Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Harvey Milk, Trans Empowerment, and Ice Cream down by the River

A post by Anne Gullick:

Storytelling.  The power of someone’s story told and listened to.  That requires both the storyteller and the hearer to stop, take some time, invest some energy, and divest some self interest.  When that occurs, beliefs are reexamined, thoughts are renewed, power is shared, and change happens.  The power of their stories.  It can be amazing.

When it occurred to me that TEP Shelby County Committee’s [TEP SCC] monthly meeting happened to fall on May 22 this year, I began plotting (as I often do).   See, May 22 is Harvey Milk Day in California and his birthday. At the same time, my dear friend Yeshua Holiday asked me about planning an event celebrating Trans Empowerment Day.  And it occurred to us all that there could be no better tribute than talking empowerment on Harvey Milk Day.  While brainstorming ideas, a friend of TEP’s suggested a Harvey “Milk”shake party, and the fun element was thrown into the event.  So we “shook” up Milk’s legacy, the empowerment of trans people, the diversity that is Memphis with black/white, young/older, straight/gay/bi, Christians/Jews/nonbelievers, women/men, cisgender/transgender, homeless advocates, and homeless people all in attendance, and added some ice cream, half and half, chocolate or strawberry as one chose, and experienced a night at TEP SCC meeting unlike none other.

The centerpiece of the night was our guest panel who discussed with us the Power of Coming Out as Trans at Any Age.    Leah Walton, recently turned 18,  came out as transgender this past spring semester at her high school  in North Mississippi.  that’s right.  Nort Mississippi - south Panola High School - a feeder school for all things SEC football.  She spoke to us about the empowerment of coming out when she did, why she had to, and how she had to do it.  Interestingly, the 17 year old was the one who had to call in our allies at the ACLU, but then her high school superintendent did the right thing and allowed her to attend school presenting as her gender, wear a feminine cap and gown for graduation, and attend prom as Leah.  Her story is unique and touched us all.  Many of us were left wishing we had had the courage at 17-18 that she has.

Rev. Gillian Klee then told us her story of coming out transgender at age 63.  While the ACLU was not needed, she told the story of fitting into her own lifetime career path as an Episcopal priest.  Rev. Gillian honored her longtime partner, and spoke of the peace and gratification she has as living the life she was always meant to.  Our TEP vice chair Jonathan Cole then told her of his gratitude for her standing up for GLBT people when he was younger and just coming into activism.  He felt a full circle there that night and was glad to have the opportunity to honor her for her role in his life and her role in the Non Discrimination Ordinance in Memphis.

Then my friend Kimberly Taylor wrote a letter telling us her story which was read by our friend Kal. Her words tell it best:
Let me introduce myself. My name is Kimberly Anne Taylor. I am 44 year old caucasian transgender female. I am about 5'10" tall and weigh about 210 pound. I have blondish-colored hair, not my natural color. The color of my eyes depend on my mood ranging from a grayish color when I am really happy to green when irritable. Ihave only been "out" for about 2 years but feel like I have been transgender a since I was a child. Since the end of September 2012, I have been living full time as a female. Since then, I have felt a peace I have not known before. Instead of being two people, I am now whole. I still have my own fears and doubts but overall, I feel as if I have become stronger and more confident in my actions.

Let me give you some background of my life prior to transitioning. I was born as Keith Allen Taylor. The youngest of six in Indianapolis, IN. I was always a quiet and shy person. Mostly I kept to myself. Never bothering anyone or wanting people to bother me. Around the age of 7 or 8, I began thinking I was different then other people but, naturally, did not know "how" I was different. We moved to a small town in Middle Tennessee when I was 8 years old. I was very lonely because the rest of my siblings were still up North or in the military and the my friends and classmates were gone. This was when other kids began picking on me so I retreated further into my shell. This continued all the way through high school.

When I was old enough to be left at home by myself, I did what most of us have probably done: I would sneak into mom's closet and try on clothes and shoes. Every time I did this and I looked in the mirror, I saw another person looking back at me. It was not Keith looking at me but Kim. I just didn't know it unit several years later. I tried to suppress it thinking my parents would be mad if they ever found out. Today, both of them are gone and I wonder what they would have thought if I had had the courage to talk to them.

I married a wonderful woman, Deborah, whom to this day I still cannot fully understand why she chose me to be part of her life but I am glad she did. She knew early on that I liked crossdressing. For some time, I thought that was all I was, just a cross-dresser, a transvestite. I did not know that I was more than what I thought I was. Fast forward a few years and I am graduating from The University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in 1999. To date, I have been married to the same person for 21 years. I would order clothes online or, if I bought anything at the store, I would buy it, try it on at home and then return it if it didn't fit. Always with some excuse. I NEVER went out in public as a female. At home, if the doorbell rang, I went into a sheer panic. I even hid around the corner while my wife answered the door and would stay immobilized there until they left. I would go out on the back porch at night but the lights would always be off. I was too afraid to be seen.

