents and families are supported, not marginalized or isolated, the more they will be able to be there for their children.

(3) Are you and your ex on speaking terms? Have you met her, yet?

As I describe in the book, I’ve seen my ex regularly without interruption because we interact over child visitation. My children live with me, but one of them currently sees my ex on a regular basis, requiring me to make those arrangements.

(4) Partners and spouses often take a lot of heat for speaking the truth of their own experience, and in most online trans community, are generally shouted down for not “getting with the program” and being on board with the gender transition. Did you find any support with trans people that was supportive of you telling your truth?

I am in awe of those who have raised supportive voices within the trans community, brave souls who understand that my book tells the story of one family’s experience with one individual in transition and is not intended to be representative of anyone else’s experience, or of any group of people.

To give just one example, I felt privileged to hear from someone who describes himself as “a man with transsexual feelings” who read my story as a cautionary tale of what he would never wish to do to his own wife and children. He and his family have worked out their own compromise, but hearing that my story is helping him to appreciate his wife and children’s pain, and to strengthen his resolve to spare them further grief wherever he can, is very meaningful to me.

Not only have some in the community supported my telling my own truth, they have recognized their own truth in my story as well.

(5) How is the new romance?

Five years along, the new romance still feels new.

A Few Questions With… Cameron Whitley

Posted by – January 17, 2013

Eleanor Hubbard is the co-editor of the anthology Trans Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People< . I got the chance to ask her a few questions about the book.

1) What encouraged you to create this book?

The idea for this book developed years ago when I was contemplating coming-out to my mother as a transgender man. Before revealing my transgender status to my mother I wanted to secure resources so she could understand how I felt inside, how I didn’t identify or feel comfortable with the body I was given. Most importantly, I wanted her to know that my transgender status was not her fault. These feelings I had about being different, identifying as a boy, but not physically being one had nothing to do with how I was raised or what my mother expected from me. In fact, my mother had always been supportive of me, encouraging my many interests both masculine and feminine. At the time that I came-out, it seemed that there were lots of questions about the cause of people being gay in the media. These questions extended beyond sexuality and into gender identity. I remember watching talk shows that questioned parental socialization, suggesting that the parents contributed to the (unnatural) transgender status of their children. When I came-out there were few resources for my mother. During this time I also saw that few resources existed for my family members and friends. I started hearing beautiful and touching stories of relationships. From these stories the book developed. It was a long and beautiful process. Eleanor and I have been so fortunate to have so many people share their stories with us. Today, we are happy to report that our book is one of a small and growing collection of stories that speak to the journeys of significant others, family members, friends and allies of transgender folk.

2) What, in editing it, is the biggest surprise? What was the most expected?

There were many surprises. I was amazed at how many stories of love and support we heard. As one mother told me, “the first response is seldom the last.” As we talked she noted that when her son came-out as a transgender woman she was so distraught that she initially cut off contact with her child. She feared for her child’s safety and wondered if he (she) would experience harassment or ever find a job. She also worried about how her friends and family members would react. She quickly realized that her child was still the wonderful person she had raised. In this realization she has chosen to support her daughter as she physically transitions into the woman she has always wanted to be. While this journey has not been easy, her “first response” could not be more different than her current sentiment about her daughter. This story taught me that I should not write-off people who at first may have a negative response to my transgender status. Often because of the hurt, it becomes easier to disconnect from people who demonstrate unsupportive positions when we come-out, a response that can be very much justified. For me, I want to learn to separate my identity as a transgender man from the reactions of others. I want to remember that their reactions have nothing to do with who I am, or how I live my life, and that these moments are opportunities to show love and compassion for another who is entering their own journey of discovery.

Another surprise was how many stories we could not publish because contributors were afraid of having their identities revealed, even if the story was published with a pseudonym. Some were concerned about their safety, while others feared being ostracized in their communities. Mostly, of these concerns were centered on religion. I am always saddened by how religion, specifically Christianity is used to hurt people in the LGBT community. As a Christian, I cannot fathom how such hate can be justified using biblical text.


3) In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about the friends, family, and spouses of trans people?

