Thursday, October 18, 2007

No Dumb Questions (2001): Young nieces of transwoman

RuPaul: Starrbooty's revenge

Queen of drag returns to roots and meets Atlanta at the crossroads

By James Kelly


Mike Ruiz

MS. NEW BOOTY: "This is the RuPaul from the Atlanta years -- pushing boundaries." Shown in picture #2 is RuPaul's soundtrack cover to the original Starbooty (1986).

There must have been some magic or serendipity in the air in Atlanta during the early 1980s, when some of the most compelling cultural trends emerged to define the era. Long before gentrification began to alter the face of the city's urban core, Midtown and the surrounding areas thrived with countercultural energy. It was a chance situation that bred significant change in Atlanta's artistic landscape, and shaped international fame for one person who was right smack-dab in the middle of it all -- actor/singer/showboat RuPaul.

The queen of drag finally comes full circle – once a hopeful young gay man looking for acceptance, now a returning heroine – on his trip back to Atlanta for the Out on Film premiere of his first self-written and self-produced feature film, Starrbooty.

From his early days as a singer on Atlanta Public Access TV's "American Music Show" to his transition into the most popular drag queen in the world, RuPaul Charles has always had his sights set on superstardom. Originally from San Diego, he relocated to Atlanta in 1976 and entered Northside School for the Performing Arts. It was an environment that catered to creative misfits and provided both a meeting place and a training ground for the youthful artist. A chance discovery of the "American Music Show," with its campy drag and irreverent humor, enticed RuPaul to venture into Midtown and explore the burgeoning art and music scene.

In a recent phone interview, RuPaul recalls his early encounters with Dick Richards and James Bond, who produced the show. "That's where I really got my start. [The show was] like my grandpa and grandma's house, and it always felt safe there. It was college for me." The "American Music Show" introduced RuPaul to a fascinating group of like-minded people, and opened a new world to him.

Befriending members of the local band the Now Explosion, RuPaul and a couple of his high school friends, Robert Warren and the late Todd Butler, formed a band called Wee Wee Pole, and began to perform in the then-vast Atlanta club scene. With so many venues having open booking policies, such as the 688 Club, the Bistro, Rumors, Margaritaville, Club Rio and the notorious Celebrity Club, there were plenty of places for RuPaul, the Now Explosion and other campy but talented bands that pushed the boundaries of music and theater to perform. It was also an era of late-night follies. "That was a great time. I loved staying up all night, roaming around Midtown. Back then I really enjoyed hallucinogenics. We had the run of the city," he laughs.

Reflecting on the optimism of those times, RuPaul says, "We all witnessed the explosion of the B-52's and R.E.M., and we knew it was possible to make an impact. Midtown was in a position to house kids without a lot of money, and the South tends to nurture eccentric behavior. We had a good run in the mid-'80s, before things started getting torn down."

But it wasn't just based on opportunity; the music and the performances had to be good. Wee Wee Pole was a bass-driven, funky dance band, featuring two plus-sized female backup vocalists called "the U-Hauls." The quirky Now Explosion brought musical theatrics to a higher (or lower) art, and gets a lot of credit from RuPaul for being innovators among Atlanta's rich scene. "The Now Explosion was a portal. They taught me not to take life so seriously, to laugh at myself and everything going around us. They were originators, and when we would go to New York, they were amazed at the freshness." . . .

Hear RuPaul podcast.

Mayoral candidate comes out as TG

by Matthew S. Bajko

Mayoral candidate Michael Powers has come out as transgender.

Mayoral candidate Michael Powers used last week's candidate forum to reveal for the first time publicly he is transgender. The disclosure is believed to be the first time a transgender person has run for mayor in San Francisco.

Powers decided to disclose his being transgender in the candidate statement he provided to the League of Women Voters, which organized the October 11 face-off between the candidates. According to the statement, Powers, 42, is married in a "conventional relationship" but identifies as transgender.

In an exclusive interview with the Bay Area Reporter this week, Powers disclosed that he is, in fact, in the process of divorcing his wife, whom he married this past spring, and plans to resume taking hormones and living life primarily as Michelle.

