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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Angela Brightfeather, January 24, 2002. Interview K-0841. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Childhood awareness of possessing a third gender

Brightfeather discusses how she was vividly aware that her gender identity did not necessarily mirror her biological sex during her childhood in Syracuse, New York, in the 1950s and 1960s. In explaining that she feels "like a third gender," Brightfeather addresses issues of gender acculturation and explains that confusion about gender identity is not the same as questioning sexual preference.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Angela Brightfeather, January 24, 2002. Interview K-0841. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, when you met your first transgender person at the age of 21, did you have any idea, initially, how did you identify yourself? Did you consider yourself—I know transgender and orientation are different things, so that is probably something that we are going to want to clarify for our listeners.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Well, I was aware that I had to find out more about what was driving my instincts, because I started dressing at 4, my first inclination towards dressing as I knew it was at my baptismal at two months old. Now, I know that it is kind of hard for people to believe that that could be true, but circumstances about what happened that day indicate to me and going back and really digging deeply, I can point to the fact that the first time that I was hit with a difference that something was different was at approximately two months old at my baptism. Where, where—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
This is something that you remember?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Yes, this is definitely something that I remember, because I was actually—The reaction to being taken out of the baptismal dress that I was baptized in, which was the tradition in the Catholic Church, back then, with all of the silk and the flouncy and everything else was to cry for a straight 18 hours until my parents took me to the hospital. My mother confirmed the fact that the moment I started crying was when she started to undress me. She swore that up and down. But before that, I was—all day I had not wept a tear or made a cry and was the happiest baby that they had ever seen. So, going back on that and trying to find that in my memory was a key point, I focused in on that and since I practice shamanism and journeying which is a tradition of transgender people, I was able to touch it with my spirit, remember it in my mind and put two and two together. The feelings—you do not lose the feelings, you may lose all of the details, but you don't lose the feelings. And putting the feelings together with the incident and what I was told by my parents, I had concurred that that was the first time that it was ever struck to me that it hit some sort of a chord that said, "This is pleasurable, this is what I should do, this is what I should be." And when it was taken away, I reacted accordingly.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, you are a woman trapped in a man's body, is that how you—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
No—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Does that need to be clarified?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
I may be, I am not up to this point. It is a constantly evolving thing. And, like anything in life, your experiences and the circumstances of your life lead you to the next steps. So, I have always kept a door open in front of me.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
As a possibility, but that is not how you identify yet.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
To some degree, yeah. I certainly feel that way, that there is at least part of a woman trapped inside my body, that wants to get out.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Do you feel more like a hybrid between the two?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
I feel like a third gender. I feel like a third gender. Right now I do. But that has grown—that has changed over the years, too. You know, sometimes that becomes more concentrated and sometimes it becomes less concentrated depending on the circumstances of your life. It becomes less concentrated when you get married. Because now you've got a wife, so—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So have you always considered yourself, before you addressed the transgender issue, did you consider yourself straight if you don't mind that label?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Well, back then there wasn't any straight.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
There was gay and lesbian, but I don't remember anybody saying straight.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh really? Okay.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
I was paying attention to this when I was probably—really before most children were, I was paying attention to all of this at eight or nine years old, because feeling that you are in a minority at four and doing something that you shouldn't be doing puts you into a minority, and that feeling right away made me pay closer attention to what happened, the news, what people said about other minorities, or people that were considered minorities to include blacks and a whole lot of other things. Color and people with different jobs and backgrounds and other things. I think that we all do. If we have cognizant ability at that age to feel as though we are GLBT people.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You certainly did not feel as a gay man, definitely not.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
No, I never—I questioned my sexuality far less than I question my gender in my life. There have been incidences where I have questioned my sexuality. I have certainly have had plenty of opportunities as a transgender person that goes to a lot of gay bars to be able to question my sexuality. [Laughter]