Title: Oral History Interview with Angela Brightfeather, January 24, 2002. Interview K-0841.
Interviewer: McGinnis, Chris
Interviewee: Brightfeather, Angela
Abstract: Angela Brightfeather was born Jim Sheedy and grew up in Syracuse, New York, during the late 1940s and 1950s. At the age of twenty-one, Brightfeather first met another transgender person and subsequently became involved in a small but thriving transgender community. Brightfeather had known from an early age that she was transgender. She speaks in great detail about being transgender and describes variations of transgenderism, including cross-dressing, fetishism, transsexuality, and intersexuality. In so doing, she argues emphatically that gender, not sexuality, is the primary issue for transgender people. In order to illustrate that point, Brightfeather explains that she does not necessarily feel that she is male or female, but rather that she is a third gender. Brightfeather describes how her transgender identity operated in her personal life, explaining how her first marriage eventually ended after she came out to her wife as a cross-dresser. In describing that relationship, Brightfeather also discusses what it was like to be a single parent and how her experiences in parenting allowed her to better understand her feminine side. Brightfeather eventually remarried and explains that her second wife was supportive of her transgender identity. Much of Brightfeather's discussion focuses on her experiences as a transgender person living in Syracuse, where she lived until 1999, when she moved to North Carolina to pursue better opportunities for her commercial plumbing business. Before moving south, Brightfeather became a vocal activist for transgender issues, helping to found Expressing Our Nature (EON), a transgender group. Shortly before she left New York, Brightfeather and EON were disappointed when the Stonewall Committee in their county refused to include transgender people in their proposed Human Rights Law. Brightfeather uses that experience as evidence of what she sees as divisions and tensions within the GLBT community, particularly between transgender people and gays and lesbians. Brightfeather strongly believes that the GLBT community must work closely to attain political and social equality for GLBT people. She explains how she has worked toward that end, especially after moving to North Carolina, where the need for transgender activism seemed especially strong to her. After drawing comparisons between the experiences of transgender people and their role within the GLBT communities in the North and the South, Brightfeather discusses her activist work in the state, focusing on her interactions with Equality North Carolina and the Human Rights Committee. Finally, Brightfeather's interview addresses the longer history of transgender people, particularly as it touches Native American history and spirituality.