"I am Middlesex more than anything. I don't have a gender identity disorder. I don't want a vagina," said Powers, owner of the Power Exchange sex club. "I lived as a girl for a couple years. I have had a boyfriend and a couple I have dated who was married."

He said he hadn't brought up his being transgender in the past since he didn't feel it was relevant to his running for mayor.

"People already have enough to say about me for owning a sex club," said Powers. "I don't want it to be a topic of concern but I am willing to talk about it when asked. Most people on my staff know that alternative identity to me."

The Modesto native attended the same high school as famed filmmaker George Lucas and then served in the Army. He moved to San Francisco in 1994 and opened the sex club the following year. After closing the club's men only area earlier this year, he is in the process of revamping the fourth floor as a men's play space and expects to reopen it in November.

In recent months Powers said it became clear that he was more attracted to men and missed living life as a woman.

"I realized a man in my life is better for me than a woman," he said. "A lot of people who go into that role of transgenderism, a lot of guys go because they say 'I couldn't find her so I became her.' I think that is my thing."

He said he doesn't like masculine attributes and prefers the feminine side of his personality.

"I don't like the body hair that comes with being a guy," said Powers, who stopped taking hormones seven months ago.

He is the father to two children from a previous relationship, a 21-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. He met his current wife while living as a woman but said he transitioned back to being a man at her request.

"She coerced me back to being just Michael. She left me three or four weeks ago," said Powers, who intends to file his divorce papers after the election. "It was because of my transgender identity."

Powers, who showed up an hour late to the forum last week, said he did so as a way to protest Mayor Gavin Newsom's avoiding any real debate with his opponents. The mayor and his 11 challengers on stage had very little time to answer questions and had no chance for rebuttal.

"It is a coronation instead of an election," said Powers, who said he told the San Francisco Chronicle "in jest" that his tardiness was due to misreading his clock. . . .

ENDA: Gloves Come Off


By Lisa Keen

Tensions continue to escalate this week over a plan by the Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives to move ahead on a version of ENDA that omits “gender identity” despite overwhelming opposition by LGBT groups around the country.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office issued a statement late Friday evening, Oct. 12, saying the House Committee on Education and Labor would proceed with consideration of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act Thurs., Oct. 18. The statement said a floor vote on the measure will likely take place next week, perhaps as early as Tues., Oct. 23.

Pelosi’s office said the bill will not include a prohibition on gender identity discrimination. That separate bill, the office said, would get a vote only after LGBT activists secured the votes for its passage.

“It’s inexplicable—it’s just inexplicable,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, about news that Pelosi would send the sexual orientation-only bill for a vote next week. . . .

Shoulder Pads, Pom-Poms, and the Angry Inch

Washington’s high-school sports regulators find themselves in a transgender bind.

By Laura Onstot

October 17, 2007

Cheerleading tryouts are where girls become women and losers join the debate team. Last spring, Mount Vernon High School freshman Jai Johnson-Baker wanted to don the pleated skirt and tennis shoes and lead fellow students in chants of "De-fense!"

The only hitch: Johnson-Baker's birth certificate lists him as a male.

Men are allowed on the cheer squad and are often used for tricky stunts. In this case, however, "it more becomes an issue of attire," says Mount Vernon's athletic director, Eric Monson.

By May, the American Civil Liberties Union got involved. Legal Director Sarah Dunne wrote a letter to Mount Vernon characterizing the exclusion of students from full participation in the cheerleading squad based on their gender as unlawful and asking the school to "take proactive steps to ensure that all students feel welcome to participate in cheerleading."

For guidance, Monson turned to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, but it had no policy for dealing with such a situation. Ultimately, Johnson-Baker was allowed to try out for a female role on the squad but didn't make the cut. ACLU spokesperson Doug Honig says Johnson-Baker plans to take another shot this year, and "we'll be watching to make sure he gets to try out." Johnson-Baker declined, by e-mail, to discuss the specifics of the situation with Seattle Weekly, other than to say that he has not undergone a surgical procedure to change genders.

