The Often Overlooked “T” in LGBTQ: Interview with Jenn

6 Jun

Today I would like to introduce a new series on TSM.  This series of interviews will focus on the issue of Transgender rights, the T in LGBTQ.  While there is some overlap in the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation, the two are quite different.  I am a cisgendered gay man, meaning my brain and emotions match my physical body.  One who is transgender is not born with the brain and emotions matching their physical body.  I would like to note, that our transgendered and gender non-conforming brothers and sisters endure a significantly disproportionate amount of bullying and abuse.  My hope is that this series of interviews will help educate and offer resources.

Jenn Burleton is the Executive Director and one of the founders of TransActive, an organization that offers services and resources to transgender and gender non-conforming youth.  I believe TransActive is the ONLY organization in the United States that works specifically with youth. Jenn was gracious enough to sit down with me for this interview. She is an amazing do-gooder with a generous and giving spirit.  Jenn is probably too humble and I just hopee she is aware of the immense good she is doing for transgender and gender non-conforming youth.  I thank her for sharing her story and her heart.  If you have any questions or know of someone struggling with gender expression/identity, please contact TransActive.  Here is Jenn’s story.

Jenn is a 57 year old white transgender woman.  She identifies as lesbian and has been partnered for over 28 years.  Jenn grew up in Wisconsin with her mother and father.

What age were you aware of feeling different?

My first recollection of how I felt was at age five and different than what most people feel at age five.  I overheard a conversation between my mother and brother. He was 18 and was  pursing an acting career in New York. He came home for a visit to Milwaukie.  He mentioned that he was at a party where he met Chrstine Jorgensen, and my brother told my mom that he was the man that had a sex change. I remember thinking oh, there are other people in the world like me.  There was a linear connection of how I felt and the reality of who I was. Because they were talking about it I just thought this was not a big deal. I realized it was a big deal for the rest of the world.  That was when I started getting signals from my mom that playing in her makeup—it was not so much that she disapproved but more that someone else might find out that I was doing that, so I figured out oh this isn’t ok, which made me feel there is something wrong with me.

What age did you decide to take action?

As my reading comprehension became better, I was ahead of my age group, I began scouring any resources for glimpses and hints for people that were like this Christine Jorgensen.   I started to affirm my identity at age eight. At times I would  say why won’t you let me be a girl at age 10  and 11.  I said it was not fair that I have to be a boy.  Seeing the negative responses of my mom and my aunt and uncle I would take the path of least resistence and deny what I had just affirmed, and my mom would threaten to tell people which made me scared. My mom was an alcoholic and  I felt guilty that I was making her life harder, so I internalized the pain she felt, which she exploited.

Looking back now, I was very on target for developmental skills for young girls, which I know is not true for all transgendered or cisgendered kids. In 1966 I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I was 12 years old –I became a huge fan of comic books, the super heros had secret identities.  I was getting my comic book and next to the shelf was a paper back spinner and out of the corner of my eye I saw a book that had the word transsexual in it.  I would see ads in papers for female impersonators.  I wanted to know how I could look at this book without feeling embarrassed. I did manage to grab the book and look at it. Published by Dr. Harry Benjamin, who was one of the first medical people to specialize in transsexual identity–in non exploitative ways.  He said these people should be supported—it was like my Holy Grail (The Transsexual Phenomenon).  The book was $1.95, but even if I had the money I would have been to embarrassed to buy the  book, so I bought the comic books and stuck the book down my pants and left the store. I kept the book under my mattress and read it cover to cover.  I learned that people could actually do things to help.  So the conclusion I came to as an adolescent was that all doctors must know this.  The only hospital I knew was a county hospital, so I skipped school one day and dressed in my mom’s clothes with the copy of the book. I took the bus across town and went into the hospital and I went to the psychiatric department and showed them the book and said I am like the people in this book. They sat me down and a psychiatrist talked to me for five minutes and they called my mom and she did not look happy. The psychiatrist told my mom she was the worst mother in the world and that this was wrong and sick. My mom lived in fear that the welfare department would take me away from her.  Later, Dr. Aivars Zeps was the psychiatrist that worked with me—in retrospect I think he was probably very progressive but did not know what to do about this.  I was his last appointment of the day and we would go to a coffee shop, where he would buy me a cheeseburger and a coke and we would talk about football and baseball and then he would say okay, “I will see you next week”.  I then came to the conclusion that I really did not need therapy and I will just talk about boy stuff if that is what we need to do. I learned from that that people would not react well and thus started to surpress it until I was 14 and 15.  I learned from the book that they were doing hormone therapy for transsexuals and I realized the drug they were giving to transsexuals was the same drug my mom was talking for her menopause, I don’t recommend that and there were no other options at that time. I think my depression came to a head when I was 15  My mom finally said I love you do you still feel this way, what can I do, what do you want. I told her, I don’t want to be a boy anymore I can’t do this.  She agreed to let me start living as a girl—that was one of the happiest days of my life and lasted for almost 48 hours. I was able to dress the way I wanted to and I felt we were starting a new path, but then she got drunk and I was dressed as typical 16 year old girl.  I could hear her voice with some men and I could tell they were all drunk—I was instantly self-concsious—she was a mean drunk and I knew I could not trust her when she was drunk.  I was also not accustomed to other people seeing me in my own house as I was.  She introduced me to the men as my son who thinks he is a girl—I was mortified and ashamed and barricaded myself in my bedroom.  The next morning I told my mom I did not want to be a girl anymore. It stayed that way until I was 18 and I transitioned (At 18, I did a social transition and presented as female –this is what she means as transition here).  Once I made it clear that I was no longer her responsibility and that I was no longer a reflection of her she was okay with it.  She was pretty supportive for the remainder of her life—however, I do think she was expecting me to come back eventually and say I really don’t want to be a girl anymore.

