Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fit for an editor


My name is Erin O'Brien and I am a human being.

Now then, for anyone who would like to have their opinion on what I wrote in this article known to the world, please email the Cleveland Free Times at Include your name and city. The paper does not publish anonymous letters. For those visiting here for the first time, I also elaborated on this topic in yesterday's post.

Believe it or not, I appreciate all comments, good and bad.

I did my best to represent the transgender community. I heard many, many different stories and there was no way I could have included them all in my article. I attempted to explain the vast range of T lifestyles:

"For some, the transgender manifestation is subtle (a lacy undergarment under the rough work jumpsuit), or closeted (dressing after the kids go to bed and lounging around the house). Others undergo drastic sexual reassignment via hormone therapy and surgery."

Surely there is every shade of transgender in between and I thought that was implied in the article.

A couple of notes:

I did not write much about female to male transgenders because it simply did not fit in the article. Their stories are, however, very compelling.

I was accused of underreporting:

"Where's the gratuitious sex? The drugs? The alchohol abuse? The prostitution? I see very little of the gritty, raw... REAL side of the lifestyle."

I did see this and it didn't look all that different from the gratuitous sex, drugs, alcohol abuse and prostitution in the straight world. I thought making it the focus of the article would have been cheap and sensational.

I was accused of being cheap and sensational anyway. "You skimmed the surface and wrote the literary equivalent of a carnival side show."

I am sorry to those who felt that way, who felt they were unfairly represented. That said, I stand by my article with solidity. And I will add one blanket statement:

Every T person I met longs for acceptance.

We are all ying yang. Each of our black swirls has a white dot and vice versa. In some the dot is a little bigger than in others, but there are no absolutes. This is what makes us beautiful.




Blonde Vigilante said...

I always find it laughable when people try to use the "drug, sex and rock & roll" angle to make something look bad. If that's the case...this little straigt WASP should be swallowed up by the gates of hell. Nobodies hurtin' anybody here...we're all just people tryin' to get by the best way we know how. If someone has nothing better to do than hate on other people for wearing a dress...maybe they should get a hobby or something. Just because somebody doesn't understand something does not mean that it is wrong.

We need more tolerance. I would say understanding, but I don't expect people to completely understand something they are not themselves experiencing, but I do expect tolerence.

zorgon said...

I have no tolerance for intolerance.


*flips over*


Zen Wizard said...

Wouldn't it be cool if there was an Indian woman named, "Dot"??

You would never forget her name!!

Demented M said...

I thought it was an intelligent, well thought out piece and very sympathetic.

I'm sorry you're getting flak.


helen_boyd said...


i've read hundreds of these kinds of articles, and i've been in the trans community for a few years now (i wrote the book My Husband Betty) and your article was one of the best i have ever read. i think you especially expressed the irony/dichotomy of the feeling of community and feelings of isolation trans people (& often their partners) experience.

as for the drugs & sex & alchohol: oh, pah. that's for intra-community stuff: right now what trans people need is empathy, & willing journalists who make it clear they shouldn't be beaten with sticks just for being trans. you erred in the right direction.

nice work.

winters said...

I remember it well...

I was a budding, hair-sprouting youth. My mum had gone out shopping. I used the opportunity to sneak into her room, to adorn myself in all of that beautiul multi-coloured face-paint. I stepped into a figure hugging red dress, before looking at myself in the mirror. I pulled my tongue out, cheekily...

The dog looked at me. I could have sworn he was frowning. But I loved it. I've never felt so beautiful in my life.

I loved your article, Erin. Thanks for the good read.

Denny Shane said...

My black and white swirls have little squares instead of dots. Am I abnormal?

Vince said...

Cool, I'm going to read the article again and give free times a shout.

I never heard that dots can be different sizes in the Yin and Yang, but I like the idea. I always think of myself as the most Masculine guy on Earth. And when you reach any extreme in Yin and Yang, then you hold the seed of its opposite. In my case, I’m so masculine; I hold the seed of femininity. And I’m proud of my femininity because it’s safely wrapped in my masculinity. And it’s my femininity. And I could do with it what I want! But I can’t stand long finger nails…How do you type in those things anyways…

jamwall said...

those black and white amoebas are partaking in somekind of gratuitous sex ritual!!!!

that's hot.

