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Brynn Tannehill: Trans activist calls for action in new book
by Frank Pizzoli

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Many readers remember Dr. David Ruben's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex ( But Were Afraid to Ask )—a 1969 best-selling book and then a 1972 Woody Allen movie.

Published the same year as The Stonewall Riots, the book crested at 30 million copies in print worldwide, plus later reissues. Hailed as humorous and up-to-the-minute, that was not the case for LGBT readers, especially transgender individuals. One description lists gay readers with "infidelity, plastic surgery for the genitalia."

Brynn Tannehill's Everything You Wanted to Know about Trans ( But Were Afraid to Ask ) is a refreshing walk through, well, all those questions you may be timid about vocalizing. In a highly-charged PC environment in which every word counts, or can mean something different to two folks in a conversation, Tannehill's book is a good guide.

Windy City Times: You wrote your book because…

Brynn Tannehill: People like stories. ... A confidant once told me not to think about writing the great trans book that would change everything; the market was already flooded.

WCT: What motivates you to write?

BT: What motivates me in life is when someone on the internet is wrong. ... I realized I had been writing pieces of what could easily be a book. I was a columnist writing on health, trans health, religion, politics, economics, allies, academia—all with a trans slant—all of which could be assembled into a book. No one seemed to be writing about the trans experience "holistically" so I put together my book.

WCT: Your book will help people to…

BT: You could give your Mom or sibling my book. Use it in a classroom. We need to cut through the chatter, which is so much PC and it gets exaggerated. I advise following the classic Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

WCT: From your perspective, what's the state of affairs for transgender people these days?

BT: We are in scary times right now. The Trump administration, and its religious allies, want to legislate and regulate transgender, all of us on the LGBTQ continuum, out of existence. They claim there is only "sex" and no "gender." Our opponents have us on their list—Muslims, immigrants and transgender people. For example, the party platform of the Texas GOP is about one-third anti-LGBT screed.

WCT: We celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots next year. Like in 1969, are trans people again at the forefront of the movement?

BT: We are quickly losing our rights as the 50th anniversary of Stonewall arrives. The movement and its players—allies, all of us—will have to take more direct actions, much like resisters did before the digital age, at Stonewall, like ACT UP.

WCT: What's different from 50 years ago?

BT: What is different now is that public opinion has fundamentally changed in our favor. It gets better and better. I've always said, "Population is the ocean in which insurgents swim." We need to swim out to our allies, band together with other oppressed groups, not only our own community.

WCT: Are they at the forefront because marriage and military service have been accomplished, although the status of trans individuals in the military is in flux.

BT: The situation is more severe right now. Gerrymandering by the GOP and their attempts at voter suppression, religious exemptions to LGBT civil rights in public spaces, the marketplace, and the workplace, all pose serious threats to our well-being. Even in states with basic protections, religious groups are hoping to carve out their exemptions. It's even scarier than the AIDS Crisis and the plaque years.

WCT: Are queer folks the pariah again, as in the AIDS years?

BT: While our expressions of sex, sexuality, sexual identity expand, as individuals identify as pansexual, polyamorous our reigning political structures want to return to a male/female dichotomy. There's lots of power in regulating our sex lives.

WCT: Can the marketplace play in relaxing oppression? Trump captured a lot of cisgender, white, gay votes.

BT: Let the market fix it is an approach might work in select circumstances. But we're only 3.5 percent of the population. African-Americans are 12.3 percent and we all know, if we read history and follow current events, what they went through and continue to go through.

WCT: Martin Duberman's latest book, Has the gay movement failed?, posits that heteronormative issues—namely marriage and military service—have headlined the movement to the detriment of trans and bisexual people, i.e., most non-cisgender people of color. Thoughts?

BT: I'm going to give you the Washington, D.C., answer: Everything is "transactional." That means we need to be strategic, focused and understand how it all works. We need to be politically pragmatic.

WCT: How can we summarize what might be a good political posture of our community?

BT: My Uncle Rocky, who fought and died in Iraq in 2003, told me his two rules of life. One: The truth has changed again and, two: I can be convinced. Those are good fundamentals in times like these.

Frank Pizzoli's work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, Windy City Times, and POZ. He is founding editor and publisher of The Central Voice, chosen Newspaper of the Year ( 2018 ) by the PA NewsMedia Association.

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