Where to begin? What a day, what a conference! The TIC conference (which stands for “Translating Identity” and is pronounced tick) in Burlington, VT was probably the single best conference Betty and I have attended. Aside from the fact that it’s FREE, the workshops were informative and covered a huge range of issues – from intersex activism to partners’ issues to “not feeling trans enough.” They addressed both real world concerns and theory, and the presenters were all inspired, educated, and well-spoken.
Eli Clare did the plenary session on the idea of “translating identity.” Eli is a really engaged person – he speaks about his twin identities as a disabled person and transman as if there were no shame in the world. Aside from being so pleased that he came to my roundtable at the Women’s Center the previous day, I found conversations with him enlightening and funny. He asked hard questions about trans-people and intersex outreach in an intersex forum I went to later in the day, too.
My biggest surprise of the day – which hopefully didn’t show – was that when I walked into the room where I was going to give my “trans-sex and identity” workshop, I discovered a LECTURE HALL full of people: partners, transfolks, allies. TIC tech were on hand to find me a mike, since this is a workshop I usually give to a small group of 15-30 people, and it’s usually interactive. So I had to think on my feet; I had an hour and a half, and normally I ask the group to participate, but with a group that big – that wasn’t a possibility. Luckily I had some friendly faces down front: aside from Betty and David, Myrna and Kyrie (p. 46 of MHB) came down from Montreal, and Cindy – a partner in a yahoo group I belong to – were also there.
I am continually amazed that I can speak to people. It’s like someone else is channeling through me, to be honest. I’m normally so shy – shoot, I used to sit in the back of my graduate classes! – but now I find myself talking without shame about strapping it on in front of a lecture hall full of strangers. Granted, I’ve always liked talking about sex, and since I’ve met Tristan Taormino, the rest of my hesitancy has fallen away. Betty – who is one of the most private people I know – has also come to enjoy and celebrate my being able to talk about these things, and that is indeed a gift. For those of you who are often in audiences, please know that those of you who nod and smile are the single best encouragement a speaker could get.
I explained a little what I was doing there, why I wrote My Husband Betty, and about what our road has been like in exploring our sexuality. When I said, “sometimes trans-people seem to be more gender-constructed than the rest of us,” instead of the usual deer-in-headlights looks, I got a lot of nods. It was a great group to talk to; I felt like I was home. (How and Why Betty and I feel so comfortable in younger groups of transmen and their (mostly) lesbian partners could be the subject of a whole other essay.)
On top of everything else, I sold every book I brought with me, even selling the one I’d intended to give to Leslie Feinberg!
After that, TIC provided a $5 lunch that was delicious. Nothing elaborate – just sandwiches and salads -but it was all very good – and very cheap. Much better than the rubber chicken we have to pay $20 for, usually.
After lunch, I went to a workshop on Intersex issues by IS/TS activist Raven Kaldera. His story is full of pain but also of redemption; his spiritual center is nearly visible. I was touched when he explained that he felt he has to be doing what he’s doing – that it’s his job, according to “the goddess that owns my ass,” as he put it. He really helped clarify, too, the intersections of Intersex and Transness, since he was raised as a girl and identifies as both. When Eli Clare mentioned that as a TS activist he is often asked about IS issues, Raven clarified that as long as TS educators are clear about the different issues and provide accurate information, he’s happy to have us do it, too – since there are not so many IS activists – not enough to go around.
The last workshop slot of the day I was presenting a partners’ caucus with the partner of an FTM named Jill Barkley. Jill is a short-haired, high-heel wearing dyke, and I loved her energy and her concern. She, like me, is tired of the partners’ lists being full of “perpetual cheerleading” and we both wanted to provide a space where partners could talk about how hard this life is sometimes. From the girlfriend who was dying to know what her trans boyfriend’s female name was, to the wife of a CD who was frustrated by the lack of male sexual energy, to the story a partner told about being asked what her partner’s name was (“Steven,” she said, and her questioner said, “but I thought you were a lesbian?” To which she replied, “I am.”), the stories of partners should be required hearing for anyone who is trans. Betty suggested that in some ways, even the language we use is defeating us, and that maybe if the transfolks themselves identified as partners first, and trans second, that our relationships would not always seem to be an afterthought for the transperson.
Alas, we didn’t have enough time, though we did manage to make a list of “issues” and “solutions” that I hope to post here. (To the TIC committee: we want a double session next year!)
Next we were all off to hear the closing remarks, given by the one and only Leslie Feinberg. Wow. I read Stone Butch Blues a long time ago, and I knew Leslie was a powerhouse, but hir speech blew everyone away. At one point, ze asked the 700+ of us in the chapel to shout out our identities: “trans,” “boi,” “femme,” “queer,” “ally” – even “republican” – there must have been a few dozen called out. And then Leslie asked us all to applaud our identities. It was a moving moment.
But hir speech – I’m going to see if I can get a copy – was astounding, drawing parallels with the Women’s Movement, abolition, and social justice movements everywhere. He told a story about how Frederick Douglass was gender- and trans-baited when he stood up for the right of women to vote, having his own gender questioned, and how he stood up to them and affirmed that he was a “woman’s movement man.” Somehow – especially for a mostly younger crowd – Leslie knew exactly how to make all of us feel not so alone, not so brand-new, not so much like we were reinventing the wheel.
Afterwards, Betty and I watched for a while as person after person went up to Leslie tongue-tied and twitterpated. Leslie – aside from being one snappy dresser – is a warm, sympathetic, direct person. As soon as I introduced myself ze apologized for being on the road when I sent hir a copy of MHB (which I didn’t expect ze’d even remember). Ze also apologized for assuming Betty still identified as a CD. It’s that kind of human connection that was so apparent about hir all night, from when we were ordering pizza with the TIC committee later, to hir being in pictures with MTF trannies that were nearly double hir height.
To be honest, I knew I was in the presence of greatness – so humble, so intelligent, so caring. And – good news for the rest of us! – ze just finished hir new novel!
And of course, I have to say too that flirting with transmen is way too much fun. Samuel (who we’d met the day before) had just shaved his head, so I asked if anyone had licked it yet. He said no, and invited me to be the first, so I did. Believe me, I didn’t hold a cigarette for longer than a second before I had a transman with a light a foot away. They really are the coolest guys ever.
Finally – yes, there was more! – our own NYC drag king (Mil)Dred did a great performance. We’d seen Dred before, so took seats at the back, but there was tons of hooting and hollering. Mildred is a powerful force on stage, slipping between genders with a pair of shoes.
TICAnd finally – exhausted and happy – we went back to our hotel and slept.
Thank you to the TIC committee, to Tim Shiner, David Houston, Leslie Feinberg, Jill Barkley, and to all the others who welcomed us and who thanked us for our work. I have never felt such a strong sense of community, inclusiveness, and joy – despite all the shared suffering.
< Here’s a picture of us with CDOD veterans Gary/Kyrie and Myrna.

