It was a Mother's Day weekend...the one in 1995. I had had my first surgery in 1994 and my labioplasty over Spring Break in 1995.
I tried to link to this story a couple of days ago and found it had been removed. So I have reproduced it here, sans the red text on black background and with some updated links, so that I may link to it in the future.
Originally published at ftm-intl.
Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
TRANSGENDERED PICKET VILLAGE VOICE
Special to Workers World
Transsexuals and transgendered people picketed the New York City offices of the Village Voice on April 18. A bigoted article about Brandon Teena fueled the angry protest.
Brandon Teena, who identified as a man, was discovered to have been born female by Nebraska police in December. Soon after the cops "outed" him publicly, two men stripped Teena at a party, kidnapped, beat and gang-raped him.
Police refused to charge the two men with any crime.
Only days later Teena, Teena's friend Lisa Lambert and Philip Levine, an African American friend of Lambert's, were shot to death by the two men who had brutalized Teena.
Police at first claimed they knew of no motive. The two men were later arraigned on criminal charges stemming from the murders.
Although in her Village Voice article Donna Minkowitz admitted that Brandon Teena identified as a man, wanted to have a sex change and did not identify as a woman or a lesbian, Minkowitz continually defined and referred to Teena as a woman and a lesbian throughout. Not once did Minkowitz use the term transsexual or transgender.
A leaflet distributed to passers-by noted that the trashy article did find room for 11 references to Teena's sexual practice, seven references to his genitals and five references to a dildo he allegedly owned.
In an interview with Dyke TV at the protest, Leslie Feinberg, author of the transgender and gay novel "Stone Butch Blues," said: "Yes, the article is sleazy, salacious psycho-sexual babble. But worst of all, this article lets the cops off the hook for their culpability in instigating the violence against Teena in the first place.
"We demand an investigation into the criminal role of the police."
(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: email@example.com.)
On New Year's Day of 1994, Brandon Teena was murdered, along with two houseguests, by two men on Brandon's farm in Humbolt, Nebraska. Two houseguests were also killed: a young mother named Lisa Lambert, and a young man named Philip Levine. Lisa Lambert's child was spared.
Brandon was murdered because he had the audacity to live as the man he knew himself to be. In the words of Kate Bornstein, he committed an act of gender. Brandon was transgendered, a female-to-male transsexual. He was raped by the two men and reported the incident to the sheriff, who outed him to the local press. He was then mutilated and killed by the rapists and his friends were killed, probably because they were witnesses.
One of the men has already been convicted. The trial of John Lotter, the second man, began on this past Monday (as I write this), following a week of jury selection, in Falls City, Nebraska.
Over the weekend preceding, a small group of people gathered in Kansas City.
WHY WE'RE HERE
[written by Riki Anne Wilchins]
The murder of Brandon Teena was not an isolated incident, erupting in stark contrast upon an otherwise peaceful terrain of gender tolerance. Violence against genderqueer and trans-identified people happens, it happens regularly, it will happen again. Our bodies are the battleground where a war to regulate and control gender expression is increasingly being fought. We are the inevitable casualties in this bloody and unsought conflict.
We come here today to commemorate and press for freedom on the behalf of all people who are gender oppressed. And by "gender oppressed," we do not just mean those specimens inevitably corralled in the binary zoo: the leatherqueens and faghags, the drag kings and drag queens, the stone butches and diesel dykes, the nellie queens and the radical fairies, the transvestites and transsexuals, the crossdressers, leatherdykes and dykedaddies. But also for the 17 year-old midwestern cheerleader who dies from anorexia because "real women" are preternaturally thin. The Joe Sixpack who wraps his car around a crowded schoolbus on his way home from the bar because "real men" are heavy drinkers. The aging body, crippled in an unnecessary hysterectomy because certain kinds of bodies simply don't matter much. In fact, we are here today to press for freedom, not just for people like Brandon Teena and Marsha P. Johnson*, who died for their expression of gender, but also for those who felt impelled and even empowered to kill to preserve regimes of gender: in short until each and every one of us is delivered from this most pernicious, divisive and destructive of insanities.
*Marsha P. Johnson was one of NYC's oldest and best-known drag, transgendered and African American activists. Her work covered 20 years, back to the days of the original Stonewall rebellion. Three years ago, Marsha was seen being harassed and verbally assaulted by some teenage kids near the Christopher Street piers. Later that same night, she was found floating face down in the Hudson River, not far from that location. The police refused to investigate, stating there was no reason to suspect a bias crime, or even any crime at all.
