Monday, 4 September 2017

Interview with Fran Fried


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Fran Fried, an American editor, writer, blogger, DJ, music fiend, friend, daughter and, accidental civil rights activist from Prospect, Connecticut. Hello Fran!
Fran: Hi, Monika! Thanks for finding me and thanks for the interview. I’m honored and flattered to be in some pretty good company here! 
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Fran: Well, I’m a writer, an editor, a DJ, a daughter, a sister, a good friend – and, oh, yeah, by the way, I’m trans. I’m out and about in the everyday world, and if you don’t know me, chances are you won’t read me. As far as I can tell, with my friends, being trans is just incidental; first and foremost, to them, as well as myself, I’m Fran. The gender dysphoria is just one facet of an interesting life – a big, honking facet, but still, just one nonetheless.
At the time of this interview (summer 2017), I just turned 56 (spiritually 30). I was born in Brooklyn (Greenpoint, 40 years before it became hip and overpriced). We moved when I was 4 to Prospect, a town in southwest-central Connecticut, two hours northeast of NYC and about 25 minutes northwest of New Haven; it has nearly 10,000 people, four traffic lights and four pizza joints – and, last year, a lot of Trump lawn signs. I grew up an A-student and a good Catholic boy to devout parents (altar boy for eight years at the church up the street, four years of Catholic high school in neighboring Waterbury). I also grew up hearing “You faggot!” and variations thereof – not because I was overtly femme (which I wasn’t), but because I was slight, blonde, sensitive and one of the smartest kids in class. Needless to say, childhood and much of adolescence were torture.
The budding DJ Fran, taking requests.
Brooklyn, 1962.
I somehow managed to not fully give in to the depression that kicked in full-on not long after puberty. By the time I headed to college, I wanted to be a sportswriter, a music writer and a DJ. And I got to be all three. I got a B.A. in Communications at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University; I hosted a late-night new wave show at the campus radio station, and was a work-study intern in the school’s PR/sports information office. (And it was at that job my senior year, through a chain of events, that I became the catalyst behind Jackie Gleason releasing the “Lost Episodes” of "The Honeymooners.")
I worked nearly 10 years at my hometown paper, the Waterbury Republican-American. (And the publisher’s politics are every bit as vile as the name implies.) For six years, I was a sportswriter: high school sports and amateur golf tournaments, some occasional New York Giants, Jets, Yankees and Mets games, and for 2 ½ seasons I was the Hartford Whalers beat writer. I was also freelancing album reviews and a music column for the paper, and the higher-ups created a full-time entertainment writer opening, so in early 1990 I moved over to features, where I could cheer in the press box.
In late summer 1992, I moved on to the New Haven Register as its entertainment editor/music writer. (I was living in New Haven and part of the alt-music scene there.) I put out the paper’s Weekend section on Fridays and I interviewed hundreds of artists, from legends to locals. (The short list includes Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson, Luciano Pavarotti, Sonny Rollins, Nancy Wilson, Dave Brubeck, Little Richard and Paul Giamatti, a New Haven native.) But it was 2 ½ full-time jobs, 55-60 hours a week, for one lousy paycheck, and the stress was killing me, and I needed something to happen.
In September 2003 I got an email from the then-features editor at The Fresno Bee, asking if I’d be interested in being an assistant features editor there. It was one of the largest papers in California, McClatchy was then one of the best companies in the business, people weren’t offering me great jobs every day, and I knew, as I entered middle age, that this was the one big chance I’d have to make a change my life. I just had no idea how my life would change. And six months later, I was on the plane to Fresno.
And here’s why you’re interviewing me …


January 9, 2008 was the night of my Epiphany. I came home from work, too tired to even turn on "Jeopardy!," as I usually did. I threw my coat on the bed, sat down at the foot of the bed, looked at the closet …
I have this weird voice of reason that comes to me at crucial points in my life – a creepy whisper, almost like HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey." Well, on this winter night in 2008, HAL came to visit, and the voice sounded as if were out-of-body – and I turned sharply to my left as it said, simply, “Can you do this?”
And I knew what it was asking me. Like most of us under the umbrella, I knew at a very young age that I was at least different somehow. But I never felt I was in the wrong body as much as I was spiritually one of the girls. (I’m pre-op – been on hormones since 2010, but not planning any surgery.) I did like “boy” things (baseball, Hot Wheels), but if I had my way, I’d have been taking ballet with the girls, going shopping with the girls, wearing cute outfits and all that fun stuff. But I suppressed it for a number of reasons. My family and my religion and the town where I lived, for starters. Plus, I went into sportswriting, and it was hard enough being even androgynous in that atmosphere. Still, I would surreptitiously buy some clothes and tights and shoes (long before the Web) and dress up on my own at home – and I did manage to let on to all my girlfriends except one, after building much trust, and they were fine with me dressing up from time to time. I still didn’t know whether it was a fetish or something deeper. 
But I was totally caught off-guard by this inner voice. I turned around and yelled, “What are, fucking NUTS?!? You have a respectable job, you’re a newspaper editor and you work with high school kids, and all it’s gonna take is one parent equating gender, homosexuality and pedophilia!” The best part of my job was editing and mentoring a group of extremely bright high-school students who had their own Sunday features page; Fresno is a very religious-right place, and it really wasn’t a stretch to think as I did.
But then the voice shot back, in a calmer tone: “Look – you’re 46, you’re more than halfway past your life expectancy, and you should be dead already.” (A brutal case of sleep apnea nearly killed me a few months before.) “So are you gonna find out for real or are you gonna be fat, miserable and in the closet the rest of your life?” I sighed and said, “Okay, this is where I’m going. So how the hell do I do this?”
