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This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.
When I was 14 years old, I surreptitiously made my way through the stacks in the local library until I came to the Psychology section. One after one, I took down the books whose titles I thought would provide an answer, went to the table of contents and, if there were any, I flipped to the pictures.
Eventually, I landed on one with a word I had never seen or heard: Transvestite. And on the next page there was a black and white photo of a man wearing a dress, looking like he had just crawled out from under a rock. I can still see the expression of guilt on his face.
Not long after that, the newspapers and TV broke the story of Christine Jorgensen, a former member of the U.S. Army who had gone to Denmark to have Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS). Of course, the majority of the reports were always accompanied by some sort of joke, such as “Christine Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad!”
America's First Trans Celebrity: Christine Jorgensen youtu.be
But those two events rescued me. I learned that I was not the only person in the world with this “affliction,” this sense that something wasn’t right. And I got a word I could apply to it and maybe even hope for a cure. But it was too early. I knew that to say out loud, even maybe, that I should have been born a girl, would mean being ostracized, becoming part of the joke, so I chose the path followed by most transgender people of my generation. I put all of my energy into making sure that no one knew.
And that wasn’t easy. For no matter what I did, I couldn’t match the image of the all-American boy, so I became the class clown. If I wasn’t the John Wayne male, at least I could be Lenny Bruce. It was my way of deflecting the mismatch, and, to some extent, it worked.
Others like me took varying escape routes, becoming athletes, businessmen, or whatever role they could slip into and hide behind. Most married, had kids, and did whatever was necessary to survive, with varying results, but never with happy endings.
Segue to the present. The scenario I described above is, to a great extent, still being played out, but now there are exceptions. Transgender kids today can find some consolation on the Internet. They can learn early on that they aren’t “afflicted.” They can make contact with others like themselves. And they can read about transgender people who are proud of themselves and what they have accomplished as well as hearing about transgender children whose parents accept them and allow them to be who they are.
But the information highway is not all smooth driving. And naïve youth can get lost on detours and take wrong turns, winding up as prey to the trolls, predators, and religious zealots—as well as various other kinds of bullies—who inhabit the virtual world.
So is it any better today for our transgender youth? Most still have parents who reject them and peers who bully them. Nearly half of transgender teens have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having attempted suicide  compared to a rate of 1.6 percent for the general population.
It’s far from a perfect world. But I believe it is definitely better than the one I grew up in, because it’s a world where the President of the United States has condemned “the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender”; it’s a world where the parents of transgender children have publicly supported their sons or daughters and stood up to schools that would try to discriminate against them; it’s a world where the medical and psychiatric professions have come to recognize that being transgender isn’t a disease. All these things were inconceivable possibilities on the day I sneaked into the library.
Nina Simone To Be Young Gifted And Black youtu.be
When I was a teenager, Nina Simone had a hit record titled “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” that has since been covered by artists as diverse as Elton John, Rah Digga, and Faith Evans. A portion of the lyrics say, “We must begin to tell our young / There’s a world waiting for you / This is a quest that’s just begun.” That same message applies today.
To be transgender is not a curse; it’s a gift. As Derrick Moeller, a graduate student in Education at Iowa State University and a transman explains, “Having to contemplate what your gender identity and gender expression looks like is a privilege that most folks don’t have to go through” . Rather than being rejected they will know that they have been blessed, so that their plea “Why was I made like this?” will be replaced by a prayer of gratitude: “Thank you for making me like this.”
 Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R. (2007). Transgender Youth and Life-Threatening Behaviors. *Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviors* 37 (5), 527-37.
 Tiffany Herring, January 28 2015 Iowa State Daily [goo.gl/YSL3SC].
Those of you who know me well – OK, anyone who knows me at all – know that I’m rarely at a loss for words. Imagine my surprise, then, the first time I sat down to write down some personal-experience essays, in hopes of melding them together into a memoir.
I was 34, had just left my position as managing editor of Echo, now OUTvoices, moved to the Sedona “suburb” of Cottonwood, and my partner and I were just kicking off what would turn out to be 18 months of (mis)adventures, filled with melodramatic plot twists, positive and negative reversals of fortune, and the kind of wisdom that only comes after getting kicked in the proverbial can a couple of times.
By the time it was over, my partner and I had experienced enough during that year and a half to fill at least one volume of our collective autobiography. And yet, when I sat down at the computer to record what I recognized as significant memoir material, I hit a patch of insurmountable writer’s block. I couldn’t think of anything to write about.
