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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 >>

Advantages of transgender identity

Brightfeather speaks at length about what she sees as the advantages of transgenderism to the GLBT community and to society in general. Brightfeather begins by arguing that for transgender people, the goal of crossdressing was typically to pass as the gender with which they identify. Beyond that, Brightfeather argues that transgender people can bridge various genders and sexualities together. In addition, she explains how transgenderism raises questions about gender acculturation and can allow individuals to feel more open in expressing behaviors and emotions that might not be traditionally associated with their biological sex.

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:
It is a lot harder to pinpoint, especially at that age now, I am sure that there are families who would frown upon it, but I know certainly in my family, my brother dressed in dresses all of the time as a kid, and as far as I know doesn't identify as transgender or gay now, it was just accepted, it was play time. Perhaps that was just a more healthy.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Some people just have a much more open feeling about it being fun, and they are able to express that. But, really, the people that I know and myself included, we all took it very, very seriously. I mean, it was a concerted effort before the age of ten to know how to do your own makeup. There was always a dream of being able to go out with your nails polished. There was always a desire to do it just right, with the object of eventually passing—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Emulating—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Passing, no, passing. Being able to go out and live like that. Being able to go out and walk the streets without any fear. Being able to not be recognized as what you aren't and being able to get away with that, because that is the way that you want to live. Or at least you wanted the ability to be able to live that way without being discriminated against, so—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
But, in some ways for a cross dresser that may be to be able to pass, if you are a male, to pass as a woman in public, but you still may still continue to want to have sex with someone of the opposite sex.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Right, there is a definite advantage for being both. Otherwise, what the hell would bisexuals be? The consider it a definite advantage to be attracted to both sexes and to be attractive to both sexes, so I feel as though there is a definite advantage to being able to live as a man or as a woman.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, what would the advantage, what would the advantages be?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Oh, there are countless.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Name five.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Five, okay. It bridges so many areas. First of all, it levels the playing field.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
In what way?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
If we could do that, if we were free to dress in anyway that we wanted to in a gender that we wanted to, and live that way without discrimination, don't you think that equality for women would happen a lot quicker? Nobody is going to lift up your skirt and ask you what's underneath there. So, everybody would sort of be left guessing. And that being the case, that would certainly enhance the opportunity for people to be much more wrong if they think that somebody is as a man when they aren't or think that somebody is a woman when they aren't. So, it would get people to treat each other a whole lot more equally in the workplace, in schools, everywhere. If people could just get used to that.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
That idea. So that's one.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
That's one. Okay, what was the number? What am I answering? [Laughter]
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
These were the distinct advantages to having your options open.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
As a male, I have to get away from it sometimes. There are so many pressures on men. It's terrible. The gender discrimination against males is different than it is against females, but nonetheless it is just as tepid and just as hard and maybe harder in some areas.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
What would the discrimination be?
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Now, don't cry; don't show your feelings; bury everything, you know. You know what I mean.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, yeah. As a gay man, I feel that I can just act out and I never pay attention to any of those norms, so I guess I am liberated in that sense. Because, if I cry, I am like, "Damn right I will cry, I am a gay man, I will do whatever the hell I want."
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
But, hasn't there ever been one of those times in your life when—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
When I was younger and before I came out there were those things, and I am a pretty aggressive person anyway, but I feel much more free to do that and definitely separate or segregate myself from the straight community.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Well, there is no doubt about the fact that anybody that is out, has an easier time of it than anybody that is in!
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Exactly, they are much more emotionally free. I do understand what you are saying.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
But there's—that is probably one of the big problems, is that there are so many transgender people in, and for such a longer time, because they have been so unaccepted and that act of cross dressing has been so unaccepted in our society and condemned that they ramifications of it being out can be a real problem in your life. You can lose your job, you can lose, there are no guarantees of any freedom what so ever. Any security or any harm from violence—I mean, people have been killed—I remember when people were killed for just being gay.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, I remember it too. [Laughter]
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Well, what I mean, is not like Matthew Shepherd, when everybody got up in arms and really pressed the issue, and really did what had to be done. I remember when it was like, "Well, the guy was gay, so what?"
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
And whoever the killer was, that was taken into consideration and a lesser sentence or no sentence was given to the person. Well, we are in that position [transgender people] now, today, right today, we are in that position, that is how much, and it is not like it didn't have the opportunity to come around at the same time that it came around for gays and lesbians, it did have the opportunity. People were transgender then and they are transgender now—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
