This short story is a compilation of two interviews, one in 2007 and one in 2008, the author gave to three University of Chicago students for their LGBT Ally Class.
It was Tuesday afternoon and I was sitting in a Starbucks on the corner of Jackson and Wabash minding my own business. As a pre-law student at DePaul University I was studying for a torte law exam. I had my laptop propped open and a double Café Misto clutched in my left hand. Like I said, I was minding my own business and the legal world of intentional acts and accidents.
I wasn’t sure if they were together – the man and the woman. The woman had come into Starbucks about ten minutes before he arrived. She sat down by the window and started reading. I could make out the name on the cover: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The guy must have come in from behind me because he was instantly standing in front of her when I looked up from my class notes. They stood introducing themselves and looking around the room apparently for a place to sit. They glanced over to the long table where I was sitting. I quickly moved the cup to hide my face and turned back to my scrawled notes scattered in front of me.
The woman came over to the long table and sat down at the corner adjacent to me. She smiled in my direction. The guy sat down next to her, further down. He said something about the string of outlets going down the center of the table; something about plugging in his tape recorder. I didn’t like the sound of this. After all, I was studying for an important exam and also enjoying on the perimeter of my studies the table gatherings of the female clientele. I made a point of sipping my Misto, surreptitiously spying on them. As She moved her chair in, I squirmed sideways in my chair away from the corner of the table making a space for Her.
I watched Him as he plugged in his tape recorder and then He asked Her if she wanted something to drink. Water was the answer. He came back with a cup of coffee for himself and a cup of water for Her. I sipped my Misto and glanced at both of them. She had strawberry blond hair and regular features, nothing stood out. He was a black guy about six feet tall. He looked like he worked out. He put the tape recorder between them.
He: “I’m glad that you decided to do this interview. Thanks for meeting me here.”
She: “Sure. I was surprised to hear that there was such a class at the University of Chicago.”
He: “Me, too. I am a pre-med student and I needed a class for some liberal-arts credits and I found this one. It is a little strange that I took the class since I’m gay. Before I signed up for the class I asked the teacher and he said the class was basically to help people have an understanding of the LGBT community and how they can be allies to them. I was already there, but I thought it might help me as a doctor someday. As I mentioned in my e-mail, I wanted to find out about your experience as a trans-gendered woman for the paper I am doing and to ask you some questions about where you’re at and how you could be helped. I am recording this because I have to type my notes and include your answers into my final paper. Is that OK with you?
He: “Good. I’ll turn it on now.”
The guy stuck a cassette tape in the tape player and then He set it down between them on the table. Snap. I see the cassette tape start turning so I return my attention to my notes. But now I’m attuned to this conversation and find that I am not able to concentrate at all on legal liability cases. I crave another Misto but I decide to stay in my seat. He starts:
He: “This interview is being conducted on September 9th, 2008 for the LGBT Ally Class interview paper. What is your name?”
She: “Sally Paradise.”
He: “Can you tell me a little bit of yourself, your story?’
She: “Sure. My whole story would take days to tell and you’ve got a sixty minute tape so I’ll just give you some highlights.
He: “OK. That sounds good. Tell me how you came to be who you are.”
She: “Wow, that’s a big question to start with. I was born and then . . . well, let me see, I’ll just start here: I’ve known since my earliest understanding that I was a female. My parents raised me otherwise, of course. They had no idea what was inside of me. I would play with both boys and girls. I didn’t realize how different I was until about eleven years old. It was about that time that I became strongly conflicted, wondering what was going on with me. I also wondered what I could do about it. I seemed to be locked into something that wasn’t who I was . . . this was back in the fifties and sixties. No one I knew was like me but then I heard about a person who went through a gender change operation. The story was briefly in the news. I listened to the story intently and recognized that I was in the same place. After that, I would go to the library and find magazine articles about her change. I quickly learned the terms and found some resources. John’s Hopkins was the first hospital in the US, I believe, to do the surgery. I found information about Harry Benjamin, one of the pioneers of this type of surgery. I was compelled to find everything I could about the change. I needed to make it happen. I spent a lot of time at the library. There was no internet back then. At the same time I was going to church and to school. I was more of a tom-boy anyway, so I was able to get by. I wanted to please my parents and my teachers so I went along with them. I was really too ashamed to speak of my understanding that I was female and really too scared to even mention it. At that age, I knew that there was the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. I wanted to be in the latter group. The church I attended talked about sexual sin so I came to think of myself as a sinner who wanted to do something different, something having to do my with gender. I mistakenly interwove immoral sexuality with fundamental gender identity. And, from all that I heard at church and at home, I thought that God would be displeased with me wanting anything to do with gender beyond just getting married, having children and making my parents grandparents. Because of this I was morally conflicted about changing for most of fifty years. No other Christians I knew were so conflicted so I thought that I needed to quell whatever was inside of me and make the best of it. My understanding that I was female was always with me, though. It never changed, it never let up. I knew this in my spirit from the very start of my life. I came to know Christ in that same personal and internalized way early in my life.