It’s easy to forget now that even with the explosion of info on the Web, there still wasn’t much info to go on for transpeople in 2008. I had no road map, no clue how I was gonna transition. It would be, and was, a near-totally instinctual process. And since I wasn’t on a deadline, I was moving very slowly and carefully – looking at Web pages and seeing what sorts of clothes would best fit my body and let me pass well; selling a couple of batches of rock T-shirts on eBay to bankroll my wardrobe and shoe closet; and starting the coming-out process with my bestie in Fresno. A week and a half later, on MLK Day, my bestie in Fresno, Heather, went with me to San Francisco and I had my first girls' day out and my first makeover, at a MAC store, where I learned how to do my face.
When I was a young & skinny sportswriter.
Mother's Day, Prospect, CT, 1985.
I spent the rest of the year progressing slowly, perfecting how to do my face and building a wardrobe. And the coming-out accelerated that August when I went home on vacation; I told about 10 of my closest friends, including four ex-girlfriends; all were wonderfully supportive. That gave me the confidence to start taking baby steps in public and going out late at night as Frannie 2.0. By Christmastime, I was out to all my friends in Fresno except my co-workers.
The economy took care of that. I was discarded in March 2009, in the teeth of the depression, in McClatchy’s first round of newsroom layoffs. I had to really make certain in a hurry that I would be interviewing for my next job as Fran instead of Fran. But as it turned out, I had a lot more time to prepare than I wanted – I was out of work for 2 ½ solid years. Talk about the Twin Towers of Anxiety – Transition and Unemployment. 
Thankfully, my circle of friends in Fresno exploded after I came out – lots of open arms literally and figuratively. It was the best surprise of the whole transition. And it probably kept me from walking into the ocean, between the uselessness and worthlessness that come with prolonged unemployment, and my coming-out process with my family 3,000 miles away. (I came out to them in September 2009, and we encountered about 14 months of weirdness, but by the end of 2010, all was well on that front.)
The Bee brought me back in September 2011 as a part-time copy editor, again to literal and figurative open arms. But the hours dried up after Christmas, and the company cut my position at the end of June 2012. I was able to scrape up enough money from family and friends and rent a big old Penske truck and drive the 3,009 miles from the Bee parking lot to my parents’ front door that August. The home where I grew up. 
Here in Prospect, I have friends from childhood who know, and the rest either don’t know or don’t care. I’ve even had a couple of childhood nemeses apologize to me. But despite living near enough to one of the largest cities on the planet, the job search went just as badly back here, and I wasn’t looking at just journalism. (I’m guessing a lot has to do with ageism – the form of discrimination that’s hardest to prove but seemingly most prevalent.) It took 11 months before I was hired part-time on the news copy desk at MSN in Midtown Manhattan. My first job as Frannie 2.0 where no one knew me going in. It was a huge boost for me; I thrived on the energy of the City, I got along well with my co-workers … and then Microsoft gutted the copy desk two months in.
There seemed to be something cosmic to the timing, personally – two days after my job ended, my mother spent nine weeks in the hospital and seven weeks in rehab for Hodgkin’s (she’s still here). The week before she came home, the Register hired me back as a paginator, someone who electronically lays out pages. I was part of a team that laid out pages for 10 daily papers and several weeklies in the Northeast. The pay was less than I made the first time around, but it was a job … until our whole department was dumped in December 2015. And once again, I’m guessing there was an element of timing, for me at least – I was around for my father’s final five months, with his second go-round with prostate cancer.
Two days after his funeral in May 2016 – and the week my unemployment ran out – I was hired by a French-owned company an hour from here. My title is listings editor. Our department inputs events from markets all over the States and Canada into a monster meta database that clients buy for their use – newspapers, TV news websites, travel agencies and other businesses. I now make about $100 less a week than I did on unemployment – 29 ¾ hours a week (so they don’t have to consider me full-time), at $10.22 an hour. (And in a laughable twist, McClatchy is one of the company’s biggest clients – I’m now the de facto listings editor for the Fresno Bee, as well as their other three California dailies.)

Franorama World - Fran's blog.

Thank God I still have a place to sleep for now, as I navigate life with a mother widowed after 56 years. On the good side, the trans thing has never been a problem, here as well as any other place I’ve worked as 2.0 – I get on fine with my co-workers, and in fact, my second day on the job, the H.R. director circulated a memo about trans in the workplace.
I’m still at home at the moment, though I’m constantly thinking something good is bound to happen soon. I continue to put out job applications, only to receive no response in return much of the time. My whole M.O. with everything in life has been to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. And something has to stick eventually!
I’ve done some other things that look good on any résumé. I’ve hosted radio shows since 1991. I had a regular show on WPKN, a well-regarded nonprofit community FM station in Bridgeport, for 13 years until my move, and I’ve sporadically done fill-in shows since. And since February 2013, I’ve hosted a regular show, “Franorama 2.0,” on Cygnus Radio, an online station based here in Connecticut. It’s a hybrid between a podcast and freeform ’70s FM radio; we play whatever we want (with me, it’s mostly garage, Northern soul, early punk, some great new sounds and many things in between), whenever we want, and since we’re Web, we’re certainly not restricted by FCC language rules. And I have listeners from around the world. 
In early 2017, I narrated a documentary, "The High School That Rocked!" It’s a half-hour film about Staples High in Westport, CT. It’s a half-hour film about Staples High in Westport, CT. Before rock concerts became an “industry,” they brought some of the biggest names in the business to their auditorium: The Beau Brummels, The Remains, The Animals, The Rascals, The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck (with Steven Tyler’s teenage band opening), Cream, The Doors, Sly & the Family Stone, Phil Ochs and Buddy Miles. It’s been well-received so far on the documentary circuit. I’ve also been a talking head in two music documentaries (on The Remains and longtime Connecticut band The Reducers), and sung on a couple of tribute albums (The Reducers and a longtime New Haven duo, The Furors).
Elvis and me. Fresno, late 2006, a little more than a year
before my epiphany.
