Sunday May 15, 2005
By Laura Rosser
As Esprit 2006 participants begin to arrive in Port Angeles, the community takes on a different feel.
Some residents and businesses hang out Welcome Esprit signs and greet the transgender conventiongoers with open arms. Some roll their eyes and go about their business as if nothing were different.
And a handful yell obscenities or snicker at the sight of the crossdressers.
This week, May 15-22, is Esprit's "Sweet 16," which is headquartered at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles.
According to the Esprit Web site, Janice Van Cleve of Emerald City (a transgender group) organized "90 in 90" in the fall of 1990, bringing together that group, The Cornbury Society and NWGA for a three-day gathering in Port Angeles.
The organizations created a committee that would hold the event each year and gave the convention the official name of Esprit. "Although the first Esprit was held in 1991, it was modeled after "90 in 90" so 1990 is credited as being the first year of the event," the Web site notes.
Esprit this year will hold classes in makeup, fashion, voice and walk for transgender participants and will pair newcomers with "Big Sisters." Various events throughout this week will be open to public, a chance for people to get to know Esprit participants better.
Transgender members of Esprit include people of all walks of life and transgender issues. There are "closeted" crossdressers who have not come "out" to people they know, those who publicly crossdress whenever the mood strikes and those who dress at all times as women, although they may biologically be male.
There are also those who have undergone sex change operations and are now female.
There are also a number who are transitioning -- preparing for transgender surgery procedures or taking hormones to physically change their gender.
Two of these transitioning women say they have lived lifetimes of trying to be someone they are not and have declared they are no longer willing to live that way.
Charlie Brough, now living as Leasa Brough, of Olympia is 73 years old. Leasa said that in 2004, she "just came to wits' end" and declared she couldn't take the pain anymore. She has to be a woman.
Robert Westerberg, now living as Bobbie Westerberg, of Port Angeles decided two years ago to openly crossdress for the first time, having spent a lifetime of trying to fit in as a man but feeling inside like a woman.
Name legally changed
Bobbie has had her name legally changed to Roberta. Her driver's license states she is female and she carries what she calls the "bathroom letter" from a certified psychologist declaring that for all intents and purposes, Bobbie should be considered female.
Leasa spent 39 years in the military between active Army enlistment and the Army Reserve. After her military retirement, she said, she began being "more myself."
Both women have questions as to how they came to be the way they are. Both knew at a young age they were different. They wonder if happenings when they were small -- babies, in fact -- had anything to do with their feelings that they are women trapped in men's bodies.
Leasa's mother had been the victim of incestual rape and bore two sons to her rapist. She then had another son by marriage. When Leasa was born, her mother had wanted a girl so much that for the first three years of Leasa's life, her mother dressed Leasa like a girl. When Leasa's sister was born, Leasa had to suddenly start being a boy.
"I remember the transition of having to be a boy and I hated it," Leasa said. Bobbie said she always felt different and because her mother had wanted a girl as well, wonders if perhaps the bond between mother and baby in the womb may have somehow transmitted that message to her when she was being formed.
Bobbie said she played with girls instead of boys and didn't understand when she was no longer permitted to play with her best girlfriend when the two became teenagers.
Adverse reactions by others hurt, although the women said they try to not let things get to them.
"It isn't all a Jerry Springer show," Bobbie said. "Decent people can be transgendered."
Because of certain physical attributes, Bobbie has had a lifetime of dealing with cruelties. She has three degrees, including a master's degree in psychology, but has difficulty with people taking her seriously.
Although she takes medications to alter her appearance Bobbie said she doesn't see why surgery should be the defining determinant that makes a person a particular gender.
She said she doesn't feel she should have to go through more mutilation to her body to have others declare she is what she is.
"I'm looking for the day when people don't have to surgically change their bodies to be their gender," Bobbie said.
Bobbie, who has lived in Port Angeles since 1997, was born with hypospadias, a condition in which the opening for the penis is on the underside rather than the top. This was corrected surgically when she was still a baby.
