Toward a Global Trans-Spiritual Community: Remembering Historical Figure, Holly Boswell

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

Fifteen… sixteen… seventeen… We’ve become accustomed to counting.  We’ve come to expect the passing of the next transperson as a result of violence.  But Holly Boswell passed differently this August.  The cause of her death isn’t known to us.  But for those of us who have watched her over the years, she seems like one of those rare souls who arrived in peace and went away in peace.

She might be best known for being the inventor of the widely used transgender symbol, an amalgamation of symbols for male, female, and hermaphroditic symbols into a unity.  But she did more… much more.  Holly set for us all an approach to the trans spiritualities that must have defied the vernacular of her time, an approach full of vitality.  She utilized a similar approach to trans inclusion itself.  We could learn a lot from Holly.  We need it.

 

A MOVEMENT OF TRANS SPIRITUALITIES

It might be said that the religions of transpeople are almost as varied as that of the human race in general.  Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Western Pagan, and Hindu transpeople can be found in most any large metropolitan area. For many transpeople, religion and spirituality are one and the same.  Many don’t see these aspects in any other terms than some form of Abrahamism they had known from their youth.  In recent years, more and more transpeople have been reasserting themselves in their respective traditions.  Some, like Southern Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists, have not generally welcomed transpeople except as targets for proselytizing, even if their “proselytes” may be existing members.  Facing a tide of religious anathemas has been painful for many.  Some have turned to services like Trans Faith Online for trans networking and fellowship in their respective traditions.

But there’s a profound difference between religion and spirituality.  Spiritualities have a habit of forming traditions from one generation to the next till the original intentions become lost.  Religions codify and enforce those traditions, often in ways that exclude others from the possibility of redemption, building a cultic milieu.  Many approaches to such enforcement have been directed against transpeople, often with disingenuous appeals like “hate the sin but love the sinner.”

Some who have left Abrahamism for a more basic system of worship have also been disappointed with Wiccan circles, largely because of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists who dominate many of them. These types of priestesses, while declaring “all life is sacred,” reject or even condemn transgender applicants, most particularly denying transwomen the possibility that they exist at all as women.  Transgender Wiccan covens remain few and far between and that translates into even fewer teaching covens.

Holly’s spirituality followed an eclectic Shamanism most akin to that of Native Americans.  Based in Asheville in the Appalachian region of North Carolina, she worked near the Eastern band of Cherokees.  Her eclectic approach allowed her to appeal to many traditions with a wider vision of trans spirituality than most have been willing to consider.  Holly wrote on her website Trans Spirits:

 

“I honor a vision of a re-emergence of transgender people who acknowledge a profoundly spiritual aspect of their gender journeys.  I also yearn to co-create a global trans-spiritual community, wherein we can heal and reclaim our power to contribute positively to this ailing world.  I mostly believe in magic, and the power of love.”1

 

Not many transpeople speak about a global trans-spiritual community.  Instead, most of us speak of outreach to religious communities.  Many elements of the trans community have adopted inherently schismatic attitudes that prevent this kind of community from happening.  It isn’t just Abrahamists either.  Pagans have at times demonstrated a belligerence of their own, typically in reaction to perceived “Christians” and the abuses suffered from them, and finding ways to redefine others who come to them in order to exclude them.  It can be hard to step away from the tumult of American anger fomented in an age of Trumpism and return to what those ideals have been that have sustained a trans community.  But we must step away.

Holly identified with the hippie culture during her years at Oberlin College in the 1970’s where she studied as a double major in Music Composition and English Literature.  She said that much of it seemed “a little gender-bending in its own way.”  She would also realize that transsexuals were “a thing” through a broadcast of the Phil Donahue Show.2

 She acknowledged the rise of transgender support groups, international networks and conventions in the 1980’s.  Holly credited the introduction to the trans spiritualities being most pronounced at a Denver convention operated by the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) when Rena Swifthawk taught from her own Native American spirituality.  The trend spread to other places as well, including the Southern Comfort Conference and Fantasia Fair.  Then in August 1993 the Kindred Spirits Circle which Holly founded, then Pink Moon Gathering, Full Circle of Women, Union of Spirits, and Mountain Spirits.3

