Monthly Archives: May 2015

May 2015 Trans Talk on 90.1 KKFI

KKFIPlease join us this coming Saturday, May 23 on “Trans Talk,” 90.1 FM, KKFI, Kansas City Community Radio at 1:00 pm central. You can also tune into to listen in via live streaming audio from anywhere with an internet connection.


On this program Luke Harness, Sandra Meade, and myself will be discussing two sides of the publicity coin – lives in “stealth,” and lives in “public.” Our special guests include “Q,” a local transgender man who will discuss the pressures and benefits of living in stealth, and four ladies from the recent Discovery Life reality program “New Girls on the Block.” Luke will kick off the program with some LGBT news for the week, and I will finish up the program with the Community Calendar update.

Please tune in if you can, as we hope this shall be a great show!

Movie Review: Limited Partnership (2014)

LimitedPartnershipImageLimited Partnership is a documentary film about the relationship between Richard Adams, a Filipino American, and Tony Sullivan, an Australian.

Richard and Tony met in Los Angeles in 1971 when Tony was in the US on a tourist visa, during a stop while travelling around the world. They fell in love, and Tony decided to stay with Richard. Every three months he had to leave the United States and then re-enter, fearing that each time the Immigration Service would tell him he had visited too often. Then in 1975 a county clerk in Boulder, Colorado granted a marriage license to a same sex couple, after advice from the local county attorney that nothing in the state constitution forbade it. Tony and Richard flew to Boulder with their minister and friends, applied for a license, and were married there straight away.


Then they did what any married couple would do – they applied for a visa for the immigrant partner for permanent residency in the US. I’ve been through this process myself, and it’s not pleasant: it’s lengthy, fraught with bureaucratic delays, and deliberate unpleasantness to try to shake you or trip you up, or to try to make you reveal that you aren’t in a real relationship, and you’re just trying to get your grubby little mitts on that vaunted green card. Thanks to an accident of birth, I didn’t have to deal with what Richard and Tony did – they received a letter of rejection stating they “failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots”.

Naturally, faced with Tony’s deportation, they sued the United States government, in a case known as Adams v Howerton. The general findings of the court was that even if the marriage were legal, Colorado does not control immigration, Congress does, and the court found that Congress had no intention to expand the definition of spouse to allow same sex spouses to immigrate. They went through appeal after appeal, until their case reached the United States Supreme Court – who refused to hear their case, leaving them with almost no options. They tried one last attempt – Tony Sullivan filed claiming that it would cause undue hardship to be deported, as unlike most deportees, he wouldn’t be able to take his nearest and dearest with him, as Adams could not immigrate to Australia to be with him (Sullivan v INS). This was decided against them in 1985 with Judge Kennedy (now on the Supreme Court) penning the majority decision.

Sullivan-Adams-BrownThe couple left the United States together, but had nowhere to go, as at that time no country recognised same sex marriage as a basis for immigration. They travelled together in Europe as tourists for a while on EuroRail passes, desperately poor, then returned to the United States. They met an American friend of theirs in Mexico, who helped Richard sneak Tony in at the border by playing on the border guards’ bigotry – he looked at the scruffy white guy in a baseball cap and just assumed he was American and waved them all through.

This time they went into hiding, with Tony living as an undocumented alien and getting poorly paid work under the table. Richard found work for a law firm, and the couple refrained from activism and kept their heads down, hoping not to be noticed. Around them, the AIDS epidemic struck down many of their dearest friends, including their immigration lawyer. Much later, as same sex marriage came into the political eye again (being approved in California, then struck down with Proposition 8), they started to speak out, always feeling that a target was on them, and that Tony might be taken away at any time.


As the marriage rights debate took increasingly positive turns, Richard’s health suffered a crippling blow – he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. His health deteriorated rapidly as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case was heard in the Supreme Court, and their current immigration attorney advised them to go to Washington, which had recently approved same sex marriage, and re-marry there, in case a modern court didn’t consider that old marriage to be legally valid. They agreed, although it was painful for both of them to do so, but Richard died the next day.


