Back in the mid-70s I met Stephanie Cranford, introduced to me by Gordon Petersen, then Assistant Concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Stephanie was Michigan’s first male-to-female transgendered person. Slender, gracious, bilingual. Black.
She was also a gourmet cook, artist’s model, watercolorist. Her Forest Avenue upper flat was filled with dozens of lush, exotic, floral oil paintings, of which she worked on several at a time, while singing blues ballads, French torch songs.
Stephanie sold clothing at one of Downtown Detroit’s finer stores. She was outed by “hush-hush, whisper whisper” rumors; then let go. She moved to New York City, continued painting, modeling, and for a time appeared as vocalist, Serenity Amour, in a French bistro. (Present whereabouts unknown.)
My first FTM “sharing” happened in 1985 at MCC-Detroit, then located in Birmingham. Dave, whom I had often greeted while ushering – he was sporting a bright red tie for Pentecost that Sunday – asked if I thought it curious that a straight couple was worshipping there.
“Not in the least. Why?” I asked, over after-service coffee. “Well, I just felt moved to share. I’m a transsexual. My partner’s not.” His answer startled me. I hadn’t a clue. Dave had a beard, crew cut, looked like Joe Average (but brighter).
Sorry to say, his partner, Laura, who was pleasant, a little older, went back home for a family visit one long weekend (too long for Dave) and called to say she was marrying her straight high school sweetheart. Dave was devastated.
In the early ’90s I was friends with Dr. Jack, a D.O., member of the Motor City Business Forum. It occurred to me one night in a crowded bar that Jack had plucked his eyebrows. Hmmm; How curious, I thought. Months went by without seeing him. I came home to find borrowed books left for me at the lobby desk, with a patchouli-scented note, “Thanks! How things have changed for me! Love, The New Jackie.”
I learned from his roommates that Dr. Jack, in his late fifties, waited until his mother’s death to transition gracefully into Dr. Jackie. His daughter, Faith, then 21, was supportive.
Now years later, I’m enriched to know several T-persons. I count among activist friends the courageous and witty Rachel Crandall, MSW, who counsels persons seeking reassignment surgery; and Susan, Rachel’s soft-spoken partner, who regularly (and knowledgeably) attends art openings and DIA museum events.
Michelle Phillips-Fox and Esper are also LGBT community members and attend MCC-Detroit. (Ahem!) Religiously.
It’s estimated one per 30,000 adult males and one per 100,000 adult females of the total American population seeks sex reassignment surgery. It’s usually a three- to five-year process from contemplation to change, involving in-depth psychological counseling, living as the opposite sex in dress, speech, makeup, manner, undergoing hormonal treatment (with lifelong “upkeep”) and undergoing transforming – and costly – surgery.
It takes commitment – guts, really – and a deep sense of one’s authentic personhood to achieve the hidden “you” that’s long waited patiently in the wings. Coming out as a T-person is in many ways more radically demanding mentally, physically, than coming out as gay, lesbian, or bi – particularly for those youths who lack role models, access to professional counseling (or, tragically, who barter sex on the streets to survive).
As a gay male I’m fully aware that I have a feminine side: highly creative, mostly passive in my erotic adventuring, attuned to gender-opposite beauty of line, color, texture, temperament. A “T” psychic component of sorts. A kinship that’s there to enjoy.
As gays, lesbians, bi’s, T-persons, it’s taken us decades to realize that our lives, if honestly and openly lived, can be reasonably fulfilling. These days we can chose to live proudly. Determined. LGB, and T: together! Have a rainbow day!