By Jim Larkin
FLINT – Vanessa Lynne understands only too well the confusion and doubt that many feel about those who are transgender. After all, she has struggled with it for all of her 44 years, not coming out until just a few years ago.
She is a biological man who identifies as being a woman. She has been married to a woman for more than 10 years – although she dresses as a woman at their suburban Genesee County home only when her spouse is not around. And she has absolutely no idea who she will be 10 years from now: Will she make the full transition to a woman as she has long dreamed, or continue living with a foot in one door as a man and in another as a woman, never fully entering either room?
"I quite honestly do not know," she said, noting that a full transformation would make her a lesbian. "It's still hard for me to wrap my head around."
Such complex feelings will be explored as Flint's Out 'N About series tackles the transgender subject in two upcoming events at the University of Michigan-Flint.
On Nov. 17 at 4:30 p.m. in Michigan Room A at the University Center, it will show "Soldier Girl," a film about a soldier who falls in love with a transgender singer. That will be followed by a presentation on the country's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy by attorney Jay Kaplan of the ACLU of Michigan at 6:30 p.m.
Then on Nov. 20, it will show "Beautiful Daughters," a film for Transgender Day of Remembrance. The 3 p.m. event in the Happenings Room of the University Center includes a viewing of the documentary making of Eve Ensler's first all transgender production of "The Vagina Monologues" and shows the women discussing their journeys through confusion and doubt to become who they are.
Vanessa – that's not her legal name and she asked not to be identified because her family does not know she is transgender – knows all about that. She grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and knew about her strong identification as a woman even then, but didn't know what to do about it.
"Transgender just wasn't on the radar screen at all," she said. "I had these feelings, but I didn't think there was anywhere to go with it."
So she went to Central Michigan University in the 1980s and graduate school at the University of Michigan but still felt isolated.
"There were groups for lesbians and gays but nothing for transgender people," she noted. "I didn't feel I belonged to gay men, because I wasn't attracted to men in that way."
She didn't come out as being transgender until a friend came out and she was put in touch with others in the same situation in Detroit and Ferndale. Today, she works as a male on the University of Michigan-Flint campus, where she is out to several co-workers, and has discovered an accepting community there at the LGBT Center.
"I'm really astounded by the young people and the lack of divisiveness," she said. "Everyone seems to get along. I find it a source of comfort."
Home life, however, is completely different. She told her wife about her identification as a woman several years ago but her wife has had difficulty accepting it. And Vanessa, as a result, has also had difficulty knowing what to do.
"Do I sacrifice my personal needs for my marriage or do I sacrifice my marriage for my personal needs?" she asked. "It's really difficult."
Thus far, she is somewhere between – dressing up as a woman and going to some events, but playing the role of a male at work and at home when her spouse is around.
"It's very limiting," she said.
She has a few dozen transgender friends and sits on the Transgender Michigan board of directors. But she yearns for being a woman full-time and for acceptance in the meantime.
"We need understanding," she said of transgender people. "We're not these crazy monsters. We're human beings and we appreciate any love and understanding you can give us."
Get Out 'N About
Other upcoming Out 'N About events include:
* "Fences," a film written, produced and starring David Garcia at 5 p.m. Nov. 15 at Woodside Church. There will be a light supper, movie and panel discussion. The film explores Middle America's clash between religious fundamentalism and religious dogma during the rise of the gay civil rights movement.
* The Copa, a play created by Drew Fifield and Kristi Starnes that has been enhanced since its spring preview, on Dec. 5-6 at 7:30 p.m. at Good Bean's Cafe. It recalls the popular former gay nightclub in Flint.
* Remember Who Made You, performed by Jeffrey Barnes at 6 p.m. Dec. 5 at Woodside Church. The one-person play explores the myths, fears and joys of being gay and Christian.