A Tale of Two Susans

(cross-posted at Pam’s House Blend

I’m spending part of my winter break getting rid of piles of paper.  Those in the trans community who have had the pleasure/misfortune of entering any place I’ve lived know how, umm……, out of hand my piles of research can get (ask Gwen Smith; she saw the original Casa de la Kat a decade ago – and none of the succeeding Kat Boxes have been less paper-laden.)

Well, I’m trying to get them out of the physical space of my office and into my computer – via scanner.

I am getting there….

Trust me.

Now – on with our regularly scheduled rant:

One of the scraps o’ paper I just ran across is an article about a transsexual named Susan – who had a rather public, political life prior to transition and who has had occasion to say some things trans since her transition that have rubbed some trans folks the wrong way.

Unlike Susan Stanton, however, Susan Kimberly earned the right to mouth off. 

No, she doesn’t need my approval on that point – and I imagine I’ll get an e-mail to that effect at some point.  However, I’ve earned – in my own way – the right to mouth off.

I’d heard of Susan Kimberly before I left Texas for Minnesota in 1999.  As a later item in the Twin Cities’ City Pages summarized:

Kimberly, as she puts it, was once the “world’s most famous transsexual.” At least in St. Paul, where, in 1983, she very publicly cast off her male identity–that of Bob Sylvester, a former city council member–and became Susan Kimberly. The attention faded somewhat while Kimberly went through lean, difficult times, without a job, without any money. But her story popped up again in December 1998 when former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman appointed her deputy mayor.

She may be stretching it a bit on the breadth of her fame (after all, the question put to Bull  on a legendary episode of Night Court was not ‘What do Renee Richards, Christine Jorgensen, Myra Breckinridge and Susan Kimberly have in common?’), but her transition was a very public one (if the opportunity strikes, check the indicies for mentions of her in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press in the early 1980s.)  And, by the time I moved up to Minnesota she was back in the public eye – and political prominence. 

I first encountered her at the 1999 Twin Cities Coming Out Day luncheon – at which she was the featured speaker.  Her speech started off with a line about what, at that point, she was actually more famous for than being a transsexual (namely, being Coleman’s point-woman on the issue of trying to get a St. Paul stadium for the Minnesota Twins baseball team), but eventually led to a few pro-Republican shots – which, not surprisingly, didn’t get any cheers.

But, I also don’t recall any boos.

Minnesota nice, perhaps? 

Possibly. 

But I’d also hazard a guess that it was because those remarks – as well as her abandonment of the Democrats and some views that more transsexuals than not hold about womanhood/manhood – came well over a decade after her transition.

[A]lthough it causes considerable consternation among some of my transexual brothers and sisters, I no longer consider myself a woman.  Don’t take me wrong, however.  I am not a man either, nor am I apologizing for my life, the choices I’ve made or their outcome.  I’m as proud a transexual as you’ll ever meet.

That passage is from the article I just ran across – from the June 1997 edition of Minnesota Law & Politics – entitled “I am Transsexual – Hear Me Roar.” (sorry – I couldn’t find a URL)

I couldn’t disagree more with the ‘I am not a woman’ philosophy (and, though I really like Kate Bornstein as a person, I can’t stand it when she says it either.)  Upon hearing it come from a then-15-year post-transition tranny, I can reply with a simple, “I strongly disagree.”  Hearing something similar come from a less-than-one-year-outt/transitioned tranny, I’d get a bit bitchier.

Here’s what Kimberly had to say two years after that Minnesota Law & Politics piece.  Speaking of the successful effort to enact trans-inclusive civil rights legislation in her state.  This is from NGLTF’s 2000 Transgender Equality pamphlet:

While Kimberly and other prominent members of the transgender and gay communities wanted inclusive language, [Sen. Allan] Spear remained skeptical. Lobbyists for the bill soon got into a debate over whether to include trans-protective language and how to respond if legislators attempted to remove that language. Key local activists were insistent that trans people could not be cut from the bill. [Barbara] Metzger, one of the grand marshals in the 1992 Twin Cities GLBT pride parade, told Spear and assembled parade goers that she “would move to Minneapolis and run against him if he dealt away the transgender language.” And Kimberly, who had considerable political experience and clout as the former president of the St. Paul City Council, told the coalition lobbying for the bill in 1993 that “if the issue came up again, the bill had to be inclusive or I would do something foolish and handcuff myself to a urinal in the state capital.”

Now, for those who’ve already forgotten.  Here is what Susan Stanton – less than a year after transitioning and becoming known to anyone outside of the workforce at the city of Largo, Florida – pronounced for a body politic still debating what St. Barney and the Scampaign did to all trans people in the fall of 2007.

Susan has said all along that she’s not like other transgender people. She feels uncomfortable even looking at some, “like I’m seeing a bunch of men in dresses.”

Eventually, she decided it was too early for transgender people to be federally protected. People need more time, more education, she says. “The transgender groups boo me, now, when I speak. Isn’t that ironic?

“But I don’t blame the human rights groups from separating the transgender people from the protected groups. Most Americans aren’t ready for us yet,” Susan says. Transgender people need to be able to prove they’re still viable workers — especially in the mainstream.

“The biggest issue against the federal legislation is that politicians think the ladies’ rooms will be invaded by guys in drag,” Susan says, “instead of someone like me.”

I moved away from Minnesota in 2003 (albeit to the next state south) and I can’t say that I’ve heard what Susan Kimberly’s thoughts currently are on ENDA or trans-inclusion in general.  If, by chance, she hung around Norm Coleman enough to develop an attitude more like Stanton’s than that of Kimberly ca. 1993, then fine.

Well – not fine.

I’ll speak out against it – and I may even toss a few name-bombs.

One thing I would not say, however, would be that Kimberly had no business speaking in a manner that could be interpreted as espousing trans policy.

Susan Stanton should either get some serious education – from people outside of her insular management class.  Until she does, she should shut the fuck up.

Yeh – that’s bitchy.

If she ever does get educated about what really happened to trans political viability at the federal level, she’ll come to appreciate that if anger from other transsexuals is the worst thing she encounters as a result of her insane musings of December, she’ll be one of the luckiest trannies to ever walk the face of the earth.

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