He: “Did you date in high school?”
She: “I did. I had girlfriends but to me they were more like girl friends and not love or sexual interests. I later tried marriage to women. I tried to see if I could live out the male role but the marriages ended in divorce. I was too much like the women that I had married. The conflict in my spirit would become worse during marriage. The marriages ended up in divorce every time.
He: “How long have you been in the LGBT community?”
She: “Actually, I have never been a part of that community.”
He: “How’s that?”
She: “Well, I am a trans-gendered woman. I am not gay, lesbian or bisexual and I am not a trans-sexual.
He: “What’s the difference between a trans-gendered woman and a trans-sexual? I only know of one person like this.”
She: “A trans-gendered woman knows from birth or from very early in her life that she is female. She makes every effort to make the physical change and to live as a woman. A trans-sexual is someone who wants to look female on the outside, maybe even taking hormones but they do not want to surgically change their bodies to be female other than perhaps breast implants or a nose or face job. They want their outside appearances – breasts, hair, face, etc. to appear female while their gender remains male. They will do this to attract men. It’s a feminized adaptation of homosexuality. The drag queen sends out signals as a faux woman to attract men. They act in a false feminine way, meaning that they act as exaggerated females, in ways that a woman would never act. Butch women are the opposite rendition of the same thing. You’ve seen butch girls with the cropped hair, men’s clothes, a man’s watch, a man’s wallet and the macho talk to go with it.
He: “The person I know works as a female impersonator at the Kit Kat Klub in Chicago.”
She: “Yeah, that is what I am talking about. They are usually flashy and flamboyant. They want to be noticed. Have you ever read Midnight in the Garden of Evil? That’s the book I am reading right now. The trans-sexual, Lady Chablis, in this non-fiction-fiction as it is described, would be typical of any number of the drag queens who flaunt themselves in public or online.”
She handed the book over to him.
She: “As a trans-gendered woman I just want to live as a woman and not stand out at all. I am not part of the gay community because I don’t base my life and my relationships around my sexuality. My living as a woman has nothing to do with sexual orientation. I live my life out of my core gender identity and, more so, on my spiritual identity. My name was added to your class list because a friend of mine who is in the community asked me if I wouldn’t mind being interviewed. I said it would be Ok. So, here I am.”
He: “So, you’re not part of the community, then?”
She: “No, in fact, because I am a Christian I do not condone homosexuality. I am not a “homophobe but I am a God-o-phile. I have no fear of homosexuality but I do have a fear of God and God is clearly against acting out homosexual desires. He created the beautiful diversity of male and female for physical and emotional relationships. This does not mean however that . . .
He: “Just one second, the tape is running out. I need to flip it over.”
The long table in front of me was now checkered with students huddled over their open books. I recognized another law student at the end of the table. I couldn’t help wondering if she and the rest of the bent heads were listening to the same convenient conversation that I was overhearing. I needed to hear more testimony before I could render a final statement . . .
He: “OK, go ahead.”
She: “This does not mean that men should not have male friends and that women shouldn’t have female friends. It just means that those relationships should not become sexualized. A good friendship is worth more than most things this world has to offer.”
He: “What if the male in a gay partnership acts feminine and the other partner one acts more male? Or, vice versa, when a butch woman and a fem woman live together? Doesn’t this make for a male/female type marriage?”