I also do some public speaking/advocacy about the trans thing. I’ve spoken about the challenges of trans healthcare to an undergrad nursing class and a graduate nurse practitioner class at Southern Connecticut State University; talked about gender identity to classes at Capital Community College in Hartford and Manhattanville College, and to a teen group at the Unitarian Society of New Haven. I’ve also recently spoken to a meeting of the Connecticut Association of Electrology.
And in October 2015, I was asked for my input when the William Floyd School District, an 8,000-student district in Suffolk County, Long Island, was creating a formal trans-inclusionary student policy. And at the beginning of August, I fulfilled a lifelong goal by being a contestant on "Jeopardy," a show I've watched since the very early days of the original version, as a toddler in Brooklyn. To the best of our knowledge (the staff's and mine), I'm only the third trans contestant they've had. I can't discuss how I did, as my appearance won't be shown until mid-October, but it'll make for some epic television, I can tell you that much.  
Monika: I saw your short story in The New York Times series titled “Transgender Today.” Why did you decide to come out to the general public?
Fran: I actually had already been out publicly a few years at that point (2015). When I was first job-hunting in ’09, I figured that being out and open – and completely owning it – was the best defense. No one could hold any secrets over me, for one. For another, I had to learn to interact in public without drawing undue attention to myself. (Great lesson learned: Act as if you belong, and you’ll belong. People are so wrapped up in their own lives that they won’t notice you unless you act awfully nervous and draw attention to yourself. Easier said than done, I know.) And for another, I found a reserve of self-esteem and strength I never knew I had.
I encountered these occasional speed bumps along the way – the inner voice asking “Is this where you really want to go?” as I inched toward full-time and toward hormones. It was good to pause and reflect. And my answer was always the same: “Can you see yourself living as a man again?” Easy decision. But I told myself, when I decided to venture into trying to find a job, “Three things: 1) You’re not a freak, 2) you’re not a piece of shit, and 3) you’re not a second-class citizen and you’re not gonna be treated as such.” I took that and internalized it, and I grew into it. I became, to some extent, the woman I wanted to have been all along. To a large extent, I owned it, and soon I could stride in heels figuratively as well as literally. 
I started a blog called Franorama World in the winter of 2010. The initial purpose was to let the job world know I was Web-savvy. (Didn’t help.) I was thrashing around trying to figure out what to write about, and somewhere early on, I had a “Duh!” moment – Write about your transition! It’ll help people try to understand what this crazy trip is that you’re going through, and it can be the basis for your book. So that I did.
The winter of 2011, I broke down, at the urging of my dearest friend in the universe, Paola, back in New Haven, and started a Facebook account. That was my coming-out to many friends back East. And people came out of the woodwork; I lost two people in the process (both back here) and gained hundreds around the world. I was lucky; I do count my blessings. 
Anyway, in June 2011, the week I turned 50, Connecticut’s state Senate was debating adding trans to the list of protections in its civil rights laws. Since I was already out to many people, I emailed my old New Haven Register colleagues and pitched an op-ed piece leading into the vote at session’s end later that week. Maybe if readers could attach a face to it – maybe someone they used to read regularly in the paper – it might help push the cause along. The story ran on a Wednesday morning, and the messages and friend requests came in an avalanche. And damned if they didn’t run the piece in a story package on A1; I wasn’t expecting that. And the Senate passed the bill early Saturday morning, on my birthday.
I was back at the Register in 2015 when Caitlyn Jenner came out, and it was natural that they’d ask me to write another op-ed. About the same time, I saw the “Transgender Today” feature that The New York Times’ Opinion section had begun online – 400-word profiles from people all over the T spectrum. I did it partly as a writing exercise (writing short, which, obviously, this isn’t), partly as a way of adding some more pixels to the mosaic that The Times was building – another person living out in the everyday world in a pretty interesting time, being on the vanguard of the final frontier of civil rights.
Monika: You transitioned into a woman in your late 40s. Have you ever regretted doing this so late in your life?
Fran: I guess everything in its time – though it would’ve made my life a hell of a lot easier had I been able to do this at a much younger age. But I couldn’t have done this back when I was a kid, in the ’60s and ’70s, for several reasons. I grew up with strict parents in a Catholic home. Also, there was very little understanding of gender dysphoria at the time, among professionals and laypeople alike – I mean there wasn’t really a common language until the early 2010s, when you think about it – and had I gone to a therapist back then as a tortured teen, I might have ended up even more screwed-up.
So yes – I would’ve loved to have been able to transition as a child or a teen, because it might have helped me avoid years of depression, and the accompanying depression/anxiety overeating that came with it. And, of course, I would’ve been much more of myself. But it’s what it is. It wasn’t possible at the time for a lot of reasons. I’m just glad that it happened while I was still young enough to enjoy much of it.
Only one of us is made of Legos. Sam and
me at the Mark Twain House, Hartford,
December 2015.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Fran: Not particularly. But I mean, there were certainly people I made note of over my formative years who made an impact on me, before I truly knew where I was headed. I read wire stories about Christine Jorgensen and the noted English travel writer Jan Morris not long before puberty; I was especially taken with Morris’ before-and-after photos – a dour, unhappy-looking man and a woman with a total, unabashed smile. There was Caroline Cossey, aka Tula, who became a Bond girl. And in the ’80s, I’d read about, and seen photos of, Roberta Close, the stunning Brazilian model. In the ’90s, a good friend bought me Holly Woodlawn’s memoir, “A Low Life in High Heels,” one birthday. (The wild side, indeed!) And in the ’90s, I read Leslie Feinberg’s "Transgender Warriors"; the book was a great history lesson (I guess I actually was questioning back then, or at the least fascinated), and I felt a deep respect for Feinberg and what she had done. 
I have a great and special respect for everyone who transitioned early on – with no real path to follow, little info to go on, sometimes lots of research to do, and a LOT of fear of repercussions – of shunning, of losing jobs, of ridicule, of violence. Obviously, and sadly, while we’ve come a long way, those fears are still all-too-real – and justified.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Fran: Well, generally speaking, I have respect for anyone who’s gone through our particular trip!