"The Outside Agitators"
Davina Gabriel, gender activist and editor/publisher of 'TranSisters', the journal of transsexual feminism (now defunct)
Riki Anne Wilchins, gender activist, founder of Transsexual Menace, editor/publisher of 'ScheMail' (now defunct) and the author of Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender
Hannah and Fran, our hostesses, from Kansas City
Dana and Ariel, from New York City
Robin, a lawyer from the San Francisco area and host of SchnauzerLogic
Maura, from New York City, who has a transgendered lover much like Brandon
Melanie, from New York City, former Lesbian Avenger member
Kim, a film student from New York City, who was making a documentary of the event
Kym, from Hawaii via New York
Katherine, from Ireland
Robyn (me), a college professor [then] from Arkansas
"At the speak-out"
Several dykes from Lincoln
Dykes and transdykes from Portland, Oregon, and Chicago
Kathy, a transwoman from Missouri
"At the vigil"
A transperson from Kansas City
Jane Fee, a transperson from Minnesota and first openly trans delegate to a Democratic National Convention (in 2000)
Several other transpeople from Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri
Several dykes from Lincoln
Dykes and transdykes from Portland (OR) and Chicago
The Deputy Sheriff
An old man
Lana Tisdale, Brandon's girlfriend
Various journalists and reporters
The townspeople of Falls City, Nebraska
I left for Kansas City after giving my last final on Friday. The drive ahead of me was a long one: I figured I might make it in 6 to 7 hours. So I had a lot of time to reflect on the upcoming events.
My personal reasons for going were several. I really wanted to write a poem about Brandon, but I didn't know enough about him. Even the events surrounding his death were obscure to me. Throw in the chance to meet Leslie (I had been out of town when Leslie had spoken in Little Rock), Minnie Bruce, and Kate and I was on my way. I knew that it could be a tense weekend though. Recently, Riki Anne and Davina had been involved in a debate about the community. I hoped that differences would be set aside and that the weekend would run smoothly.
I pondered on the sagacity of going someplace with a history of killing transpeople. I hoped for safety in numbers. The miles droned past, the scenery I knew so well between Conway and Joplin, where my former in-laws live, the miles between Joplin and KC that I had traveled with my ex-wife when I was stationed at Ft. Leavenworth. I had to wait 30 minutes for a burnt hamburger at a restaurant in Rich City, MO...surely not an omen of things to come?
I arrived in Kansas City at midnight and drove to Fran's house in what is called Woman Town. I was the only one arriving on Friday. Most would show up on Saturday...I would be helping to pick them up at the airport.
Fran met me at the door at 12:30am...Hannah was already asleep. I moved my stuff into the front room and claimed the couch for the weekend (the "cats' couch," so I would be covered in little bits of cat fur for the duration :-) ).
Fran gave me a brief rundown on the weekend's events and we turned in for the night. Six hours of sleep ahead of me...which I figured would probably be the most I got at one time over the next several days.
Saturday Morning and Afternoon
I awoke early. Since I didn't want to disturb anyone else, I went outside and took a walk...it was a nice neighborhood. Unfortunately, upon returning, I noticed that I had locked myself outside. But Fran was awake and let me back in. Hannah was also up and we met for the first time.
Hannah and Fran are nice people. I never ascertained exactly what Fran did for a living, but she owns this wonderful house...lots of floor space since Fran doesn't believe much in furniture. Some of the floor space is occupied by sculptures. Hannah is very talented.
Hannah lives upstairs. She is truly an artist...so as is often the case in our society, she drives a school bus for a living. Hannah is 23, turning 24 on Sunday, recently post-op (Menard), and strikingly beautiful and she thinks she's taller than me, which she appears to be, but she claims to be 6'2 3/4" and I've been measured at close to 6'4".
We went to White Castle for breakfast and we got to know each other. But then, didn't we really know a lot about each other already? This did not feel like meeting someone new. We planned the day...it was going to be busy.
First was a trip to the farmers' market for consumables and fun and the things friends do with one another. Then back home to clean the house...though as far as I could see it didn't need it but it was Fran's house and and if she wanted it cleaned then we were going to clean it. I helped Hannah make her bed...Leslie and Minnie Bruce would use it, since it was the only real bed in the house and they deserved it. I talked with Hannah about her art and she showed me her favorite sculpture...by the guy who did the Vietnam War memorial.
Hannah and Fran's friend Blake showed up and said that there were some yard sales going on in the community that day, so we decided to walk over and take a look. On the way, they explained the concept of Woman Town to me...an intentional community...women concentrating on buying homes in a particular area. And it was a community, from all I could see...the sort of place I hope I can find someday. I walked around, meeting the women who were out and about and everyone was so friendly and open. It was my job to keep Hannah from buying anything, but I failed miserably. We ended up with a CD player for $30 from one place and a feather mattress at another. One of the women at the second house is just getting up and running on the net, so I tried to sign her up for OWLS.
