TQ Nation recently had the honor to recognize a man who helped plant the tree we sit underneath today. To me, he is someone beyond a “celebrity”, he is a man who has fought the battles for many years to help bring change to the transgender community. I believe the mere words “thank you” are not enough to mark the legacy he lives.
Jamison Green, most-notably acclaimed for his book Becoming a Visible Man (2004), won the 2004 Sylvia Rivera Award for Best Book in Transgender Studies from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies. It was also a finalist for a 2004 Lambda Literary Award. One of the most quotable passages of his novel states, “there is no right way to be trans.”
Not only is Jamison Green a writer, he is also an inspirational educator for transgender health, civil rights, social safety, dignity and respect.
Born in Oakland, California in 1948, Green began his female-to-male (FTM) transition in 1988 while employed with Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Since then, he has paved the way in the Transgender Rights Movement for decades as he led FTM International, Inc. (March 1991 to August 1999) and currently serves on the board of directors for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, among other nonprofit educational organizations.
He authored a ‘transformational’ document in 1994 entitled “Report on Discrimination Against Transgendered People” for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. This served as the foundation for not only the protective legislation in the City and County of San Fran, but also the agenda for the contemporary trans movement.
Green was the first transman named “our best and brightest activists” in 1999 by The Advocate magazine and was also the first transsexual to be awarded the Distinguished Service Award (May 2009) from the Association of Gay & Lesbian Psychiatrists for his numerous contributions to LGBT mental health.
Green has educated across the globe, authored a monthly column for PlanetOut.com and has been in a dozen or more documentary films, including the award-winning “You Don’t Know Dick: Courageous Hearts of Transsexual Men” (1996).
Personally, it’s difficult to put into words the greatness of this one man. His solo achievements are so many that you could easily spread them out to ten to twenty others and they would still be looked on as “above average”.
It is people like Jamison Green that deserve honor and recognition. For us, they are true heroes. They fight battles and win wars that help us be where we are today. Their victories enable us to stand tall and be proud. They have been our champions and our mentors for us to carry out their legacy for our future generations.
This interview you are about to read is not just about anyone, it’s about a man that helped re-sculpt our world and make it a brighter place. He stands for the epitome of everything I hold true and dear to my heart and soul.
TQ: What do you believe has been your biggest role or accomplishment that has benefited the transgendered community?
JG: I’ve been really fortunate to have a long list of accomplishments, but I think the most important thing I’ve done that has had long-term impact was leading FTM International in the way that did in the early and mid-1990s. I encouraged trans people to be visible in a way that had never been done before; I encouraged trans men, in particular, to become politically active and to build coalitions with trans women; I encouraged trans men to hold the first FTM-focused conference in the U.S. (and to share the power of doing that kind of community building with groups in other cities; and I took the organization into the arena of politics by using it as a platform to influence legislative changes in San Francisco and in California, which are still having impact around the world. I tried to be conscientious of the needs of others, to encourage others to actualize their goals and dreams, and to be responsive to people in an ethic of service to community. I also cultivated high standards of accuracy, honesty, reliability, and inclusiveness. I think that effort, even though most of it was unseen by others, has had the most far-reaching beneficial effect for the trans communit(ies).
TQ: What is the most triumphant thing you would like to see happen in your lifetime within our community?
JG: When I think of the word ‘triumphant’ with respect to our community, I think of a moment in which as many trans people as humanly possible (nearly) simultaneously feel the power of affirmation, relief, and joy all at once. What could cause that in my lifetime? I think it would have to be the election of a trans person to an important position of leadership – like Congress, or the presidency, or as an influential leader in another major country – and our collective realization that any dehumanizing ridicule that followed was being viewed as a completely fringe reaction. That would be pretty triumphant, I think.
TQ: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JG: In 10 years I will be 71 years old, but I want to still be able to backpack in the Sierra. I would still like to be writing and speaking, maybe doing less but making more money than I do now (I hope!). I’d like to be able to take a vacation now and then (so would my wife!). And I’d like to be associated with a world-class research and education institution or organization, tapped into the engines of social change, so I can continue to make a creative contribution to both the intellectual and the practical world.
TQ: Who is the one person that has played the most significant and positive role in your life? Why?
