Struggles, Pride and Support all shared at Trans Pride

BY Crystal A. Proxmire

FERNDALE -

Bonnie Gibson doesn't usually "do the whole group thing," but she did make the trek across the border from London, Ontario to attend her first Transgender Pride in the Park, which took place Aug. 4th at Geary Park in Ferndale.

She was among 118 individuals who gathered under the pavilion to share food and mingle with transgendered people and allies.

"In London we've got the alphabet communities that support each other, but I find it depressing. A lot of people have issues and they need to talk about them, but it's just not for me. I am very happy," Gibson said. "We had a Pride weekend in Toronto that was nice. The parade was an hour long. And I got to nosing around on the internet and it's a long weekend. I saw this on Facebook and I thought, I do like to travel and I love to meet new people. I looked at the comments and they seemed so nice and welcoming. It seemed like I've got to meet those people."

She met other transgender people from places like Grand Rapids, Flint, Ann Arbor, all around the Detroit Area, Indiana and Ohio. Folks at the picnic were of varying ages and stages in their journeys, and some can only be themselves freely at events like the picnic.

Gibson's wish for women in the community is to be more confident and to uplift everyone they meet regardless of how they are treated. "I like to make people feel comfortable and like they don't have to keep any face between us. People feel like they have to be careful what they say, because a lot of girls are insecure because of how the main line, the mainstream, views us," Gibson said. "Smile up and don't let it get you down. The prettiest women are the happy ones!"

In addition to breaking bread, Transgender Pride in the Park attendees had the opportunity to browse books from Common Language Bookstore in Ann Arbor, which specializes in LGBT and feminist publishing. Owner Keith Orr said that books for transgender audiences can be hard to come by. "It gets better all the time," he said. "But they aren't always easy to come by. But when people come in and see our transgender section they're very impressed."

Orr said that books by Kate Borstein are very popular, and that "My Gender Workbook" gives transgender people a good starting reference. "She's Not There," is a another popular choice for MTFs, while Orr said "Becoming a Visible Man" by Jamison Green is still the top choice of FTMs.

Events like Transgender Pride in the Park give Orr an opportunity to bring his special collection out to people who may not otherwise make it out to Ann Arbor. Patrons can also order books through their website www.GLBTBooks.com.

Opportunities also abounded for those who do not always get to express themselves. Stephanie Pawloski came out as a transgender in the late 1990s, but has been in and out of the closet ever since. The Grand Rapids transwoman has lost two jobs, one because of presumptions about her sexuality, and one she says because of age discrimination. Now she and her wife are living with her mother in a home where she can only behave as male, despite being 44 years old.

"Mom says I have four sons and for daughters and it's going to stay that way," Pawloski said. "I live in a rough and tough tumble type of family. My brother pulled a gun on me because he didn't like something I had to say. He's the type that has a shaved head and a goatee and thinks that all men should be like that." She likened her father, who refuses to acknowledge her since she's come out, to Arnold Swartzneggar, saying, "He's built like him too so he could say what he wanted and back it up."

The problems with joblessness and family acceptance have taken their toll, and Pawloski has landed in the hospital due to stress. She says she just wants to be able to be herself, to be able to work, and to afford not living at home with her parents. She said she is lucky to have her wife, though she "gives mixed signals" about how she feels seeing the man she married transitioning. "I told her about it two years after we got married in 94. I was scared to death to tell anyone. And at first she laughed and didn't take it seriously. Now she's back and forth, but she's back and forth on a lot of things so its okay."

Pawloski's saving grace has been the internet and groups like Transgender Michigan, which offers a variety of online resources and ways to connect with other transgender people. "If you take away my Facebook, and my connection to the world, then you take away my happiness," she said.

The former coordinator for Transgender Flint, Charlie Ford, was also there. This year he brought friends, who he lured down with the promise of meeting other people and with food. He said that the support group fizzled out because the need wasn't pressing and people's schedules didn't match up. He added "a lot of it was differences with age groups. The support really needed may be older folks who grew up in a different time. Folks that were coming didn't really need the support"

Ta'Kaya Smith said that being from Flint, her biggest problems aren't from being a transwoman, but from the harsh economy. "I'm from the projects and there are a lot of gay and transgender people there. Nobody really messes with me because I'm from there. There are some ignorant, closed minded people. I've been threatened, had guns pulled on me, people say stuff. It's out there. Some people are just ignorant. But I live in Flint and what we really need is jobs."

While it can't solve all the problems facing transgender individuals, Transgender Michigan does provide support and resources. Their 24 hour helpline can answer questions for those in crisis and their website helps connect people across the state and beyond. Events like Transgender Pride in the Park give people a chance to be social in a comfortable environment, and other events like Transgender Health Fair and Transgender Day of Empowerment provide both education and social interaction. Find out more at http://www.transgendermichigan.org/.

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