sexuality (sometimes just as fiercely as the straight male-centric mainstream does) on the other”
(Serano 2). Serano describes numerous examples in her book about the marginalization of the
trans community including a concert in Michigan called “Womyn’s Music Festival” which was
held from 1976 to 2015 and famously excluded trans women, but allowed trans men. The slogan
on the festival was “Womyn-born-womyn” (Ring).
Gwen summed it up:
We, as trans people, are no longer as much a curiosity as we once were. When I was first
approaching the community, you had to find us buried in the back of creepy
pornographic rags in dingy newspaper racks by the side of the road, for example. Sure,
you heard of a transperson or two, but in terms of actual contact? It was few and far
between. What's more than this, trying to see improvements in trans rights was very much
outside the norm. In my lifetime, transgender people have gone from facing imprisonment
for wearing the clothing of the opposite gender (laws for this were still on the books in
some locations into the 1990s, for example, San Diego), and the idea of "equal rights" for
transgender people was considered so far "out" that few rights organizations would even
entertain the notion. One, in particular, the Human Rights Campaign (known as the
Human Rights Campaign Fund at the time), refused pushing for the inclusion of
transgender people in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) for over a
decade.
Gwen was at the forefront of trans activism starting in 1992. By 1994, she was living as a
woman fulltime. She was free from the burden of lying about who she was. This brought
freedom and greater difficulty. Although she and Bonnie were happily married, they had to come
out together to their friends. People would ask Bonnie, “Are you okay with this?” As if Gwen
had somehow tricked her into marrying her. Eventually, Bonnie had a t-shirt made that said,
“Yes, I am okay with this.” She answered the question before it was even presented. Arguably
the scariest part can be coming out to the people you love. What if they are repulsed? React in
anger? Don’t believe you?
How do you come out to your parents as a different gender? Gwen shies away from
saying anything too severe about her parents, Sherry and Vern Smith. Coming out to them was,
according to Gwen “rocky.” In our interviews, she infrequently uses adjectives, as a rule she is
matter of fact. When she summed up coming out to her parents as “rocky” as opposed to just
telling me what happened, it seemed odd. I learned that vague adjectives from Gwen meant I had
accidentally stumbled upon something too personal.
She remembered her father said, “I had worried that you were going to tell me you had
some sort of incurable disease or something. I don't know if that would have been better."
Repeating those words, I could tell, brought Gwen pain. They made me angry. I couldn’t
understand how a parent could view an incurable disease as somehow preferable to anything
else. But Gwen never showed anger to me. She described the “rocky” transition with broad
strokes. Her parents wanted to go to family therapy, and, although she was in her mid-twenties,
Gwen obliged out of her deep love for her parents. Despite their underlying rejection, she wanted
to make them happy.
Even under the best of circumstances, family therapy is a circus. For Gwen, it was a
disaster. In 2017, finding a family therapist who is knowledgeable about trans issues would be a
niche specialty. In the mid ‘90s Gwen’s family therapist consulted the Diagnostic and Statistical
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