In my opinion I would say that the biggest misconception about significant others, family members, friends and allies of transgender persons is that they don’t transition or that they don’t experience their own journeys when a loved one comes out as transgender. While my journey as a transgender man has had its difficulties, my mother’s journey has been challenging as well. She has had to come to terms with my transgender status with little community support. When she struggled at first with my transgender status the transgender community was eager to label her as “unsupportive,” while her friends were sure that she had done something wrong in raising me. She was caught between worlds with few acceptable options. She found herself a poster mother for transgender acceptance when she was still trying come to terms with her own journey and my transgender status. Ten years later, she is often confronted with the question, “how is your daughter?” At this moment she must consider how to answer. Does she out me as a transgender man and have a transgender 101 conversation in the local grocery store? Or, does she select to not out me and then feel bad about using female pronouns? For her, it all depends on the day and who is asking. I support my mother in this decision. This is a journey that we negotiate together. I recognize that her journey has challenges just as mine does. I could share similar stories about my wife, friends and extended family members as well.

A Few Questions With… Eleanor Hubbard

Posted by – January 10, 2013

Eleanor Hubbard is the co-editor of the anthology Trans Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People< . I got the chance to ask her a few questions about the book.

1) What encouraged you to create this book?

Cameron (the other co-editor) is a former student of mine, and he studied the transgender literature in a guided study project under my direction. Although I knew a little about transgender issues through teaching Sex, Gender and Society for many years at the University of Colorado and I was already an ally of the GLBT community, this project helped me learn a great deal more. Then Cameron was my student in Qualitative Methods and Critical Thinking and wrote an honors thesis under my direction. After his graduation, we talked how we could continue to work together and actually started on a paper that would reflect what we were calling the gender spectrum at that time.

One time when we were together, I wish I could remember the exact date, Cameron said to me: “I found many books to read during my transition that were very helpful, but when my mom asked me for something to read that would help her, I couldn’t find anything.” I responded, “This is the book we were meant to write.”

As we started to collect stories, we were encouraged even more that this book needed to be available for SOFFAs! The stories were funny, poignant, inspirational, and most of all, heart-felt. Cam and I became the conduit through which more people could hear these stories.

2) What, in editing it, is the biggest surprise? What was the most expected?

The biggest surprise for me in reading and re-reading our book was how many differences and similarities, there were in the lives of SOFFAs and their Transgender loved ones. For instance, the experience of SOFFAs going through transition with their transgender spouse, family member or friend had some similarities with their trans loved one. SOFFAs often feel that they are put in the closet as their loved ones were coming out of the closet during their transition. Who to tell and when to tell about their trans son is a big concern for the parent just as it is was for their son. What pronouns to use? How to introduce their male spouse to people who knew her as a woman? How to explain what their friend was going through to family members? These are all questions that trans people deal with as well, but with a different slant.

Another surprise for me was how well many family members, spouses, and friends went through the transition and came out on the other side. I have had many transgender people tell me that their family and friends disowned them when they transitioned, but I was particularly moved by the story of the step-father who disagreed with his son’s transition, but still loved him and spent time with him when his wife, and the son’s mother, could not. But this is only one example of many in the book where SOFFAs find their own way through their transition while still loving and supporting their transgender loved ones.

Another surprise was how many SOFFAs were also priests, pastors, rabbis, and committed church and synagogue members. Allies within the church were particularly important for many transgender people who have been disenfranchised by their church community.

I brought many expectations to the book about SOFFAs, but every single one burst. I learned that my expectations were what got in the way of really hearing the stories of trans people and their SOFFAs.

3) In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about the friends, family, and spouses of trans people?

The biggest misconception about SOFFAs is that they are different than us. Some SOFFAs can’t cope with their loved one’s transitioning, but many not only deal with it, but survive and thrive, just like the rest of us. SOFFAs have hopes and dreams for themselves and their trans loved ones, but they, just like the rest of us, learn to move through their expectations and love the person in front of them, not the person they wanted them to be. Some people cope with life-threatening illnesses in their friends, family and spouses. Many people worry about substance abuse or infertility or disability and continue to try to change the person rather than accept them for who they are. But because there are resources available to them and their own inner resilence, many people find their way through difficult times, just like SOFFAs do. We have much more in common than we have differences.

A Few Questions With… Miriam Hall

Posted by – January 3, 2013

Miriam Hall is a partner of a trans person and a contributor to the book Trans Kin: A Guide for Family and Friends of Transgender People. She and I did a reading together for the Wisconsin Book Festival a few months ago at A Room of One’s Own Bookstore in Madison.

1) What encouraged you to create this book?
I always write about what is happening to me – it’s my way of understanding. When I met Dylan I was already writing about my own sexuality, and so writing about our combined sexuality and her gender fit right into what I was writing. When I saw a posting (I don’t remember where!) asking for writings for this anthology, I was excited to know I could put a bit of what I was doing somewhere. I am working on a longer memoir of which this is a part.