However, Bobbie also had gynastia, which causes larger breasts in males due to larger amounts of estrogen in their systems. Bobbie said she could never go without a shirt like other boys. She always had to wear a T-shirt or something while swimming to cover up her larger breasts.
It was typical of the time period when Bobbie was born that intersexed babies (infants born with the genitalia of both sexes) would be surgically made into male or female at the parents' determination.
Bobbie said there is a movement now to discourage or delay those procedures until a time when a child actually displays which sex is predominant.
Leasa grew up in an impoverished rural family in Bremerton. The family would receive boxes of donated clothing on occasion.
Leasa, being small for her age, could fit into donated dresses too small for her sister. She said she would wait until everyone was out of the house and then put on the dresses.
"I envied the girls so bad growing up," she said, noting that while she had to buy her own clothing when she was young and always dressed well for a boy, she found boys' clothing uncomfortable.
She gave it a valiant effort, but continued to admire women's clothing.
She recalled admiring a dress in a store when she was about 14. Leasa said she was running her hand over it when a man from the store came up to her and said, "Get your filthy hands off the merchandise."
The man's words still sting.
Leasa said Christmas to this day remains difficult. She finds release for her feelings through writing.
She has written two books, including Thank God for Pigs, a biographical novel about growing up in a poor farm family on Puget Sound.
A short piece she wrote about Christmas Eve 2003 centered on the melancholy of a man remembering how much he wanted a dress for Christmas when he was 10 years old, but being told boys don't wear dresses.
The piece noted the man's amazement when Christopher Jorgensen became Christine with surgery in Sweden and declaring that perhaps one day he, too, would become a woman.
"Shutting his eyes then, he envisioning a beautiful silky dress, then seeing himself as herself swirling in front of a full-length mirror, or trying to hold her dress down in that sudden stiff breeze.
"Wiping a tear from his eye, he said, 'Well, old man, you better get yourself to bed if you want Santa to come.'"
The military made it easier to pretend to be a man, Leasa said.
But, the awkward feeling of living life as the wrong gender followed her always. She is now researching transgender surgery and said her goal before she dies is to be a complete woman.
She has been crossdressing, unbeknownst to her family, for 30 years and has been golfing dressed as a woman all over the world.
At first, she said, she felt awkward in public, but now feels 10 times more comfortable dressed as a woman.
"I feel exuberant, healthier and taller," she said.
Leasa, however, has also been learning the more difficult side of being a woman. She said she is learning that women face changes in people's attitudes toward them that she hadn't been aware of before coming out.
Bobbie said she has taken even more of an interest in feminist issues. She has also paid more attention to other groups which promote understanding of people who are not considered part of mainstream society.
She and her wife are members of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill and have become active in Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Both she and Leasa are finding a greater tolerance and understanding of others as they undergo the difficulties of their own transitioning lives.
Bobbie changed her name in 2003. She was tending the Clallam Art Gallery at The Landing mall one day when Esprit was in town, and decided to dress as her real self for the first time publicly in Port Angeles.
For the most part, Bobbie said, people's reactions were positive or at least non-committal. However, difficulties with a particular person at the Gallery over her gender change caused Bobbie to leave the Clallam Art League. She said she has had some difficulties with a handful of people in other social groups to which she and her wife, Judy belong, but some people have been exceptionally wonderful.
When she changed her name, Bobbie said, she posted the document in her church's office for about a month. Unlike in the movie "Normal," which Bobbie and Judy said seemed to be a depiction of their own life, Bobbie was not thrown out of the church choir or shunned.
In fact, the president of the United Methodist Women at the church invited Bobbie to join and since then, Bobbie has become a champion tatter among the women crafters and has been making ornaments to sell in the church Christmas bazaar.
She said people in the church actually started calling her Bobbie, a name she adopted as her own, and some said they already knew other transgendered people and would accept Bobbie for who she is.
"When I look in the mirror I see a woman. I never see a man," Leasa said, noting she doesn't care so much what she looks like, but how she feels. She wants to look as nice as she can, but whether other people see her as feminine or not is not the issue. She is what she is.
