My interview with Cris Land July 24, 2014, Portland, OR.
“Gender doesn’t have to do with bed partners. It has to do with identity.” Christine Jorgensen, 1950s
Cris Land and I met at Doug Fir on Portland’s East Burnside.I was nervous, feeling a little guilty because I was going to ask personal questions. I wanted to interview Cris because he is transexual. How did he get that way? You know, changing body parts, especially the sexual ones. I had written down some questions: When did you become aware of your gender? What were your greatest sources of help and support? Do you connect your gender change with sex? How did your partner react to your transition? Did you have medical insurance? Do you have a transgender community?
After we settled into our Bloody Marys, Cris took control of the interview. I figured that was fine as long as I got to ask my questions.
First, we discussed his professional and political background. He is an IT pro, having managed the Y2K crises mitigation for Oregon Health Sciences University. Currently, he is a management consultant. Cris also holds various offices in the Democratic Party locally, statewide and nationally. In 2012 he was the first out female to male transexual nationally to be elected as a congressional district delegate to a national democratic convention.
Engaging and articulate, he was also patient with me, a non trans or cisgender person, being slowed down by various terms. He explained that trans is an umbrella term, transexual is someone whose had or desires a sex change, intersex is a combination of male and female physical attributes from birth, gender queers are people who don’t identify as strictly male or female. Some acceptable pronouns are: hir, she, their and they. I asked Cris to use their in a sentence. His example was something like this: Mary Jo gave me their (not her, not him) address.
Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity matches their sex as identified at birth.
Cris uses the word, transition, to describe the passage from one’s sex as identified at birth to the sex you identify with. Male pronouns are appropriate for female to male transexuals (FTM). Female pronouns are used for male to female transexuals (MTF). Always use the person’s preferred pronoun.
After I asked him about changing gender, he corrected me saying you change your body to match your gender identity.
Having been a delegate at the National Democratic Convention is a source of great pride to Cris. He was among twelve transexual delegates. At the convention’s LGBTQ caucus, there was a packed house and the trans delegates were given a standing ovation. I found it ironic that the convention was held in North Carolina, one of the states that, at that time, banned same sex marriage. When I mentioned this to Cris, he told me that Oregon had originally banned same sex marriage, but a court has recently reversed that decision.
Cris and his partner had a marriage ceremony when they were both lesbians in the 90’s, before same sex unions were recognized. When Cris told his partner he was considering having a body change, she asked if he’d be a trans or a straight man. She was content with his reply, trans man. Cris began the process in 1998. First, came the hormones to deepen the voice, alter the hair pattern and distribute fat in a male pattern. Next, Cris came out at work, OHSU, Oregon Health and Science University. Top surgery followed. I asked about bottom surgery. Currently, there are two procedures: phalloplasty and metoidioplasty. According to Cris, few trans men do bottom surgery. Counseling, hormones, and top surgery came to about $15,000. Cris referred me to the Benjamin Standards of Care. Gleaning my complete ignorance, he explained that Benjamin Standards of Care were guidelines for the treatment of people who undergo hormonal or surgical transition to the other sex.
Time for my questions:
MJR: When did you become aware of your gender?
CL: I knew I was male. I’ve always been the person I am. I was always being told to walk like a girl, dress like a girl, boring hints about makeup and hair.
MJR: What was your greatest source of help and support?
CL: My partner.
MJR: Do you connect your gender change with sex?
CL: No, it’s about gender identity.
MJR: How did your partner react to your transition?
CL: As I said before, she wanted to hear I’d be a trans male. If she’d objected to my transition, I wouldn’t have done it. Lucky me. She was completely supportive.
MJR: Medical insurance?
CL: No help. Trans related care was excluded at the time.
MJR: That means that people without the bucks are excluded?
MJR: Do you have a transgender community?
CL We female to male trans guys had Coqsure in Portland. It’s original name was Cocksure. That had to be changed for the internet. Many more resources exist locally now.
Cris’s desire to get on with his life and become part of the larger community is evident.