We ran into Davina, also out wandering the community and I promised to go over to her place later in the afternoon, but I ended up getting stuck back at the house because Fran walked Blake home and Hannah had to go pick up some of her art and someone had to be home in case someone called from the airport.
So I decided it was a good time to do some of my grading. I knew that there wouldn't be much time for it in the hours to come.
After Hannah returned to the house and unloaded her artwork, she and I drove over to pick up Davina and headed for the airport...Fran stayed behind in case anyone should happen to go straight to the house when they arrived.
As far as I knew, we were waiting for three airplanes containing four members of our troupe. I was wrong...it was four airplanes and six members. We picked up Robin from California first (I've known Robin from the net since January or February of 1993 before she moved to California) and discovered Dana and Ariel had arrived from NYC on a separate flight. Hannah and Robin went to rent a car for the weekend while Davina, Dana, Ariel and I drove over to a different terminal to await Leslie and Minnie Bruce. Dana is apparently involved in computers in some fashion and Ariel works at the Gay and Lesbian Center in NYC. They have been a couple for 5 years and I learned from them some of the travails people in a long term relationship involving a transpeople go through: Ariel is sometimes accused of being heterosexual at the center because of Dana's status.
We all sat around watching Dana eat, Robin and Hannah found us again, and then the plane carrying Leslie and Minnie Bruce arrived. They were coming directly from Vermont, where Leslie had been the commencement speaker at a small college, much against the wishes of the administration there. But the students and their families and the faculty had held firm in their resolve and Leslie did get to speak and was warmly received...actually much more than warmly. It's Leslie's story and I can't do it justice, but Leslie was bubbling over from what happened, with everyone there wanting to hug hir and have their pictures taken with hir and having pictures of their families taken with Leslie, even though the people were all these straight people who one would think would not act like that, but they did.
It was more instant bonding...Leslie is, well, Leslie, and Minnie Bruce is the mother I wish I had even though she's not old enough. We chatted until the baggage arrived and Leslie and Minnie Bruce and Hannah and Dana piled into Robin's car and went to the house, while Ariel and Davina and I drove back to the terminal we were at before to wait for Kate, whose plane arrived after another hour.
Then we drove back to the house, to discover that Leslie and Minnie Bruce had already gone to bed for the night and that Riki Anne and Nancy and Tony and Maura and Melanie and Kim had also arrived. They had driven in a rental car from the airport to Falls City and spoken to the officials there to let them know we were coming and to tell them why. Tony is a cop and did all the talking with the local cop and the local cop said there was no problem and told them where we could park and that they would not be sticklers about following the rules that people have to follow in these things, so we would be able to sit down when we got tired. He said the community hated what had happened and that they were so sorry about what the former sheriff had done and not done and that there shouldn't be any trouble, which was nice to know.
We sat around for most of the rest of the evening, getting to know each other, each telling our own stories. Eventually, Robin loaded up Davina and Kate and took them to Davina's place and people started drifting off to find their sleeping places and mostly I stayed out on the porch, talking with Maura and Melanie and Tony. Maura is a woman of color involved in a relationship with a ftm transgendered person and Melinda was a Lesbian Avenger until she recently quit the group because of philosophical differences and is starting her own, more radical group. Tony has just recently begun to have testosterone shots and has been a cop for some time and his whole family is cops.
Finally, shortly after Kym arrived in a cab that got lost and did a tour of KC looking for us, we all went to sleep for the night. The events would really begin the next day.
Arising early Sunday, as usual, I went for my walk and thought forward to the day. I knew why we were here, but I didn't know why we were here...why this particular group of people? Robin had come because things just opened up and it happened...she was talking about mountains of mashed potatoes. :-) Maura was here because it could just have well been her partner who was killed as it was Brandon.
Why was I here? As an observer? That's how I had thought of it when I had decided to come. As a link? Only a month and a half before I had been with a different group of women who were planning another type of political action...the MWMF question. And the two groups don't see eye to eye on some issues and I don't belong to either one, though I have friends in each. No...this was something deeper than that. I was here to represent me and my family...to stand up and be counted, to bear witness to what had been done.