I was wrong, of course. There was plenty to write about, even if I had skipped writing about the details of my juicy then-current situation. I had grown up in a Democratic-leaning family in a heavily Republican county in the Midwest; had a lifelong love affair with creativity; started my writing career at age 14 and had the opportunity to interview everyone from LGBTQ spiritual author Mel White to sexologist Annie Sprinkle; learned to shoot safety videos in an aluminum factory and dangled off a cherry picker 70 feet up to get an “aerial” shot.
The assumption that my life stories weren’t worth collecting was wrong at age 34, and that feels even more true nearly 15 years later. I’ve always been drawn to writing about how ordinary people live their lives. In my early years as a writer, I expressed that interest by writing human interest features and profiles; more recently, that passion has morphed into helping people tell their own stories as a personal historian. What I’ve discovered along the way is that every life, including my own, contains extraordinary moments – ones that are important to us, as well as to those around us.
Collecting and sharing our life stories can be profoundly empowering, especially if we belong to the LGBTQ community. Here are three basic reasons why:
1. First and foremost, understanding our stories helps us to make sense of our lives.
We can experience epiphanies related to how our life has unfolded at any age; also, how we tell key life stories to ourselves or to others often changes over time. Making the effort to record our stories is an important step in this “figuring out” process.
2. Expressing our life stories, even the sad or unpleasant ones, makes us more resilient and better able to cope.
About 20 years ago, Emory University researcher Marshall Duke measured the resiliency skills of children and found that those who could answer the most items on a list of family history questions scored highest. He also discovered that the family storylines that helped kids cope the best were the “oscillating” narratives, the stories that told kids that family members have made it through both bad times and good times, which helped them realize that they can overcome setbacks in their own life, too.
3. The process of personal story-catching can connect us to something larger than ourselves.
This may be the greatest advantage of “owning our story” for LGBTQ people. So many of our community members have been rejected by their families, churches or geographic peers, which can make one feel lost and alone. And we have all lived through historic queer milestones such as the LGBTQ marches on Washington, D.C., the AIDS crisis, the women’s music movement, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the military, the advent of marriage equality and much more. As we retell our life stories, including the ones that touch on sexual orientation and gender identity, we get a sense of how ALL our various identities and their intersections make us who we are, and connect us to others.
There are many ways to share your personal stories once you’ve collected them. You can start a blog, attend poetry slams or live storytelling events, contribute to an online video initiative like “It Gets Better,” or provide an oral history for the Arizona LGBT+ History Project (arizonalgbthistory.com). All it takes to get started is an open notebook, the willingness to dig deep into your memories and the belief that your stories matter.
I know the next time I decide to write about my life, the blank page won’t get the best of me. Because I’ve seen it happen with others, I know that when it comes to discussing my own memories, I believe, along with Mark Twain, “There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy and a tragedy.”
It's no coincidence that American companies led the charge to develop Covid-19 vaccines. Numerous policies — from strong patent protections to a welcoming immigration system — help ensure that the world's smartest scientists can pursue cutting-edge research here.
Many Americans, especially those with HIV, are alive today thanks to this innovation. Unfortunately, these same Americans have the most to lose if a well-intentioned but misguided drug-pricing bill becomes law.
The proposal — the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, or H.R. 3 — would set drug prices, pegging Medicare payments to the average price in six other developed countries.
In these "reference" countries, though, government officials make coverage and payment decisions based on heartless and antiquated cost-benefit analyses, called "quality-adjusted life-years."
These "QALYs" are inherently discriminatory, especially against those living with disabilities or chronic diseases, as they put a dollar figure on "perfect" health. So even when a treatment works exactly as it's supposed to — and brings a patient back to his or her full life — those with underlying health conditions, like HIV, are deemed to never be "worth" as much to government regulators.
Let's be clear. Such analyses are cruel. And by importing other nations' drug prices, we'd be importing such analyses here. In many of the reference nations, government regulators declare hard cut-offs on what they'll spend — and therefore conclude that many patients are essentially "too expensive" to be worthy of care.
This refusal to cover medicines that exceed an arbitrary threshold explains why the average patient in OECD countries had access to only 51 percent of new cancer medications launched worldwide from 2011-2019, while American patients had access to 96 percent.
Currently, QALYs aren't used to determine the cost of drugs in the United States. But under H.R. 3, vulnerable patients would be subjected to discriminatory QALY assessments, just indirectly.