Jozee said...

Erin, I live in a town known as Lesbianville USA. Named by 20/20.
Now, that's exploitation.

I also lived in what I prefer to call a woman to woman relationship for seven years.

In my life as a "gay" person I saw a lot of unusual things. The saddest part of belonging to a fringe society is the box it forces one into.

When people are forced to live beyond the traditional boundaries of society, life can become a free for all.

Being an outcast is the glue that keeps gay, bi, lesbian and transgendered people together.

Sadly, there is also a lot of fighting and opportunistic behavior as well.

When people make lifestyle choices that buck society's view of what's right, all the usual protection of our "free" society is gone.

We all deserve the same rights and freedoms. People that live their lives in a manner that makes them happy without hurting others should be applauded not harassed.

I found your reporting to be very precise and factual. A job extremely well done. JZ

Gef said...

That's too funny! But where do you get that info?


My Gay Zone

Anonymous said...

Hi Blonde Vigilante-

The problem with "under-reporting" the sex drugs and rock and roll aspect of this is that there are a fair number of wives who are are unknowingly at risk of veneral dissease due to their husband's crossdressed sexual flings with other men, particularlly worries about HIV/AIDS.

You may be protecting the "communities", but when wives read articles like this, and then later find out that their supposedly het and faithful hubbie was out having anal penetrative sex with multiple male partners, it leads to feelings of betrayal by the leadership and advocates of these communities.

It's the downlow sex and the risk of AIDS that makes this more than ordinary country-western cheating hearts.


josh williams said...

JoAnne, no matter the sexual orientation they all cheat, the risk is always out there.People that are smart enough to read an article like Erins from beginning to end are those who do not need this lesson. JoAnne a cheating man can contract aids from a woman and so can a cheating woman contract aids from a man so what is your point?

~d said...

It's late. I can't shake that damned Weather Girls song.
Anyone care to join me?
gonna go like Vince-and give free a shout out. Or two.

Joyce said...

Hey Erin!

It's Joyce ("Phyllis") from your article! I really like it, and I think you did an EXCELLENT job! I'm sorry about the "hate mail" you received, and I'm honestly a bit suspicious about the letter you received about the "gratuitious sex, the drug and alcohol abuse, and the prostitiution." I certainly do not think that's an integral part of the community.

The only thing I think you did "wrong" was by lumping transsexuals in with all transgender people. There are a few distinctions that, when ignored, can really upset some people. Plus, a few of us have recently been in the middle of a few online arguments in a local forum regarding this issue, and are probably still a bit heated...

Don't take it as an admonishment that your article was anything less than excellent. You did a great job and are an asset to our community. THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...


The risk is simply much higher in this country. While in Africa and Asia male-female/female male HIV/AID transmission is so high that 30-40% of the population of some countries is infected that's not true in the US, where the major routes of infection remain anal-penetrative sex and IV drug useage with shared needles.

The problem is the "myth" of heteronormative heterosexuality in the population that keeps women in the dark about what is going on with their husbands. It's been actively promulgated in the past by major CD-support organizations. If that historical context didn't exist, I wouldn't be as concerned.

As for Joyce's comment about the "dark side" not being an integral part of the community...that's simply peculiar. 100-150 people will attend those gatherings at the Queen of Hearts some transsexuals, some CDs some admirers (tranny chasers). That greatly outnumbers the people who show up at any of the "legitimate" group functions. Never mind that the legitimate groups are almost exclusively "white" and despite good intentions have no reach into black and latino trans communities, where people often live on the dark side through lack of any other place to be.

Each year we set a day aside to remember our dead. If you look at the histories of the people who died, they are only rarely people who you'll find at the legitimte groups... many are prostitutes and/or drug users. Many are black and latino in the US. The murder we mourned in Cleveland last year of Donathyn Rogers was one such, and happened on the streets. I find it hypocritical mourn their deaths one day a year and milk the publicity from it and then talk about people on the "dark side" not being an integral part of the community. There isn't one T* community and never has been. But I can't turn my back on any of it.