Returning to the house, I did my turn in the bathroom as quickly as possible (bathrooms are a sticky point when 14 people are staying in the same house). I wandered around to the back of the house and encountered Minnie Bruce, Maura, and Melanie sitting on the back porch. We had a delightful conversation. Minnie Bruce told us how she met Leslie and it was a neat story and I was getting a little jealous of Leslie since Minnie Bruce is really wonderful. Minnie Bruce asked about my daughter and I told her about Jen's life and I told her of our relationship of me being a parent but not her mother...no, never her mother, since I had not given her birth and that was a bond that I could never establish...and I told her about how Mother's Day had always been my worst day and how I was hoping that being here in this place with these people would make it better than usual. Eventually Minnie Bruce went back inside for her turn at the bathroom thing and Maura and Melanie and I continued talking and got to know each other very well and became good friends and hugged and kissed and it was really great.
Large groups of basically anarchic people do not make decisions well, so eventually around 11am, after the group had become larger since Robin and Davina and Kate had shown up, we wandered off in search of breakfast...walking, 17 of us, along a major Kansas City street. Cars slowed all around us...people gawked. We just looked for food.
Too late for breakfast at the White Castle and no one wanted sliders, so we passed it by and stopped at Lamar's Donuts, but some of us wanted something besides donuts and walked further and some of us stopped at a burger place, while the majority of us descended upon the Taco Bell...south of the border...immitation Mexican food for breakfast.
I ordered a couple of soft tacos and a coke - great way to start your morning - and one by one we filled one large portion of the seating space with this eclectic group of wonderful people and the people from the donut place caught up with us. Someone had picked up a couple of specialty donuts for Leslie and she gave them to Minnie Bruce and they said Happy Mother's Day on them and had a plastic rosebud stuck in the top. Leslie said that there was one for each of Minnie Bruce's sons, who she lost custody of years before because she was a lesbian.
Minnie Bruce took out one of the donuts and gave it to me. She said that it was Mother's Day and that maybe my daughter didn't know I was her mother, but I was and that I should have one. I very nearly began crying. It was the sweetest thing anyone could have done at that moment in that place. I will treasure that moment forever.
Eventually we had enough of the food and the laughter (you have to meet these people...they are some of the funniest people I know), and it was late and we had to hurry if we were going to make it to the church on time, so we hightailed it over to the house and all got ready, all dressed up with someplace to go. Leslie is so handsome when wearing a suit.
We piled into the cars and headed for the Speak Out at the All Soul's UU Church. It was time for us to be heard.
The Speak Out
We loaded four cars and headed for the church, but we lost one of the cars almost immediately...I learned later that Robin had been asked to go to the airport to pick up our photographer, Mariette, who does all the covers for Tapestry magazine.
We arrived at the church just as they were setting up refreshments and there were only a few people there so far...almost all of them obviously church members. We sat around and chatted and Davina set up a table of literature...Minnie Bruce put out some copies of her book, S/he, for sale, so I bought one and she autographed it and it says,
"Robin...in solidarity for lesbian, gay, bi, transgender, women's, all! liberation...Minnie Bruce Pratt 5/13/95 Kansas City."
Okay, so she spelled my name wrong, but I didn't care.
People started arriving slowly. There were the dykes from Lincoln...who turned out to be friends of my daughter, Jen, and her partner, Julie, and I learned that Jen was acknowledged as an excellent Dungeon Mistress (no, she's not into SM...this was about Dungeons and Dragons) and that when there was a discussion about transsexual women in the Lincoln lesbian community, Jen had been a strong supporter of inclusion of transwomen...cool!
There were the theater dykes from Portland, OR, who were originally from Lincoln and Chicago and someplace else, who had been visiting in Lincoln when they heard about the event.
There was Katherine, from Ireland, who is hitching around the country and staying in a warehouse in KC and who saw something about the Speak Out and decided she really had to come and see and we invited her to stay over at the house and go to the vigil with us on Monday.
There were two dykes (one from Iceland) who were making a film about Brandon's life and the murder and the trial and the speak out and the vigil, interviewing several of us and Kim was filming them while they filmed us and it got awfully metaphysical when they filmed Kim filming them.
There were Kathryn and Linda Huxtable, who I knew from the SAPPHO list and with whom I had stayed when passing through Kansas City in March, with a friend of theirs named Sam.
There were the local women and men, some of them transgendered and some not, some church members and some not.
And there was Aphrodite Jones, who was writing a book about the murders...Aphrodite Jones, writer for 'True Crime' magazine. She was to be one of our speakers. Whenever I had asked for details about the murder, I had been told, "Aphrodite will talk about that on Sunday."
Aphrodite Jones is a very beautiful woman. She circulated among us and interviewed people, mostly the people who had been in Falls City already, searching for some tidbit that was not old news, I guess, that they may have gleaned from the cop there. She didn't seem to want to know about us specifically though, and she didn't seem to want to do much in the way of answering questions. There was a...palpable...strangeness about her.
While we all milled around in the back of the room or sat outside on the picnic tables, Leslie was up at the podium practicing.
