Five Questions With… Julia Serano

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

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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Not So Little Disturbance

Grace Paley, author, activist, and feminist, died Wednesday night, August 22nd, 2207, in her home, after a long struggle with breast cancer. Her writing credits are astounding; the most famous of her books is the short story collection The Little Disturbances of Man which are spare and stunning glimpses into love and relationships, a gem of a collection. She was the first official writer of New York State.

But beyond that, Paley was an activist & a feminist:

However, Paley was known as much for her political activism on behalf of peace and women’s rights as her literary accomplishments. Paley was jailed several times for her opposition to the Vietnam War, and traveled to Hanoi on a peace mission to negotiate for the release of American prisoners in 1969. She helped found the Women’s Pentagon Action and the Greenwich Village Peace Center. She was one of the “White House Eleven” arrested in 1978 for placing an anti-nuclear banner on the White House lawn. Most recently, she actively opposed the war in Iraq.

(via the Feminist Daily News)

Five Questions With… Mattilda

Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore is an insomniac with dreams. She is the editor, most recently of Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity and an expanded second edition of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. She’s also the author of a novel, Pulling Taffy. Mattilda lives for feedback, so contact her or check up on her various projects via her website or her blog.

1) I love the way you use the word “assimilation” – it always reminds me of the Borg episodes of Star Trek – but I wonder how that term plays in different audiences – say a gay male audience as compared to a trans one. How do people respond to your use of that term, and its sinister connotations?

Generally I’m talking about the way an assimilated gay elite has hijacked queer struggle, and positioned their desires as everyone’s needs. In this way, we see the dominant signs of straight conformity reimagined as the ultimate goals of gay (or that fake acronym “LGBT”) success, i.e. marriage, monogamy, adoption, gentrification, military service, etc. We can see this fundamental absurdity where housing and healthcare and fighting police brutality and challenging US imperialism are no longer seen as “LGBT” issues, but access to Tiffany wedding bands and participatory patriarchy is seen as the bedrock.

So when I articulate these politics, it’s generally the people I’m holding accountable — gay men and lesbians with power and privilege — who are the most scared. Most gay men wouldn’t know Feminism 101 if it hit them over the head, so it’s not surprising that they see getting rid of homeless people and people of color and sex workers from the neighborhoods they’ve gentrified as a wonderful service to the “community.”

Generally it’s more marginalized queers, and especially trans, genderqueer and gender defiant freaks and outlaws and misfits — as well as feminists of various formations — who are ready to challenge the cultural erasure that assimilation represents.

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Five Questions With… Richard M. Juang

Richard JuangAlthough Richard M. Juang is an otherwise studious English professor, I came to know him through my participation with the NCTE Board of Advisors, and increasingly found him to be gentle and smart as a whip. We got to sit down and talk recently at First Event, where he agreed to answer my Five Questions.

(1) Tell me about the impetus that lead to writing Transgender Rights. Why now? Why you, Paisley Currah, and Shannon Price Minter?
Transgender Rights
helps create a discussion of the concrete issues faced by transgender people and communities. Our contributors have all written in an accessible way, while also respecting the need for complex in-depth thought, whether the topic is employment, family law, health care, poverty, or hate crimes. We also provide two important primary documents and commentaries on them: the International Bill of Gender Rights and an important decision from the Colombian Constitutional Court concerning an intersex child. Both have important implications for thinking about how one articulates the right of gender self-determination in law. We wanted to create a single volume that would let students, activists, attorneys, and policy-makers think about transgender civil rights issues, history, and political activism well beyond Transgender 101.Transgender Rights

One of the things the book doesn’t do is get bogged down in a lot of debate about how to define “transgender” or about what transgender identity “means”; we wanted to break sharply away from that tendency in scholarly writing. Instead, we wanted to make available a well-informed overview about the legal and political reality that transgender people live in.

Oddly enough, Shannon, Paisley and I each did graduate work in a different field at Cornell University in Ithaca NY. (Apparently, a small town in upstate New York is a good place to create transgender activists!) The book represents a cross-disciplinary collaboration where, although we had common goals for the book, we also had different perspectives. The result was that, as editors, we were able to stay alert to the fact that the transgender movement is diverse and has many different priorities and types of activism.

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Five Questions With… Jan B.

Jan B. is one of the people who started a trans group in Poughkeepsie called MHVTA. She’s been helping run the group since 2001, and I’ve known her for about that long. I used to call her “perpetual lurker Jan” on my very first yahoo support group, CDOD.
jan b.1) MHVTA is a nice group – how did you decide to start it? Do you have rules or guidelines, or are you making it up as you go?