I haven’t found my niche yet, which is frustrating – I haven’t found the place where I can best use my talents and social connections and visibility and truly make a difference – but I have a great respect for transpeople in general, across the spectrum, who have made some impact. A few years back, I met Christina Kahrl, who’s one of the country’s most respected baseball writers (as a co-founder of the Baseball Prospectus, she was at the forefront of statistics-driven baseball); she’s a baseball editor at ESPN, and her work as a journalist has obviously broken down barriers, and when she was living in Chicago, she also did a lot of work to further trans civil rights there.
There are other women as well whose stories in recent years have inspired me on some level. Victoria Kolakowski, in Alameda County (Oakland), became California’s first trans trial judge while I was living out west. Also, there was Amanda Simpson, who became a deputy defense secretary under Barack Obama, the first openly trans presidential appointee. Of course, Laverne Cox’s story from struggle to stardom is well-known at this point.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfilment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Fran: The hardest thing was, as I’m guessing has been the case with so many of us, fear. I firmly believe fear and gravity are the two ruling forces that govern the world. Had I, as is the case with many of us, not been so afraid of the consequences earlier in life, I could have done this at a younger age. (And maybe, as I mentioned, I wouldn’t have been in a position where I’ve had to struggle with my weight for half my life. I’m doing my damndest now to right that ship so I can keep health problems from popping up.)
It’s easy to look back now with 20/20 hindsight and say “What were you so afraid of?” But when I was confronted with my reality, in that huge moment of honest clarity a decade ago, I was frightened beyond anything I’d ever experienced, and for all the reasons you brought up. (But I was more exhausted and relieved that I finally confronted it and didn’t have to fight it anymore.) It all boiled down to that universal question: “What will people think?” It’s why I took such tiny, timid baby steps, in the privacy of my house, the first few months, with only a couple of friends knowing what I was doing. Tiny steps – little pebbles that would make for a strong foundation. Then, it was my closest friends at home. Then it was, gradually, my friends in the Tower District in Fresno. Each step I took outward from that core, each stone added to the foundation, gave me a little more confidence, a little more strength – because I knew I was gonna need every bit of strength it as I inched toward coming out to my family.
My family said all the right things when I finally did come out, but as I mentioned, it was 14 months of weirdness before all was well with the folks. I was pretty much at my breaking point, between the stress of the family and the joblessness, when I had the longest conversation I ever had with my father, about 40 minutes on the phone from California, the week before Thanksgiving 2010. And the turning point? It was when I mentioned how I had been on hormones a few months, and how they cleared up 35 years of depression like that. And what I didn’t know was that, as he was going through his first go-round with prostate cancer at that point, the doctor had put him on estrogen to shrink his prostate. It was a common ground, it was something medical, and he could relate in some way. So that was a really good, and unexpected, icebreaker. 
But the second half of this was that I called one of my cousins in Pennsylvania right after I got off the phone with him. My folks were leaving it up to me to tell the relatives, and I hadn’t started yet because of the resistance I was getting from my immediate family. I figured she might be the safest place to start. And her response was “We love you. Come on home.” So I called my father back and told him what she said, and he said, “That’s good.” And I felt his sigh of relief over the phone from 3,000 miles away. And a month later, when I came home for Christmas, all was well. That was when my tower of anxiety crumbled once and for all.
And looking back on it years later, I realized that my parents’ path was governed by the same overriding fear I had: What will everyone think? In their case, it was the extended family and their circle of friends, many of whom they knew from church. In the end, they walked the walk of their faith, put their fears behind them, took me back in when I was in dire straits, and we interacted on the day-to-day and all was, well, normal and mundane from that point. The way it should be. 
As I said before, I did lose a couple of friends over the transition, and that really bothered me at the time. In time, not so much, then not at all beyond a mild annoyance. Besides, I made more friends than I ever knew I could have. It was the biggest surprise of my entire trip. And none of the jobs I’ve had since have laid me off for gender reasons; I was among groups of people discarded during larger layoffs.
DJ Franorama 2.0, working the Detroit Cobras show,
Cafe Nine, New Haven, 1/1/2015
That said, while I’m the person I projected myself to be in the everyday world when I first went full-time, and generally I walk confidently, there are still times, when I’m not in familiar places, when I open that extra pair of eyes in the back of my head, keep on the lookout for situations that could get ugly. That hasn’t gone away.
Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in the contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Fran: The simple answer: It’s complicated. And it depends on whom you ask.
On a certain level, some transpeople are thriving. There are more opportunities and fewer prejudices than there were even a decade ago, now that there’s a greater understanding of who we are and what we’re going through. Also, the old prejudices are dying out as older generations either accept us or pass on. I find acceptance to be a generational thing. To my teenage nieces, for example, it’s no big deal. Same with the co-workers at my current job, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s.
Sure, some of us are doing well – but are we really doing all that well if not all of us are treated the same? After all, there are still 31 states where our legal civil rights aren’t recognized, and often with much resistance from Republicans and/or the “religious” “right.” And there are still far too many places where transpeople present themselves at their own risk, especially transwomen of color. Also, there’s the acute economic inequality; as a group, transpeople make a hell of a lot less than non-trans people. We’re not there until we’re all there. We still have a lot work to do, as if the current swamp in Washington hasn’t made that any clearer.
Sure, in a generation, trans will be an afterthought. But the people living in the here and now who are suffering from prejudice and poverty and violence can’t wait a generation for their rights to exist to be recognized. They might not live long enough to see it. No congratulations for the victories yet – the fight is still being fought, and there’s a sense of urgency about it.
