Putting a face on trans people

We’ve seen a sudden uptick in hostility to transgender people, spearheaded by the governor of North Carolina. Ted Cruz has pushed it further, in a desperate attempt to win the nomination by proving he’s worse than Trump. Often the best way to counter hostility is to put a face on the target group, and that’s my aim in this post.

I know an unusually large number of trans people. It’s a result of my being in filk fandom, which is particularly welcoming of them. They have varying approaches to what they want people to know, so I’ll only mention two of them by name, because they allowed me to discuss them in Tomorrow’s Songs Today.

A lot of the people who’ll read this post already know some or most of them. It would be nice if this post could reach a lot of people; then again, I’d have a hard time dealing with the hostile reactions I’d inevitably get. But if you think this article is worth sharing, please do.

Unless I indicate otherwise, the terminology I use applies to the person’s destination gender.

At the last two Boskone science fiction conventions, I shared a hotel room with a trans woman I’ve known for a long time. This was simply a matter of saving money by splitting costs, nothing else. I’ve never known her as anything but a woman. (Cue Billy Joel.)

The difficult case for me was the first person I knew well before the transition. This is someone who seriously doesn’t want his earlier status known in his professional circles, so I’ll be discreet. It was confusing for me — and it’s OK to be confused and admit to difficulty. I wrote a song, “Secret Identity,” to express what I could about his issues. He pronounced me “master bard” and told me that some friends of his thought I must be a closet transsexual because I got it so well, so I must have gotten something right. Figuring out what restroom to use was one of his biggest concerns. Most female-to-male transsexuals don’t have the anatomy to use urinals, so they use stalls anyway. Privacy problem solved. Since hormone therapy was part of the process, he had to deal with a second adolescence; as far as I know, he handled it with the responsibility of an adult.

The best-known of the trans people I know is musician Alexander James Adams. I interviewed him for Tomorrow’s Songs Today, and the following paragraphs were the result:

Alexander James Adams

Alexander james Adams. Photo by Dara Korra’ti. Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

In 2006, Heather Alexander became Alexander James Adams. That transition is a difficult time for anyone, but especially for a singer with public visibility. She didn’t know if she’d have a usable voice when he was done, but knew that regardless, he’d be able to play fiddle. In 2005, while she was still Heather, she (the pronouns get confusing no matter how I approach it) went to a concert by S. J. and introduced herself, saying, “If you ever need a fiddler, let me know.”

In the winter of that 2006, Alec got a call from S. J., and his wife answered the phone. By then, Heather had “disappeared,” and Alec was still feeling reluctant to talk to people outside his immediate circle. Sooj had been offered a main-stage performance at a festival, but on condition that she team up with Heather. His wife said, “Heather’s not here, but I do have a fiddler who’s pretty damn good, if you’d like to talk to him.” They got together, and Alec described it as follows in an interview with me:

Sooj and Betsy are almost the epitome of the mindset of the whole filk community. They were very kind to me. In a transition, everything gets changed. Not only is your body physically changed, your mind is physically and mentally changed. The problem is, I would play music and think, “I know where this note is in my voice,” and it was not there any more. Both Betsy and Sooj, like I said, were the epitome of what the filk community’s all about, which is embracing you for whatever you have, and appreciating you, supporting you, and loving you no matter what. They pretty much carried me musically that first year.

Once filk found out what had happened between Heather and Alexander, everybody was cool with it. Considering that Heather was so well loved, it was one of my bigger fears: “Oh my God, what am I doing to this person that people adore and love and support? Will they be there for me when I come out and appear before them?” And yes, they were there in droves.

Dr. James Robinson also gave me permission to discuss his situation. He said, “The filk community was more than accepting. There never was an issue, and I didn’t expect that there would be.” Read Chapter 7 for more details. (The book is a free download.)

Another trans filker whom I know goes by a male name and dresses in male clothing, but still looks female to me. (Go away, Billy Joel earworm!) I don’t know how she deals with the bathroom situation; I imagine it’s tougher for her than for the others, who clearly look like their destination gender.

Another on the list is a really expert musician I know in England. She looks like a somewhat masculine woman; I guessed her at first sight, but some people in filk apparently aren’t even aware she’s trans.

In public buildings in North Carolina, men like Alec are legally required to use the women’s restroom, which could only upset everyone. Worse yet, the governor has set up a hotline to report people abiding by the law. Governor McCrory said, “If you see a woman, who doesn’t look like a woman, using the woman’s restroom, be vigilant, call the hotline, and report that individual.” By the law’s birth-certificate definition, Alec is exactly that, a woman who doesn’t look like a woman, and he certainly wouldn’t use the women’s restroom; but the law would require him to, and then McCrory wants him reported if he obeys! This is demagoguery at its worst.

Anyway, there you have it: Some real-life trans people. I can hope that someone will see it and understand a little better. I know from experience that it does take work to understand.

3 Responses to “Putting a face on trans people”

  1. nancylebovitz Says:

    Thank you for writing this. My impression is that filk fandom is friendlier than most of fandom, perhaps because performing encourages people to be more emotionally open.

    Is there any way to get or hear “Secret Identity”? The Mad Scientist’s songbook seems to be thoroughly out of print.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      Here are the song lyrics. If you’re at Conterpoint, you can ask me to sing it there.

      Secret Identity
      Music and Lyrics: Gary McGath, Copyright 1995

      Secret identity, not a comic book plot.
      Secret identity, can he be what he’s not?
      Caught in an old life while making a new,
      Finding the courage for what he must do.

      Secret identity, as a woman by day,
      Secret identity, till there’s no need to stay,
      Bound by society’s constant demand
      Not to annoy those who won’t understand.

      Where is the world past the boxes we make?
      What is the truth past the roles we must fake?
      What skies are calling that none yet have flown?
      Where are the paths that are only our own?

      Secret identity at an ending at last.
      Secret identity left behind in the past.
      Soon all disguises and roles will be done;
      Soon once again his two lives will be one.

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