I made the mistake of assuming that Jenn had undergone surgery, which Jenn very politely pointed out and then talked about gender identity and how we don’t want to feed into the culture of “what’s underneath.” 

At some point we have to let go of this notion that trans people who have had surgery have to be forthcoming about  that fact or be forthcoming if they have not had surgery, from a social interaction persepective it is irrelavent—anatomy on a day to day basis is irrelevant. There are some transgendered people that do in fact over-emphasize or act as though being post op is a trophy. That can be a dangerous path because it takes away from the more important conversation around gender identity and puts the focus only on genitals.  The surgery should not have to be the validation of our identity.

What do we need to do to be more supportive? 

The number one thing is to acknowledge it when it first appears, and that is usually in childhood for most people. To recognize that transgendered is a natural variation in the human condition.  It ‘s not a wrong turn on the developmental highway, it is just who we all are. We need to stop limiting peoples’ options for gender self –expression. We need to remove exclusions to access to health care that are specifically targeted to transgendered people. We need to stop intertwining sexual orientation and sexual identity, especially for children and youth. I think we need to just grow up and look at the inherent and pervavise impact of misogyny as it polices gender identity and restricting gender conformity.  I continued to be dismayed and amazed at our cultural capcity to ignore children’s gender non-conformity needs because of our own self-identify –the use of children’s suffering as a diagnotic tool is nothing less than child neglect and borders on child abuse.

I, we, TransActive are not going to make significant progress in dealing with oppression and discriminatioin againat transgender youth and their families until we help the world understand the problem lies in gender non-conformity and not just the most marginzialized populations which are transgender youth.   This is a converstation we all need to be having .   All of our kids are at risk for not living up to an arbitrary and misogynistic attitude.

Again, I would like to thank Jenn for her time and her dedication to helping people that are transgender or gender non-conforming. She is a true do-gooder!  If you have more questions and/or need resources, please contact TransActive.

23 Responses to “The Often Overlooked “T” in LGBTQ: Interview with Jenn”

  1. cdinyc2011 June 6, 2011 at 10:24 am #

    Thank you for a great post! We need all the help we can get!

  2. risa b June 6, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Next, a series on the often neglected “I” in LGBTQI. A good movie about this is a feature film from Argentina, XXY. It contains some factual errors but does present well some of the confusion among the cisgendered as to intersexed people.
    See also the Wikipedia entry on Intersex:

  3. webwordwarrior June 6, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    What a wonderful and informative post. This will be a very powerful series for clearing up misinformation and misunderstandings. Thank you Michael and Jenn!

  4. Wolf Blue June 6, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Portland, OR has a non-profit organization called Outside In that works with LGBTQQ youth. They give free medical care and help those that chose to transition. TransActive is not the only resource. I am sure there are even more than just these two.