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Fran: I’ve been spoiled and I know it; I’ve worked in two states (California and Connecticut) where trans discrimination is illegal under the civil rights laws, and worked in a third place where it’s illegal (while New York state doesn’t have trans protections yet, New York City does). But there’s the rub – none of us should have to feel spoiled, or lucky, that governments actually recognize civil rights already guaranteed us as citizens of the United States! Yes, I’m one of those people who believe that trans rights are protected under the Civil Rights Act, and to discriminate against transpeople violates the very spirit of the law. Which, at the moment, as I said, 31 states are doing. We shouldn’t be begging for something guaranteed us already by the laws of our country. Beg, no; demand, yes. 
So yes, I’m as outraged, livid pissed, as everyone else over the “bathroom bills” – especially when it comes to trans kids. Don’t get me started. I have very little patience with ignorance to begin with. It’s the worst form of stupidity – a willful disregard of facts, even when confronted with them. Discriminatory laws always seem to come from a state with a significant religious “right” population, a place where people often use the word “Christian” when they mean the opposite, use the word “conservative” when they really mean “radical.” North Carolina, of course. Texas. Mississippi. Missouri. What the hell happened to common sense? To live and let live? To kindness? Getting all Christ-like here, what happened to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Love one another as I have loved you” and “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me”? I’ll step off the pulpit right now, since I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Until we can flip Congress and flip state legislatures (again, spoiled here; all five representatives and both senators in Connecticut are Democrats), we don’t stand much of a chance – especially with the Supreme Court on the precipice.
I’m also outraged, but with a sad feeling of helplessness, at the violence that transwomen suffer in the everyday world. Since I’ve come home, I’ve regularly attended the Hartford observances of the Trans Day of Remembrance at the Metropolitan Community Church (where the minister, the Rev. Aaron Miller, deserves a shout-out for the work he does). Any given year, over 300 transpeople – at least the ones we know about – are murdered. Most of the victims are women. Most come from Latin countries with a huge Catholic influence: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico. And in the States, most, if not all, of the victims are women of color. Through the second week of August 2017, 18 transpeople we know of have been killed in the States – all but one of them women of color (black, Hispanic or indigenous).
At last year’s Day of Remembrance, I met a woman who lived in Hartford. She’s black, in her late 40s, very sweet, and she, too, waited a long time to transition. At work (she was a bank guard), she was treated very well by both co-workers and customers. Home was a different story, though. She told me how she was assaulted in front of her own apartment building one day by the boyfriend of one of the other tenants. I mean, what do you do if you’re a gentle soul who economically can’t get away from your situation and have to worry constantly about a beatdown or getting killed? I just didn’t know what to do except hold her hand as she told me her story. My frustration, though, is nothing compared to the fear she’s had to deal with daily.
My house is my studio.
Franorama 2.0 is on the air,
Cygnus Radio, March 2015.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Fran: What I say might piss off some people, but my own experience is that there really is no trans “community.” Part of it is the natural but mistaken notion of painting all of us across the spectrum with the same broad brush. You and I know we’re all as different from each other as non-trans people. We all have different backgrounds, experiences, ages, places on the spectrum, economic statuses, cultures, and yes (as I painfully found out in the last election), political persuasions. What we do share is the sense of being different in similar ways – of knowing what it’s like discovering, as some call it, our authentic selves, of having to fight for our civil rights, of having a certain degree of fear. 
As it seems to be the problem with much of our society now, our differences get in the way. Don’t get me wrong – I do have friends who are trans, and they’re friends for the same reason my non-trans friends are my friends: they’re good people, we have some common references, and we share good chemistry. But in the larger, day-to-day world, I found I’ve been treated much better by non-trans people than by any LGB and especially T groups. I learned it early on, in the first months of unemployment and job-hunting, when I’d make trips up to San Francisco – for Pride events, and for job seminars and job fairs at the LGBT Center. Up there, I encountered a lot of cliquishness and standoffishness and judgmentalism, something I definitely wasn’t expecting. I’ve also felt the downside on both coasts when I’ve applied for jobs with name LGBT organizations – either strung along after an interview or, like the rest of the world, not even the decency of a rejection. (And you’d think people who’ve been through lousy treatment in the job world would know better than anyone how to treat others in the same boat. That was a real shock.)
And I’ve felt it at home with some of the people I’ve encountered at trans nights at clubs – some great people, but some degree of cliquishness and looking down noses. I post a lot on Facebook (which is where you found me, of course), and sometimes that includes throwback photos, and some of those are of me in my Frannie 1.0 days. I might not have liked myself much then, but I certainly don’t disown my past. I’m not ashamed of it. One day, I got a Facebook message from another transwoman I knew from the clubs and considered a friend – she said, “You’re beautiful as a woman, but I wish you’d stop posting photos of yourself as a man.” I was too stunned to even respond in anger. I mean, who the hell was she to judge me or my life that way?
So in a roundabout way, I’ve seen the differences and the downside of transition, and – in my case, anyway – they’ve come from within our loose, splintered, dysfunctional, dysphoric tribe, as if we don’t have enough crap to face from outside of it. And that’s something we have to get past before we can move forward. We may or may not like each other much, and I don’t have to have coffee with you, but damn it all, let’s treat each other well … and let’s unite over the ties that bind us and fight the common enemies. If we splinter into factions again later on, fine – but let’s confront the big issues and win first. God, now that I think about it, I feel like I’m talking about the Democratic Party …
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers or books so far? 
Fran: Well, we’ve come pretty far – not all the way, but pretty far – in a relatively short time. I mean, you can see "Transparent," a series created with a lot of nuance and sensitivity, with quite a few transpeople in side roles and behind the scenes, and Jeffrey Tambor capturing the awkwardness of a 70-year-old transwoman coming out after a lifetime in the closet; or Laverne Cox – transpeople shown in a positive, or at least more accurate, light. And I’m a big fan of Showtime’s "Billions," and was pleasantly astounded this past season to see the first non-binary actor in a meaty role in a bigtime series (Asia Dillon). Trans on TV or in the movies isn’t people playing dress-up for yuks anymore.
