It would be hard not to call Rachel Crandall a giving person. She is a busy psychotherapist who sees low income clients and volunteers her services, the helpline coordinator at Affirmations LGBT community center and the founder of Transgender Michigan, a statewide organization that connects transpeople throughout the state with support and information, advocacy and social events.
She is known for her optimistic outlook and her eagerness to help others, dedicating most of her time making sure that other people have resources and support. She is often available through all hours of the night to answer the Transgender Helpline, which takes calls from people with gender issues, questions and crisis all over the world. Transpeople, people who are questioning their identity or their sexual orientation and people who may know others in this situation can call any time and get compassionate answers from Crandall and other volunteers.
At “Rachel Crandall’s Ball-less 50th Birthday Bash” on Nov. 15th at AJs Music Cafe in Ferndale, Crandall found herself surrounded by friends and supporters of her work. Her wife Susan Cocker was at her side as she shared the event with dozens of friends and fellow transpeople, fellow lesbians and others from the LGBT and Ally community.
Her birthday wish this year was simple: to raise money for the non-profit group that she formed 12 years ago. And with over 50 people rocking out to the sounds of MTF-led group Steffie and the Dirty Virgins, the “ball-less” birthday celebration was certainly a happy one for Crandall and the eclectic group of friends who came to sing her praises.
“Rachel is a trailblazer in Michigan and the rest of the world. Transgender Michigan brings family together so we can talk about heartaches and joys and pains,” said Transgender Michigan Chairperson of the Board Lilianna Angel Reyes of Battle Creek.
“Rachel is a she-ro in the trans community and I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for her and being able to find Transgender Michigan when I got involved six years ago.”
Crandall spent 38 years of her life in the body of a man, while feeling like a woman. In 1997 she began expressing her feminine side and was fired from her job as a psychotherapist. Subsequentially she lost the husband/wife relationship that she had begun as a man named Richard. “I really loved my wife. I had a good job and I loved my life. But I couldn’t be myself, so I always felt lonely,” Crandall said. “Now I have a whole new life and I couldn’t imagine life without Susan, or without Transgender Michigan. It’s something to look back on. I’ve had so much love. And I’ve been really lonely too.”
It’s impossible to feel lonely when you’re helping people, and also when you know that there are always people there for you. That’s why Crandall began Transgender Michigan the same year that she came out as a transwoman. “There had to be some way to get all the information and support together so that no one else would have to feel like they were alone,” she said of beginning the group.
Transgender Michigan’s Helpline at 517-420-1544 provides 24-hour support for those who may be struggling with gender issues, or those who have questions about transgender topics. They also have an online network of transpeople called Michigan TransNet, which gives resources for every county, as well as an informative Web site at www.transgendermichigan.org. They are also working to improve conditions for transpeople in homeless shelters, and improving letting people know more about transpeople through a public speakers program.
Crandall has also helped create Transgender Day of Visibility as a way to celebrate cross-gender expression. The event takes place March 31 and is quickly gaining momentum across the country thanks to social networking and other Web sites.
And on Nov. 20, the group will take part in honoring lost transpeople on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which will include a movie night, candlelight vigil and “renaming” ceremoney at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit.
But last weekend, it was all about celebrating Crandall.