A Look Back at the Transgender Transition and Struggle
With the recent decision by the US Supreme Court, the struggle of the LGBTQ community to gain acceptance seems to be gaining momentum. However, there was a time when being open– especially for transgender people– would have resulted in discrimination, ostracism, or worse, violence.
Richard Dorment of Esquire talked to five transgender women and men who transitioned 15 years ago and lived long, accomplished lives despite the times they lived in. As Dorment says, “They are a comment on the abiding nature of the human impulse to change sexual identity (at a moment when it’s almost regarded as a fad) and also emblematic of those who did so when it was so much harder.”
Dorment interviewed five who made a name for themselves while living the lives they wanted for themselves. Likewise, they represent a generation of people who faced obstacles and in many cases, dangers that were harrowing.
There is the activist Jamison Green, 66, a speaker and consultant in San Francisco, who is also the president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. There is Christina Kahrl, 47, writer and editor for ESPN.com in Chicago, who also co-founded the Baseball Prospectus.
There is also Renée Richards, 81, an ophthalmologist in New York, who was also former tennis player and coach. She was likewise the plaintiff in the landmark Richards V. Usta court ruling that allowed her to compete professionally as a woman in the US Open.
There is Kylar Broadus, 52, an attorney and college professor in Washington, DC, who co-founded and is now the executive director of The Trans People of Color Coalition. Lastly, there is Marci Bowers, 57, a gynecologial surgeon in Burlingame, California who is also a pioneering sexual-reassignment surgeon. All of them have already made their transition.
These five endured years of struggle not only to get where they are, but also gain acceptance for who they are.
Bowers related that being a transgender 15 years ago was hard: “The standard of care in the 1970s, it was like a witness-relocation program. People were forced to divorce, they had to avow themselves to be exclusively heterosexual, and in general people were required to leave their area.”
“”In my day, of course, everything was done secretly and quietly, and if somebody went through the transformation, they did it privately. It was called ‘woodworking’: You merged into the woodwork after your transformation and you tried to lead a new life without people knowing what your previous life had been. And that’s what I tried to do,” said Richards.
Broadus added, “Being me was a problem, and when I lost my job and went job hunting, as soon as they found out who I was, nobody was trying to give me a job. I never thought I would live beyond the age of thirty-two or thirty-three. Because being trans, living a trans life, is very difficult, and my life has been in danger several times.”
But after surviving and making their transition, these five also found their own happiness.
Green noted after his transition that, “Nobody noticed me anymore. I was just a guy walking down the street, and the energy that I had always had to use thinking about how other people were responding to me, all of it got redirected in ways that were much more productive.”
More importantly, these people had an effect on the rest of the world to change how they are perceived, even if it’s one person at a time.
Kahrl said, “When I go into a Major League Baseball locker room, I’m just another schlub with a mic. And then that ends up being something of a transgressive act, because people realize: ‘I met a trans person, and they’re kind of like me.’ This is an awesome moment in history, but it’s also kind of a very transient moment.”