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Transphobia is My Issue Too!

Warren J. Blumenfeld

By Warren J. Blumenfeld
Warren J. Blumenfeld, Ed.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa specializing in Multicultural and International Curriculum Studies, as well as LGBTQ Studies. He has edited and authored a number of publications, including "Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price"; "AIDS and Your Religious Community"; as well as the report, "Making Colleges and Universities Safe for Gay and Lesbian Students: Report and Recommendations of the Massachusetts Governors Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth." He also co-produced a documentary on homophobia titled Pink Triangles.
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i, I am a gay man and my name is Warren Blumenfeld, or as my friends like to affectionately call me, “Estelle Abrams” — honorary Jewish bisexual woman from Brooklyn. I informally adopted that name after a friend told me that I looked like a woman that his mother played Bridge with. Actually, though, Estelle embodies the feminine side of my soul—my joyous, playful self  – the creative, spontaneous, sensitive spirit that I have come to treasure and genuinely love.

But this wasn’t always the case. When I was quite young, long before I learned what were considered the “proper” rules of conduct, I naively introduced Estelle to my classmates and my neighbors. I was quick to discover that they feared and even despised her. Children called her names with an incredible vehemence and malice that I did not understand.

Adults hated her too. After I introduced Estelle to my parents, they quickly scheduled my first appointment with a child psychiatrist when I was only four years old. Over the next eight years, my parents and their hired shrink continued their efforts to kill Estelle, to exorcise her in the hope of forever eliminating all contact, all vestiges, all memory of her ever being a part of me.

It was the early 1950s, the so-called “McCarthy Era”—a conservative time, a time when difference of any sort was viewed with suspicion. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, a brash young Senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, sternly warned that “Communists [often thought of as Jews in the public imagination] corrupt the minds and homosexuals corrupt the bodies of good upstanding Americans,” and he proceeded to have gays and lesbians officially banned from any government service. To McCarthy, Jews, homosexuals, and Communists were one and the same.

For lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) U.S.-Americans during this era, police frequently raided their bars, which were usually Mafia owned; the U.S. Postal Service raided LGBT organizations and even published the names of their mailing lists in local newspapers; and people regularly lost their jobs for being “exposed” as queer. LGBT people were often involuntarily committed to mental institutions and underwent painful electro-shock therapy; some were even lobotomized (if you’re unfamiliar, this means that doctors removed the frontal lobes of their brains).

Not knowing what else to do at this time with what they considered to be my gender non-conformity, my parents sent me to a child psychologist because they feared that I might be gay (or to use the terminology of the day, “homosexual”). There was a basic routine in the “therapy” sessions. I walked into the psychologist’s office, took off my coat and put in on the hook behind the door. The psychologist then asked me if there was anything in particular that I wanted to discuss. I invariably said “no.” Since I did not understand why I was there in the first place, I surely did not trust him enough to talk candidly with him. When I was less than forthcoming in our conversations (which was on most occasions), he would take down from the shelf a model airplane or a boat or a truck, and we would spend the remainder of the hour assembling the pieces with glue. In private sessions with my parents, he told them that he wanted me to concentrate on behaviors and activities associated with males, while of course avoiding those associated with females. He instructed my parents to assign me the household chores of taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn (even though we lived in an apartment building and we did not have a lawn), and not washing or drying the dishes. Also, I was forbidden to play with dolls or to cook. And – as if this all was not enough – he advised my parents to sign me up for a little league team, which, despite my hatred for the sport, I joined for two summers.

If I learned anything during my time with the psychologist, it was that I should cloak Estelle from the sun’s exposing rays – to keep her well concealed deep within my consciousness, only to be resurrected during those rare but precious moments of solitude. It wasn’t long after my sessions with the psychologist began that I began to be convinced that there was indeed something wrong with me. Why else would my parents be sending me, trying desperately to change me, my “mannerisms,” my interests, my likes, and even my dislikes?

“When you wave,” my father sternly warned one afternoon on the front steps of our apartment building when I was eight years old, “you MUST move your whole hand at the same time. Don’t just move the fingers up and down like you’re doing.” He grabbed my arm, and despite my free-flowing tears and cheeks pink with shame, he vigorously demonstrated the “proper” hand wave for a man. Then, as if anticipating the scene in the film La Cage Aux Folles (and the U.S. remake The Birdcage), my father took me into the backyard and forced me to walk and run “like men are supposed to move.” Obviously, I had previously been doing something wrong. “Of course the other children pick on you,” he blamed. “You do act like a girl.” I was humiliated.

For most of my years in school, I was continually beat and attacked by my peers who perceived me as someone who was “different.” Names like “queer,” “little girl,” and “fag” targeted me like the big red dodgeball my classmates furiously hurled at one another on the schoolyard. I would not – and could not – conform to the gender roles that my family and peers so clearly expected of me, and I regularly paid the price... (continue reading)

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Candygirl said:

I just loved Estelle and your vision...
Thank you for sharing it with all of us! :)

Posted at: September 11, 2008 10:28 AM

johnstevens said:

Great page. Good stuff.

Posted at: June 22, 2009 2:39 PM