UVM @ Burlington

Betty and I are leaving today to spend a long weekend in Burlington, VT – land of snow, University of Vermont, snow, and snow.
On Thursday, we’ll be talking to an Anthropology class on Kinship and Identity taught by David Houston. The class has just finished reading My Husband Betty. We’re expecting some interesting questions about crossdressing, gender, sexuality, and our relationship.
On Friday, I’ll be hosting a roundtable on Trans-Women and Feminism as part of UVM’s Women’s Center’s Women’s Herstory Month events. Their theme this year is women and activism. The organizer of these events, Tim Shiner, tells me they’ve discussed some of these issues before at the Women’s Center, so I’m looking forward to a good conversation.
On Saturday, the Translating Identity conference is also taking place at UVM. My first workshop will be the one on Trans-Sex and Identity that has been such a hit at Dark Odyssey, and I’m hoping it will be again. Later that day, I will co-host a Partners’ Caucus with Jill Barkley, who’s the partner of a transman. We have a lot of good ideas to flesh out with other partners – and though transfolks are welcome, they’re not going to be allowed to speak until the end of the session.
Luckily for me, the keynote speech at Translating Identity will be given by Les Feinberg, who I admire very much. Hir books, Stone Butch Blues and Transgender Warriors were both influential for me long before Betty and I met.
We are both looking forward to this trip, despite the fact that we’re both somewhat exhausted (booking five weekends in a row seemed like a good idea at the time). As long as we get there despite all the snow, I’m sure it will be an invigorating weekend.

UVM Women's Herstory Month

From UVM’s Women’s Center’s website:
March 4, Noon, 34 S Williams St
Helen Boyd: Trans-Women & Feminism: Connections & Challenges
Over the past three decades, an increase in writing and activism by transgender individuals has brought some unique challenges and expansions to the writings and theories of genetic women on oppression and social justice, including much of the existing feminist scholarship. Join us for a discussion with Helen Boyd, author of My Husband Betty, on where we all can learn and grow from the differences in our experiences. Lunch will be provided.