This wasn't the first time the WIAA faced questions about the role of students with complicated sexual identities in high-school athletics. Another student had contacted the WIAA earlier in the school year. Born a male, the student was living as a woman but had not gone through surgical sexual reassignment, wherein hormones are administered to make a person's body function like the opposite gender, followed by surgery to make their anatomy match. That surgery can include everything from the creation or removal of genitalia to shaving down the Adam's apple of former men. The student was interested in participating in volleyball and track on the girls' teams, says WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese. Around that time, two more schools contacted Colbrese with questions about transgender students. So he asked Assistant Director Jim Meyerhoff, a barrel-chested man who wears trainers to work, to research possible policies, telling him, "We better get something drafted."

"We've not only got to be sensitive to the transgender athlete," says Colbrese, "we've got to be sensitive, obviously, to all those athletes with whom they would be competing."

Meyerhoff found that among the 50 other state high-school activity organizations (with one for Washington, D.C.), none had a policy on the eligibility of transgender athletes. Neither did the NCAA.

The only organization Meyerhoff could find that had written guidelines was the International Olympic Committee. In May 2004, the IOC determined that anyone who had undergone sex reassignment before puberty can compete in the gender of their reassignment. Helen Carroll, sports project director at the San Francisco–based National Center for Lesbian Rights, says transgender athletes have yet to show up in the games, but notes that Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley, a male-to-female post-op transsexual, is hoping to make her nation's team for the Beijing games. "We're thinking she's going to be the first openly out trans person that's competing in the Olympics," Carroll says.

For athletes who changed sexes after puberty, there are stricter requirements: All surgical anatomical changes have to be completed; legal documentation, such as a driver's license, has to be provided that reflects the new gender; and hormonal therapies have to have been administered for enough time to minimize gender-related advantages. The IOC also recommends that the athlete wait at least two years after a gonadectomy—the removal of the testicles in men and the ovaries in women—before competing.

Colbrese decided to adopt the IOC rules, making the two-year wait a requirement. That would exclude students like Johnson-Baker, who may dress and live as a female but are still physically male, from participating in competitive sports. However, in Johnson-Baker's case, the Mount Vernon cheerleading squad is not a competitive sport, so participation would still be allowable at the discretion of the school. Monson says Johnson-Baker may try out again next year.

Not everyone thinks it's a good idea to apply a policy designed for adult athletes to minors. Marci Bowers, a Seattle-based surgeon who performs gender-reassignment surgeries at a clinic in Colorado, says the new WIAA rules are "kind of silly" because surgical options generally aren't available to minors. According to Bowers, most surgeons performing sex reassignments make potential patients wait until they are 18.

Bowers would like to see high-school associations like the WIAA make room for hormone treatments that can stave off puberty if begun early enough, thereby keeping the playing field level, or allow for treatments after puberty that can reverse the impact of hormones like testosterone. "It would be fair" to allow teens to participate in sports two years after they've begun such treatment, she says.

Carroll, who is advising WIAA on refining its policy, agrees that it has shortcomings, but adds that she is grateful the organization has made a move on the issue. "The policy is not perfect," says Carroll, "but if something's not out there, we can't work to make it better."

Transgender performer brings body issues, comedy, understanding to stage

By Molly Gilmore

Transgender performance artist Scott Turner Schofield has so many stories that he lets the audience pick a number and choose which ones he'll tell.

Schofield - who was raised as a girl but always has identified as male - will perform his one-man show "Becoming a Man in 127 Easy Steps" Saturday at The Evergreen State College, before it opens in Seattle. The show was commissioned by the National Performance Network, making Schofield the first openly transgender artist to be funded by the group.

He tells stories in the conventional way, but he also tells them with his body.

" I'm a storyteller," said Schofield of Atlanta. "A challenge I gave myself is how do I tell stories in other ways. I took up aerial dance, using fabric." The show has a beginning, middle and end that features the acrobatic dance.