One can regard her work remarkable when considering the state of trans spiritualities around 2000.  Back then much of the online trans community frequented either chat rooms in America Online (AOL) or Transgender Forum, the latter operated by 3-D Communications, Inc., maintaining a vibrant chat system nicknamed “Meow” with the administration of Jamie Faye Fenton.  Trans spiritualities weren’t widely discussed online at that time.  Only a few people were inclined to chat about trans spiritualities at all.  But the undercurrent of Wicca within the trans community was strengthening, years before Trans Faith Online.4

This undercurrent was a movement bigger than Holly Boswell, yet her work embodied that awakening that vitalized the trans community and continues to inspire today.  One need only peruse her work on the website Trans Spirits (www.trans-spirits.org) to sense that vitality.  She said:

 

“The sharing and nurturing that is possible between kindred transgender spirits is unlike any other. It is characterized by intuitive connection, trust, honoring individuality, operating in consensus, spontaneity, minimal expectations, open hearts and minds, and no hidden agendas.”5

 

That indeed is how it was when she wrote it.  Transpeople were still searching for one another many years after the Stonewall Uprising.  We all had questions about one another and ourselves and had few clues aside from our own experiences to induce any expectations.  The age captured a profound innocence centered upon the basic grist of spirituality, advanced by technique.  But that common respect made a difference that has been lost in too many places today.

 

AN ETHIC OF INCLUSION AND CELEBRATION

Holly’s openness was reflected in her ethic of inclusion and she celebrated that inclusion.  Unlike many others, she didn’t form a wedge between transsexual and cross dresser.  Unlike today’s common use of the word “transgender” to define the transsexual while excluding everyone else and delegating the medical term “transsexual” to the level of a pejorative, Holly didn’t do that.  Consider what she wrote in 1991 for Chrysalis and Tapestry:

 

Transgenderism serves as a bridge of consciousness between crossdressers and transsexual people, who feel unnecessarily estranged within our own subculture. And in the vast majority of instances, we are not so much “gender conflicted” as we are at odds (even at war), with our culture. It is our culture that imposes the polarization of gender according to biology. It is our culture that has brainwashed us, and our families and friends, who might otherwise be able to love us and embrace our diversity as desirable and natural, something to be celebrated.6

 

Not only did Holly regard this inclusion as something theoretically desirable, she actually established it in ritual.  Consider her trans-affirming ceremony performed at the time of equinox.  Equinox occurs twice a year, beginning the seasons of spring and fall.  At the equinox day and night have equal duration.  Everything is in balance.  The list of names by which she acknowledged the trailblazers tells us a lot:

 

“MtF [Stephanie Sands calling out from the Northeast Quarter]: And those still living who are blazing our trail:

Virginia Prince, Merissa Sherrill Lynn, Jan Morris, Wendy Carlos, Ari Kane, Cheryl Chase, Jane Fee, Marcia Botzer, JoAnn Roberts, Phyllis Frye, Martine Rothblatt, Riki Wilchins, Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg, James Green, Jason Cromwell, Gary Bowen, Dallas Denny, Terry Tafoya, Spotted Eagle, Chrystos, Ru Paul, all the hijra, mahu, radical faeries, musicians and artists, gender-queer kids, & so many more… PO [Primary Officiant, Holly Boswell]: To all who have gone before, and all who walk with us now, we humbly thank you, and aspire to your vision and strength.”7

 

This is a highly diverse list of people “blazing our trail.”  It didn’t just include those transitioning like Leslie Feinberg, Wendy Carlos, and Jamison Green.  It also included those who didn’t like Virginia Prince and Ari Kane.  It included drag queens like Ru Paul.  It included heterosexual cross dressers like JoAnn Roberts.   It included radical faeries like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence known for charity while dolling up as nuns.  It included gender non-conforming youth as gender-queer kids.  It included communities with mixtures of cross dressers, transsexuals, and intersex people like the Hijra, a fact recognized by British non-transgender author Zia Jaffrey who interviewed many of them.8

It’s the kind of diversity that not only celebrates sex and sexual orientation, but also gender identity and gender expression.  It’s the sort of attitude that contributed much to the advance of civil rights in the following years.  Minnesota would recognize civil rights for transpeople in 1993.  Rhode Island, New Mexico, and California would follow in 2003.  California’s recognition even followed this attitude as a legal precedent in Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination:

 