Thanks, Josey

Betty & I filmed a short clip for a Canadian television show called Richler Ink which showed on Book Television, which is an entire channel dedicated to books & authors (so you know it’s not American). They themed their shows “Naughty Librarian Month” for January and so focused on sexual topics. (Whether or not we all think crossdressing is a sexual topic is beside the point, since 1) the point is outreach and education, as long as it’s done respectfully, and 2) the rest of the world still thinks it is, and they’re not going to understand otherwise until they hear about and maybe read a book like mine).
I hadn’t seen the show ever before, but it was explained to me that there would be in-studio guests, and Betty & I would be a segment. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the two books used as segments (My Husband Betty and another on women’s orgasm called She Comes First) would be commented on by the in-studio guest. It was as if Daniel Richler (the host) and the in-studio guest – who was in our case Josey Vogels – were watching the video clip of us with the audience, and when it finished, they chatted about it.
I was pretty upset when Daniel Richler couldn’t seem to keep a smirk off his face, and started muttering things about “kinky” & the like. But Josey Vogels, I’m happy to say, is not only well-informed but a pro. She’s apparently talked to straight, nervous, vanilla guys about sex before! And she talked a little bit about the transgender movement, and otherwise made sure Daniel Richler didn’t get to go anywhere with his nudge, nudge, wink, wink crap.
I’ve already thanked Josey Vogels, of course, for being a first-class act, and for not allowing the show to sink into Springer-esque insinuations, and she’ll hopefully be writing one of her columns about My Husband Betty as a result of our correspondence.
And though I certainly don’t mind spending time praising Josey Vogels (who was on promoting her current book Bedside Manners), that’s not why I sat down to write this: I write this because I was suddenly reminded that the world still thinks crossdressers are funny, or kinky, or both. In more than a year of going to trans-conferences and the like, you start to believe that everyone is tuned into the finer debates about passing, or other standard fare that’s dicussed within the trans community, until you realize – maybe because of a nervous talk show host or because of something someone shouts from the street – that we’ve got a long way to go.
Going that long way is going to take working with the media where and when we can. Betty and I have had to turn down other television shows on advice from friends here in NYC who have been burned themselves or seen firsthand how disrespectful most of the talk shows are of their guests: from “surprise guests” to telling people the shows are themed other than they are, they actually trick people into coming on. Of course all the invitations seem respectful; none of them write to ask me if I’d be willing to portray a wife who’s been victimized by her crazy tranny husband.
And while I don’t even have cable TV because of the schlock that is American television, I’m well aware that most of America is informed via TV – depressing but true. Doing innumerable events like Trans-Week at Yale or speaking to a class at UVM are wonderful: talking to people who are intelligent and willing to learn and listen means a new generation aren’t going to become adults with the same uninformed notions in their heads as their parents.
The question is: what about the rest? How do we get to the rest of the people out there?
Doing publicity with a mainstream book helps. Knowing my book is in libraries where it can be found (not only by T-people and their partners but by any average, interested, curious reader) is something. People ask me all the time why we haven’t been on Oprah. After I ask them if they know anyone who works on the show who might get us on (no takers yet), I ask: why aren’t there more shows like Oprah?
Maybe those of us in the GLBT community can start pressuring networks not necessarily for more shows about us – but just for more intelligent shows, in general. We need to write to our local and cable stations and tell them we’re tired of schlock. The Jerry Springer-type shows wouldn’t hurt half so much if we had something to offset it. I was pretty amazed to find that when we did PBS’ In the Life, none of my friends in the red states could see it. Why? Their local PBS affiliate simply didn’t carry it.
But I’m sure that had nothing to do with why eleven states voted for banning gay marriage, or why we’re teaching Creationism in schools as if it’s science, or why no one seemed to notice that we’ve hung the whole of the guilt for the Abu Ghraib horror on guys who were following orders.
I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with it. It doesn’t, does it?

Women & Activism

I’m very excited that while we’re up in Burlington at the University of Vermont, I’ll also be doing an event for UVM’s “Women’s History Month” series. Their theme this year is “Women & Activism” and I’ll be hosting a roundtable on feminism and transness.
The event will take place at UVM’s Women’s Center on March 4th, sometime around noon.
It is, need I say, a great pleasure to be able to do an event for Women’s History Month, and especially one that focuses on women and activism.

Dr. King

This year’s celebrations and memorials in honor of Dr. King are likely to gloss over one important fact of his activism: his belief in peace.
This column by Nation writer John Nichols makes a good case in point.
Another column found on the Working Assets site focuses on the Dr. King lost in all our memorials.
And I’d like for all of us in the GLBTQ community to remember that the famous March On Washington was organized by one Bayard Rustin: Quaker, and Queer. The Gay and Lesbian Task Force celebrated Dr. King while also acknowledging what his friendship with Rustin means to us all.
But it’s his Letter from Birmingham Jail that is still the piece that invites us all to look at what social justice is, and what needs to be done to achieve it.
A peaceful day to all,

Please Donate

Betty & I are planning to do some great events this February and March, but I can’t afford to order my own books to sell! If you can donate, to help us do our outreach work, please do.