Eventually we all started drifting inside as the time for the event to commence approached. Finally we were all seated and on the stage of the church were Aphrodite and Kate and Minnie Bruce and Leslie and that's the order in which they were to speak. I was sitting in the second row, stage left with three local women on my left and Maura and Melanie on my right and Maura leaned over to me and said, "That woman is evil" about Aphrodite and I looked at Maura and I looked at Aphrodite and I said to Maura, "But she's very pretty," trying to ease the tension. Davina walked up to the podium from her seat in the front row and with the cameras rolling and flashing, she read The Statement to the assembled crowd of 100 or so (Davina says 150, but you know how this number thing goes). And then Davina introduced Aphrodite Jones.
Aphrodite Jones strode smiling to the podium and said something to the affect of "My name is Aphrodite Jones and I'm a crime writer and I'm writing a book about the murder of Teena Brandon..."
and the crowd said, "Brandon Teena,"
and Aphrodite Jones said something like, "Teena Brandon, Brandon Teena, it doesn't matter..."
and the crowd was shocked...
and the crowd thought, "It does matter...that's why we are here..."
and the crowd thought, "Two men had murdered Brandon because it did matter to them..."
and the crowd thought, "And the sheriff had murdered Brandon again when he said, "You can call it an it as far as I am concerned..."
and the crowd thought, "And you have just murdered Brandon again..."
and Leslie and Minnie Bruce walked off the stage...
and Maura and Melanie and others rose from their seats and walked out...
and I sat there and didn't move because I was in shock.
The crowd sat stunned as the crime writer meandered her way through lots of self-promotion and little about Brandon that wasn't colored by her ignorance. Eventually she introduced Kate and left. I don't know if she ever figured out how offensive she was.
But Kate told us that it was Brandon Teena, not Teena Brandon, and that it did matter and that it was why we were here, to mourn one of our own. And she said that we might be oppressed, but we refused to be victims anymore and talked a lot about the divisions between people in the lesbian and gay communities and people in the gender communities and how we were all basically oppressed because of gender issues because the public at large thinks that gay men just want to be women and lesbians just want to be men. She warned us that we needed to start working together because our sociological clock was ticking and it was time for us to define ourselves and that it was obvious from the first speaker that it was also time to write our own lives. If you haven't heard Kate speak, it's time you did.
When Kate finished, she introduced Leslie who told us about hir history and then about our history, some of which s/he is writing and which will be published this year. And Leslie talked about political action and about how it was our turn, our decade for freedom. If you haven't heard Leslie speak, it's time you did.
And Leslie introduced Minnie Bruce and she spoke of her life and then read some passages from her new book S/he. For those of you who have a copy, she read "Lunch," "Drag Show," "Stripped," "Profits" and "Stone Home." If you haven't heard Minnie Bruce speak, it's time you did (besides, some of the passages in S/he are downright hot! :-) ).
These three people, so different yet so much the same in many ways, helped us unload the debris left by the first speaker and by the end of it all we were feeling much better, so we all drifted outside to the picnic tables and the lawn and we sat around chatting with each other and being interviewed by the video-dykes and some of us were flirting with the video-dykes as well and talking about the vigil and who was going to be there and who wasn't. And we made arrangements for Katherine from Ireland to stay with us and for Kathy from Missouri to go with us to the vigil in the morning, even though we all thought Riki was crazy about wanting to get a 4:30am start, since the video-dykes said it only took about 90 minutes to get there from here, but Riki pointed out that they drove at 80 mph and we wouldn't be.
Kate and Leslie and Minnie Bruce had to go to the public radio station to be interviewed, so the rest of us started drifting to the cars so we could head back to the house. Some of us promised that we would pick up K and L and MB when the interview was over and take them out to Kansas City blues and barbecue at the KC blues and barbecue place.
So I loaded up a car load and without getting too lost drove to the house.
I drove Kym and Tony and Kim and Dana and Ariel back to the house and we all realized that we had some free time until 6:40 when someone had to go collect the people at the radio station and take them to bbq and blues, so we gravitated into small groups and had some fun.
There was a discussion of gender politics and philosophy in the kitchen between Robin and Riki Anne and others that was probably interesting but I wasn't in the mood. There was guitar music coming from the front porch. Nancy is quite good. I was chatting with Maura and Melanie and Maura asked if I would like to have a tarot reading and I agreed (I had never had one done before), so she collected her stuff and we drifted out into the back yard, just the three of us until Kim joined us a bit later.