"If somebody said to me today, 'You have to be a normal man,' I'd kill myself," she said. The strain of everyday living as a man for her is "miserable."
Now, she said, on her journey to become a woman, she has hope.
Her friends know Leasa and are accepting of her, she said.
Leasa said her only real discomfort in public is with restrooms.
"I don't feel until I'm 100 percent a woman, I should go to a woman's room," she said.
When she is traveling by herself dressed as a woman, she has a pair of loose pants which she can slip on over her clothing to go into the men's room.
Bobbie, on the other hand, said she feels safer using the women's restroom.
Both said that although they occasionally face catcalls and derogatory remarks from those who either don't understand why a transgendered person crossdresses or refuse to accept them for whatever reasons, they are more comfortable and feel better about themselves now that they are dressing the way they feel.
Leasa began writing her book, Thank God for Pigs, 12 years ago.
She had developed trust with her doctor who would listen to her stories, and suggested that Leasa write her memoirs.
She dedicated her book to the doctor, Paul Bondo, who died before it was published.
The book is also dedicated to her wife, Grace, "for her two years of loneliness."
That book, along with her determination to become a woman after all these years, has given Leasa a boost of confidence.
The book may be added proof that a person can become what she -- or he -- determines despite difficult odds.
Leasa said she graduated in 1951 from Bremerton High School and had the worst grades in English out of all 431 members of her class. But she is the only one from that class to ever write and publish a book.
She is now writing a sequel to Thank God for Pigs, will write another book about her life as a transgendered person and hopes to be a speaker as well.
Still the one she loves
Sunday May 15, 2005
By Laura Rosser
Roberta and Judy Westerberg received Mother's Day cards last Sunday.
Considering that just two years earlier, Roberta would have received a Father's Day card, receiving a Mother's Day card meant a lot. It meant acceptance and unconditional love.
According to Judy, that's simply the way it should be.
Robert and Judy Westerberg of Port Angeles celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary in 2003. But last year, when their 25th anniversary came around, it was Roberta "Bobbie" and Judy who celebrated.
When Bobbie changed her name in 2003 and announced she intended to live her life as a woman, her wife, Judy, accepted that.
When Charlie Brough announced in 2004 that he could no longer live life as a man, but would live as a woman and pursue a surgical sex change, his wife of more than 50 years wasn't quite as accepting of the idea of being married to "Leasa."
Leasa was born male and grew up as a boy, but never felt comfortable as a boy.
When Leasa was about 20 years old, she said to herself that if she were going to be a man, that was the time to do it. So, she dressed in jeans and boots and tried to be "manly." That, she said, drove her into depression.
Leasa was wed and has been married for 53 years. She said her wife has times when she seems all right with Leasa's decision, but is having difficulties with it.
Leasa never had a lot of women's clothing, and what she did have, she kept hidden away -- even after she got married. She often wore women's panties under her male clothing, but she and her wife never discussed it.
Perhaps, Leasa said, her wife thought that Leasa's compulsion to do so would go away.
"But, it didn't," she said.
When Leasa told her wife she could no longer take the burden of trying to be a man when she felt like a woman, she said they fought for about a half hour and then the argument stopped. That's how things are, she said, when she and her wife don't want to talk about something.
"She's not happy, but either she'll relent and we'll stay together or one of us will have to move," Leasa said.
Judy said Bobbie told her she liked "blousey things and pretty things," but didn't tell Judy before they were married that she truly felt more like a woman than a man.
Robert gradually told Judy that he thought ladies were lucky because they could wear pretty things, and then evetually said he wished he were a woman. Judy came to accept that her husband was different.
Later, Robert began dressing like a woman and eventually told Judy he wanted to be a woman. Judy didn't flinch.
"I love Bobbie, and he wanted to be this way ever since he was a little boy," Judy said.
Judy said her two daughters have accepted Bobbie as a woman.
Last week, the two of them got a Mother's Day card sent to "Mom and Bobbie" from Judy's daughter and grandchildren.