  5. Daphiny June 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Great start, I have wondered for years, and Ive been a member for 10 plus years, why HRC and other global GLBT sites and organizations have noticed that when it comes to issues of GLBT’s they definately put G and L over T and B..??? I am a 47 yr old Non-Op Ts, I have lived as Daphiny since I was 14 years old, got my name and gender identifier changed when I was 20 years old. I have always known what and who I was, although I had it pretty rough coming out at such a young age, who didnt?
    I wrote my book because I wanted my opinion of who and what I was out there, I wasnt really seeing it in my own community and definately not the hetro. If you want people to understand and/or know who and what you are, you’ve got to tell them, so why not write a book I figured.. I hope everyone gets out of it how important friends are, especially the ones you make while growing up Tg or anything it encompasses, which is yet another thing I dont believe many understand, even in our own GLBT community. There are so many different varying degrees of Tg, as there are Lesbian, Gay man, Bi-sexual, and even whether they know it or not hetrosexuals, that you almost need a book to define every kind. I didnt do that in my book, but I should have.. Another thing that always bothered me about my own community, did you ever notice we are harder and more judgemental on one another than any other group….Ild say we were worse, sadly.. Well, sorry for jumping up on the soapbox but thanks for listening…… Good luck to all who are just beginning, congratulations to those who think theyre finished, good luck and enjoy the road for those in the middle of the ride… hugs Daphiny ………….
    my books title is
    Bourbon Street Stripper to New Orleans Lady.. on Amazon

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

      Daphiny, thank you so much for your comments here and how we can get your book. I know it will be helpful for others to know of your story. I do believe there is great strength in solidarity.

      • Daphiny June 7, 2011 at 12:34 am #

        My BOOK and I will be at the ALA BOOK EXPO 2011 which is being held here in New Orleans at the NEW ORLEANS CONVENTION CENTER June 21st to June 28th …… I will be there all 7 days, would love to meet and answer any all questions as best as I can, I totally agree that by solidarity we all grow. I wrote a great little quote, little piece in my book here it is….

        “I’ve learned that all a person starts out with in life is your family and your friends. If you are unlucky enough to have to lose your family to make your dreams come true. Please take heart and remember, you will still have your friends, and in time, your friends will become family, closer than family. Your new family will help guide you and advise you through your long life ahead, treasure them more than any one else in your world. When in your future you fall, and you will fall, many times. It will be one of their hands that reaches out first to help lift you up, then one day it will be your turn to reach out your hand and lift a fallen sister!” …..If we dont look out for one another who else will? …. Hugs Daphiny

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 7, 2011 at 5:29 am #

        Daphiny, thank you again for being visible and willing to share your story. I know this will help so many young people. Might I impose on you and ask if I could interview you for this series? I’m happy to send you my email address and phone number. Warm regards,Michael

  6. Abby June 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Trans Youth Family Allies, aka TYFA (, also works with transgender and gender non-conforming children nationwide.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      Thank you for the additional resources. This can only help!

    • Jenn Burleton June 6, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

      As one of the original founders of TYFA, I’m happy to see them mentioned here as well. They continue to do some good work.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 6, 2011 at 8:34 pm #

        Jenn, thank you for all the good work you do and for making the world a better place for all.

  7. Daphiny June 7, 2011 at 6:55 am #

    Daphiny, thank you again for being visible and willing to share your story. I know this will help so many young people. Might I impose on you and ask if I could interview you for this series? I’m happy to send you my email address and phone number. Warm regards,Michael

    How would we do the interview, you email me the questions that interest you most, I answer them the best I can, then return them? If so, send away, you have my email address, and I will do the best I can😉 hugs Daphiny

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 7, 2011 at 10:23 am #

      Daphiny, thank you so much. Yes, I will email you the set of questions today. Warm regards, Michael

      • Daphiny June 7, 2011 at 11:07 am #

        Sounds wonderful ………..hugs Daphiny

  8. Gabby June 7, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    ~ Beautiful and Fierce ~ Jenn, thank you for helping to create a safer place for trans & GNC youth and their communities. Michael, thank you for being our social media angel by giving voice to messages that get silenced in mainstream culture.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt June 7, 2011 at 10:25 am #

      Gabby, it is just wonderful to be in the company of other do–gooders like you and Jenn and the rest!

  9. Joe June 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm #

    Great post!


  1. The Often Overlooked “T” in LGBTQ: Interview with Jenn « The … « Enfemme - June 6, 2011

    […] Read more: The Often Overlooked “T” in LGBTQ: Interview with Jenn « The … […]

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