Interview with Dallas Denny - Part 2


Monika: So what did you decide to do?
Dallas: Maintaining a home for several tons of printed and film material made little sense for an organization, which would be primarily virtual, so in 2000 GEA began a search for a place where the collection would be physically safe, would be intellectually safe, would be promptly cataloged, would be available to researchers and the general public, and would have ongoing funding.
After a careful search, we awarded the collection to the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan Library System in Ann Arbor. Within two years the voluminous materials had all been cataloged and the collection was being used on a daily basis by dozens of visitors. I was deliriously happy about this, if occasional sad when I would need to look something up and realize it was a thousand miles away!
In preparation for my talk in B.C. last weekend, I entered the term transgender in the Mirlyn search engine at the U. of Michigan and found more than 7000 hard hits. Each hit was either a book or a run of a journal or a set of newsletters; some of the hits for magazines and newsletters, when selected, contained dozens or even hundreds of issues. 
There is far more material at Michigan now than when I made my donation—the collection arrived in 2000 and yet there are many works from this century—so clearly the university is taking its custody of the NTL&A seriously! I said in my recent talk in B.C. that collections like those at the universities of Michigan and Victoria encourage donations of money and material and enhance the prestige of the schools.

Dallas, Virginia Prince, and Ari Kane, 1st Intl. Congress, 1993.

Monika: From 1999 to 2008 you were the editor of Transgender Tapestry Journal, published by the International Foundation for Gender Education. How do you recollect those years?
Dallas: Before my tenure, IFGE had two on-site employees— an editor and an art director—who were responsible for producing the magazine. To cope with declining revenues and increasing costs (remember my predictions back in the mid-1990s about declining revenues for nonprofits? They were coming true.) the IFGE Board decided to lay off their personnel and contract for the editing and layout services.
I was asked to be the editor and accepted. I was able to work from home and do correspondence entirely by computer. It was delightful to solicit materials and prepare the magazines. Getting paid was problematic, and became more so as the organization deteriorated. I eventually resigned over Executive Director Denise Leclair’s decision to run an article to placate an author whose piece I had declined to run because she had already web-published it.
I wasn’t interested in running content practically everyone in the community had seen, and I certainly wasn’t interested in having my name associated with a magazine that ran material for political rather than journalistic purposes—and hence my resignation. It was the end of the magazine, and of IFGE. Denise managed to put out two issues which to me seemed primarily about whomever she was having lunch with, but IFGE was doomed. Still, the extra income was great while it lasted. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done in the community that paid. Usually, I have to subsidize my activism!
Monika: Among dozens of articles for transgender community magazines and newsletters, your book “Gender Dysphoria: A Guide to Research” (1994) was the first book-length contribution to the scientific literature of transsexualism produced by a transsexual person...
Dallas: Viviane Namaste mentioned my book in her keynote at the Moving Trans* History Forward conference last weekend. I talked about it too.
Let me say 1994 was a remarkable year for trans authors. Until then, transsexuals, in particular, had been locked out of the medical and psychological literature. The only writing which would be accepted by mainstream publishers were our autobiographies. 
Sandy Stone’s essay “The Transsexual Empire Strikes Back,” which was written in 1987 and published in 1991, was a reaction to separatist feminist attacks on transsexualism and to the medical model of transsexualism; it was arguably the opening salvo in the still-emerging field of trans studies, and yet it appeared in a book few if any helping professionals even knew about.
Virginia Prince had written and co-written studies on crossdressers in journals in the 1960s and 1970s, but no transsexual—or out of the closet transsexual, anyway, had ever published a book-length contribution to the medical and psychological literature of transsexualism.
I do wonder about Max Hirschfeld, the early twentieth-century sexologist. He is said to have been at least a crossdresser, and he was certainly out. If he were transsexual (a term not in common use in his time), his work Das Transvestiten would certainly trump mine.
Monika: When did the situation change?
Dallas: The dam broke, as I mentioned, in 1994. That year saw Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw, Martine Rothblatt’s The Apartheid of Sex, and other books by transsexuals, Stephen Whittle co-wrote a book on law, and Phyllis Frye in Houston was publishing book-length proceedings of her law conference, but none of these were particularly likely to be read by the clinicians of the day.
So lots of transsexuals were publishing material about transsexualism by 1994, but Gender Dysphoria: A Guide to Research, was published by Garland and aimed squarely at clinicians (in that it listed practically every paper and book written by clinicians about transsexualism). It was a comprehensive bibliography printed in hardback on acid-free paper by a prestigious publisher of science books, and it contained thousands of entries that covered everything I had managed to find—and by then that was a lot!
At the 1998 HBIGDA symposium in Vancouver, none other than Richard Green told me he kept a copy on his desk. So I do make the claim of my book being the first book-length contribution to the scientific and medical literature of transsexualism by a transsexual.

Dallas and Anne Bolin, 2nd Intl. Congress, 1995.

