On this Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, 2019, I recall fondly how my life was changed twenty two years ago.
In May of 1997, I traveled with two other transgender activists from central Ohio to Washington, DC to participate in GenderPAC’s Lobby Day. We wanted the 1997 version of the Equality Act (it was called ENDA, and it would have only protected sexual orientation) to also protect transgender people. This was more than two years before I transitioned to full time female status.
During our lobbying, I met a woman who reminded me of many of the new crossdressers I knew from the local transgender support group. She had an obvious wig, a male sounding voice, and was perhaps the most visibly male member of our lobbying group. Her name was Penni Ashe Matz.
Since most of the lobbyists were transsexuals who were passable to different degrees, I felt like the odd tranny out. (“Tranny” was still an OK word back then.) I still identified as a crossdresser, and was not even contemplating going full time. When a friend taunted me that I was a transsexual, I defensively insisted I was not. I still felt comfortable in my part time status. I thought perhaps Penni was also a crossdresser, and started up a conversation.
Penni and I wound up hanging out that evening, and we shared our stories. She told me that she was indeed transsexual, and had been transitioned for many years. Due to some serious medical complications, she was not pursuing sex reassignment surgery – it could kill her. She had, however, legally changed her name, and was living full time.
What she said next changed my life. She told me that she made a conscious decision not to pass as female. She said that while most transsexuals work hard to pass, and then to “woodwork” (blending in so nobody knows they are trans), they are not helping the cause if nobody knows they are trans. Penni chose not to pass on a day-to-day basis, so that everyone she interacted with will know they have met a transsexual. By educating the world, one person at a time, she had a greater impact on transgender acceptance.
Penni also said she made an effort to be nice to people. She felt she was acting as an ambassador from the transgender community, and that by making a good impression, people will have a positive memory of the one transsexual they remember meeting. The more people who know someone who is trans, the harder it is for anti-transgender activists to paint us as threatening, scary monsters.
Penni gave me a lot to think about that day. I had spent a lot of time and energy working to acquire “passing skills”. I still had a lot of work to do on my voice, which was always read as male. I decided that Penni had the right idea, and I should do the same. I was already “out”, now I could stop trying to pass, and start trying to educate.
I made a good friend that day. Penni and I stayed in touch, and I got to visit her in Boston later when I was there for training. I have missed her since she passed away in 2001.
To this day, I don’t try to pass. I just live my life, comfortably, as my true self. My voice sounds a lot like Mark’s did. I’ve decided the higher “Mary Ann voice” is fakey. It’s far more authentic to use the voice God gave me, and I feel I do the world more good by not passing. I try to be kind and helpful to people I meet. And I became the most well-known “out” transgender person in central Ohio for the next several years.