Shortly thereafter, Justice Kennedy penned the majority decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA and allowing same sex marriages recognised by a state to be recognised for federal purposes – survivor benefits for social security, tax returns, and of course, immigration. Tony says that he doesn’t hold any bitterness towards Justice Kennedy, accepting that he has obviously changed, and we should also accept that others can change as well. Given the lengthy historical backdrop portrayed in this film, same-sex marriage is evidently something that Justice Kennedy has had a long time to think over, longer than most people are aware.

Their story is shockingly undertold – Wikipedia features a tiny page on Richard, another on the main court case, and has no information on Tony (FYI, he’s not the Australian Rules football player that rates a paragraph on there).

After the film, which I doubt left a dry eye in the house, there was a discussion panel, with Angie Williams, a local immigration lawyer, Doug Bonney, the legal director of the ACLU of Kansas, Dick Nelson, a local retired journalist with a story very similar to Richard and Tony’s, Lindsey Foat, a reporter for KCPT and The Hale Center for Journalism, and myself, Fiona Nowling, co-founder of Transas City , and an immigrant from the UK. Lindsey moderated a discussion of the film and a question and answer session from the audience, with many good points and interesting information. We all (panel and audience alike) stressed that as progress is made, backlashes tend to get made at smaller and smaller minorities, and that it is important to keep fighting for everyone’s sake under the LGBT umbrella. There was much discussion of intersections of discrimination, partly provoked by the episode of Tony sneaking into the US – if Richard had had to sneak in, things might have been harder. One person there announced some upcoming discussions on that which are sponsored by the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, so look for a separate post with more details.

Coincidentally, while I was on that panel, a friend who married her wife recently in Kansas, on a legally valid Kansas wedding license, was posting on Facebook about her experience being turned down by the Kansas DMV when she attempted to change her name on her driver’s license to her wife’s name. “It’s not legal,” she was told.

At the end of the film, it was announced that Tony has filed a widower’s petition to be allowed to remain legally in the US, which is still under consideration. Since the film was made, he has written to the President, demanding an apology for how he and Richard were treated, and he has received a letter of apology from the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the successor to the INS. He has also received a work permit, despite the fact that the outcome of his petition for residency is still pending. So there definitely is hope.

I strongly recommend anyone interested in LGBT rights or immigration reform see this film, and it will air on KCPT on June 15th at 9 P.M. Central time. I also recommend having tissues handy.

Kansas City Anti-Violence Project – LGBTQ Conversations for Change

The Kansas City Anti-Violence Project will be holding three town hall meetings over the next few weeks about various topics of concern to the LGBTQ community.  The first meeting is on May 11th and concerns Racism in LGBTQ Communities.


There was considerable discussion at the free screening of Limited Partnership about intersectionality in oppression, and the topic of the first town hall meeting is “Racism in LGBT Communities.”  These particular town hall meetings are only open to people that self-identify as members of the LGBTQ community.

A brief quote from the meeting topic page gives the motive for having these conversations now:

In light of the ongoing investigation of Dionte Green’s murder on October 31, 2014 with no justice, continued hate violence directed at LGBTQ individuals, law enforcement’s harassment of and misconduct towards marginalized communities, specifically LGBTQ individuals, and the general lack in representation of diversity and inclusion within LGBTQ community events and spaces, we must expand our conversations.

More information is available here:

Two New Historic Photographs, and Thoughts on Transgender Stereotypes

I’ve recently purchased two more original archival photographs for Transas City’s research division, and you can see one of them as the lead image of this post. The photograph shows Tamara Rees, the third “Atomic Age” transsexual woman, in a stereotypical domestic setting (for more information and photographs about Rees, including a copy of her incredibly rare autobiography which we were able to obtain, please visit our Tamara Rees page). The other photograph follows, and shows Rees both before and after her gender transition.


Tamara Rees, from Army paratrooper to housewife.