We talked about our lives and as we did so, Maura annointed me and her and Melanie with some oils and I shuffled the cards and gave them to her and she laid them 5 of them out in a sword shape. The deck was in a Native American motif and my memory is awful sometimes, so I can't remember one of the cards but basically it was like this:
(one of the shield cards) The Sun Death
Chief of shields
And I said, "Uh oh" when I saw the death card where (as she had told me) the future was displayed (the "hilt" cards on the left represent the past, the blade itself (The Sun) is the present, and the tip of the blade (Death) is the future). Anyway, Maura assured me that in the Native American culture that this deck is oriented towards, death comes with rebirth, and that this was probably referring to my pending move from Arkansas, the "death" of my old life, to be "reborn" in my new life in Seattle. She explained what the other cards were about as well, but I don't recall very much of it right now and besides, by the time it was over it was time to pile into the cars for bbq and blues.
Unfortunately, we had one of those decision things again since some people decided to order pizza instead and they wanted everyone else to do what they wanted, but some of us really did want bbq and blues, so I took Hannah and Fran and Maura and Kym with me to the radio station and Hannah told everyone the choices and most of us said, "Hey, we are in Kansas City, famous for bbq and blues and we want some," so after taking Hannah back to the house, Kate and Davina and Mariette and Kym and I went to the restaurant that actually had the name "B-B-Q and Blues," where we caught up with Fran and Maura and Kate and Leslie and Minnie Bruce, who had gone on ahead. I thought the B-B-Q was tasty, others carped a bit that it wasn't as good as they had hoped, and we stood outside away from the drunken people and listened to the music and watched the band through the front window. There was this butch-looking bass player who everyone adored but she turned out to be really femme when she came outside on her break.
Eventually we all scarfed down our food and Davina ate everyone's extras :-) and we piled into the cars again and drove back to the house with the strains of "Sweet Home, Chicago" in the background.
We got back to the house around 10pm and everyone knew we had to get up really early so that everyone could get ready in time and some of us did our washing up before going to sleep and others of us sat out on the porch and laughed because Hannah and Riki can be really funny sometimes and Robin and Kate and Davina left because they were staying elsewhere. And Leslie and Minnie Bruce were upstairs borrowing Mariette's slide collection so that they could make duplicates to use at Leslie's speaking engagements and some people were in the kitchen talking about who-knows-what and Katherine was on the front porch telling us about Ireland and slowly, we all said our goodnights and went to sleep.
Four in the morning is the middle of the night just about everywhere and Kansas City is no exception. Nevertheless, that's what time we were awakened and amidst lots of grumbling (the kind that is normally associated with waking at 4am) we all managed to get ready to go to Nebraska. So these four cars, each filled with the outside agitators you always hear about at demonstrations, the people I have been writing about plus Kathy from Missouri, headed north. North to St. Joseph's and then west, a parade of cultural terrorists, into the northeast corner of Kansas. But I was running out of gas, so I gunned it up to 80 to get into the lead so I could signal that I was pulling over, which I did at a gas station in a small town with a name something like Wathena.
We decided this would be a great place for a breakfast stop, so we started in the direction of what we thought would be downtown, but was in reality the residential district, so we turned around and returned to the station...in time to encounter a transsexual woman from Kansas City as she was getting back into her van, on her way to Falls City.
Armed with the correct directions to the local breakfast hangout (it was only a block south of the gas station, but we had originally gone north), we descended upon the place.
Fifteen people arriving simultaneously at a restaurant in rural Kansas is not conducive to good service, especially when the restaurant has only one waitress and one cook on duty, and maybe also when most of the fifteen people are wearing Transsexual Menace t-shirts and jackets. So we tried to help out...Nancy became our waitress as we served ourselves coffee and water.
Eventually the waitress came to take our orders and the clock kept ticking and time was passing by and the trial started at 9am and we were running a bit late.
I stepped outside and noticed that the local newspaper was available and had an article about the AIDS quilt on the front page so we bought a copy and there on the bottom of the page was an article about the murder case...all about how Brandon Teena was killed because he had "fooled" these two men into thinking he was a man...and we all gasped and new that Brandon had been murdered once again.
Then a fifth car pulled into town and stopped at the same gas station and asked about a place to eat and was told about the same restaurant and came on over and it was Hannah and Davina and Kate and Michael from Kansas City and we were all amazed that we should have stopped at the same place for breakfast. Some of the food started arriving and the new arrivers ordered theirs and some of the people decided that we needed to have someone there to talk with the press before the trial started so one of the cars loaded up and headed off for Falls City via Henrietta, Kansas. The rest of us decided to get our food to go and as it came, we filled up other cars and someone heard one of the locals remark that, "We ain't never had this kind of freak here before."
With one car on the road already, Robin and I took off in hot pursuit in our cars but there was no way we were going to catch Tony the cop, who we later learned was doing over 100 mph to get there on time. The other cars would follow a bit later.