Helen, thanks for the opportunity to answer these 5 questions. This is also a nice way to publicize our group so I want to start with a Shameless Plug:The Mid-Hudson Valley Transgender Association (MHVTA), a chapter of Renaissance, is a fairly new group. It was founded in May 2001 by Nikki and I. MHVTA serves the mid-Hudson Valley area of New York (the area north of New York City and south of Albany, from the Pennsylvania border on the west to Connecticut on the east). It’s an active group with regular monthly meetings near Poughkeepsie.

We were so frustrated that nothing was local. We had to travel forty to seventy miles to find a group, so someone said. “Well, just start it yourself (and they will come).” I had never been to a TG support group before but was pretty used to other types of support groups. We met in homes for four meetings and eventually found [an affordable] place to meet, with discreet off street parking.

It varies but there are around 20 dues-paying members who attend meetings. We have more than 100 members on our list server who are interested but don’t necessarily attend meetings. The membership requirements are that you are a TG interested to know more and we are open to the TG spectrum including family if they want to attend. We currently don’t invite admirers in but they sometimes sneak in when someone brings a friend. The members seem to appreciate the level of confidentiality and the one on one interviews pre visiting the group.

MHVTA’s principal mission is to provide outreach and support for our members, their families, their friends, and to be active in the Transgender Community and the greater community of the Mid-Hudson Valley, New York. MHVTA is a non-discriminatory group which is structured to allow participation by all those who support the transgender community. We respect and support the right of free and open expression and the right to be treated as equals by society. We focus on providing an understanding peer support network for anyone who would like to be a part of it and to assist others who wish to learn more about the Transgender community, acting as a Transgender advocate to other groups and institutions in the Mid-Hudson Valley area. We welcome new people with sensitivity towards their fears and concerns that accompany revealing themselves to others. MHVTA aims to accomplish this through: Regularly scheduled meetings, social events, and frequent and open communication. For more information, you can check MHVTA’s website.
You can also find an interview with some members of MHVTA at (but you can go directly to the article if you’re a subscriber).
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Five Questions With… Cynthia & Linda Phillips

Cynthia & Linda Phillips were once a crossdresser & wife who started the famous Texas T Party. They have stayed together despite this crossdresser’s having discovered she was transsexual, and they make their life together as two women.
1) Why did you start the Texas T-Party? Why did the event get retired?
Tlinda phillips & cynthia phillipshe Texas “T” Party was started by the Boulton & Park Society in the late ‘80s, as a form of outreach by several of the members who had been to other functions around the country. None of us ever dreamed it would be the huge success it turned out to be. Cynthia and I joined the club about the time the first “T” started. We had just retired and were looking for some way to help our community.
The reason we finally retired the “T”, after 10 years, was the stress had finally gotten to us. Most of the original organizers of B&P were gone, and we never had much help, in any case. Cynthia, because of her experience with group functions, did the majority of the work, with me tagging along behind. Her blood pressure became dangerously high from the stress of running the “T” and I had to pull her off the job of running the whole thing. It was just a matter of burning out.
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Guest Author: Jan B.

I wanted to share a letter and story I got from Jan B., the found of MHVTA. I thought her story of finding a permanent home for Felicity’s trans collection was a nice way or marking how the T is slowly becoming part of LGBT history, for the end of pride month 2006.