“‘Transgender’ is used as an umbrella term that includes female and male cross dressers, transvestites, drag queens or kings, female and male impersonators, intersexed [sic] individuals, pro-operative, post-operative, and non-operative transsexuals, masculine females, feminine males, all persons whose perceived gender or anatomic sex may be incongruent with their gender expression and all persons exhibiting gender characteristics and identities which are perceived to be androgynous.”9

 

Some proponents of this verbiage were also Wiccan, including Dominique Leslie, a congenial and devoted intersex individual serving as one of the initial co-chairs of San Francisco’s Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force when it convened June 1, 2000.  That task force utilized the Compliance Guidelines as the foundation document for implementing change in San Francisco practices and in the process also led to change in California law in 2003.10

Is there a direct correlation between Holly’s work and what happened in California?  Probably not; however, this current prevailed at the time transpeople experienced an expansion of laws against gender identity discrimination.  The District of Columbia and 9 states followed in 2007 and 2 more in 2011.  However, today we face a trend toward a reversal of trans rights within a growing milieu of community fragmentation.  Even Massachusetts which legislated in favor of trans rights will revisit them in a referendum in 2018.11

 

HEALING EMPOWERMENT

For Holly, this inclusion was essential not only for healing one another, but also healing the planet.  She regarded the gender dichotomy, a definition of gender as polarized according to physical sex so that nobody in-between may be tolerated, as a destructive imposition of “the patriarchy.”  Transpeople, representing a spectrum of expression, “manifested throughout history as an expression of Spirit.”12

For what purpose?  Holly regarded healing of self and the demographic as essential to affect ecological healing for the planet:

 

Some Native American elders believe that there is an abundance of transgendered [sic] people being born at this time who can help heal our world. Gender is at the very heart of who we are as human beings. Our gender transitions–the very process of gender-shift — can be viewed as a kind of Vision Quest, addressing that age-old question: who are we? To transcend gender stereotyping is to dare to be fully oneself, fully human, as Spirit intended. We must all cultivate our full capacities if we are to effectively meet the critical challenges of our time. But before we can help heal our world, we must heal ourselves. We must tell our truth, refashion old myths, and reinvent the tools we need to operate in today’s world with deep compassion and fresh relevance.13

 

It was for that purpose that Holly founded Kindred Spirits in 1993.  It was for that purpose that Holly began the Tree House in 2000 as a year-around retreat facility for gender and spirituality. Both were instrumental, instituted as vehicles to enact the real gift Holly gave to the world. 14

Honoring that vision best honors Holly Boswell.  Someone like her would perhaps prefer it that way, looking past the face of the person and into the eyes as a window to the transgender soul.  At the same time we should look into one another’s, knowing as Holly did, that the divine is to be found there, as all beings and even all things are divine, none without purpose and all deserving of healing and vitality.

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REFERENCES:

Featured Image:  Fragments of images emphasize Holly Boswell’s vision as focused upon her right eye, the Tree House, which Holly instituted a, an etheric version of the Trans Spirits circle, repeated as in the tones of a drumming circle that calls to the dreamtime. (original image sources unknown but can be viewed in their full forms at www.trans-spirits.org).

  1. Holly Boswell. “Who We Are” Trans Spirits (accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.trans-spirits.org/who_are_we.html.
  2. Joey Plaster. “Personal Histories – Holly Boswell (OC72) Oberlin LGBT (Oral History by phone August 12, 2004, accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.oberlinlgbt.org/personal-histories/boswell/.
  3. Holly Boswell. “Ancient Roots” Trans Spirits (accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.trans-spirits.org/spirit_of_transgender.html.
  4. The author relies upon her own recollections from social media available at that time.
  5. Op cit.
  6. Boswell, Holly. “The Transgender Alternative” Chrysalis, Vol. 1, No. 2., Winter 1991-1992., reposted by IFGE (accessed August 23, 2017) http://www.ifge.org/?q=node/58
  7. Holly Boswell. “Trans-affirming Ceremony at Equinox: presented by Kindred Spirits Traveling Medicine Show” Trans Spirits (accessed August 21, 2017) http://www.trans-spirits.org/trans_affirming.html. Bracket’s are those of the author, Lynnea Urania Stuart for the sake of clarity.
  8. Jaffrey, Zia. “The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India.” (Pantheon Books, Random House, NY.  1991)  ISBN: 0-679-41577-7, p. 143.  Jaffrey interviewed 100 Hijra and described them them as: 76% castrated, 13% hermaphrodite or pseudo-hermaphrodite, 11% transvestite “zenanas”, 51% identified as males, 49% identified as females.
  9. Human Rights Commission. “Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination: respecting San Francisco Administrative Code Chapter 12A, 12B, 12C; and San Francisco Municipal Police Code Article 33” (December 10, 1998) City and County of San Francisco, p. 3.
  10. Witnessed by the author on June 1, 2000. The other co-chair initially serving was Marcus Arana.  They held their positions as appointed co-chairs till the task force elected co-chairs to serve over the year.
  11. (n.a.) Massachussets Transgender Anti-Discrimination Veto Referencum (2018)” Ballotpedia (accessed August 21, 2017) https://ballotpedia.org/Massachusetts_Transgender_Anti-Discrimination_Veto_Referendum_(2018).
  12. Holly Boswell. “Ancient Roots”.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Mila Madison. “Transgender Symbol Creator and Activist Holly Boswell Passes Away” Transgender Universe (August 14, 2017, accessed August 21, 2017) http://transgenderuniverse.com/2017/08/14/transgender-symbol-creator-and-activist-holly-boswell-passes-away/.
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Lessons of Leadership: A Review of TRANS/ACTIVE

Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

Committees are already gathering worldwide.  Their members, planning the next International Transgender Day of Remembrance (ITDOR, or simply, TDOR), take various approaches to what has become the international trans community’s most sacred event.  For planners and speakers, the new paperback, TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith should be required reading.

It should not only be required for them, it’s a book that should be read by every trans activist and trans ally because it describes keys to success in securing human rights for a people for whom human rights was considered laughable for too long.  In a year when religious Dominionist forces seek to snuff out and erase the memory of a minority of minorities, it’s time to revisit what made the Day of Remembrance and trans activism as a whole so vital.

The story of Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of the Day of Remembrance, and known by many of us simply as “Gwen”, is more than a transition story.  Unlike most of publications of that genre, this story tells the unfolding of a life of activism and a determination to fight the prevailing erasure through the preservation of memory.

Her approach to challenging others is clever and genteel, pointed and philosophical.  The reader may find the biography laced with quotes like:

 

“If all you’ve ever known of transpeople are late-night comedian jokes and fear-mongering about bathrooms, what would you think of transpeople?  Instead, let’s put an actual transperson in the room, and challenge those misconceptions.1

 

The author, Sophia Cecilia Leveque, pursued writing this biography after a synchronous “accident”.  It began with a Wikipedia edit-a-thon hosted by the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University, where participants wrote about prominent members of underrepresented communities.  She chose Gwendolyn Ann Smith because the name “Gwendolyn” had enchanted her through other powerful writers who shared that name.  But when needing to reference her Wikipedia page, she found too little online biographical information.2

Ms. Leveque is a young writer of 23 years, competent, but not yet seasoned.  She recently graduated and now pursues a Master’s degree.3 She approaches the story in gonzo style, building upon personal interviews.  Her approach reveals a genuine candor, but at times seems apologetic:

 

“The clock struck five and I called.  Two rings and she answered, sounding breathless.  Was it possible she was nervous too?  Her voice was smooth, very much like her writing. She made a few jokes to put me at ease and said she couldn’t believe someone wanted to interview her.  I told her I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t already.  I could hear myself talking too fast, trying to fit as much into one interview as I could, in case she decided she didn’t want to have another call.  I asked many invasive questions without meaning to, but the hour flew by.4

 

Ms. Leveque succeeded in presenting a multi-dimensional activist.  Gwen Smith may be known best as the founder of the Day of Remembrance, but her activism began to blossom by tackling anti-transgender bias manifest in a ban on anything transgender by America On Line (AOL).  Gwen not only succeeded but continued to administer an online chat within the Gay and Lesbian Community Forum which became Transgender Community Forum, then The Gazebo..  Other online platforms would follow the lead of AOL.5

The importance of this contribution, too often overlooked, cannot be overestimated.  The Internet has been the most potent medium that brought together the modern trans community.  Much of today’s community may be found on online services like Facebook, Twitter, and GooglePlus; in fact today we find more transpeople socializing online than in support groups who meet at brick-and-mortar locations like liberal churches, LGBT centers, private offices, and gay bars.

