Rachel Crandall-Crocker came up with the idea of Transgender Day of Visibility.

Transgender Day of Visibility Now World Wide

Michigan Born Event Take International Stage

By Paulette Niemiec

Five short years ago, Rachel Crandall-Crocker, a social worker and executive director of Transgender Michigan, was sitting in her office pondering the thought of having a day people could celebrate being transgender. On that day Transgender Day of Visibility was born. Today the idea has grown into an international holiday, celebrated literally around the world.

Taking the stage in the Five Fifteen coffee shop in downtown Royal Oak last Wednesday evening, Crandall-Crocker enthusiastically screamed into the microphone, "Surely we are world wide now! People in France, Romania, Brazil and several other countries are celebrating this day all around the world."

The same passion was shared by much of the crowd of approximately 25 - 30 people who had gathered to engage in a three-hour presentation of poets, musical performers and speakers; all focused on the theme of living life in a body the opposite of their identity. Gender identity is something most take for granted, yet for those who suffer with gender dysphoria, and those who's gender is not defined by their genitals but rather by their psyche, life can be strange, hard, confusing and sometimes a little terrifying. However on this night, all that was not to be denied, repressed, ashamed or feared, but rather celebrated with joy and embraced.

One by one, artists took the stage at the open-mike event. Beginning with singer/song-writer, Carmel Liburdi who's original compositions, "Ice-Cream in Heaven," "Pretty Lady," and "One too Many;" set the mood for the evening, as each tune uniquely described the plight and sometimes the triumph of individuals who are unique, different and special as transgender people can be. In fact, all of those who chose to participate and had the courage to come on stage and get behind a microphone, spoke, sang, or even joked about the theme of the evening, "being different is beautiful."

Liburdi a natural born female (sometimes referred to as a "cisgender" woman) chose compositions she felt best supported the transgender community. "I write songs which empower and hopefully inspire people to choose acceptance," she said after her performance.

Comedian and storyteller Gary O'Conner (a.k.a. "GAZ") had the crowd in stitches as he told a series of jokes and comedic stories revolving around a religious theme. With his strong, vibrant personality, GAZ described scenes that reflect America's sometimes conservative and judgmental views regarding gays, lesbians and transgender people.

Other speakers and performers on stage were actually trans. Including Steph Turner who works with and helped to create Jen Durr Services, a company dedicated to the economic empowerment for trans people; Debbie David, guitarist, who rocked the crowd with her rendition of Prince's "When Dove's Cry," and Jay Elbrecht a trans-man who is legally married to Carla Manion, a cisgender woman.

"I'm here to show my full support for Jay and for all transgender people," David proclaimed to the audience. Both had separate spots on stage, and described their life as a happily married couple that has had obvious obstacles to overcome since meeting and marrying over three years ago.

Although these speakers, musicians and performers embraced the passionate mood that engulfed the atmosphere all evening, this night belonged to the poets. Several artists read their prose including Michelle Elizabeth Brown, who read two poems composed by Janet Mock including "Redefining Realness." Afterwards, Brown described her love for Rachel Crandall and Mock, another transgender woman, author and advocate of transgender women. "I have a special trans friend and have read Janet's book. Her work is special to me," Brown said.

The mood grew more solemn and serious as poet, author and activist writer L. Bush and Rick Harris, poets, made their way to the podium. Bush read, "Transgender State of the Union" a solute to transgender people and all they've had to endure throughout the years; then he stilled the crowd with "Still Raging," an emotionally charged piece describing the plight of the city of Detroit.

Harris reminded everyone of the prejudice and hate that remains a part of our society as he told a story of a family who's house was burned to the ground in New York simply because the inhabitants were transgender. "It's sad I have to remind you of the reality of being trans and how it can go terribly wrong," said Harris.

The night's final reader, Master of Ceremonies Rachel "Ray" Weisserman announced, "and now the one you've all been waiting for Victor Billione Walker!" Walker, wearing a crocheted hat and big bright smile, humbly placed his laptop on a table and began to engage the audience with his original verses of poetic justice. Walker is a well-known poet, author and voice of the gay community and an advocate of transgender women and men.

His love for the city of Detroit was reflected as he read from his private repertoire of poetry. Despite being gay, he spoke of his great love and appreciation for women with his classic, "Poetry is a Woman!" Walker took a few moments to describe an encounter he had with the city of Ferndale, which is said to have a city ordinance protecting the rights of transgender people. However, Walker explained, the language of this law is filled with incorrect use of gender pronouns. Walker felt moved to appear before the city council on behalf of transgender individuals and addressed them directly about this issue.

"If I feel strongly about something I'll do something about it," he said. "I just might write a poem about it."

The crowd erupted into cheers and a standing ovation for Walker, following his rendition of "Please Don't Go" by Boyz to Men; which electrified the atmosphere.

As the evening grew to a close, Rachel Crandall-Crocker thanked everyone for coming and said, "We're going to do this until everyday is Transgender Visibility Day," and leading a chant of "we can do it! We can do it!"


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