There’s also been a huge shift in tones of news stories, and how the media approaches gender dysphoria, from Associated Press style to news outlets that even get the pronouns right for non-binary people, to coverage of political issues (as we’ve seen with the “bathroom bills”). I was on the news copy desk at MSN when Chelsea Manning’s prison sentencing and coming-out took place, and my colleagues did ask me about the right way to address this. And I know that my former paper in Fresno, the Bee, has taken great pains in this regard.
A year or two after I left, there was the story of Karen Adell Scot, a longtime high-school science teacher and former sheriff’s deputy up in the foothills just south of Yosemite, whose intended low-key coming-out became public – and national – after a teacher who objected to her gossiped about it. The Bee was on the story and got all the nuances and vocabulary right, and while some of the comments were really vile, the stories treated her well. (As did many of her students and some of her fellow faculty.)
I don't think I ever looked
better than this. Heading
to a wedding, Fresno,
September 2010.
But there are still problems with news coverage. Many of them involve misgendering murder victims, accidentally or not. In some cases, it’s not the media’s fault; reporters get their info from the police, and in quite a few cases, the victim will have ID that doesn’t match their gender or appearance.
I know that the Bee had a sticky situation a couple of years ago. It was in the killing of an elderly Fresno transwoman. She was white, in her 60s, and had just come out not long before. Late one night, a passenger in a van called over to her, and when she got to the window, he jabbed his knife in her neck and killed her. The images on the camera on the building in front of where she died were grainy; the killer was never caught; and, Fresno being Fresno, the cops misgendered her in the media.
She had only begun to transition maybe four months earlier, and even her brother, her next of kin, didn’t know. He knew that his sibling crossdressed, but didn’t know she had gone full-time and by the name K.C. But the cops (the police and the public in Fresno generally don’t have a good relationship to start with) kept referring to the victim as male. The paper, in turn, initially identified the victim as male, based on the info from the P.D. But the Bee did do a followup story that focused on the public misgendering, as the story had gone national, and gave light to all sides of this: the victim’s family, her friends, the local trans organization, the police.
Contrast that with what the Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com did in 2013 with the murder of a transwoman. She was only 20, she was black, she was brutally murdered, and her body was found in a pond a month later. The website ran a garish headshot of her that appeared to have been a mugshot – reddish-pink hair, facial hair shadow … and her male name. But that was nothing: Not only did the stories identify her throughout as a man, one headline read “Oddly dressed body found in Olmstead County pond identified.” On top of being murdered, the poor woman had her character assassinated by this alleged news outlet – and despite the firestorm of protest about the way her killing was handled, the paper doubled down on its stance. A columnist wrote, essentially, an I-don’t-see-what-all-the-fuss-is-about piece, but no apology was forthcoming. However, I’ve Googled some stories since and it seems they’re finally on board with the matter of getting the gender right with murder victims (and trans murders are still a huge problem in Cleveland, it seems), and talking to the families of the victims. 
And, changing to another channel, there was one more glaring journalistic sticking point with me. It was Time magazine’s Laverne Cox cover story, which I approached both as a transwoman and with a journalistic eye. On one level, oh yeah – great! A transwoman has made the cover of Time. But scratch beneath the surface. First, it was nine pages, but five of the nine were photos of transpeople. The actual story was but a brief four pages, but worse, it was a shallow, not-very-faceted, Trans 101-type piece using Laverne as a launch point – something that could have, should have, been written years earlier, and in more depth. It was as if the Time powers-that-be said, “Look! We’re doing a transgender story! How hip and trendy of us to now notice that they exist!” A little late to the party, you know? And the crime, as sometimes happens, wasn’t in the story itself, but how it was played. In this case, it was the timing. A story on transpeople that should’ve run in a major publication years before was placed to coincide with the season-opener of "Orange Is the New Black." As I see it, our story was reduced to a cheap product placement to promote a TV show. I wrote a blog post at the time with the headline “Dear Time: Thanks for Nothing.” I was pretty pissed about it. I don’t really read Time anymore, even in the doctor’s office.
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Fran: I’d love to be able to work politically for the recognition of our civil rights, either in front of or behind the scenes. Who knows? Maybe run for office in a place where I might have a great shot of winning. But I live in a weird place geopolitically. The trans civil rights fight has been long settled in Connecticut, so maybe it’s best to look at national positions or offices as the best places to effect change. It’s a source of frustration for me. I mean, I’ve always believed that the best way to bring about change is to win over hearts and minds, one or a few at a time, and I think I’ve done at a lot of that, just by living the day-to-day and interacting with the world, and by occasionally giving talks.
A sea of storms beneath the surface. Cafe Nine, New Haven,
March 2016. (Tom Hearn photo)
As I said before, it’s an afterthought to many of the people I’ve encountered. But progress is coming far too slowly – especially when many of us Americans across the board are in the fight of our lifetimes right now from the enemies within – and I’m not sure how effective any battle might be now, unless we can manage to flip Congress next year.
In general, on the political stage, we’re not there yet, but will be eventually. Progress, though, has come faster in other countries; four countries have had transwomen elected to Parliament: New Zealand (Georgina Beyer), Italy (Vladimir Luxuria), Poland (Anna Grodzka) and the UK (Nikki Sinclaire).
Here, in the States, there was Stu Rasmussen, who served three terms as mayor of Silverton, a town in northwestern Oregon. But on larger stages, the Land of the Free lags behind. I did follow Misty Snow’s campaign last year. She had a mountain of factors stacked against her – as a transwoman and a Democrat in Utah – but it didn’t stop her from running for the Senate against the incumbent, Mike Lee. She might have been beaten badly, but she did shine a national spotlight on transpeople and the possibilities of one day being in positions of power.