2) What, in reading it, is the biggest surprise? What was the most expected?
I was surprised at the large number of people who formerly dated trans people and their incredibly strong advocacy. There’s an unfortunate stereotype, not to mention fear, that people who leave trans folks do it only because they are trans. That they are all bitter or anti-trans. Being really close to someone – like living and sleeping with them – who is transitioning is quite a bit closer than being friends. It’s really intense and not easy – like a “regular” relationship, only pitched up that much higher. I really appreciate allies – really, really appreciate them. But nothing beats the person I am talking to/reading having (or having had) their own heart on the line (ie another partner or former partner).

3) In your opinion, what is the biggest misconception about the friends, family, and spouses of trans people?

I think the most common misconception is that you cannot be an ally, much less a partner or even a trans person, without messing up: using the wrong pronoun, etc. People figure if they don’t “have it down yet” they aren’t “doing a good job.” I find this tragic. Like so many things in life, you simply have to jump in with a good heart and try your best, be apologetic when you screw up and let it go and move on.

You can find Miriam Hall’s writing, photography, & practice online: her website.

Girls Scouts Trans Friendly

Posted by – October 26, 2011

The Girl Scouts have recently issued a statement about inclusion of young (trans) girls:

“Girl Scouts is an inclusive organization and we accept all girls in Kindergarten through 12th grade as members. If a child identifies as a girl and the child’s family presents her as a girl, Girl Scouts of Colorado welcomes her as a Girl Scout. Our requests for support of transgender kids have grown, and Girl Scouts of Colorado is working to best support these children, their families and the volunteers who serve them. In this case, an associate delivering our program was not aware of our approach. She contacted her supervisor, who immediately began working with the family to get the child involved and supported in Girl Scouts. We are accelerating our support systems and training so that we’re better able to serve all girls, families and volunteers.”

This in response to a report that one child was denied membership because one child was denied membership because “he has boy parts.”  Even the article reporting it headlined the piece Boy wanting to join Girl Scouts told ‘no‘ even if it was otherwise sympathetic.

I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised, which is not something that happens often to a trans advocate.

Five Questions With…. Nick Krieger

Posted by – August 22, 2011

Nick Krieger recently published the FTM spectrum narrative Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender and I was very impressed with the book. I’ll admit that his bio, on the back of the book, was what reeled me in: “A native of New York, Nick Krieger realized at the age of twenty-one that he’d been born on the wrong coast, a malady he corrected by transitioning to San Francisco.” With a sense of humor like that, how could I not read it? Beacon Press published it.

1. You couldn’t have chosen a more fitting place for displaying and sometimes explaining other people’s gender choices and you show a lot of respect for them. Was this intentional?

One of the many amazing things about living in San Francisco is the diversity. Difference is accepted and celebrated, which allows more space for self-expression. After spending ten years in lesbian and queer communities, I really started to see the myriad ways that people presented and understood their own genders; there was so much room outside the binary gender boxes. From the media, shows like Dateline and 20/20, I had always believed that all trans people were “born in the wrong body” and had Gender Identity Disorder. But in looking around my community, I discovered a new understanding of transgender that included a whole array of FTM spectrum (trans-masculine) people.

I very intentionally tried to respect the choices of the other characters. I think that in any type of personal inquiry or journey, it’s really easy to judge/oppose one side and admire/align with another. It creates certainty during an uncertain time. But it also limits the opportunity for self-growth, reflection, and understanding. In early drafts, I work through my judgments in the hope that I’ll eventually be able to render my characters with compassion and acceptance.

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Five Questions With… Monica Canfield-Lenfest

Posted by – August 13, 2008

As many of you know, Monica Canfield-Lenfest is the daughter of a trans woman and created a new resource, with COLAGE, for kids with trans parents. I highly recommend it.

1) First, tell me about COLAGE & how the book for Kids of Trans happened, what your goals were.

COLAGE (www.colage.org) is a national movement of children, youth, and adults with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents. We build community and work toward social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy. I first contacted COLAGE five and a half years ago, when I was working on my undergraduate thesis: “She’s My Father: The Social Experience of People with Transgender Parents”. Looking for references for my project, I discovered a diverse community of queerspawn who gave me the space to better articulate my experience and encouraged me to continue my work, since there are hardly any resources for transgender parented families. I started presenting at transgender conferences and gained a renewed sense of responsibility to build community and develop resources for people with transgender parents.