The bill is also concerning because it would discourage research.
Developing new medicines is risky. Fewer than 12 percent of experimental medicines entering clinical trials are eventually approved by the FDA. Drugs that make it to market have to subsidize all these failures. That’s why, on average, it costs $2.6 billion to bring a new medicine to market, according to a Tufts University study.
By tying Medicare's payments to the arbitrarily low prices paid abroad, H.R. 3 would reduce monies available for research and development. One analysis found that H.R. 3 could result in at least 56 fewer new medicines over 10 years.
As a person living with HIV, I've seen the power of medical innovation firsthand. In 10 years, I've gone from taking three pills per day to only one. At the height of the HIV/AIDs epidemic, the disease was a death sentence. But today, thanks to the innovation of the pharmaceutical industry and the incredible antiretroviral treatments it developed, those living and loving with HIV have life expectancies that match those without it.
Encouraging innovation is the best way to help vulnerable patients like me. Unfortunately, H.R. 3 puts patients last.
About the Author
Guy Anthony is the president and CEO of Black, Gifted & Whole.
An award-winning ARTivist, community leader, and philanthropist, diagnosed with HIV as a teen, Guy has dedicated his adult life to the pursuit of neutralizing local and global HIV/AIDS-related stigmatization. He released Pos(+)tively Beautiful: Affirmations, Advocacy & Advice on World AIDS Day in 2012. Guy served as a Program Manager/Coordinator for the Treatment Adherence program at Us Helping Us People Into Living, Inc, a local AIDS service organization serving Black communities in the Washington, D.C., area for two years. In his role at Us Helping Us, Guy worked with newly diagnosed Black gay men to help them come to terms with their status, navigate the complex health care system so they can access care, and develop plans for them to adhere to their treatment regimen and achieve viral suppression.
This piece originally ran in Plus magazine.
There was a time when John Lasiter convinced himself that he was complicit, that he somehow consented to the encounter.
Because it wasn’t a violent attack. A monster didn’t jump out of the bushes.
“I had a construction business, aside from my full-time job, and he hired me, hired my company, to work for him at his house, painting. That’s where it happened, at his house.”
“It was about 10:30 in the morning and I was hungry early for lunch and my co-worker went to go get us food. I was washing out paint brushes in the sink when I felt him come up behind me and just start kissing my neck.”
Even as he described the situation, after all the time that has passed, John couldn’t help but smooth out the edges of his attack. He didn’t seem to realize he was doing it, in fact.
“I honestly not once thought of him that way,” he said. “I was dating someone at the time and, let me tell you, at twenty years old I was so like that perfect angel where I’d never even think about kissing somebody else, let alone anything further than that. It was not even on my mind in any way.”
“I’m gonna be honest,” he said. “I think this is something that most people go through in this situation. I thought… I’ll just go along with it. Even though I was seriously sick to my stomach, I decided to stall him. Let’s go brush our teeth, I said. Because his breath was so bad. I wanted to stall, and so that’s what we did. We went to the bathroom. I put toothpaste in my mouth, thinking the whole time how do I get out of here?! That’s how intense it was. Like, as soon as I was alone he pounced.”
According to John, from there they moved back into the kitchen, where he had been painting. Still in a panic, he hoped that enough time had gone by, that they could perhaps agree that the moment had passed and move on with the work.
“So I started walking toward the kitchen where I was painting and grabbed a brush,” he said, “because that was my next idea, like, alright, thanks so much… that was… whatever it was. I’m going back to paint now and I remember shaking. It was the worst feeling, it was like my whole body was on fire because I just wanted to be out of there.”
“But when I got into the kitchen he grabbed my arm, not forcefully at all, it was very flirtatious — and I want to be careful and say there was no violence — but it still felt forceful, very forceful and that’s why I have to make sure that I don’t describe it as violence but it felt like I didn’t have a choice. It was light as a feather but felt like a chain that pulled me toward the couch, that was facing the kitchen because we’d moved it away to paint, and there he just started going frantically all over the place on me. And I remember thinking, this is the worst experience I’ve ever had. This is the worst sexual experience ever. Ever. And it really was and it still is.”