The original connection between Rita Hester and the Day of Remembrance has long been well documented.6 But the death of Chanelle Pickett and its connection to the same has had far less billing, thought emphasized in TRANS/ACTIVE.  Both transwomen “of color” died in proximity to one another under similar circumstances but scarcely anyone connected them.  Gwen recognized this lacuna in what seemed like a milieu of collective amnesia, a sad internal failure deserving of indictment:

 

“Gwen was not only incredulous; she was angry.  These 2 cases were eerily similar and no one was making a connection between them_ there was simply no community memory.”7

 

This level of insight makes Gwen’s story so compelling.  It’s precisely this realization that has enabled many transpeople to rise up out of the underground, onto the streets and into the halls of government.  It’s a realization that comes from reserving the right to question why things are so; and also to look for ways to make change happen, however crazy creative ideas leading to solutions may initially appear.  This alone, apart from anything else, makes Gwen an example for activists everywhere.

The book, however, isn’t free from inaccuracy, even aside from the usual typographical issues that often bedevil first editions.  One instance particularly would have been difficult for any writer to catch unless she had been familiar with a civic organization’s modus operandī, therefore requiring further explanation:

 

“She [Gwen] was working on other social justice projects, as well.  She worked to get ‘the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass a health care benefits ordinance for transgendered [sic] city employees as part of the City and County of San Francisco’s Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force.  This task force also mandated that all single occupancy bathrooms in the city would be gender neutral.’”8

 

The Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force convened on June 1, 2000 in a conference room on the second floor of San Francisco City Hall overlooking McAllister Street.  The 17 voting members were required to be San Francisco transgender residents selected from 3 sources:  6 by Mayor Willie Brown, 6 by the Board of Supervisors, and the remainder by the Human Rights Commission, though the residency requirement was waived for a couple of members whose expertise City officials desired for the effort.  The City assigned the task force a 2-year mandate after the 1994 passage of Municipal Proposition L that gave local recognition for the civil rights of transpeople.  Task force members would evaluate how well the city had followed the will of the electorate.  They were also to recommend implementation for change in the City’s practices.  This task force was a source for reform in police practice, transition benefits, and became a springboard for later change in California civil rights law.  Statewide change took the form of AB 196 that passed in August 2003, making California the 4th state after Minnesota, Rhode Island, and New Mexico to recognize transpeople as deserving of civil rights.  But discussions for addressing state law began with this task force in October 2000 and the verbiage of AB 196 followed the pattern its members discussed.9

Of course, 17 members couldn’t carry out all they needed to do by themselves.  Worse yet, some task force members couldn’t continue their duties for long because of financial or other personal reasons.  Several committees convened at various times each month and various locations in addition to the general meetings at City Hall on the first Thursday of each month.  From the beginning, the task force filled these committee positions with volunteer transpeople who did not need to be appointed or be San Francisco residents but who also attended the general meetings in an outer ring of seats away from the conference table.  These volunteers had access to documents pertaining to committees and all documents of the general meetings including the cornerstone document from the Human Rights Commission titled, Compliance Guidelines to Prohibit Gender Identity Discrimination.  Everyone in the room had some role in trans activism.  However, these volunteers were not considered part of the task force.  They were assistants to the task force much like a clerk who works at the meetings of the Board of Supervisors is an assistant and not part of the board.  It’s a distinction too easily overlooked.

By 2001, the task force was in danger of losing a required quorum and began to take new appointees.  The Board of Supervisors considered Gwen’s appointment as a voting member in August 2001.10 The date of Gwen’s appointment is important to the narrative because it occurs after, not before passage of transition benefits.  Task force members and volunteers were talking informally about transition benefits back in 2000.  Supervisor (now State Senator) Mark Leno authored the measure and introduced it in January 2001.  Its introduction hit the U.S. news media like a bomb, inciting national ridicule from late night political pundits and comics.  Despite opponents’ attempts to make San Francisco a laughingstock over health care for transpeople, proponents rallied in March 2001 and the Board of Supervisors passed transition benefits on Monday, April 30, 2001 with a vote of 9-2.  Many trans activists were present at City Hall at the time of passage including Gwen Smith as reported by Janis Ryan of Transgender San Francisco, writing in The Channel.11

So while it’s accurate to say that Gwen worked for passage of transition benefits, she could only have done so as a volunteer in 2001, not as a voting member of the task force.  Her work as a voting member would have applied to implementing what had already been passed and the success of this program was well established by 2006.12 The author should make this distinction when preparing this book for any future printing.