During a COLAGE conference in Dallas two years ago, I suggested to Meredith Fenton, COLAGE Program Director, that perhaps I could fill a fall internship position at the national office. We came up with a Fellowship model for my position, which has become a new program for the organization. I worked full-time for eight months focused specifically on the Kids of Trans Program. The major goal of the fellowship was to develop resources for people with transgender parents. Since there was no book detailing our experiences and offering advice to people with trans parents, the Kids of Trans Resource Guide became the obvious main project.

My goals in writing the guide were: first, to tell other people with trans parents that they are not alone; second, to recognize that the entire family transitions when a parent transitions; and third, to provide compassionate advice from people who have similar families. In short, I hoped to create the book I wanted my father to give me when she came out to me over ten years ago. More

Five Questions With… Julia Serano

Posted by – September 26, 2007

Julia Serano is a Bay Area slam-winning poet, author, performer, activist, & biologist. She organized the GenderEnders event from 2003 until last year; plays guitar, sings & writes lyrics for her band Bitesize, and oh – has a Ph.D. in biochemistry. We got to meet her when she was in town promoting her book Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, recently published by Seal Press.

(1) I loved Whipping Girl, for starters. I think it’s a pivotal work for trans communities, especially in building trans pride. But you know I kept waiting for you to actually define “feminine” – maybe if not for all time, but in some way that I could understand what you meant by it specifically. Your “barrette Manifesto” came close, except that I see barrettes as childish, not feminine per se. So can you help the genderblind like myself? What is femininity? Can you be feminine without being girly?

In the next to last chapter of the book, “Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism,” I talk about that a bit, but I’ll try to define it here a little more clearly. I would say that femininity is a heterogeneous set of traits (some of which are cultural in origin, some biological, some psychological, and many are a combination thereof). The only thing that all feminine traits have in common is that they are typically associated with women in our culture. But they certainly aren’t exclusive to women, as many men and MTF spectrum transgender folks also express feminine traits (similarly, many women express masculine rather than feminine traits). I think most of us tend to express some combination of both feminine and masculine traits.

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Five Questions With… Marilyn Frank

Posted by – August 29, 2007

Marilyn Frank has been sharing her story with wives at Fantasia Fair, IFGE and Tri-Ess seminars since 1982. She married her husband Len in 1954 and didn’t learn about the cross dressing until 1964, 10 years and 3 children later. At that time the only information available to her was Virginia Prince’s book The Transvestite and His Wife (now titled The Cross-dresser and His Wife) which she still finds to be one of the best books written.

1) First, Marilyn, I want to thank you on behalf of all the partners out there, for stepping up at a time when most of us weren’t even in high school yet. Without women like you & Peggy Rudd, the struggle to have partners’ issues recognized would be a lot more difficult. So what caused you to do the educating you did?

In the 1970’s I was a volunteer on a crisis intervention hot line in Morris County, NJ. When I became Director, I questioned some of the professionals in the group, who did not know much about cross dressing, but were able to assist me in finding people who did know. During this time we came upon Tri-Ess, and then in 1980 Len read the article in Playboy about Fantasia Fair and in 1981 we spent a few days at the Fair. I had many discussions with Ariadne Kane about the wives’ needs, and this brought Niela Miller to the Fair and that’s where my true education began. Since it had been a very lonely road not only for Len, but for me, I decided I would reach out to help others, so that’s when I started facilitating a wives group at our local Tri-Ess Chapter, which I did for for over 10 years. I also was instrumental in starting the wives’ program at the first IFGE Convention. My philosophy is that every time I help someone, I help myself. It’s true the marriage had its ups and downs where the cross dressing was concerned, but for us it was a small part of our overall marriage. We have always had good communication, enjoy many of the same things and do have a sense of humor (that helps).

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Five Questions With… Eli Clare

Posted by – August 22, 2007

Eli Clare is the author of Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation (South End Press, 1999) and has been widely published. He has walked across the United States for peace, coordinated a rape prevention program and co-organized the first-ever Queerness and Disability Conference. He works for the University of Vermont ‘s LGBTQA Services. We were lucky enough to meet him at a Translating Identity Conference at UVM, and I was happy to get the chance to talk to him about his new book, The Marrow’s Telling, which was recently published by HomoFactus Press.

(1) Why poetry?

As a writer, my first love is poetry. I think of it as a thug who grabbed me by the collar many years ago and whispered in my ear, “You’re coming with me.” I went willingly, not having any idea where poetry would take me or what it would demand. Twenty-five years later I find myself writing a mix of poetry and creative nonfiction; my first book, Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation, is a collection of essays, and my second book, The Marrow’s Telling: Words in Motion, which ought to be rolling off the press at any moment now, is a mix of poems and short prose pieces, not quite essays but more than prose poems.