And, instead of "Grandma and Grandpa," their grandchildren receive cards and gifts from Grandmas Judy and Bobbie.
While it may not be the usual case the family has love that transcends traditional boundaries.
"Bobbie is my best friend. She really is," Judy said, noting she helps Bobbie select makeup and clothing because she wants Bobbie to look nice.
Judy is very feminine and enjoys dressing up herself, so she enjoys dressing up with Bobbie.
Judy said she has accepted the situation and is hurt when others don't accept Bobbie for who she is.
She and Bobbie used to attend dances together, but after Bobbie started dressing as a woman, harassment from unkind people made it difficult for them to enjoy themselves. They have stopped going.
Judy said she misses that. It hurts to see people be cruel to the person she loves. She fmds it incredible people don't understand how she can accept Bobbie.
"It's not that you're just in love, but in a committed relationship. We've been married so long with wonderful memories of where we've been and what we did. Why should I leave her?" she said.
Bobbie and Judy speak candidly about the delicate issues of intimacy. Like the majority of transgendered individuals, neither Bobbie nor Leasa is gay.
Bobbie said there are many ways of expressing one's love. "If a man has had cancer or a prostate problem and isn't able to do anything anymore, the lady is still married to him and still stays with him," Judy said. ". . . What if he were injured -- I would still love him and would still stay with him."
While in a way she has lost a husband, Judy said she has gained because Bobbie is now comfortable with who she is and is happier. She said she is happy for Bobbie because she does not have to suffer the depression caused by living as a woman trapped in a man's body.
But she is unhappy with people who do not accept Bobbie as Bobbie.
"I think they are not accepting simply because they don't know the whole story. They don't know how a transgendered person feels. Both my daughters are accepting of her. Bobbie is a lady in a man's body. She has felt that way all her life," Judy said.
For Judy, acceptance was easy. Whether Robert or Roberta, Bobbie is the person she fell in love with and still loves.
Esprit Gala comes to town
Thursday May 19, 2005
By Andrew Binion
Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles -- Robin kept still while the lipstick was applied.
In another manifestation of herself, Robin is a middle-aged man, works in high-tech industry in the Northwest and is married.
But at the 16th annual Esprit Gala being held at the Red Lion Hotel this week, people of all ages and sizes, like Robin, came to socialize and bend their gender until it fits.
It's Robin's first time at the convention, which drew more than 150 transgendered people.
"A lot of people assume homosexuality with people in the community," she said, while Rita Smith, a senior trainer with BeautiControl from Golden, Colo., attempted to match her lipstick to her fuchsia blouse.
"But it's so diverse you can't stereotype at all."
That is because being transgendered - defined as those who prefer or enjoy dressing as members of the opposite sex, or who are in the process of being surgically transormed into a member of the opposite sex - isn't about, well, sex.
'It's about gender'
"It's not about sex," said Simone Neall of the Northwest Gender Alliance out of Portland, one of the groups that has been turning out for the Esprit gatherings since the beginning.
"It's about gender."
Suzanne Adams, a retired police chief who lives in Seattle, seconded that notion.
"It's a tribute to women, not a nasty, sexual thing." she said.
Some transgendered people may be heterosexual or homosexual in the traditional sense, but part of the point of the Esprit Gala is to make convention-goers feel comfortable getting away from black and white labels that may or may not fit them, said Adams, who is president of the Emerald City Social Club.
"A lot of us don't know why," she said. "There's no cure."
In addition to dressing up for photo opportunities, classes are also offered to give transgendered people an array of useful information, from how to use makeup to effectively cover beard growth or how to ensure one's safety when going into public.
The convention has grown from a couple days to a weeklong event. And over the years the Esprit-goers have become like seasonal members of the community, said Renee Rux, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.
"It's like old friends coming home," she said.
The groups which make up the core of the gala, mainly hailing from Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, British Columbia, also have tried to make their mark on the community by getting out, enjoying local activities and donating money to Hospice of Clallam County.