She: “Well no. If you listen to what you are saying then you will hear that you are trying to recreate a male/female relationship that has already been created by God with males and females. I believe that God designed the two genders in a separate, concrete and binary way. The two separate genders, each rooted in a sexed body, are beautifully diverse in themselves. The two distinct genders, I believe, reveal two inter-related yet individually augmented facets of God’s own personality and nature. I believe also that God has revealed both male and female characteristics of His own nature and these aspects of his nature are detailed out in the male amd female genders. Now, you certainly can dilute God’s true nature, as some have done, by subscribing to a liberal theology and create a female god. God has revealed Himself as masculine in our world history. You certainly ignore the distinction of the genders by encouraging homosexuality.
Theologically, I don’t see in anywhere in Scripture that God the Father is the masculine part of the Trinity and that the Holy Spirit is the feminine part and that Jesus is somewhere in between them. Each person in the Trinity contains both masculine and feminine qualities. God has revealed Himself as three distinct persons equally masculine and feminine. A female characterization of the Holy Spirit comes primarily from out of the feminist movement and the PC movement. This characterization is not denoted anywhere in Scripture, though. More importantly, God distinguished the two genders in His creation of us. It is a way of depicting His nature. That is why He created us “male and female”. That is why it is important for everyone to keep the genders distinguished and whole. Identity is very important to God, whether His or ours, and so are the boundaries around the identities that He imposes on us. I believe that our identities are made and bound in heaven. Our chemical DNA does not tell the whole story. A scientist cannot recreate you from DNA. If they could, it would be a homosexual and narcissistic you. No, it is not possible. Or, desirable.
Homosexuality is what happens when a person turns in on themselves and becomes chronically narcissistic and “homocentric”, as formerly gay friend used to say. I have witnessed this over and over again in gay people that I know. I have worked in a para-church ministry that helped people leave the gay lifestyle. The people who came to the ministry, and there were hundreds, decidedly wanted to leave that lifestyle and be free from it. I, personally, have known all along that homosexuality was not what God wanted. This was inherent in me and not something someone taught me in church or at home. That understanding has been with me all through life just as I know that I am a child of God.
He: “Let’s talk about another topic while we have some tape left.
He: “Do you work in the city?”
She: “Yes, I work down the street, a few blocks from here. “
He: “How long have you worked there?
She: “Four years.”
He: “How did it go when you interviewed with them.”
She: “Fine. I was interviewed on a Friday. It took all day. I was interviewed by six different people. At the end of the day they said that they wanted to hire me. I didn’t say a word about my being trans-gendered. I applied as a woman and got the job as a woman. That whole time in my life was scary. Three weeks before the interview, I had just lost a job and I was at the point of transitioning to live as a woman. My hair was long and I had been on hormones for a while. I had my name and my driver’s license legally changed during that previous summer. When I got the job offer I had only one outfit to wear to work and it was the one I had on for the interview. It is a professional office so I had to act fast. I didn’t have much money to shop with being out of work so I went down to the Goodwill store and spent an hour there looking for clothes to fit me. I was looking for four more outfits to last me one work week. I threw things together and made it work somehow. I have now been working there for two and half years. Nothing has ever been said about me as a woman. I am really very happy about my work situation.
He: “Do you know that there are anti-discrimination laws in Illinois to protect people like you in the work place?”
She: “Yes, I do, but I don’t foresee ever needing or using those laws. If I were an employer I certainly wouldn’t hire somebody I knew was gay or trans-gendered just because of those laws. I would avoid hiring anybody who could cause me to lose my business through a possible lawsuit. Just the cost of litigation alone would put someone out of business. I think those laws do more harm than good, personally.”
He: “Would you advocate for the community?”