Ms. Leveque’s book features what may be the most extensive appendix for a book of pocket size: a list of transpeople people unfairly killed since 1970, almost the time of the Stonewall Uprising and from Gwen’s own research.  This list alone is worth perusing well.  By Gwen’s own admission, this list is by no means comprehensive “due to lack of proper media coverage, incorrect police information, and an overall lack of available information, particularly from earlier years.”13

The list seems overwhelming, frightening, and poignant.  It’s a list any trans activist should have ready to hand and available for reference.  It invites everyone to say and remember the names, to defy attempts to erase the victims, and implicitly, all transfolk from the world’s memory.  It also invites us to do our own research, to question and compare.  Consider a sample for a single month as an example, as compiled from the Trans Murder Monitoring Project and the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT):

 

  1. Alejandra Leos, age 41, shot 9/6/2014 in Tennessee.
  2. Karen Alanis, age 23, thrown from a moving truck 9/10/2014 in São Paulo, Brazil, and died at 7 pm at a local hospital.
  3. Cris, unknown age, killed by a drive-by shooter 9/13/2014 in Foz de Iguaçu, Brazil.
  4. Unknown cross dressed victim, allegedly found burned in Los Angeles 9/15/2014. (The obscure story then cited as coming from NBC Los Angeles has not been verified.)
  5. Gabriel Lopez, age 46 and Marcela Lopez, age 46, killed 9/15/2014 in Medellin Antioquia, Columbia as reported from 2 sources but both may be the same victim. No details recorded.
  6. Billi Saeed, age 27, killed 9/22/2014 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. No details recorded.
  7. Mahadevi, age 22, killed in Bangalore, India 9/24/2014. No details recorded.
  8. Bruna Lakles, age 29, killed 9/30/2014 in Brazil. No details recorded.
  9. Aniya Parker, age 47, fatally shot 10/2/2014 while walking home in Los Angeles. The LAPD and City Council offered $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of the culprits.14

 

Compare these names with Gwen’s list on pages 116, 117 for the same period:

 

  1. Alejandra Leos, Memphis Tennessee, USA, 2014, gunshot to the head.
  2. Karen Alanis, Caçapava, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2014, thrown from a vehicle, ran over.
  3. Marcela Duque, Medellin, Colombia, 2014, stoned to death.
  4. Cris, Portal da Foz, Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, 2014, multiple gunshot wounds
  5. Mahadevi, Malleshwara, Karnataka, India, 2014, pushed off a moving train.
  6. Bruna Lakiss, Várzea Grande, Mato Grosso, Brazil, 2014, gunshot wound.
  7. Gaviota dos Santos, Rio Largo, Alagoas, Brazil, 2014, 3 shots to the face.
  8. Aniya Parker, Los Angeles California USA, 2014, gunshot wound to the head.15

 

The differences are themselves instructive for any archivist and historian as well as any activist who contributes to the Day of Remembrance.  Billi Saeed and the unknown victim burned in Los Angeles do not appear in Gwen’s list.  Gaviota dos Santos does not appear in the TMM-IDAHOT list from that time, though she may have been recognized later and so may have slipped through the cracks of being remembered at some 2014 observances.  Gabriel (Marcella) Lopez appears on Gwen’s list as Marcela Duque.  Bruna Lakles appears as Bruna Lakiss in Gwen’s list.  Other details emerge when making comparisons.

This is a very good thing to do because of a grim fact.  One person cannot hope to gather and maintain a fully correct and comprehensive list from year to year and from one generation to the next.  Gwen can’t.  Neither can I.  It takes a collective, a coordinated network across generations and international boundaries.  Even then we can’t be entirely sure the facts are 100% correct.

But it says something more.  While the lists associated with observance of the Day of Remembrance tell us how transpeople, especially those “of color,” have became fodder for slaughter, they don’t say much about how these transpeople lived or what lessons they may have gleaned.  Today’s news articles often offer much more in this respect and we need to give these stories attention concerning their details.  We must do the best we can because these people deserve to be remembered, and to do otherwise may render the entire demographic forgotten by default as it has during much of human history.

