Saturday, July 14, 2007

Terri O'Connell, trans racecar driver

Daniel Weil,

If you grew up a good ol' boy from Mississippi, a NASCAR career may have been high among your dream achievements -- especially if you wanted to make your racing-hero dad proud.

J.T. Hayes faced just such a situation: With 500 wins on the NASCAR circuit and a promising career ahead of him, he thought he had found the "right" track... Almost.

A series of events and one particularly awful racing accident in 1991 shifted J.T.'s perceptions. Trapped upside-down by his seatbelt, seeing fuel pouring and smoke billowing from the vehicle, J.T. Hayes decided life was really too short to not live it as who you are.

To greatly simplify the story, a decision was made -- and cars were sold -- to finance a gender-reassignment surgery that put a racing career on hold. In time, the sheltering and constraining cocoon of J.T. Hayes had disappeared, and Terri O'Connell emerged to take the wheel. . . .

COMMENTARY: All in this together

Two Outfest films see gender reassignment as a group transition.

By Christine Daniels
Times Staff Writer

July 13, 2007

WHEN ANNE MET LEA — a very different proposition from "When Harry Met Sally," on virtually every conceivable level — the occasion seemed ordinary enough. Anne was the mother of a teenage musical prodigy. Lea was a journalist researching a profile on the girl.

Or so that was the facade, not the first Lea had shown to Anne, as we quickly discover in the film "Another Woman." Anne senses something familiar about Lea, wondering if the two had previously met, perhaps at a museum.

Facing this line of questioning, Lea appears as if she is about to jump out of her skin. "Maybe I have a double," Lea says as she abruptly bolts from the table, nervously jams her fists into the pockets of her stylish trench coat, and leaves Anne sitting behind, just as she had done a decade before.

Ten years earlier, Lea was Anne's husband, Nicholas.

This 2002 French film, featuring Nathalie Mann as Lea/Nicholas and Micky Sebastian as Anne, is one of eight transgender-themed films showing at this year's Outfest. "Another Woman" debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Directors Guild of America Theater 2 and, along with the new U.S. documentary "Red Without Blue" (debuting at 8 tonight, same theater), keenly captures the inherent contradiction of transsexual transition: a journey that is usually begun in isolation — both physical and spiritual — despite the inescapable reality that no one ever transitions alone.

As a transsexual woman, I realize I watch trans-themed movies through a different filter. Minor details that clank off-key can ruin an entire production for me. In both of these films, there is dialogue that rings so laser-beam true to what I have experienced and what my friends have experienced, it made me squirm with discomfort.

At the heart of both films is the very real struggle over language after a transsexual comes to terms with the truth and works up the courage to announce it. Those closest to the transsexual will often exclaim, "How can you do this to us?" The transsexual will often respond, "How can you not understand that I have no choice? I was born with this." . . .



PAULA Vendyback is a post-op transsexual who was born a boy called Paul. Here Paula, 40, from Leicester, tells how changing gender has meant sacrificing a lot more than the obvious...

'FOR as long as I can remember I knew I was different. Even in school, I didn't fit in. On paper I seemed like any other kid. I loved sport and was on the football team.

But inside I was a mess. I can't explain it, I just didn't feel like I should be a boy.

I remember from a young age seeing women in the street and wishing I could be one of them. When I was 13, I even started to sneak back home in lunch breaks and try on my sister's underwear. I loved the feel of the fabric, it was so much softer than men's clothes.

Don't get me wrong, I felt disgusted with myself for doing it. I was unable to explain these urges and I knew I couldn't tell anyone about them. But there was no way to stop myself.

I left school at 16 to become a painter and decorator. I loved the job but it just made me feel even more uncomfortable in my own skin. The building trade is very male-dominated and I didn't belong.

In the end the urge to speak to someone about it became overwhelming and I finally confessed to my boss that I liked to wear women's clothes. He was understanding and even said he knew people who liked to do the same thing but he said he didn't want other staff to know.

As it turned out, I didn't have a choice. Gossip spread, my clients found out and one by one they stopped booking me. Before I knew it, I no longer had a job and my life started to spiral downwards. I went from successful to suddenly being unemployed and living in a bedsit barely bigger than a cupboard.

In the end I turned to a psychologist for help and she diagnosed me as a transsexual. I can't explain the relief of finally having someone who understood what I was going through - but it was to be the start of further problems. I decided to undergo an operation to change my sex. I was so desperate to be a woman and thought this would finally solve my problems. . . .