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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 >>

Transgenderism and family identity

Brightfeather discusses how she came out as a transgender person to her first wife during the late 1960s and how her gender identity impacted her perception of family. In the process of divorcing her first wife, Brightfeather explains that she came to better understand her feminine side, particularly as it related to her ideas on parenting. Her comments are especially revealing of how issues of transgender identity intersect with traditional ideas and expectations of family.

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, did your wife always know that you were a cross dresser, or a cross dresser?—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Yes, my first wife didn't, I got married when I was 21 years old, because I thought—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
"This is a way to prove that I am straight."
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
No, I associated cross-dressing with masturbation so much in my teen years that I thought, "Well, this is a sexual thing,
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right, I see.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
—And now I am going to get married, I will have all of the sex that I want. [Laughter] So, I won't need to cross dress anymore, you see. So, it was the tail wagging the dog on that. I found out pretty quickly that that wasn't true, like within six months. I told my wife after I married her, which was a big mistake and we spent the next nine and a half years, after ten years getting a divorce, the last five of which was hell, we had two children in between, my son and my daughter, and when my son as ten and my daughter was seven, my wife decided to go and experiment and do things, she had been actually cheating, sexually cheating for like five years, but I refused to leave. She did everything she could possibly do to get rid of me, but I refused to give up my children. And maybe that was more the Angela side of me than anything, I thought the closeness to my children and wanted to be with them, and not feeling fulfilled if I wasn't with them. And, back then divorce was a lot different than it is now, in many respects, there wasn't anything like joint custody or anything like that. That was wishful thinking back then. So, she took off, because she realized that she couldn't get rid of me, and she left me with the two children, which was the best gift I have ever gotten. It was really tough at first, being a single parent, as a matter of fact it was around the time of the movie Kramer vs. Kramer, and I can remember taking my son and my daughter to the movie and even though they were like 11 and 8 at the time, it still made—they sat through the whole thing and they came out of there crying together about it, because we knew what we had in front of us. We just had been six months to a year from my wife leaving, and then a year after that, she came to pick up the kids, because she had them every other week and I insisted on that, because I needed a break. [Laughter] But I really found out what being a woman was like. You know, being a mother, when I was standing in front of a dryer and washer in the basement on a Thursday night at seven o'clock putting clothes in the dryer and taking clothes out of the dryer and hanging them up and putting clothes in the washer and I said, "There's very, very few men that I know that would know what they are going to be doing five years from now on a Thursday night at seven o'clock." I said, "But that is the life of a mother and a woman." And I said, "Gee," historically back then, I said—it has changed a lot now, but that is what it was like. So, I that was a real—It gave me a chance to get in touch with my feminine side, my mothering side, my nurturing side.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
I think that it is interesting because if somebody met you on the street, and today, I have seen you dressed as a woman, and also as a man. Talking to you on the phone today, when I called you, I presumed you used your male name when you answered the phone, that is why I was at first thrown I guess I had this vision of you dressing as a transgender in the workplace. [Laughter] you know—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
In construction I just about do—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You come across as a very masculine man, in a lot of ways. Your demeanor and your voice and your build
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Yeah—
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You are very gregarious, and your personality, and you have this thing in your hair, a barrette, I guess if that is a correct word, it has like a mother of pearl, you know covering so that is a little feminine, your glasses may be slightly, but generally, nobody would think that you were a [transgender man]—most people would just think that you were an alternative, slightly kind of hippie kind of guy.
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
Yeah, right, there are times that that goes more towards androgyny, and there's times when in an airport, when like in an airport when, I remember I dropped something once, and someone saw me and said, "Ma'am, ma'am you dropped something and when you turn around, they are making profuse apologies for." [Laughter]
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You're like, hey no problem—
ANGELA BRIGHTFEATHER:
I was like, "Hey, no problem, don't worry about it, there is nothing bad about being a woman." [Laughter] And this was a woman saying it. So that is how screwed up straight people are [Laughter] with gender. But, I—when I look back on all of those years in bringing up my children, I had a choice back then, that was a turning point in my life. If I had had the money, and I wasn't supporting the children by myself, pretty much, and things were tough, because one-third of the paycheck went right out the door.