Audre Lorde in her essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” writes of poetry as a “revelatory distillation of experience.” Poems demand both wildness/revelation–moments where language, sound, and rhythm, rather than thought or idea or analysis, take the lead–and discipline/distillation–the paring down to heart and bone. As a writer, a reader, an activist trying to make sense of the world, I need revelatory distillation.

I also know that in the United States too many of us have been taught to fear or avoid poetry, to feel bored or stupid in its presence. As an activist-poet, I always hope that my poems will be doors held wide open, roller coasters, parachutes opening above you, slow meandering rivers.

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Five Questions With… Reid Vanderbergh

Posted by – May 16, 2007

Reid Vanderbergh is a therapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon who began his transition in 1995, and started taking hormones in 1997, at the age of 41. He went to Portland State University and then did his MA in Couseling Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. He is a member of the WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health, formerly known as HBIGDA), the IFGE, as well as the American Asssociation of Marriage and Family Therapists. He is the author of Transition & Beyond, published by Q Press

(1) As far as I know, you are the only therapist who is also trans to write a book about transness. Do you worry about people assuming you’re biased (in a good or bad way)?

As far as I know, no other trans therapists have published books about working with trans clients. I have had the experience of people assuming I am biased in the direction of transition; usually, those who make this assumption are related in some way to a client considering transition. However, when this comes up, I explain to them that I am not biased toward transition, precisely because I DO know how difficult and life-changing this process is. Therefore I don’t approach it lightly.

Now that my book is out there, I expect this question to come up among people who don’t know me, and also don’t know any clients who have worked with me. I hope people will ask me the question directly, rather than making the assumption that because I’m trans and did choose physical transition, that I automatically assume that’s the path for all my trans clients.

The one arena which worries me somewhat around this question of bias is academia. I’m hoping my book will be used as a text; my fear is, if I am seen as a community member writing about my own community, my book may be “suspect” because it may not be considered objective enough for academic credibility. Being subjective has been considered the ultimate faux pas within academia. Not that I think this as a valid view – I think the ultimate experts on a lived experience are those who undertake it – but I do fear this attitude may affect acceptance of my book within academia.

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Five Questions With… Virginia Erhardt

Posted by – March 14, 2007

Virginia Erhardt, Ph.D. is a licensed therapist, a founding member of the American Gender Institute, and the author of Head Over Heels: Wives Who Stay with Crossdressers and Transsexuals. She published her first article concerning the partners of trans people back in 1999 after publishing a workbook for lesbian couples called Journey Toward Intimacy. She is a regular at trans conferences like the upcoming IFGE Conference.

(1) How long did it take you to compile the stories in Head Over Heels? Where did you find partners who were willing to talk about their experiences?

It was about two and a half years from the point at which I began soliciting participation in 2002 and then sent out questionnaires, until the time when I had created “stories” from the SOs’ responses to my questions. During that time I also worked on my substantive, didactic chapters. It took another two years and a few months from the time when I completed the project and signed a contract with The Haworth Press until Head Over Heels was in print.

I put out a Call for Participants to every online listserve and transgender print publication I could think of. I also requested participation from people at trans conferences at which I presented. More

Five Questions With… S. Bear Bergman

Posted by – February 28, 2007

S. Bear Bergman is the author of Butch is a Noun, a writer, theatre artist, and educator who tours regularly. Zie’s book, Butch is a Noun, is one of my favorites of the past year because it’s funny, self-ironic, but full of a kind of combination of sadness and love that I found meditative and energizing.

1) I have to say that it was the title of your book, Butch is a Noun, that first caught my attention. Tell me how you came up with it, and why you chose it.

It’s both one of my talents and one of my, er, little problems that I’m a huge language geek. I love words, I love language, and I am always deeply satisfied when I can talk about something well, with good words. But I had a hard time, talking about butch. I would say I’m a butch, and people would hear I’m a butch woman or I’m a butch lesbian. Neither of which is comfortable, or accurate. I kept saying No, listen, I mean that I am a butch, as a noun, all by itself – not a modifier but a thing to them be further described.

For a while, I referred to it as The Butch Book, but I never really liked that as a title, it was just sort of a characterization – an internal shorthand. Then one day, I was applying for some time at a writers’ residency to finish it and when it asked for the project title I somehow just knew: Butch Is a Noun. More