"They've been wonderful to us," said Rose Crumb, director of the hospice. "And every year they've given us more money."
Last year the Esprit conventioneers donated $2,800, Crumb said.
Tonight in the Juan de Fuca and Olympic banquet rooms at the hotel, the Esprit Gala-goers will host a dance from 9 p.m. to midnight, which is open to the public. All proceeds will be donated to the hospice.
Waiting patiently with a camera while Robin finished her makeover session with Rita Smith, Stephanie Mitchell, a member of the Cornbury Society from British Columbia, explained that Robin was next in line to be photographed for a memory album of the event - a kind of yearbook for the Esprit Gala.
"It turns into a bit of a production sometimes," she said with a slight smile.
"Oh, every time."
Peninsula Daily News Rants & Raves
Sunday May 22, 2005
Compiled by Lee Zurcher (from reader-submitted comments)
Peninsula Daily News
"YOU MISSED AN opportunity to educate readers about distinctions between transsexuals, transvestites/crossdressers, gays, lesbians and everyone in between in your May 15 article, "Who They Are," in Peninsula Woman."
Walking in their shoes
Reporter experiences Esprit in PA
Sunday May 22, 2005
By Andrew Binion
Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles -- I didn't walk a whole mile in the shoes of a cross-dresser Friday, only a few blocks, but it was enough to earn some nice blisters.
Hoping to understand part of what it feels like to be transgendered - people who feel female when they are born male - I took up the offer of an Esprit Gala attendee named Tori, a married, 45 year-old British Columbian in town for the annual transgender convention at the Red Lion Hotel.
I crossed over to the fabulous side and become a "she" for an afternoon.
Some wondered why I undertook this obviously unmanly, distinctly feminine trip into the realm of gender ambiguity?
I'm a man, a tall, heterosexual man who played a season of high school football and has a burgeoning beer belly. I have a girlfriend of five years. Why? I can hear my dad asking. Why?
The same reason, I suppose, that I once interviewed U.S. senators: It's my job.
Empathy, feeling what someone else feels, is what intelligent men do to understand all angles of an issue. They want to empathize. And I did, too.
Besides, dressing like a woman doesn't mean you're gay. Not that I will tell my dad that when he sees the photos.
The gussying up began with the skirt and ended with a blouse. That was easy.
Finding a pair of shoes that fit and would provide enough elevation to count as a fashion statement was more difficult. A pair of open-toed heels seemed appropriate and weren't too excruciating, at the beginning.
I reserved the right to keep my boxers and sideburns. This caused some consternation with my patrons, especially, the sideburns, but my earwarmers prevailed. A wig was proposed, a sad, dirty-blonde tangle that my stylists could hardly shake their heads at. It was decided that I would be loaned a new wig, a high-lighted mane worthy of Britney Spears.
Professional-grade makeup, applied by a professional, effectively concealed my zits and midday beard growth. When the mascara went on, I struggled to keep my eyes open.
As they strategized, my handlers began referring to me as "she."
They also told me I had a certain type of face that would only benefit from a certain kind of hairstyle and numerous coats of certain powders and colored creams.
I wondered how it would feel to be told that every day, since I was a girl. Boy, I mean.
Upon seeing me, a wave of surprise flashed across Jacqueline Allan's face. She's the main organizer of the event.
"I feel a bit under-dressed," she said.
I heard the word "fabulous" more than once.
I don't want to sound like I'm bragging, but Andrea (pronounced On-dre-uh) went over like D-Day.
Tori tried to teach me how to walk, sit, stand, present myself like a lady. And walk. She tried.
She also gave me other insights, like that women smile at each other on the street. I had no idea.
I wanted to hit the most public spot in town, I wanted to come across as many people as possible. Tori went along for the ride.
Tori doesn't dress as herself when she attends church. But as a Christian, she wants to go into a house of worship as God truly made her.
"That would be the ultimate," she said.
We had a cup of coffee, some of which I spilled on myself, and sat on the sidewalk near Lincoln and First streets.