JG: I think I would have to say my father. He taught me a lot about how to relate to the world, he taught me how to develop my values, and he taught me how to learn from my mistakes. He was a real gentleman; he knew how to appreciate his surroundings, he was modest, he knew how to laugh, and he was kind. People loved him. My mother loved him, and he loved her. And even though he and I didn’t always agree about things—and sometimes we fought furiously!—I always knew I could rely on him, and he appreciated my independent spirit.
TQ: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far in life?
JG: I once dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Nobel Peace Prize. I had planned to win at least one of those by the time I was 25. When I hit 25 and realized I was very far from ever achieving those honors, I realized I needed to change my expectations.
Ultimately, I’ve come to realize that, for all the political, altruistic, and progressive work I’ve done, and for all the energy I’ve applied to creating change in the world, and all the awards I’ve been given, I believe my greatest achievement so far in life has been raising my two children to be good people. My daughter is 25, and my son will be 21 this month. I love them so much, and I am so proud of them.
I feel like the thing that makes human existence important is love; and parental love has a unique possibility to be truly unconditional. To see the effects of one’s love manifested in the world by beings that are separate from you, whose imaginations and capacities and accomplishments may far exceed your own, and to know that what you have done with your love is good, is utterly humbling. And though it is not the kind of achievement for which I will ever receive an award or a prize, I feel my children’s goodness is the most human –and therefore greatest—achievement of my life.
TQ: Being a face in the “limelight”, what types of privacy or safety concerns have you faced? How did you deal with them?
JG: I used to worry about privacy and safety a lot more than I do now. There have been times when I’ve gone places to speak where I’ve wished I had a body-guard, and once when I brought a good friend who was an off-duty police officer who I knew could watch my back effectively. But I’ve learned that unless we are breaking the law, or being deliberately antagonistic or obnoxious, we (as trans people) usually don’t attract as much public attention as we might imagine we do. I try to relax and not to take up too much space in the world. I just try to do what’s right and what’s good, be considerate of others, and otherwise I mind my own business, and encourage others to do the same. That policy has kept me pretty much out of trouble. I realize things are different for some trans women, and I’m mindful of those discrepancies. I also want to say that I know how it feels to be taunted, publicly ridiculed, punched and beaten because you are trans – it’s just that for me those things happened before I transitioned instead of during or after my transition. And that, to me, is indicative of the sexism in our society. I don’t want people to misinterpret my current ability to be relaxed in public as the simple result of male privilege conferred by testosterone. My experience in public is much more nuanced than that, and my awareness of trans issues much more complex than that. It’s also true—now—that my age has an effect on how I’m perceived and noticed or not noticed depending on the context in which I find myself.
I do get recognized in public sometimes, but it’s usually by people who want to say “thank you.” I’ve never been approached by anyone negative. The only ‘death threat’ I ever received was from another trans man who I think was having a bad day. I’ve received email from a few fundamentalist ministers who want me to “stop trying to destroy gender,” and I either ignore it or if I feel up to engaging with them I’ll tell them that’s not what I’m about and I encourage them to read my book. I never heard from them again. But I’ve been on an airplane with several people reading copies of a newspaper with a life-size photo of my face on the front page, and no one recognized me or said anything to me, not even the flight attendants.
TQ: What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
JG: Don’t expect to get rich doing this work, but if you truly care for people you can be richly rewarded in the form of connections and opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives. Show up, care about others, and have integrity. That’s what I’ve tried to do.
TQ: What inspired you to write the book “Becoming a Visible Man”?
JG: Many people inspired me to write the book because so many people seemed to be touched by the passion with which I spoke (years ago) about the dignity of trans lives, and the struggles that trans people endured to find their individual balance and get their needs met in the face of complete rejection. I think there are many people now who have no clue what it was like before the internet to get reliable information about transition. And there were just a handful of books available that had any specific information for trans people who were male-identified. I knew I could reach more people with the book than I could reach one-on-one, and a book has a kind of intimacy that allows people to take in information gradually and really absorb it. I was really happy that Vanderbilt University Press was interested in publishing it, because university presses keep their books in print much longer than commercial publishers, and I knew it would take a while for people to find the book (because reviewers don’t pay much attention to trans topics), but the book would hold up over time. I’m proud of the book, and I think it will continue to serve the community for a long time to come (even though some of the information in it will become anachronistic) because it provides a historical context for what have become our community’s foundational issues and goals. And it’s personal enough to be engaging on an emotional level, too. I hope someday it will be called a ‘classic.’