“He reached down into my pants, very forcefully,” he said. “I remember it hurt. Which added to my discomfort. I clearly was not into it, not even looking at him, I said ‘I wanna get back to work,’ at that time thinking, well maybe he’ll think that I’m professional. He’ll think ‘oh he’s really trying to do his job. I gotta leave him alone to do his job.’ But then he stood up and looked at me like… I felt like… it was horrible. I felt like I’d done something wrong. That’s where the switch happened, like a hatred, almost instantly. He turned his back and walked away, went back into the yard, started working, and my co-worker came in five minutes later and he was like ‘What are you doing?!’ I was still sitting on the couch, in a stupor.”
“All this time I was like ‘What did I do? What did I do.’”
Fourteen years have passed and, despite his best effort to put it behind him, John continued to relive the moment and battled internally the anger and resentment that would result.
Until the Harvey Weinstein news broke. Until we learned more about Kevin Spacey. And then Jeffrey Tambor. Brett Ratner. Louis C.K. (The list really does go on and on.)
A common reaction to undiagnosed trauma, he tried to avoid acknowledging it until he couldn’t suppress it any longer. The more he read about the high profile sexual assault cases from Hollywood, the statements of the victims especially, the more he recognized his own situation.
“When I heard other people coming out and saying the same things [on the news reports], it seems so cliché but it really is true,” he said. “I was like oh, this is a pattern that I’m seeing and this is a characteristic of these situations, and that’s exactly how I felt.”
John realized wasn’t complicit at all. He was violated.
The comedian Louis C.K., while accepting responsibility for his sexual misconduct, expressed an ambiguity in his culpability. “When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question,” he said in an official statement. “It’s a predicament for them.”
“It seems so simple,” John said, “but it really is what turned the lightbulb on for me.”
And it’s complicated, too, because even though the gay community in Nashville has grown in tandem with the city proper, it remains small enough that you can’t avoid certain people. Especially if you want to.
“I continued to work with him for a year after that, at the other place” he said. “He was one of the managers at my full-time job, and I basically felt helpless because he so confidently treated me horribly. I drank too much at a holiday party later that year and he somehow convinced me that I did stuff that, especially at the time when I was that young, I just broke down and started crying in front of him, and that motherfucker comforted me! He said, it’s ok, John. Everybody’s a whore at one point in their life. I thought that he was telling me because he cared.
And I was like ‘I don’t remember doing that’ and then one of the owners of the company later told me, he was like ‘No you did not! You went and grabbed some Rice Krispie treats and sat in a corner by yourself.” But he [the perpetrator] literally told me that I gave… and named names and situations and said, ‘you went around and gave everybody head.’ It was horrible. It was horrible to think that it was true. Several people have told me that none of it is true.”
A close personal friend of John’s verified the incident, that John spoke of it almost immediately after it happened in 2003, and she verified as well the discomfort it brought him through the ensuing years. “I remember that John always didn’t like him going forward, and that person had caused him a lot of trouble. Any time he came up or we saw him anywhere, John always said to me something like, ‘I can’t stand that guy.” That sort of thing. It was ongoing from that time
More recently John said he was excited and honored a few years ago when he was asked to contribute to a local committee, until he showed up to the first meeting and realized his assailant was asked to join the committee as well.
“Part of me is thinking that even though it’s weighed on me for fifteen years, maybe it hasn’t even phased him,” he said, “but apparently it has enough to where these attacks continue with the defamation. And it’s really nasty stuff that he’s telling people. I haven’t touched drugs, or any kind of drug, in well over a decade, and that kind of stuff is being said and it just absolutely breaks my heart. It’s another form of abuse.”
“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘what is your issue with this individual?’ I would say that I don’t have an issue and then they would go on to tell me that he was saying some very damaging and untrue things. The thing about it is… he forced himself on me, I pushed back, I resisted, and I’m being attacked again?!”
Still, John’s reason for talking now isn’t to settle any scores. He refused to tell me the name of his attacker. What he wants is a conversation in this community about sexual misconduct. It may seem a topic that’s beyond the pale, given our community’s historical connections to sexual liberation in general, flirtation and bar culture specifically. But the professional fall of famed Nashville publicist Kirt Webster proves two things about sexual assault: it isn’t confined to straight people and it happens right here in our own backyard.
“I know mine is not a big, fantastic story,” he said. “It’s just one of the millions that I can only imagine. But it’s worse than a fantastic story because it’s this emotion that you don’t even know how to cope with it.”
“It doesn’t have to be a violent attack,” he said. “It can be something that seems subtle and insignificant but the fact that it lingers in your mind and it turns out that it actually is a trauma for fifteen years is what the conversation needs to be now.”
“Because a violation is a violation.”