By Candice St. James
It was a beautiful summer day. Clear blue skies and a warm sun greeted me as I deplaned in upstate NY. Rochester is considered to be America’s first boomtown, the home of Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb. It is also known as the home of the women’s suffragette movement as one of its most celebrated residents was Susan B. Anthony. I had decided to visit the Susan B. Anthony home as Candice. The perfect summer dress for this beautiful day was donned, and I purposely kept the makeup very light.
The Susan B. Anthony house is located at 17 Madison Street. It is in a preserved area of the city. Photos, books, memorabilia and other important family pieces fill the Victorian era house, which stands pretty much as it did when Susan B. Anthony lived there.
I arrived late in the afternoon and was greeted by two women. We chatted for a bit and I was told that I would be led around by another tour guide, let’s call him DJ. DJ was one of only two men who conduct tours at the facility, which has 20 plus tour guides. As fate would have it, I was the only person on the tour with DJ.
Shortly after starting the tour I did announce to DJ that I was a transgender person. Certainly, he had it figured out I’m sure. I don’t disguise my voice well and don’t really feel the need to. I went on to say that I felt it was important as a MTF transgender that I work to understand fully the travails of women and their causes, not just how to dress like one. I am not sure he grasped that fully.
While DJ seemed generally OK, at times he was still a little awkward with it all. At one point, while stopping to look at a piece in the exhibit, I spied DJ gazing at me. When I glanced his way he stated, “I don’t wish to seem offensive but,” then he paused. “Well never mind.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Well,” he started sheepishly. “Well, I don’t want to be offensive, and I am not too sure how to put this,” he continued searchingly.
“I am hopeful I won’t be offended,” I offered. “You seem like a nice man.”
“Well,” he said, “you pull it off very well”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re very pretty.” “If I didn’t hear you speak then I am not sure I would have known.”
“Thank you,” I responded. “See, that was not offensive.”
“Well I just wanted to be sure.” “You’re the first person I have met that is transgender.”
I chuckled politely, “I’m probably the first person you have met that told you they were transgender. “You know others I am certain but they probably haven’t identified themselves as such.”
DJ thought about that for a moment and then abruptly announced, “I don’t think I know any. Come along, we need to keep moving.”
As we walked around the exhibits DJ commented on women’s clothing and he remarked how much they have changed since the Victorian era to modern day. DJ then said, “That’s a very pretty dress you have on by the way.”
“Thank you,” I responded. “You’re very gracious”
“Well,” he said, “I must say, in all of the tours I have given today, all of the patrons were women.”
“Yes,” he continued, “and you were the only one to wear a dress. All day, the only person.”
“Really? The only person to wear a dress?”
“Yes, the only person to wear a dress, I think it says a lot about you don’t you agree?”
“In what way?”
“It just does.”
“I’m not sure I follow you,” I stated quizzically.
“It just does,” he repeated. “Come along, we need to keep moving.”
Due to our late start DJ stated that we did not have time to go to Susan B. Anthony Square, a small park in the caddy corner across the street. In the park is a life sized bronze statue of two friends, Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas. I told DJ that I had been to the park before. I also told him I knew a story of a falling out by these two friends. It seems that Frederick Douglas was fighting for the rights of blacks and that the two had similar fights for civil rights. Susan B Anthony’s early life was also spent on abolitionist causes as well. They often collaborated and felt there was more power in numbers. But, when the American Equal Rights Association, who originally supported both blacks and women, dropped the women and supported only the rights of blacks in the passage of the 15th Amendment, a rift was created. It was felt that the bill would have a better chance at passage without the women. DJ was impressed by my knowledge of the story. I told him how it reminded me of a certain civil rights organization that came to Southern Comfort Conference one year and proclaimed that the Employment Non Discrimination Act would include transgender language and protections. Almost immediately after this speech the language was taken out as it was felt ENDA would be more easily passed without transgender persons included. He marveled at the comparisons and had not heard about it prior.
I offered, “Although things are not great, transgender people are treated a little better today than when I first started to go out into public.”
DJ just stared at me for a moment and I then optimistically stated, “Hopefully there will be a day when transgender people will be as accepted as any other person.”
Nervously he chuckled, “I doubt that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I just don’t think it will happen.”
“You mean you don’t think it will happen in our lifetime?”
“No, I don’t think it will happen ever.”
As I started to say something DJ then announced, “Come along, we need to keep moving.”
I thought to myself, yes…..we need to keep moving.
Candice St. James is a native Bostonian. She is a Gemini who is part muse and two-spirited. She can be reached at email@example.com.