Monika: Do you think that we could live to see the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the USA? Or the First Lady at least? :)
Fran: I hope, given what we have dominating all three branches of our government right now, that we can all just live to see the next day, period! But if we get past what could become the worst crisis in our history, and we get our collective sanity back, I could see a transwoman eventually as president, though I’m not sure about in my lifetime. I mean, why not? Of course, there would be an uproar if a non-trans woman didn’t break the glass ceiling first – which many of us thought definitely was going to happen a few months ago – but in time. Maybe not in my lifetime, but I can envision it.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colours or trends?
Fran: Well, I’m on the big side (all those years of anxiety/depression eating), though I’m doing my best to work it off (I do go to the gym four days a week). It does limit what I can wear, but it’s my fault; I know that. (Had I been able to transition at a lot younger age, not had to deal with the anxiety, perhaps I would’ve stayed the skinny thing I was until my mid-to-late 20s, maybe pursued dance beyond the elective ballet and jazz classes I took as a senior in college. And bought lots of groovy paisley '60s dresses at thrift stores.)
That said, I knew very early on that I would have to wear a lot of loose-fitting clothes. I did some searching on the Web when I began the journey, and I found a page that discussed what types of clothing were best for different body types. Look – if I could get away with ’50s dresses out of a Douglas Sirk movie, or tight blouses and pencil skirts, I would. But that’s not realistic at this point. For me, it’s mostly tunic-type tops, and a few dresses, a couple of pairs of jeans, a couple of skirts, and lots of leggings and tights. I found a great website to buy tops early in the trip; it’s called HolyClothing.com, an American company that sells ethically made tops, dresses and skirts from India, and their sizes run from small to 5X. Some of the dresses and skirts are too hippie or Ren faire for my tastes, but their tops have done me well. Some of my other clothes are from a couple of friends in Fresno who lost a lot of weight; they still look great and I wear them proudly.
And I was always a shoe fiend. I have dozens – some from eBay (which sometimes is a great place to find them on the cheap), others from various stores. Shoes were my first visual cue that maybe I was different. I was about 4, 5 – it was white go-go boots and Mary Janes, and eventually, as I grew a little older, ballet slippers. I wasn’t into heels, though that would come a bit later. My tastes as a grown kid run, naturally, to ballerina flats and Mary Janes, in various colors. (I still haven’t splurged on the go-go boots, but maybe one day …) 
As far as heels go, I like them (at least until they start to hurt) – not too high, generally, maybe 1-2 inches. And as I said above, I learned to stride very well in heels both literally and figuratively. However, I haven’t worn them in a long time. I blew out my right knee 2 ½ years ago – simply walking down a step heading to a subway in Grand Central – and while the knee is fine now (though my football career is over, I’m afraid), I’m still skittish about heels, as I was about stairs for a long time. Also, I need to drop more weight so I don’t have to worry about balance or extra wear on the knee joints. I have a few nice pairs that are just sitting in boxes, but I can wear wedges pretty well in the interim. 
Looking fab heading to my 35th
high school reunion, October 2014.
Monika: I have read somewhere that cisgender women were liberated thanks to the development of contraceptive pill whereas transgender women are free now thanks to the development of cosmetic surgery, so they are no longer prisoners of passing or non-passing syndrome …
Fran: I don’t think I’d go that far. That’s because plastic surgery is awfully expensive, and not covered by health insurance, and many transwomen can’t afford it. (I could go for a good lipo and tummy-tuck right about now …)
I wouldn’t call passing a “syndrome,” though. I mean, at least for me, the whole idea of passing has always been about wanting to look my best, the way I’ve wanted to look my whole life, wearing things I always to wear (within reason). But I’d be lying if I didn’t think passing was a good defense mechanism in the everyday world, since there’s always the chance of running into some meathead somewhere who could give me a hard time if he read me.
If someone doesn’t want to pass one way or the other, fine; no biggie. Me? I choose to pass and live the way I always wanted to. Physically, I do pass, and in person, I trained my voice to be comfortably somewhere around midrange – not too deep anymore, not too artificially high. If you think about it, many men project from the bottom of their lungs, many women from the top, and sometimes my voice comes from closer to the bottom. Despite doing radio and narrating a movie, I still think it’s the weakest part of my game; on the phone, I get “sir” much more often than I like.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Fran: I was never a fan of beauty pageants at all, but if they make some transpeople feel better about themselves, then why not? One of the great rewards of the whole transition process is becoming yourself, finding self-esteem, and people should be able to do that without others passing judgment on them – most especially other transpeople. Then again, all beauty contests are about passing judgment on another level, aren’t they?
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Fran: I’m actually inching my way toward that. Some of my closest friends have been telling me for years, “Write the goddamn book!” (Yes, that’s a quote.) And the title came to me right at the outset. I started keeping notes, a journal of sorts, in 2008, after I had my epiphany. Part of the reason I started my blog was to explain the transition trip to others, especially as I was living through the thick of it, and condense some of my experiences for my book. I’ve cut back greatly on writing on the blog because I think I’ve accomplished explaining my experience to the point where most people now understand it better. And there’s another, deeper reason …
My big problem has been the Battle of Myself. It’s been that way my whole life. But even at my lowest self-esteem, I knew that I could write, could do a great job at it, and did. The job (and jobless) situation changed all that. When you’ve done a very good job wherever you’ve worked all your life, and you send out hundreds upon hundreds of résumés (all letters handcrafted, none the same), and 99.9 percent of the time you don’t even get the decency of even a “You suck,” that takes a lot out of you. At least it did for me.
Sure, I know that some places are inhuman – literally; at some companies and colleges, computers, not people, read job applications – and that there’s that near-impossible-to-prove age discrimination as well. But at a certain point, I began to think “Maybe I really do suck that badly!” The constant grind of being ignored – along with the constant economic fight, plus my parents’ illnesses – led to a lot of stress and depression (and I thought my first hormone shot cleared up 35 years of it!), very prolonged feelings of uselessness and worthlessness and just plain failure. I stopped keeping notes for the book – if no one wants to read what I have to offer, who the hell would read a book if I wrote it? The inner Peggy Lee said, “Oh, no – I’m not ready for that final disappointment!”