At first blush the vacuuming photograph looks quite silly and pointless – why on earth, when she has gone through so much in her gender transition, did the press think it was newsworthy to portray her vacuuming her floor? To a 21st-century eye, this photograph smacks of silliness at best, and a rigid bowing to paternalistic stereotypes at worst. But because we study history, and do not go by first impressions only, we can tell some of the back-story behind the lead photograph.

Jorgensen_Andrea_DoriaChristine Jorgensen, in a typical “starlet” pose on the deck of the Andrea Doria.

When Christine Jorgensen entered the public eye on December 1, 1952 as the first of the Atomic Age transsexual women, she was heralded as a wonder by many reporters; a triumph of Western science. And when the blonde-haired and svelte Jorgensen landed in New York in February of the following year, she was greeted by a nova of flashbulbs and untold levels of publicity. Most of the publicity was positive, albeit there were some detractors and naysayers. Jorgensen continued to maintain this image of a starlet, impeccable in dress, poise, and manners; with that bright smile and great figure through almost all of her career.

McLeod_Charlotte_1954_05_12_MCharlotte McLeod with her father.

Charlotte McLeod was the second of the Atomic Age transsexual women, and she immediately discovered that being the “second” in something is not nearly as exciting as being the first. McLeod returned to the United States fully expecting the Jorgensen treatment, and instead ran into a crowd of reporters who were much more skeptical, with one of them even having an altercation with her which dumped her to the floor of a hotel. McLeod was pretty, but she was not the smiling, socially-conscious blonde beauty that Jorgensen was. McLeod was a quiet and reserved person, who shunned the press and did not react with grace and poise when confronted about her gender identity. At the same time, McLeod resented her second-place status bitterly, and has been quoted in several historical documents in our Transgender Newsbank stating just that.

So then Tamara Rees arrived on the scene, and the public was starting to wonder: OK, Jorgensen was an interesting case, but now…where is science leading us? Boys becoming girls; where does it end? Instead of gender transition being a once-in-a-billion thing, it now is showing up regularly in the news. Every dad and mom in America had to start wondering, as they looked at their little boy playing with the gender-typical trains, guns, and baseballs – is he going to be wearing a dress some day? It’s at this time in history that the backlash against transsexual women begins to foment.

Rees_Tamara_1954Tamara Rees in an unflattering pose.

It did not help that Rees was also much less able to “pass” than Jorgensen or McLeod. Being of a larger frame and not having the dazzling looks of Jorgensen, or the petite darkness of McLeod, Rees was much more of an average transsexual woman. She did not turn heads, despite her being much more amenable to the press and publicity than McLeod. She was not nearly as polished in her speech as Jorgensen, and fumbled through the couple of interviews which I’ve seen of her. Like McLeod before her, Rees also resented Jorgensen, and again we have quotes of Rees lashing out at her “rival.”

Rees tried very hard to present herself as a typical American woman, and thus she appeared in several photographs showing her doing stereotypical female activities – such as vacuuming the floor in a dress and heels. This is similar to the photographs found in the autobiography of British transsexual woman Roberta Cowell (q.v.), which featured her playing the piano at home, cooking, shopping, etc. All to try to create a better image for herself and to portray an air of “just another woman; nothing to see here…”

Cowell_Roberta_CookingRoberta Cowell in a stereotypical setting.

At that era in history, transsexual women were required to be strongly gender binary. Remember, there were perhaps less than 5 surgeons in the world performing sexual reassignment surgery (the exact number is not known), and each of them and their associated psychiatrists demanded that a transsexual woman be rigidly gender-binary in their thoughts and feelings, or else surgery would be disallowed. Recall that even the late, great Dr. Harry Benjamin denied Renee Richards estrogen in the late 1960’s because she expressed that she was lesbian.

Richards_2Renee Richards – denied estrogen for insufficient heteronormativity.

Now yes, in truth to the best of my research it appears that Jorgensen, McLeod, and Rees were in fact all strongly gender-binary transsexual women. But if they hadn’t been, they would have still had to go through the same theater – Jorgensen flashing her legs, McLeod dressed in a fur stole, and Rees running her Eureka. It would have been a matter of survival – doing anything, absolutely anything, so you can have your body aligned with your brain.