She: “Ah, no. Many people these days ask me about advocating. I am not part of the gay community and I do not condone homosexuality. I advocate myself by being true to myself, a Christian woman, and by living a decent life. It is very difficult for me to talk to anyone about trans-gender-ism for the simple reason that what is known or perceived by people is generally understood from the media and expressly from the television. The people portrayed on the TV are myriads of drag queens, transsexuals and other cross-dressing attention seekers. The trans-whatever people typically shown on the news are marching in a parade advocating like clowns, like the circus is in town. I don’t believe they want to be taken seriously. Or, they are on the news because of a crime involving them. If the media can get the word “trans-gender” or “transsexual” into their report there is more shock value. The media is inherently set up to provide shock value. This shock value creates viewer interest and the viewer’s interest creates revenue for the corporation behind the station. I would never march in a parade to sanction my life as a trans-gendered woman, especially a gay parade. And, I say, if your going to live and work as a woman then get on with your life and stop fussing and whining and parading around others.
He: “What’s the hardest part of your life?
She: “I would say that sometimes just being alone and not being able to share something with some else, like a meal or a movie. But, I work a lot of hours and keep busy doing things that I like. I read a lot of books and I do some writing, too. I found that it is better to live alone if you want to be a writer. That is one of the compensations of living alone. I like to cook, too.
He: “Would you date men?”
She: “Sure, I would date men. I didn’t make these changes, though, so that I could go and date men. I made the changes because they were needed in my life to make me whole. If I did date, it would be with men and it would be as a normal extension of who I am as a woman. Again, I don’t see homosexuality as a God-endorsed relationship so I wouldn’t date women anyway. I would much rather have many female friends in my life. What about you? How is your social life?”
He: “Well, the guys I know want to just go to bath houses and you know . . .”
She: “Actually, I don’t want to imagine that . . .”
He: “Yeah, well, I get bored doing the same thing all the time. I would much rather go see a play or a movie but they want to go there. By the way, have you seen Transamerica?
She: “Yeah, about two years after it came out. I thought it was rather trite and a horrible reproduction of life in the trans-gender lane. It didn’t even come close to reality. It almost seemed like the director wanted people to feel sorry for the person portrayed. And, of course, the movie pandered to the gay community with the character, the son, being gay. That is a totally atypical situation. The topic was grossly mishandled. There are hardly any good movies to go see. I would enjoy going to plays. I do like baseball. In the summer I go see a minor league team play. I enjoy those times the most. I also enjoy going to church every Sunday.”
He: “My parents brought me up in the church but I haven’t gone since starting school here. What kind of church do you attend?”
She: “It’s an Anglican church. I love the liturgy, the music, the Common Book prayers and being able to have communion every Sunday. I very much like the people there and the Rector has told me that I have a church home there. I love that.”
He: “Do you have any children?”
She: “Yes, four: two grown sons, a high school age daughter and an eleven year old son.”
He: “How are they doing with all of this?”
She: “My two older sons say they are fine with who I am. I think the jury may still be out, though. My daughter and my youngest son have started to take it in stride. It is a difficult concept to put your arms around, even in this Harry Potter/Lord of The Rings age. It takes time and a lot of understanding on every one’s part. I did make this decision to change a year after I was divorced. Throughout the marriage I had sought reconciliation many, many times but the answer was always, “No”. So, after the divorce, being fifty-one years old, I felt that now was the time to make the change.”
“I felt I could no longer live a lie. I felt as if I have spent most of my life being an image or a prop for someone else. I should say that’s how I saw myself and not how they saw me. Maybe, they did see me that way, as someone to make them look good or feel good. I don’t know. My parents have known that I was different from my early childhood. They did what any parent thought they should do in that situation. How could they fully understand what was inside me? If I could have, I would have made this change at eleven years old or even earlier. But, right now, I am very happy to have children, very happy. I love them very much.”
He: “Sally, I am almost out of tape so I’ll end the interview here. Thanks for the time spent with me today and for doing this interview. I have a lot of notes for my paper. Can I call you if I have any more questions?
She: “Sure. Please do.”
He leaned over and shut off the tape player. I looked up at the sound of the “snap.” He was shaking her hand and saying goodbye. She had a train to catch, I heard her say. He walked her through the door and then headed in the opposite direction. That was the end of my open and shut conversation. (“Ladies and gentlemen of the long table, I rest my case.”) I closed my laptop, put my empty cup in the waste basket and shuffled out the door with a load of law books and my laptop. I wondered what discovery would be recorded tomorrow as I would sit once again at the head of the long table just minding my own business, drinking my sugar-free latte.
© Sally Paradise, 2009, All Rights Reserved