In the process – and I just realized this earlier this year – I somehow, gradually, unlearned all the good things I learned in the transition. I’ve had to re-teach myself the things I told myself when I first plunged into it. I’m having to learn to internalize them again. It’s a slow and steady process.
But now I think I’m ready. I’ve finally (!!!) found a logical place to end the book. That, and the possibility of some big things happening (amidst the darkness, I keep thinking something good has to happen!), have re-energized me. So has the realization that I just turned 56, and I should get this thing finished before I’m too old. Now I have to tackle one hell of a mess – I have over a thousand pages of journal-like entries that I have to pore through and condense, hundreds of Facebook posts, a few dozen gender-related blog posts, and re-creations of events I didn’t write down because I was so deep into the darkness.
My first girls' day out and my first makeover.
San Francisco, MLK Day 2008.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Fran: If you’re talking about love in the platonic sense, it’s been extremely important. The love I’ve been shown by strangers as well as some of the people closest to me has been what’s kept me afloat at my most turbulent times. They have no idea how much they’ve helped me, and how they kept me from driving out to the ocean and walking in at times, especially in California. Love is important in so many of our lives, and this is how it’s manifested itself in my life. A lot of times, and maybe this was the way I was brought up, I don’t feel as if I deserve it.
If you’re talking about romantic love, at this point it’s nonexistent. I haven’t had a first date in about 15 years, or just over six years before my epiphany. It’s tricky. I’m looking for a non-trans woman primarily, same as I did pre-transition, though if it were the right chemistry, I'd be open to another transwoman as well. People like who they like and love who they love, I guess. My dearest friend was my girlfriend for four years half a lifetime ago. We still love each other dearly – she’s family to me – but, among other things, she prefers guys.
And I know plenty of women who are bright and attractive, but most of them have boyfriends or husbands, or they like guys, so that’s a non-starter. And if I made a first move, I’d feel as if I were violating a code of sorts. My friends accepted me into the club right away, no questions asked. The last thing I’d want to do if I were interested is make them uncomfortable, make them feel as if I were hitting on them like some guy in a bar. I guess I have to, at least in this case, be the traditional, old-school girl and let someone show an interest in me. And I’m not doing online personals – too many risks. 
Maybe there’s a sugar mama out there? I say that half-jokingly.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Fran: I’m actually trying to just get hired at a full-time job where I can both make an impact and be paid like a real human being. As I said before, at some point something has to stick. Maybe something happens out of the blue; who knows?
My pipe-dream list includes politics, an acting career (while transpeople are a hot commodity), going back to school to get a master’s in American history, maybe recording an album, maybe having my radio show catch fire and build a huge following. We Geminis want to do everything, you know? :) On the whole, though, I’d like to be known as a good soul who cares a lot about the world and is constantly trying to find a place where I can best use my good qualities.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Fran: I can’t speak to all transgirls; again, we’re all from different backgrounds and levels of support and prejudice. But I certainly hope and pray that everyone can experience great joy and little pain from being themselves. I hope they can find their inner strength and their sense of self-worth in all this. Transition is, indeed, a journey.
I’d like to say, if one of you is struggling mightily with your dysphoria, is please hold on and stick around. I know that’s much, much easier said than done, but don’t let the bastards get you down to the point where you actually believe them. Transition is all about embracing change, after all – use your transition to change your situation to somewhere near what you have in mind; don’t let others change yours for you. And there are more of us, and people who support us, than you can imagine.
At my worst points, one of the things that’s kept me going was this: I’m a pinball fiend (I’ve been one since adolescence), and I’ve always wanted to stick around to put another ball in play. That became a metaphor in my life – even at my worst, I’ve stuck around to put a ball in play the next day. I won’t say “It gets better” or anything cliché like that – how does anyone guarantee that? – but one of the good things about living is the mystery of it all, to know that things could be much different the next day. They could be worse, true, but they certainly could turn out a lot better, too. Keep playing. The game will end soon enough. Stick around ’til the finish. You might be pleasantly surprised.
In a moment of happiness. Cafe Nine,
New Haven, May 2017. (Tom Hearn photo)
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Fran: I didn’t end up in an operating room as part of my transition, and I started living my dreams long before the transition. Post-transition and post-job upheaval and post-50, I’ve had to work on digging deeper amidst my dark periods, finding dreams to follow now that I’ve done the things I dreamed of in my youth.
Gina is absolutely right – we should never limit our own potential, period, and yes, I now realize I did just that when I gave up on my writing ambitions amidst the job turmoil. And we should never be limited by our transitions. I can’t speak for anyone but myself – and again, I know there are transpeople who’ve had much more difficult roads than I’ve had – but in my case, being totally honest with myself and my identity has expanded my potential to some extent. That’s where the liberation has come in – the truth has set me free, and all that.
Also, it ties in to something I found to be self-evident early on. While I totally understand the reason for Pride parades – and I marched in the ones in Fresno and San Francisco – I have a hard time with the word “pride” as it pertains to LGBTQI. You can’t be proud of the way you were born – gender identity, sexual identity, ethnicity, skin color, hair color, eye color, hand dominance, whatever – because you didn’t have a choice; it’s how you came out of the womb. The pride comes from what you do with the hand you’re dealt. And I keep pushing on in the hope that one day I’ll have a winning hand, and that I’ll have done something for which I can truly be proud.
Monika: Fran, thank you for the interview! 
Fran: No – thank you for including me in your blog and for doing what you do!

All the photos: courtesy of Fran Fried. 
Done on 4 September 2017
© 2017 - Monika 

2 comments:

  1. Fran is an amazing woman! I am so happy you shared her with all of us.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Go Frannie! You rock! I am so proud of you and grateful that you are a friend.

    ReplyDelete

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