TQ: TQ Nation is giving you a personal soap box – What do you want to say? (include your spout outs: vents, complaints, thanks or anything you want people to know)
JG: I want to really thank all the people who were there for me in the beginning of my transition; I want to thank all those who helped build FTM International in the 90s, and those who took it on after I left.
I want to encourage trans people to cultivate patience – strategic patience. That doesn’t mean we can’t be passionate, or angry, or sad, or anything else at any given moment. But what we are asking the world to do in response to us is a huge change, and it will not some quickly or easily. We’ve made amazing progress in the last 20 years, and that’s been done on the shoulders of some very brave and determined people who have not yet been given the recognition and honor they deserve.
Most of all, I want to express my real love and appreciation for my wife, Heidi, who married me in 2003, and who has been an incredible partner in my work. She has done so much to support and care for me, to collaborate with me, and to help me think things through. She also stepped up in an amazing way when the mother of my children passed away two years ago, and helped me and my children deal with all the emotions and practical details of adjusting to the resulting changes in our lives. Plus, she’s beautiful, smart, sexy, and she has a fabulous sense of humor. I got so lucky when I met her. And I want to encourage trans people everywhere who have partners to express your appreciation and love for them. Don’t let a day go by without doing something that tells them you love them and you value them.
TQ: What upcoming events/writings/documentary films can your fans look forward to in the future?
JG: Right now, I’m finishing a dissertation for a PhD in Law – it’s about the Kantaras Case (a 2002 Florida divorce and child custody case in which a trans man was adjudicated male in the trial court, and then had his maleness taken away by the Court of Appeal). Ultimately, I’d like to take some of the work I’ve done for that project and tell more of the story of that case in a way that could interest a wide readership. So that may be a book. That’ll be a while, though.
I’ll be at a bunch of conferences in the fall of 2010 – mostly professionally-oriented, and I hope to be back on the speaking circuit in 2011. I think I’ll be keynoting First Event in New England in January 2011, as a starter. Maybe I’ll have time to update my “upcoming events” listings on my web site before the end of this year!
First I have a book coming out in 2011, probably late summer or early fall, entitled “The FTM Guide to Sexual Health.” I’m working on that now, but will be focused more on it as soon as the dissertation is done.
I’m also working with the University of California, San Francisco Medical School to develop primary care protocols for physicians treating trans people, and educational programs for physicians to go along with that – this is a great opportunity to improve trans people’s experience and capacity to access primary health care. It won’t be too visible to the general public, but I hope people will ultimately experience its effects. You can see some of the great work going on at UCSF at http://www.transhealth.ucsf.edu. Another similar project I have in the works is leveraging the wins we’ve had in getting employers to negotiate with their health insurance carriers to offer trans-inclusive healthcare plans. That’s a long, slow process with lots of angles and complications, but it’s something that I believe is important. My colleague, André Wilson, is doing a lot the leg-work on that project, and he deserves a lot of credit for helping move this issue forward, based on my conviction (proven correct in our win in 2000 for City and County of San Francisco Employees) that the benefit doesn’t have high costs, and that exclusions are based on long-standing prejudice and ignorance.
I’m also working with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, developing position statements that I think the Board of Directors needs to take that will encourage other global institutions to take our health, safety, and civil rights more seriously. I’m a member of the WPATH Board of Directors (first trans person elected to the Board who was not a medical professional or a lawyer), and I’ll be termed out in the fall of 2011 (after 8 years of service). I have to decide next year if I want to run for president of the Association, or take a break!
I’m also working with a team of grad students from several universities to analyze the data I collected last year in two surveys on sexual behaviors and sexual health – one survey for trans men, and one for partners of trans men. There’s enough data for three or four journal papers, and I expect these will be papers that energize the field of sexuality research.
There’s a possibility I may do a second edition (a completely new text) of “Becoming a Visible Man” because my publisher has expressed an interest in that. That wouldn’t be out before 2012.
I don’t have any film projects in the works. I’ve never originated any of those; people have always come to me. I’d love to do more creative work with film and with writing and photography. Maybe one day I’ll be able to feel like the practical work I’ve seen as needing to be done has played out, and I can get back to being the artist I wanted to be when I was young (or an older version of that artist). But I sure can’t say I regret doing the practical work I’ve done! It’s been an honor to be of service to trans people everywhere. We may not have seen our triumph yet, but together we have already changed the world.
Written by TQ Nation President & Co-Founder,