It is becoming more obvious because more people are being out.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Well, I think that more people are questioning their gender and their gender roles in society now. I think that they may be in part, and in large part to gay males and lesbian females. They have confronted that situation.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
And a lot of androgyny that comes from that.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Exactly, and they have a lot of friends, that have come across those situations where they question their gender.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So equality, personal relief of tension by being able to express yourself, safer society in general. What would another one be? Sorry to put you on the spot.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
No, no that's okay. I find that it's—there's things and privileges that women have, and that there are privileges that men have. Some of the privileges are obvious like having a door held open for you in an old fashioned way. Another more distinct privilege of being a woman is being able to communicate differently from being a man. I mean, anybody who knows anything bout communication know that women communicate differently than men. Not just the talk and the words, but just being more open with their feelings in public, in a group area. Being able to go into that, and cross into that world of being accepted in a conversation in that way. Being able to make conversation in that way, is completely different from being a male and talking in a male way. Let me give you an example. One of the ways that I have helped people, transgender people that are female to male, because most of my experience has been as a male, in the male world. The way that I have helped them to transition is to take them to a ballpark, or go to a ballpark. Teach them to yell and scream at the third base umpire and the third baseman on the opposite team. I will teach them to—if they want to learn how to spit, I will teach them how to spit, you know. You teach them how to have a rip roaring good time, be loud, drunk, swear and everything else that's the extreme of maleness, you know. That's the extreme. If you give them a taste of that, and they have traveled that course, and they have an idea where they can fit in and find what they like [Laughter]
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Somewhere from the extreme to where they are at—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
It is like cutting to the quick. We are like, okay, we are going to cut to the quick, we are going to give you the extreme, now you are probably somewhere in there as far as male talents and male feelings go, but, you know, if you want to fit into the male society, you have got to at least know. You have got to know the language and you have got to know enough about Los Angeles or the Saint Louis Rams, and where they stand in the NFL right now. So, those are the type of things that help them. And being able to go into the female world, for me is a distinct privilege. When I am being accepted, I know immediately from the conversation, and it forms a closeness with genetic females that I have never had before that does not include sex or the need for sex, or the desire to have sex as a heterosexual male. It gives me a totally different viewpoint of that. That has been a really distinct advantage.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
To relate to people in another way than gauging if you are sexually compatible.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Actually, it makes me a lot more—and awful lot more—empathetic towards women's issues. It makes me a lot more empathetic towards what they go through and, you know, there aren't many men that are afraid to go many places in this world. Whether it is Casablanca or up the side of an alley of a gay bar on the street in a dark corner. Men are a lot freer in this society, so it has taught me how caged women have been in society and how much freedom they have yet to attain. When I am dressed and feeling attractive—and this has happened a lot of times—and walked outside of a bar, or from a meeting and gone into a dark parking lot where I left my car, I feel the same fear that every woman feels in a dark spot. I feel that I should be looking over my shoulder all of the time and be careful because somebody might make a mistake and think that I am a genetic female and try to come after me because women are supposed to be the weaker sex, unless they have taken karate. [Laughter] and that is usually a surprise to the rapist, but in looking back in those instances, I have a real respect for women that do go the places that most women don't go and most men do, and they brave that, and I also have a distinct feeling for the fear that women live in a lot of their lives, because they become victims. Not that they allow themselves to become victims, or that they want to be, but it is put upon them, and unless they do something to break out of that and defend themselves, they live like victims, they can be a victim all of their life. So, those types of distinct feelings and that knowledge, that's something that most people are not able to do. They are not able to live like that. They are not able to feel those things. Yeah, so I think that it brings people, I think being transgender—most of these things that I have mentioned are bridges.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
They are bridges in society, and it is my feeling that that is my purpose for existing.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Transgender people.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Well, gays and lesbians, they have an old saying, whenever the religious right comes at them, "God didn't make mistakes." Well, that's—what they are saying is that there is a reason why we are here. We are justifiably here. We don't have to give you a reason. If you believe in God, then you know as well as we do that we are not a mistake this is, this is our destiny. We have something in this life that we are fulfilling. We have a niche and are placed in here to remind people and do good things and to change things. Well, it is the same thing with transgender people. Transgender people are exactly the same, and I believe that of all of the communities in the rainbow coalition, if I can call it that, going back in time, of all of the communities, I believe that the transgender people are here to form bridges between them. Because transgender people have their feet in all of those other communities—whereas all of those other communities don't necessarily have their feet—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
And one of the crucial parts of that formula is that they are masculine ad feminine. That is the most crucial part, is that they are both masculine and feminine. They bridge that the other minorities don't bridge.