Erin O'Brien said...


This is wonderful. Marvelous. I am so thankful for this dialogue.

Thank you all. Each of your thoughts and comments mean a great deal to me.

Always yours,


Joyce said...


I didn't mean to imply that the "dark-side" people aren't an integral part of the community. Oh dear, no! The prostitutes, drug users, etc. are most assuredly members of this community and deserve respect and acceptance just as much as anyone else. To be sure, such individuals are frequently more in need of support than those of us that live on the "light side".

I simply meant that the so-called "dark-side" does not go hand in hand with being transgender. To be honest, most of the transsexuals I know are also the most "straight-edged" people I know.

btw: I really don't like this dark/light dynamic, as it seems to imply judgement that I don't wish to impart. People do what they must to live as they must. There's a quote I love: "People don't want to be fixed, they want to be loved."

Anonymous said...


There's no reason to be suspicious of the source of this

Though I'm sure you recognize
the world she described, cause it's the one you live in, it's not the world
I have been living in for the last 25 years, or the world anyone I hang with
in the community lives in.

Where's the gratuitious sex? The drugs? The alchohol abuse? The
prostitution? I see very little of the gritty, raw... REAL side of the
lifestyle. And more people experience that than the lily-livered "lets all
love one another" therapy fests you people throw once a month.

I know who wrote this, she sent it to me in response to my sending her the link to Erin's article, and I've followed her blog and writing for a long time. She is embedded in that culture and very out.

I'm not sure whether the gratuitous sex is a self-esteem issue...but often the alcohol and drug abuse is part a shame and guilt issue that people have about their sexuality, gender-expression. The prostitution is not simply a matter of doing what one has to do to survive. I can direct you to the writing (at least I think i can) of a "she-male" prostitute who wonders whether completing transition would be a good idea...(she lives full time, only missing the SRS), and the loss of attention and income that would go with it. I'm sure some would deny her the label "woman" or "TS"...but I'm not so sure.

The dark side is simply a short-hand for all this, rather than repeating the quote forever.


Blonde Vigilante said...

Joyce or anonymous or whatever....

I was simply trying to imply that there is a dark side to EVERY part of society. The heterosexual side, the homosexual side, the transexual side etc etc etc. If you read my comment on Aug 2 you would see that I questioned how it would make a woman feel who thought she married a hetero man. And, I do understand what you're saying.

Lying to someone is lying to someone regardless of who you are having sex with. But, it happens in all communities. Not just the transgender communities. Lying has nothing to do with what your sexual orientation is. And, like Erin wrote...not all Trans-genders have or want to have homosexual sex. That's like saying all homosexual men like little kids.

A liar is a liar just like a spade is a spade.

Joyce said...

Hey Joanne,

Some people choose prostitution because they have no other way to make money. Others think its a great job. Others just enjoy it. Similarly, some people are compelled to drug and alcohol abuse because of emotional issues, others do it because they like it. Once again, I don't think it my right to judge such people as good or bad for these things. They're just people, doing what they must to live as they must, by which I mean: They must be true to their hearts, and to do so they do what they feel is necessary to follow their path.

I do say though, all that stuff, although it is "the gritty, raw... REAL side of the lifestyle" for her and many many others, it is not so much a reality for others. My transsexual friends and I spend our nights hanging out at coffee shops singing karaoke, playing music at open mic night, and playing board games. I go home and watch science-fiction TV-shows and play video games on my Playstation 2 and computer. I go to work and write software. For me, "the lifestyle" is about being a geek, hanging out and gaming with friends, and philosophizing on the meaning of love, reality, and gender. It's about having "lily-livered "lets all love one another" therapy fests" every single night! :)

You're very right when you say "There isn't one T* community and never has been". Our community is extremely diverse, with a great variety of experiences, people, perspectives, and attitudes within it. Although we tend to be defensive of our particular niche, I think the more enlightened of us recognize the strength that comes through such diversity. I find it all terribly fascinating, myself. :)

Anonymous said...