Moving further forward, the stress of being two people was beginning to get to me. In 2011, I was becoming more severely depressed and even having suicidal idealizations. Not a good thing to have as a gun owner. I finally came out to a co-worker who convinced me to get help so I started seeing a psychologist. She opened my eyes to doors that I did not even know existed before. I then came out to a few other co-workers, just as small group but that was enough to start building a foundation on which I was able to finally begin moving forward. One day I needed to get my hair done. The store at the mall I usually go to did not have any of the stuff to do a perm so the lady took me to another store in the mall and introduced me to my new friend and beautician, Susan. I cannot explain why, but after being in her chair for a few moments, I came out to a complete stranger. Her words and support meant so much to me. So much in fact, I took a day off and went to my psychologist dressed as Kim and then to the mall to see Susan at work. It was a whole new world for me to explore as we shopped during her lunch break and I actually tried on clothes at the store!

I did not start going out all the time from that point but more and more often. at first, both she and Deborah both had to be there and stay within just a few feet of me or I would begin panicking. I just KNEW that everyone was looking at me and that every smile or laugh was aimed directly at me. A few times, there was a jerk or two read me as male but most of the time, people either didn't know or didn't care. The laughter, I later learned, was usually not aimed at me but just the result of something funny said in their groups conversation. Eventually, I was able to move further and further from my life preservers and no longer required both of there to protect me but just one of them. In 2012, some major changes occurred within myself. I just don't recall which came first since they were so close together. I started going out as Kim by myself. Women's clothing stores, gas station, and such. I also began hormone therapy. I was almost who I really was but not quite yet. I was only Kim on weekends but still Keith on the weekdays while at work but things were about to change rapidly.

I had to come to work one day already feeling nervous, anxious and stressed over not being able to dress as Kim at work. About an hour and a half later, I told one of my co-workers who knew my secret that I needed to step outside so she could let our lead know. I walked outside and placed my back against the cool bricks of the building. I wanted to cry so badly but the tears just would not come. After about 15 or 20 minutes, I came back inside and went to the lead pharmacist cubicle to let her know I was back. She turned to face me and as I tried to speak, the dam burst open and all those tears came flooding out at once as I sank down to the floor of her cubicle. On that day, a lot of people were introduced to Kim as I showed them the pictures of the real me on my phone. Once I calmed down enough, my supervisor took me to Human Resources where we discussed why I had had a break down. They had never dealt with a transgender person before so this was all new to them. About a month and a half later, I had another meeting was told I could begin coming to work as Kim. There were conditions, there always seem to be conditions. The first two were simple, since I am a medical professional and patients and doctors have the right to know who they are speaking with, I still had to use my male name until I got it changed. Took care of that April 5, 2013!!! I had to abide by the dress code. In a nutshell, I could wear any article of women's clothing that other women were allowed to wear. Just no spaghetti straps, flip flops or skirts or dresses in which the hem was greater than 2 inches above the knees. Since I have always worked in a professional environment, I had no problems with that one. The last condition I am still fighting about: the notorious restroom issue. The building I work in has no Unisex bathrooms and since I have not had "the surgery", I am required to use the men's room. Obviously, this causes me a great deal of stress and apprehension just having to go potty. I have had to agree to this term out of necessity but I have not given up the fight!

During this time as a female, I have learned a great deal about things and people. First, you can find support in places you least expect to find them. When my father passed away in November of 2012, none of my family except for my sister, Dianna, knew about my transition. But as I was preparing to leave town, I knew there was only one way I could go and that was as Kim. Keith no longer exists or did he ever exist in the first place? I let my brother know before leaving home. The message of love and support he gave me was so overwhelming. I had expected to find ridicule from them but found love not only from my siblings but from aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. Most of them I have not seen in 10 or more years. It was a welcomed comfort during an already emotional time. Deborah's family however, is a different story. I had expected her mother to be accepting and nonjudgmental but I was wrong. Since we had to stop at her house along the way, I could tell immediately the change that had occurred. There was no hug for me and her conversations with me were civil but short. I have also found others in the workplace who have come up to me to show their support. Some of which I have never meet before due to the size of my company. There are also those that could care less one way or another and, of course, those who do not like me for who I am now. They are missing out on a great opportunity to get to know someone who is kind, considerate of others and likes to make the workplace enjoyable.

Back to the original question now that you know my story, what is it like being a transgender woman? It is like being a cisgender person. I have my good days and I have my bad days. There is those whom I know love and support me and there are those who seem to make themselves feel better by trying to degrade other people; trans or cis, it doesn't matter. That is what it is like for me as a 44 year old transgender woman. And the best pieces of advice I can give? Be true to yourself and don't stop fighting for what you believe in.


Kimberly Anne Taylor

Diva, comedian, and much much more ;)

After Kimberly’s story was read, and Leah and Gillian spoke from their truths, respectful and thoughtful questions were asked by the gathered, and thoughtful and honest answers were provided.  These stories and dialogues actually change perceptions and beliefs.  How do I know?  Our straight friend Jake Brown was at MGLCC that night and told the story of his on conversion.  He worked faithfully with us on the Memphis Non Discrimination Ordinance, but he admitted to being more than willing to leave the transgender protections out if that would get an ordinance - until.  Until he spent time with transgender people and heard their concerns and listened to their stories, and his heart and mind were opened.  And he has become not “tolerant” - nope.  He’s the Fully Monty - he has become a power ally.  And that’s how things are changing down by the River!!!!!

There is trouble in River City, and that starts with T and that rhymes with TEP.

Anne Gullick
Chair, TEP SCC
TEP board member
TEP Foundation vice-chair

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