What I Wish

As it turns out, the U.S. government has pledged less money to aid those desperate folks in South Asia than we’re planning on spending on the inauguration.
What I wish:
* that we had a president I’d be happy about inaugurating.
* that I could go to South Asia and work to help make things better.
* that we’d all call off all the freaking wars and killing going on to help clean up the whole area, clean the water tables, and set up a system to warn people of disasters like this, so they can at least survive with their families & a set of clothes, if nothing else.
Some days it feels like the planet herself is trying to let us know that we’re jackasses, and we keep not listening.
But you can urge Pres. Bush to up the U.S.’ contribution.
A tired and sad,


Hello friends and readers,
This is the least comfortable request I’ve ever made, but we’ve spent way more money doing the book thing than we expected. Since we’d like to keep doing what we’re doing – education, outreach, and advocacy – we could use some help: keeping up this website, running the MHB Message Boards, getting to conferences. Contrary to popular opinion, there isn’t any money in writing books! There is, however, a lot of money spent promoting books, and attending conferences, and no-one’s paying me to hold anyone’s hand or to answer innumerable emails from people needing help, resources, a shoulder. If only! I don’t mind doing any of it – in fact, it’s one of the single most rewarding aspects of having written the book. But I’m not independently wealthy, or retired, and there’s no trust fund to be found.
Look, it’s been really expensive doing all this. It’s a LOT of time. I don’t really know any way to ask except to ask. So if you like what we’re doing, and want us to keep doing it, you can show your support by making a donation (of your choice).

This donation is NOT tax-deductible. We’re looking into how to do that, but for now, this would just be considered a gift.
Thank you so much to those who have already donated. Wow, do I hate asking people for money. I used to work as a fundraiser, and Betty has to do a lot of schmoozing for theatre fundraising, but it never, ever gets easier.
Thank you,
Helen Boyd & Betty Crow

A Genuine Blog Entry

Maybe it’s fall, or maybe it’s because I spoke with my mother today, or still yet it may be that I’m facing the ‘wrap-up’ of the so-called “tour” for My Husband Betty, but I’ve been somewhat circumspect about the experience of the last (nearly) two years.
[A brief timeline: I started writing MHB in January ’03, saw the reading copies about a year ago, and although the official publication date was Jan ’04, the book started shipping by early December ’03. A full year for writing, printing, & distribution. 2004 was entirely about publicity and outreach.]
I never intended to write non-fiction. I’ve got a couple of unpublished novels tucked away into drawers (along with the requisite rejection letters from agents & editors), so it was kind of a surprise to be offered the chance to write a book at all. And non-fiction? Other than keeping a journal since I was nine years old, and papers for school, I didn’t have much experience. But how could I resist?
Two years later, I have several hundred emails in my inbox – some answered and some not – and I’ve met innumerable people. Some I know only via computer and this wonderful thing our President refers to as “the Internets,” but others I’ve had a chance to meet in person. There have been movers and shakers among them, yes, but I think it’s the quiet CD who comes up to me at a conference and stands in line at a book-signing to tell me how much MHB helped his relationship with his wife that means the most to me. There have been other remarkable stories people have emailed or told me in person: the gay rabbi who got in touch to tell me that upon cleaning up his father’s apt after his death, he’d found pictures there of someone named “Fiona” and only then realized his father was a CD; the septegenarian living in Africa who was first crossdressed by whores in Singapore while he was serving in WWII as a young man. The stories are remarkable – not even because they are fascinating and all preciously singular – but rather because people have come to tell them to me.
I love stories. I love lives lived. I love the great inconsistencies and frustrations and triumphs and even the failures of actual people. And the most incredible – and unexpected – thing about having written a book about crossdressing is to have had people come up to me just to tell me their own.
I joked with my mother today that when I announced I wanted to be a priest at age nine neither of us ever expected that I would be – at least not in such an unusual way. But that’s what I feel like. Whenever a crossdresser comes to me and says “I never believed I was okay until I read your book” what can I say in response except “You are!”? What is that except absolution?
I have days when I am absolutely crushed by how hard it is to get a book published, to get paid as a writer, to live and pay the rent. Other days I’m reminded more clearly: this is what I do, what I should be doing. The cheers of support I get from all of you are at least equal to the disappointment of what it means to live as a writer. But more than the support, it’s the help I’ve been able to give – via the book, or email, or when I go to conferences – that means the most at the end of the day.
You get so many chances to laugh at yourself as a writer, mostly for your own unabashed pretentiousness! This little apologia is what I get to laugh at myself for today: this Preface to the Fourth Printing, as it were. But it is something I have been meaning to say for a long while: thank you.
Helen Boyd