But the main contribution of Ms. Leveque’s biography consists of presenting Gwen’s insight.  It’s evident in her admonition to allies.16 It’s also evident in Gwen’s statements about the intentions of ITDOR, a much more serious event than what has sometimes occurred.17 ITDOR has been exploited to merchandize LGBT centers and sponsors even to the point of them becoming like street vendors in an atmosphere resembling a fair.  When sponsors gain a greater voice than the names of victims and speakers talk about the progress of their own transitions instead of defying erasure, they could cheat an entire gathering of attendees who attempt to exercise the observance.18

Gwen’s insight is what this book will continue to contribute, details of which should be read and re-read.  The work Gwendolyn Ann Smith has performed over the years has enriched and unified the trans community and this book will continue that enrichment in good measure.  Personal details are incidental.  But remembering her principles and following her actions offer the best and most enduring compliment by which her activism will endure as a legacy.

 

 

TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith

By Sophia Cecelia Leveque

Produced and distributed by Library Partners Press

Z. Smith Reynolds Library

Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem NC

www.librarypartnerspress.org

ISBN: 978-1-61846-044-8

 

Paperback, 127 pages

Available on Amazon

 

Proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the National center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Trans Lifeline, TransLaw Help, and the TransActive Gender Center in Portland OR.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANY OTHER TOPIC ON OUR SITE, PLEASE JOIN THE CONVERSATION ON THE TMP FORUM

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REFERENCES:

 

Featured Image:  (clockwise from the left) The cover of TRANS/ACTIVE; a scene from the first ever Transgender Day of Remembrance on a drippy evening in the Castro in 1999, from the archives of Lynnea Urania Stuart, source is an unknown amateur San Francisco photographer.  “Stop the killing!  Stop the hate!” was the mantra of protesters that night, available from Theresa Sparks on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-lTsu9SQXM .  Quotation from page 51 of TRANS/ACTIVE, leaping into light out of the darkness.

 

  1. Leveque, Sophia Cecelia. TRANS/ACTIVE: A Biography of Gwendolyn Ann Smith (Winston-Salem NC, Library Partners Press, ZSR Library, Wake Forest University August 1, 2017), p. 51.
  2. Ibid, p. 5.
  3. Ibid, p. 9.
  4. Ibid, p. 10.
  5. Ibid, pp. 19-21.
  6. Rita’s death often appears without mention of Chantelle’s as in “Transgender Day of Remembrance #TDOR – November 20” GLAAD https://www.glaad.org/tdor , accessed August 10, 2017.
  7. Op cit. p. 42.
  8. Ibid, p. 52.
  9. Unless otherwise noted, the writer, Lynnea Urania Stuart, relies upon her own recollections as a volunteer to the Transgender Civil Rights Implementation Task Force from June through November 2000 when she served as Employment Committee Secretary and attended the general meetings. Gwen was nowhere at the general meetings through November 2000 so could not have worked for the task force before December 2000.  Further conversation with Gwen on August 6, 2017 revealed that she recalled initially taking a seat next to the window near Larry Brinkin.  Brinkin, being an advisor to the task force, and not himself transgender, typically sat at the outer ring behind and to the right of Co-Chair Sarah Marshall.  Consequently, Gwen would have also sat in the outer ring. The writer has followed developments related to task force activities after moving from the Bay Area.  She writes about the task force and its relationship with AB 196 in detail in “California’s Trans Rights Collective” Transpire (June 10, 2016 ) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/californias-trans-rights-collective/ .
  10. Letter from the Clerk of the Rules Committee, San Francisco Board of Supervisors to Gwendolyn Ann Smith, dated August 9, 2001 (supplied by Gwendolyn Ann Smith August 6, 2017).
  11. Ryan, Janis “Transgender History Made in San Francisco” The Channel 20, Issue 6, June 1001,Transgender San Francisco, p. 15.
  12. Human Rights Commission. “San Francisco City and County Transgender Health Benefit” (memo revisiting the issue of transition benefits, 2006). Copy available online from  Transgender At Work Project. http://www.tgender.net/taw/SanFranciscoTGBenefitUpdateMar3106.pdf .
  13. Leveque, p. 77.
  14. List of transgender victims from the writer’s own archive.
  15. Op cit, pp. 116, 117.
  16. Ibid, p. 63.
  17. Ibid, p. 59.
  18. Witnessed by the writer, Lynnea Urania Stuart in Orange County CA. The writer has also witnessed how some younger members of a planning committee groaned at the perceived “drudgery” of reading the names of victims, an exercise that has embodied the very heart of the Day of Remembrance.
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