But Schofield also tells stories with his body in another way: appearing nude in the show.

Transgender bodies are confusing to conventional ideas, he said. "I look like I have man boobs at this point because of the testosterone," he said. "I look like a man but have a vagina."

The show reveals all. "When there's nudity, it 's a funny, educational moment. It's not shock value," he said.

But communities haven't always agreed: One of his shows was canceled in Charlotte , N.C., because he appeared topless. "They said, 'That's obscene because you have not always been a man.' "

His 127 stories range from the poetic to the humorous.

There also is a discussion of surgery in the show. Schofield is comfortable without having surgery, although he added that he could not afford it anyway.

"The way that my body has changed through the use of hormones, I don't really need surgery to be perceived as a man," he said. "I feel good enough within my own body to stay that way.

"Everybody feels uncomfortable in their body. I probably have a tad more discomfort than the average non-transgendered person. It doesn't kill me not to have surgery, but for many transgendered people, it does literally kill us."

Of course, gender and body image issues are not just for transgender people.

"We all struggle with gender, with the idea that there's some kind of man or woman th at you have to become," he said. "For me, it's all about my own self-definition, and within this split that I've had of growing up a girl and always having identified as a boy and a young man and now a man.

"I use the term 'man' loosely," he added. "When I say 'man,' I'm talking about the k ind of man I am. It's a show about becoming a whole person."

He said his stories are intended to inspire us all to look more deeply at ourselves.

"One of the things I struggle with in terms of audience-building is people say, 'I'm n ot transsexual,' or 'I understand transsexuals and I don't need to see anything about it.'

"It's actually about how much do you un derstand yourself," he said. "We all have these amazing stories and how often do we listen to them.

"The stories are really just about being how I am, about being just me, who happens to be a transgendered person." 'becoming a man in 127 easy steps'

What: Storyteller and aerial dancer Scott Turner Schofield debuts his choose-your-own adventure story about life as a transgender person.

Letters for October 18-24, 2007

October 18, 2007

Gender Continuum

A DIY prep for the transsexual life? I'm a post-operative female-to-male transsexual, and I've almost always known myself to be alternatively gendered, even when I attended Calvary Chapel as a child (Ashley Harrell, "Tranny Regret," October 11). I had a pretty tumultuous and rocky life due to the many issues it caused, and it wasn't until I started my medical transition that things became more "blissful." But I didn't do it on my own; there were trained and experienced doctors who helped me along the way.

I feel horrible that Michael [Berke] has had to go through all of this pain and torment in his life. If he had gotten the proper medical treatment he needed in the first place, I don't think he would be in this situation. It's sad, mostly, and I would never disenfranchise him from the transgender community. But it's issues like this that shed a negative light upon the already taboo life experience. I wish Michael all the best, and I really hope that he finds comfort in himself one day.

Name withheld by request

Boca Raton

Exploring your role in life is no sin: Does it matter whether Michael is a cross dresser or a true transsexual? Remember that gender identity is fluid and subject to a continuum. Some people, like Michael, are gender-variant and identify as both; some have a stronger identification for one gender. It is all hormonally based and programmed in the eighth week of gestation. Does it matter?

The story here is that a religious group overstepped its boundaries and pushed its belief system on a troubled and confused soul. Sometimes all a person needs is a shoulder to cry on. Unless you are a licensed therapist, your suggestions are not needed. If we all learn to be accepting of our fellow human beings and allow them to be who they are and allow nature to take its course, the world would be a better place. Nature has much variety, and variety is part of life.

Michael, you just go on and try to find the person whom you are; there are no rules or regulations. Find your happiness and peace. This is the problem with our society and those who run it, that they just won't let people be. We all have a need to explore our roles in life. Why should that be a sin?

Mark Angelo Cummings


You talkin' to me, hetero guy? While for the most part I found your article non-sensationalizing and rather straightforward reporting, I must take exception to the headline "Tranny Regret" and frequent use of this term in the article. Most in the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community find this to be defamatory terminology that should never be used.

Bill Vayens, Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus

Via the Internet