I was distracted by my skirt flapping in the wind, my sideburns showing and the new-found blisters on my feet. I wanted to walk more, but it was too painful.
Toe, heel, toe, heel
On the way back to the hotel, and out of the shoes, Tori gave up on reminding me to make my knees touch when I walked. Toe, heel, toe, heel.
"After all, we're men," she said with a shrug, as if to forgive my stumbling, hunched gait.
As if to say masculinity is something that is learned, and when you're dressed in blue as an infant onward it has to be unlearned. She championed my brief odyssey as "somewhat daring."
"How did you feel?" was the question asked by just about everybody.
To the credit of Port Angeles residents, I never felt the terror and anger of being bullied. All I got was a few smiles and a couple hellos.
Failing that, I felt uncomfortable. The high heel shoes hurt. The makeover process was tedious and nerve-wracking.
The professionally styled wig itched and it bothered me that, lest I smudge my face paint, I couldn't rub my eyes or wipe my nose on my sleeve.
"Now you know what women go through," Tori said.
Bending Gender at the Esprit Conference
Friday June 3, 2005
By Suzan Vaughn
They're getting in touch with their nurturing sides, experiencing the part of them that is fun, frilly and feminine, but in another life, they're nuclear submarine officers, police chiefs, computer geeks and a range of other manly professions. Not this week though. This is the time of year then these guys put their hair up, mostly into wigs, and spend their time and money in Port Angeles and Sequim as part of the Esprit Conference, May 15-22.
With 160 participants, it's the largest weeklong conference on the Peninsula. Since 1990, cross-dressers, transgender people and transsexuals have chosen the Peninsula as a friendly destination that's just far enough from home to feel a measure of anonymity and just close enough and welcoming enough to visit for a week.
"Neither drugs nor shock therapy can change this. We come here to try and find out how and why we got this way," said Claire Roberts, "and there is some evidence to suggest a link between the hormonal fluctuations of our mothers during pregnancy, plus imprinting ..."
Roberts get tired in the world of men, although she enjoys women as a man. "The male culture expects us to be masculine, and men are always competing, always positioning. To express the feminine side risks the loss of social status or relationships. On the contrary, women can act as male or female without losing social status," she said.
The most well-attended lectures are offered by medical professionals. Dr. Sara Becker teaches a review of current hormone therapy practices in gender transition. Dr. Patricia Fawver focused on the psychological implication of changing your sex. And Dr. Toby Meltzer presented "Gender Reassignment Surgery," male-to-female gender reassignment techniques. Ninty-nine percent of the conference attendees are male-to-female changes.
"People in general don't see diversity as beauty, but this is a lot about inner growth. I am finding my true self and letting it flow. Everything is not black and white," said Jacqueline Allan, chair of the Esprit Conference. "This (cross-dressing) is not for a lark. There is a drive to do it."
This year the group celebrated its Sweet 16 birthday with an elaborate retro set, a live transgender band, a real soda jerk, burgers and fries, and all the '50s fixin's. Also on tap for fun: a talent show and a gala debutante ball, the night the new 'girls' 'come out.' The agenda for Esprit is proof that "girls just wanna have fun" and these girls are fully decked out in nylons, high heels, and hats for high tea.
The conference is a collaboration of three organizations: The Emerald City Social Club in Seattle, The Northwest Gender Alliance of Portland, Ore, and The Cornbury Society of Vancouver, British Columbia. These groups are social, educational and support groups for cross dressers, transsexuals and other individuals who identify themselves as transgender. The women (which is the politically-correct way to address attendees whenever they are in feminine dress) take classes on wigs, makeup, and cross-dressing successfully during the week's activities. Meanwhile, resource providers offer cosmetic and skin care tips, lingerie and corsets, jewelry, hair styling and wigs instruction, glamour photography, hypnosis to recreate your childhood as your desired sex, hat boxes, and goddess statues.
"Who I'm meant to be is a gift, whatever it is. In this case, transgender, I will live that journey to the best of my ability," said Allan.
"The Bard said it best," said Roberts. "Above all else, to thine own self be true."