I've made my point to the source about my life (and others) somehow being less "real" than hers. She's well known in yahoo groups for rhetorical overkill.

I wanted the article to reflect the not so hidden agenda so to speak, and I think Erin overall did a great job of it.


Anonymous said...


I'm sorry, I didn't make the connection between you and the August 2nd post. My bad.


Joyce said...

I think Erin overall did a great job of it.
Totally agree. Three cheers for Erin! :)

Karen Little said...

gosh - looks like it's a hot topic... I'll just say I thought it was a good article.

They sometimes do gender reassignment operations in one of the hospitals I work at. It's a very big thing to go through, and I think those people are brave, for many reasons. It's a tough social and lifestyle choice they've made, and it's a huge procedure.

Toby said...

The original Shocking Asia is a good video to rent.

Mone said...

Hi Erin, you wrote a great story about a subject which is for many people still touchy.
Therefore some made - a lot of noice.
People should start thinking about the love, life, and letting be.
I think you did a great writing job. (PS: Please overlook any spelling mistakes, thanks.)

Brookelina said...

Erin, I loved your story. I learned a great deal and enjoy your style.

As for the comments, I'm a bit confused as to how it went from a story about transgender to prostitution and drug abuse. Every group of people has prostitution, drug abuse, and a myriad of other issues. Why bring it up at all? Is it necessary to write about that side of things whenever a group of people is being explored?

Libby said...

Small world. I lived in lovely downtown Noho, acclaimed lesbian capitol of the world for 12 years and I know this community you wrote about. I thought it was an excellent piece, really empathetic and more importantly realistic.

Good work.

Jozee said...

Libby, for the record, I was talking about the exploitation of lesbians by the television show 20/20.

Noho has been my home since 1970. It has been and remains a friendly and welcoming community.

The exclusion from society I was talking about refers to the lack of legal rights people of different identities not afforded by our government.

I was also referring to the lack of cohesiveness in the gay community everywhere.

When people are excluded from being full citizens because of their sexuality or gender the only common thread seems to be the bond of not belonging to society as a whole.

Also, it is my personal belief that when people are forced to hide or closet their sexuality or lifestyle preferences it feeds a certain amount of mental illness, back biting and abuse. Be it alcohol,drugs or physical.

Glad you enjoyed your stay in Noho. Were you to return I'm sure you find it as you did before.

Libby said...

Hey jozee. I wasn't dissing Noho and I agree 20/20 did a total exploitation thing with the lesbian community although frankly I thought the gay community was rather cohesive in Noho certainly and I've found it to be so in other places I've lived. I'm straight hetero but I have many dear friends in the gay crowd. I always found them to be welcoming and accepting.

I do however think the transgender community is marginalized, even there. I had a roommate in that group once and I was surprised at the amount of discrimination they endured.

As for my Valley creds, I lived in lovely downtown for 12 years but I lived in the greater Happy Valley since 76. I think it changed a lot, particularly in the last ten years, but I miss it terribly. I still have many friends there. I only recently moved away for family reasons.

Im surprised you've been there so long though. You don't look old enough in your photo to have been anywhere that long.

Jozee said...

Hi Libby, Thanks for the comps. I'm an old broad.

The Valley is still happy and life is good here.

I'd have to say the straight community bends over backwards to accept different types of people in Noho. We reap the benefit of being in a 5 college area.
There is quite a good deal of solidarity here.

I don't want to be rude in anyway.
I've had gay friends all my life.
Until I lived with another woman I really had no clue as to what gay life was really like.

My initiation to coming out was greeted with one woman's (unsolicited) advice that "lesbianism isn't women being all nicey nice to each other". Boy, was she right!

Let's just say that the biggest lesson I learned was that no matter how supportive your community - when one lives outside of the traditonal parameters of society you're on your own.

Some people take advantage of this.

What people really need to realize is that there is good and bad in all races and genders.

Live and let live!


Hope to see you around the Valley!