So we drove through what they call the Heartland of America...the farm country of northeastern Kansas and southeastern Nebraska, where all tornados go to die. We drove through towns with exactly one stop light, with nothing higher than a two story building, past the farmers' co-ops and the feed stores and the farm equipment stores and the hardware stores, through towns where we just knew there was exactly one theater and that it was old and in the middle of downtown.
Shortly before 9am we arrived in Falls City and we had no idea where the county courthouse was so we guessed that it would be the tallest building in town and that's where we headed and we were right. We parked in a Methodist Church parking lot and emerged to find that there were already about 20 people there holding up signs that said "Brandon Teena...In Memoriam" (my contribution had been the correct spelling of Memoriam) and "Hate is not a Family Value."
It was time to get to work.
We crossed the street to the courthouse and I walked on up the steps to where there were a couple reporters talking to "the demonstrators." One of them was from the Associated Press out of Omaha and since the article we had read in the morning paper was an AP story, we asked him if he had written it and he allowed as how he had. So we questioned him about the name thing and the pronoun issue and the tone of the story and he told us that everything had been an editorial decision from on high and he was just following orders. We did our best to educate him on the issue as we talked about why we were there.
There was another woman there who was planning a book about the murders but she didn't seem to know much about transsexualism either and it wasn't looking very good for Brandon.
Then the reporters all went inside since the jury had been summoned and some of our group went inside with them, while the rest of us took up or signs and showed them to the people who were driving by and we waved and most of them waved back and seemed friendly. Every once in a while, someone would flip us off, but we seemed to have more support than this sort of thing.
Now Falls City is not a big town, so it seemed that there was an inordinate amount of traffic on the street where the vigil was held. I guess that not much happens in Falls City and so when people heard we were there, they just had to drive by for a look.
At one point an old man stopped and chatted with us. He said that the townspeople were very angry about the trials. Nebraska has no provision for the state to assist local communities in paying for high profile trials so the local residents were having to foot the bill...which included housing and feeding 12 sequestered jurors from Omaha. Because of all of this, the old man told me that his property taxes had been doubled from the previous year and if the trial went on much longer, then he would lose his house.
I noticed that a car had pulled up in the church parking lot and was watching us, with two women inside, the driver appearing to be the stonest butch I have ever seen. At the time I was in my car grading exams with my air conditioning on in order to recuperate a bit from the heat, but I noticed that the window was rolled down on the the other car and I saw an arm signal Maura over to the car. Maura chatted with the woman on the passenger side for a bit and then I saw Maura and Melanie walk across the street and sit down apart from the other people over there, so I finished what I was doing and walked over to them to see what was up. Maura was visibly upset and Melanie was trying to calm her and when I asked what was wrong, Maura said that the woman on the passenger side was Lana Tisdale, Brandon's girlfriend. The video-dykes had told her that Maura was in a relationship much like the one she had with Brandon and so she had asked to speak with Maura because Lana was very upset by everything and very confused because she didn't have any idea what was going on, especially about Brandon's transsexuality.
So Leslie went over and talked to Lana and tried to explain, since s/he was the one of us with the most knowledge and Minnie Bruce went over with her and then Leslie came back and asked if anyone had a copy of Stone Butch Blues with them and Jane from Minnesota did, so Leslie bought it back from her and said she would send Jane a free copy and took the book over as our gift to Lana. After some more conversation, Lana and her new girlfriend (the butch driver) drove off.
Meanwhile (and there were a lot of meanwhiles going on), the trial had been going on and it came to be time for a recess and those of us that were inside came outside and there was another reporter to talk to and I could see that Robin seemed to be upset and so I asked and she said that things weren't going well in the courtroom from our perspective.
I didn't go and watch the trial myself...I have never been in a courtroom when anything good happened to me and I really didn't want to see if that streak would continue. So I'm including a part of Robin's description of the weekend that covers what was going on inside:
There was a bit of pre-trial scrapping and eventually the jury was brought in, 10 women and 2 men. One woman of color, as best as I can tell. And they didn't look like they were from New York. And they didn't look like they were from California. And a thought flashed through my mind that a few of the women weren't passing. I giggled.