I began compiling the bibliography as soon as I began finding books and articles about transsexualism—in 1990. I added material every day, and it soon grew to be huge in size. I sent a copy to the late Dr. Vern Bullough and he spoke with an editor at Garland Publishers, who immediately sent me a contract. I signed it in late 1991 or early 1992. 
When I was compiling the bibliography in 1990 and 1991 and 1992, the descriptive term transgender had not yet come into common use. By the time the book was published in 1994 the term gender dysphoria made me wince.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? 
Dallas: I wanted to transition at age 12. I didn’t know the term transition, but I knew I wanted to be a girl. At age 19 I found myself kicked out of my parents’ home and living in an SRO hotel in downtown Nashville. I wanted to find work as a young woman, but it just seemed overwhelming. I was frightened—rightfully so—of being murdered or imprisoned just for being myself. And so despite a lot of going out in public crossdressed, I never made the leap.
When I was in my late twenties I found work as a woman, but my body made it difficult. My facial hair had finally come in and my hair was beginning to thin and for the first time I was readable upon close examination. Again I didn’t make the jump—but I did start hormones.
It took me a long time to find support—ten more years, but the instant I did I began to prepare for the transition. In December 1989 I left my old clothing behind and moved to Atlanta. I have never since made a public presentation as a male.
By that time my features had softened, my hair had regrown, and I had completed electrolysis. Transitioning cost me dearly in interpersonal relationships—I lost the woman I loved and didn’t see my family for more than a dozen years, but I otherwise did well. I passed easily and found a professional job immediately.
I worked at the same place for twenty years. No one in the workplace knew until they began to see my name in the newspapers and my face on television. Even then, it was a non-issue. No one ever said a word about my transsexualism. Mostly I didn’t know who knew and who didn’t—and if that were the case, there was no problem, so far as I was concerned.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Dallas: In the late 1970s Jan Morris, Renée Richards, and Canary Conn had all written (what else?) autobiographies and were appearing on television. I admired Jan for her accomplishments as a travel writer and for trekking up Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary.
I admired Renée Richards for her courage under fire. And I admired Canary Conn because to me she looked like and sounded like any other woman. She made me think, “Maybe I, too, can do this.” I was perhaps 29 years old.
Back then I didn’t know much about Christine Jorgensen. If I had, she would have no doubt have been my role model, for she lived a difficult life with dignity. Mostly I was without role models because I had so very little information.

Dallas and her Truck, 2006.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Dallas: Losing my lover of ten years was by far the most difficult. She was unable to accept me for who I was—even if I hadn’t transitioned. She wanted me to not be transsexual.
I told her, “What I do with my feelings is under my control, but these feelings are part of me. I can’t make them go away, nor would I want to.” I’ve not seen her since I moved to Atlanta.
I did send a copy of my 1998 book Current Concepts in Transgender Identity to her by way of a mutual acquaintance. It was dedicated to her. I hope she received it.
Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Dallas: Things are better for us than ever before. Having said that, things are still terrible. There’s a great deal of animosity toward us. We are still being murdered in countries all over the world. We still have problems finding and keeping jobs. We still are denied access to bathrooms.
We are still without basic rights in many places. People are rude to us on the streets. People are hateful toward us in the media. We still have a long way to go. I’m hopeful because now there are many of us standing up for ourselves.
Monika: Could transgenderism be the new frontier for human rights?
Dallas: I think it has been for a long time and remains so. I have to say, though, the rights of intersexed people are equally important. The intersexed are still often ignored and many are given needless surgeries during their childhoods.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Dallas: In the early 1990s there was a lot of discussion in the largely separate GLB and trans communities about working together, with arguments for and against. I was firmly in the for camp, and still am. While our needs are distinct, we have made great strides because of our GLB allies, and they because of us.
And now, of course, we are not the last in the acronym. Letters are perpetually added. GLBTQI and counting! Many of us have leadership roles in organizations in which we are minority members—for instance, Jennifer Boylan is the first openly trans co-chair of GLAAD’s Board of Directors.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Dallas: I’m not a person who absolutely has to be in a relationship. I’m fine on my own, but I prefer having a partner—and more than a partner, a soul mate. I’m a monogamous person by nature and I like to share life with someone I love and admire and above all, laugh with. I’ve been lucky enough to have been deeply in love three times.
The first time we were both young and we grew in separate directions. The second time we were a great match except for her hatred of my trans feelings. The third time might be the charm. We’re in our eighth year and our main problem is trying to find a way to live together.

Small Portion of NTL&A.

Houses and property taxes are expensive in New York, and we’re trying to find a place within commuting distance of her job that we can afford. The nuclear family is not so important to me as it is to many people.
My parents are both dead now and I have little in common with my brother and sisters. I wish them well but have little need to visit or keep up with them. I expect they feel likewise. They’re all fine people. It’s a shame my nuclear family was as it was. I have to say, though, my extended family is cool. I adored my grandmother.
I’m more interested in being seen as a person with integrity and a sense of fair play than I am being loved. The only one I really really hope loves me (and she does) is Heather, my partner.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Dallas: I seem to do better writing about myself in an oblique fashion. In my various writing and talks, I reveal a lot about myself, but when it comes to straightforward autobiography (“I was born in Asheville, North Carolina on a dark and stormy night.”) I just lose interest.
I have in mind a memoir that attempts to explain the particular challenges of transsexualism and even wrote a chapter, but it may or may not ever become a book. If it does it will be called “Trapped in My Own Body.” I can say with some confidence that in my other work I will continue to talk about myself when appropriate.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Dallas: Conquer the fear and the shame. It sucks the energy and strength out of us and makes us vulnerable. This applies to transsexual men as well as we women.
Getting rid of our negative emotions, is, of course, monstrously hard to do—but if we can manage—if we can stop our sporadic desires to purge, make unfortunate decisions, and harm ourselves—things can start to look up.
Alas, I have no great advice about how to do that. In my own case, I belatedly realized it was okay to be me. That sounds easy. It wasn’t.
Monika: Dallas, thank you for the interview!
Dallas: I’d like to say all my work is available at the Body of Work portion of my personal website: dallasdenny.com. That includes the various issues of Chrysalis in their entirety and my contributions to Transgender Tapestry. There are book chapters, journal articles, editorials, columns, fiction, poetry, plays, and songs.
Thank you for asking me to do this, Monika!

END OF PART 2

 
All the photos: courtesy of Dallas Denny.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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