Gender outlaws: three vignettes


When I entered first grade in 1956, I faced a sort of peer treatment I had never previously experienced.

A little over two years earlier I had survived a bout of non-paralytic polio. My playmates then were happy to see me well. It didn’t affect their friendship that I had lost my resilience and coordination.

In first grade, though, among boys I had not previously known, I was suddenly a “sissy.”

This wasn’t about sexuality. Kids in the 1950s—at least white middle-class kids—were still kept in the dark about such things.  This was about my not being a “real boy.” I was clumsy on the playing field, couldn’t kick or bat or run well. And I liked reading and learning, “girls’ stuff.”


Jump ahead thirty-some years. I was a clinical social worker in a medium-maximum security men’s prison. A young person came for private counseling who had been in my alcohol recovery group the year before.

By then I was discreetly out as gay to colleagues, though not to inmates. What I saw was a cute, sexy, butch redneck. But what she told me, very hesitantly, was that in private on the street she had lived as a woman.

“Butch redneck” was the mask she wore for safety.


Jump ahead another fifteen years. I first met Rebecca when my husband Jim was organizing an effort that over a decade later resulted in the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the City’s anti-discrimination human rights ordinance.

Rebecca was a retired Navy submarine engine room chief. She had the stereotypic face and build we usually associate with such men. She had an ex-wife and grown children. She was too old for physical transition and had diabetes.

Yet she lived openly as a woman.


Imagine, in your heart and your gut, what such lives feel like.


7 comments On Gender outlaws: three vignettes

  • Kendal at Oberlin was one of the first Quaker retirement communities to provide sanctuary/open equality to gay and transgender couples. An older male couple created the path and in Quaker and Unitarian circles heterosexuals and gay couples seemingly often choose to be on the waiting list. This community is a nice commingling of singles and marrieds of all genders. A plus, of course, is access to Oberlin College classes and music and in true Quaker patterns lots of resident directed committees!

  • I love you and so very much appreciate your gifts to this world. Thank you for being willing to give.

  • Thanks, Lyn and Sara Rose.

    Blessings, Mike

  • Thank you, Mike, for capturing these experiences in the clear, compassionate way in which you write. They open me further. I know my projections influence my imaginings- feeling a lot of fear for them, while feeling the courage it takes to live as oneself.

    Loving blessings,

  • Dear Michael,

    In the seventies, on our family home’s huge bulletin board in the hallway, I recreated an Abbey Press poster of a pair of shoes and not much of a being wearing them with the message: “He who trims himself to suit everybody will whittle himself away.” It’s now in my kitchen – and in my heart-mind, shaping me through the decades.

    You once asked, Why are there countless studies of why folk are gay, but seemingly few studies of why folk are straight? – Both straight, my father asked his brother: Could he have loved a man in the passionate way he loved his wife? – I’m a womun and wear men’s clothes and have very short hair – mainly so [men] won’t be attracted to me. It doesn’t work. It’s not all I do to “whittle” of my living, dying, and carrying on in order to say, “NO!” How far off the Planet do womyn have to go to avoid sexism? How far off the Planet do Black folk have to go to avoid racism? The intersectionalities….

    So, Quakers that we are, we take Father Dan Berrigan’s advice and “find something to stand for and stand there.” And, we change. And, society changes – about as slowly as Quakers change. For some persons, change takes a year, a month, or a day. For other persons, change takes an entire lifetime of sixty or eighty years. It’s not a race.

    Yet, if some folk don’t race off “in pursuit of hopefulness,” the human race would evolve even more slowly, if at all. So, we take M.K. Gandhi’s advice and let our life be our message, or, in the old Quaker idiom, we “let our life speak.” And, as my beloved Uncle Calhoun told me, as we discussed racism, “Each generation will be a little less prejudiced than the previous generation.”

    Amen. Awomyn. Achildren. Abrocolli. And, a lot of love to you, Michael for sharing with us.

  • Thank you, Wendy. Peace, Mike

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