And in the first hour and a half they moved through the opening statements from both sides, and the first four witnesses. This was not going to be a long trial. And the first three witnesses were the mothers of the dead people. Three children, dead. And the pain was so heavy that at one point I thought I would have to leave the courtroom. But I didn't. Because the prosecutor was referring to Brandon as Teena and she. And the defense was referring to Brandon as Teena and she. And Brandon's mother was referring to Brandon as her 'mixed up daughter with an identity problem'. And now I really had something to cry about. Because as an attorney I understand that the prosecutor wants a win and in Nebraska the rape and subsequent murder of a woman makes more sense than the rape of a man? By a man? I think the DA thought it was just too complicated to explain and it wasn't really important to the case. But it was important. It is important. But there was no Brandon Teena in the courtroom that day. Not as far as the prosecution was concerned. And not as far as the defense was concerned. And not as far as his mother was concerned. And not as far as the jury was concerned. And at that point I had a second inkling of why we had come. We had come, to sit outside the courtroom. To sit inside the courtroom. To be visible. To be present. To be the living embodiment and memory of Brandon Teena and god rest his soul, never ever again Teena Brandon. To Be or Not To Be. It was no longer a question.
-Robin Diane Goldstein "Kansas City Journal" © 1995
So Robin gave up on the trial and donned her Transsexual Menace t-shirt and decided that she couldn't go back in there as long as they were just going to be invalidating Brandon's existence. And I wondered why, since they weren't even going to mention anything about transsexuality inside, those of us that did go inside had to remove any reference to transsexuality (t-shirts, jackets, pins, etc). I guess they just didn't want to know.
About the time the court was breaking for lunch, the television crews started showing up. So Riki Anne was interviewed and Kate was interviewed and one crew left and another showed up and a crossdresser from Kansas City was interviewed and Leslie was interviewed and high school let out for the day at 1pm.
High school let out for the day at 1pm? Yes, that's what I wrote. They didn't have to tell us when it happened. It was easy to tell. All of the sudden there were all of these carloads and truckloads of high school kids driving by. And where before we were getting about 20 people who waved to each that made a more negative gesture, there were now people driving by shouting insults and in one instance, throwing a bottle cap at one of the vigilers (vigilantes?). To their credit the Falls City cops did chase after the car that threw the object.
The television crew managed to stop one of the trucks and interview the occupants and ask them why they felt a need to harass us. The young boy that answered gave the standard rhetoric one often hears from the pulpit of churches, about how God made us the way we were supposed to be and we were sinning to try to change that. I hope that young man never has to deal with having a child born with a club foot or a hairlip because since his God would have made his child that way, what right would he have to get it fixed?
As I was observing the interview with these three young boys, another truck drove by and I noticed some Nazi salutes emanate from it. And it came around again and I heard the shout "Fags!" and saw some more salutes. The third time it passed us, the deputy sheriff shouted back at them and told them to pull around the corner. I wouldn't have thought it would have happened, but that truck did pull around the corner and the cop talked off in its direction and Riki followed.
When Riki returned with the cop, we all asked what happened and Riki said she was more than a little scared by those in the truck, but the cop said they were just Nazi wannabees and not very dangerous with their actions, just with their words. Riki told us that the cop had told them that although they had the right to say what they wanted, they would not drive by and harass us again because that would meet with his strong disapproval and apparently this worked because we didn't see them again.
There were a few cars that still drove by and signaled some support. I imagine even Falls City, Nebraska, has it's gay students and I noticed one particular car with a couple of girls in it that drove by and honked its horn with its passengers waving and giving us the thumbs up sign. And we all said to each other, "Dykes!"
The camera crew wrapped things up by walking around and asking each of us to record a statement of where we were from and then took off for Omaha, where I would suppose that one hour plus of interviewing would be edited down to a one minute story on the 6 o'clock news and that the boys that were interviewed would get as much air time as us.
Toni, who I hadn't noticed was missing, arrived back from visiting Brandon's farm. I wish I had had a chance to talk with him about it more than I did, so I could include his impressions, but it was clear that he was very shaken. He said that Brandon's clothes were still in the closet.
It was time for me to leave, so I asked whom I needed to take back to KC. No one could tell me exactly and they wanted me to take people to the airport, which I told them I couldn't do and I was getting frustrated and a little upset, since I had a nine hour drive ahead of me. We finally got it straightened out and I would be taking Katherine and Kathy back to Fran's house (also out of my way). But before I left, we gathered in a sharing circle and shared some of our experiences and our thanks. I thanked everyone for making it a very memorable weekend. I will always remember Leslie saying, "And I want to thank Robyn for bringing her calmness and serenity."
We all hugged each other and I got in the car with my passengers and drove off into the Nebraska afternoon.
No, I haven't written the poem yet. My original intention was to write a poem intertwining the fates of Brandon and Filisa Vistima, a transsexual woman who committed suicide in 1993. In a strange coincidence, I moved to Seattle and became involved with a woman who was Filisa's girlfriend until shortly before Filisa's suicide. Now that I have learned more about Filisa, the poem may still be born. Or not.