Hi all.. had a neat experience last week and that was donating Felicity’s library of TG material (all copies of Transvestia, Femme Mirrors, several other periodicals, many books, assorted papers) to the NYC Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Community Center Library & Archive.
This process was the culmination of about 2 years of exploring and asking.
Fri. 6/16/06
Felicity and I met with Rich Wandel, the center librarian. Later I had the opportunity to escort Rich back to the Center to deliver the library in person. Never having been there before, it was a unique experience. The Center seemed to be buzzing with activity on a Fri. afternoon. Getting into NYC was a hassle and a half but I got in and out without a problem. I got to see the library and see how they categorized the various material donated. It is a very professional operation and Rich was very accomodating. He’s interested in building up their current collection of “TG” material and is interested in old as well as more recent material. Being a LGBT center for a large metro city, most of the material collected is “GLB” related so any “TG” material is most appreciated.
The story really goes back 2 years ago when Felicity was only 98 years young. She lives in an older home and we had spoken earlier that she had many vintage publications. She wasn’t too interested to even show them and I, and maybe others, suggested she do something about the material before something happened to her or the house. The event which seemed to change her mind was she had a car accident in ’05 and was in the hospital for an extended stay. We agreed to explore options and I was willing to help. I acted as the custodian and outreach point person while I went back to Felicity to discuss it and figure out what she wanted to do with her collection.
I had lots of question for people about where would they send TG material and/or where would they go to look for vintage reference material. More than 15 suggestions arrived. The early leader was the U. of Michigan library as they seemed to be the favorite for recent donated “TG” collections. This particular library already had most of the material that Felicity had (which fills the trunk of a car) and they said if they received duplicates, they would pass them onto another library. We felt we wanted to give Felicity’s material to some place that didn’t have the material already and would treasure it.
April, ’06:
After we scouted around more, I attended the IFGE Convention in Philly and spoke to many people including TG’s who had donated their material already or were looking to donate reference material. Some people I met were collectors and were willing to pay for specific issues to backfill their collections. One person said the collection would be worth a lot of money. I met Dallas Denny (editor of Transgender Tapestry) who provided a list of various libraries which could house “TG” collections; she also provided her criteria she used to donate her “truckload of material” to the U. of Michigan library. These included the type of library & why they were interested in acquiring the collection, type of archive, their plan if they do acquire the collection, conditions / requirements to review, ease to get access, physical plant, personnel, financial stability).
We decided that we would look to find a library where Felicity was active which was the east coast. The libraries we checked which seemed to be the best choice were William Way Center in Philadelphia, Central Ct. University (Hartford), and the NYC Center. The NYC Center was really where Felicity lived and the folks in our area would be able to visit them if they desired. When I visited the Way Center, they had a very limited selection of “TG” related material but were interested to start up their collection. When we looked at the The Hartford library and the NYC Center, we felt Central Ct. University library was 2nd in our deliberations really because the NYC Center was more local to our area.
It was interesting to see what happened if you put a request out on the web. Friends and sisters provided various contacts. Connecting up with the libraries proved to be a challenge .. some were very responsive and others never responded. It was helpful if there was a website to see the facility or their current collection. Most don’t separate out the “T” from the rest of the “GLB” stuff.
Back to June, ’06:
We believe we made a good choice. Rich Wandel was visiting Vassar to present at a library science group so we took advantage of it so he could meet with Felicity and get her to sign papers donating her library. She also will set up a ‘type of use’ agreement that any of Felicity’s papers containing her “brother’s name”* would not be able to be used until after her death. It was pretty straightforward for Rich, but it was interesting for the casual observer.
This has been an interesting journey and I’m glad this part is done. If anyone has vintage material and you’d like to donate it to a library for posterity, hope this rambling may have helped. I also hope Julie from U. of Michegan and Rich from the NYC library can present next year at the IFGE Convention in Philadelphia. It would be neat to see that happen and might spur donations.
* Her “brother’s name” is crossdresser code for Felicity’s legal male name.

Vern Bullough

Vern Bullough, author of umpteen books, advocate for crossdressers and trans people, died this past Wednesday, June 21st.
I can’t even begin to express how sad I am: Vern became more than an author whose books I read, but a kind of mentor for me, always willing to answer a question or point me toward research that might help me out.

From the Center for Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism
The Center for Inquiry Laments the Death of Vern Bullough: Leonardo Man and Stalwart Secular Humanist
The Center for Inquiry is sorry to announce that Vern Bullough died Wednesday evening, June 21st, after a brief illness. He was a stalwart humanist, a dedicated member of the Council for Secular Humanism, the Center for Inquiry, and CSICOP. He had devoted himself to humane causes all during his life; he was considered to be one of the leading authorities in the world on the history of sex and the nature of gender. He was a tireless advocate of civil liberties, the rights of minorities, including gays, lesbians and transgendered persons.
The author or editor of over 50 books including Sexual Attitudes: Myths and Realities, with Bonnie Bullough, and hundreds of articles, he was renowned in several areas of human interest, including history, sexology, nursing and liberal religion. Indeed, a true Leonardo Man, Vern was a distinguished professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo, an Outstanding Professor in the California State University, a past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, past Dean of natural and social sciences at SUNY in Buffalo, New York, and one of the founders of the American Association for the History of Nursing. In addition, he was a recipient of the Distinguished Humanist Award and a past Vice President of the IHEU.
Vern served on the Center’s Board of Directors since its inception and was personally involved in its outreach. He accompanied the Center for Inquiry’s Explorers Club on a Cruise to Alaska in early June. He read a paper on board ship, and managed to write up his remarks in the form of an article, which will be published in Free Inquiry magazine.
He will be sorely missed as one of he leading secular humanists in North America and the world and a liberal voice for the right of self-determination, tolerance and dignity.
He leaves his wife, Gwen Brewer (Prof. Emeritus, University of California) and four children.
Paul Kurtz
Chairman and Founder, Center for Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism