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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Jacob and Diane Anderson-Minshall talk 'Queerly Beloved'
BOOKS Extended for the online edition of Windy City Times
by Sarah Toce
2014-06-09

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Diane Anderson-Minshall is no stranger to the LGBT literary world. She began her career at in 1990 at Crescent City Star, a weekly LGBT newspaper in New Orleans before joining the lesbian erotic magazine On Our Backs three years later. From there, she co-founded Girlfriends magazine with her partner, Susannah "Suzy" Minshall, and helmed popular publications such as Curve and The Advocate. Throughout the years, she has been at the forefront of the LGBT-rights movement.

Suzy co-founded Girlfriends with Diane and several friends, and served as the paper's circulation director, writing articles for several years. But little did anyone know that, personally, Suzy was in the middle of a lifelong gender transition.

Enter Jacob, an Anderson Cooper-inspired individual. What would happen to his work at Bitch magazine? Would his relationship with Diane survive the transition? How would his gender-reassignment change the course of his career?

So, what happens when the people writing the news become the news? They write a book.

Windy City Times: Why is Queerly Beloved: A Love Story Across Genders so important at this time in our nation's history?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Obviously, this was a huge year for marriage equality in this country. We've got 17 states and jurisdictions [that] have legalized same-sex marriage. We've reached a tipping point for marriage equality with the Supreme Court in both DOMA and the Edie Windsor case. We've seen a moment, just as the country did in the 1967 landmark case Loving v. Virginia, that overturned bans against interracial marriage. Now we've reached the tipping point on same-sex marriage.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: Right, and I think Queerly Beloved is an expression of that historical moment. As a couple, we were part of that historical movement for marriage equality. We've had four or five wedding ceremonies at this point and two of them were at least partially about our queer activism, because demanding our right to marry had become such a pivotal political point for our community.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: We're talking about our relationship, a 23-year marriage, but also our wedding and our quest to get that marriage recognized—legally and socially. Each opportunity we've had to get a sliver of recognition for our relationship. Every domestic partnership registry, every "symbolic" wedding, every chance we had, we would jump at it, even though someone would inevitably come along afterwards and take it back, or say it still didn't give us the legal rights of straight couples.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: Queerly Beloved is coming out at this point where we're seeing just a huge confluence of people getting the right to have the right to choose who to marry [and] who to create a family with. So, the memoir is definitely timely in that way.

WCT: What are your thoughts about how the transgender population might relate to the marriage-equality movement?

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: Trans people have different issues around marriage. For us, my coming out trans meant Diane and I could legally wed. I remember a Catholic newspaper running a story about our wedding saying lesbians would rush en masse to use this "loophole" and transition just to get marriage rights. But at the same time, I think it's important for people to recognize that that marriage equality for same-sex couples makes marriage equality for trans people that much closer.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: I think a lot of people think trans issues are sort of unrelated to lesbian and gay issues when first of all there are many lesbian, gay and bisexual trans people who are in same-sex relationships. But there have been a disturbing number of cases where trans individuals have married a partner who knew they were trans; but when the relationship breaks down the other partner claims their legal marriage is invalid because their partner is really his or her birth gender and they've been in an illegal same-sex marriage.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: It's a case of people using antiquated laws for personal gain even though politically, socially those very laws not only hurt that person and the entire LGBT community. We're still living in a time period when different states and municipalities have different laws governing how gender is decided. Until that is standardized, the truth is a trans person in a relationship with a cisgender person of the opposite sex can be legally wed as an opposite-sex couple in one state and then be seen as illegally wed in another state if the second state outlaws same-sex marriages.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Trans marriages are still suspect. We've seen a number of legal cases in which a person has been living in their preferred gender for decades and is in a legal marriage and yet after a divorce or after the death of their partner, their rights have been taken away from them and they've lost their own property in an inheritance; lost their own homes and stuff just because they were trans. There have been multiple cases where trans men have lost custody of their children after a divorce. This is all to say that marriages that involve trans people are still on very shaky grounds legally. It's an important thing for us to remind people we all need to fight for marriage equality because that makes it so marriages with transgender people are safe as well.

WCT: Were there second thoughts before printing the memoir ( i.e., work concerns, parents, friends, etc. )?

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: Of course. As for our family and friends; we tried to avoid telling other people's stories. This wasn't the book to talk about our parents' or friends' lives. So we focused on ourselves, but of course there where things we were concerned about including. Still, when we started writing, Diane and I agreed to write our whole 22-year story, warts and all. We tried to be as honest and open as possible and ended up with way too much material.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: It's a funny story because when we first got the edits back from our editor Shelley Thrasher the first thing she said was, "You've got a really great news start here, but what I need you to do is cut out the first 23 chapters." Instantly, 23 chapters—and maybe 80,000 words—were cut from the manuscript. When we cut it, it eliminated about the first 16 years of our marriage. It also cut out our background—the 22 years before we got together. So what it left us with starts maybe six months before Jacob comes out as transgender.

After that initial shock, we realized that the cut really allowed us to narrow the focus to this time period leading up to and after Suzy became Jacob. It was hard, though, because it literally cut Suzy out of the book, which I think makes it harder for people to understand how much I felt I lost when Jacob came out. And there's a part of me that it's thinking whatever greatness I may or may not have its explained in those earlier chapters.

WCT: Can you share some of the items cut out of the first chapters?

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: Yeah, I think the reason we survived transition was really in those 23 chapters. You know we went through a lot of trials and tribulations in the first 16 years. When we first moved to San Francisco we were homeless, living out of our VW bus. A few years later we co-founded the lesbian magazine Girlfriends. There was a terrible car accident that ended up having a negative, long-term impact on my ablebodiedness.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: And our activism: Act Up, Lesbian Avengers, Queer Nation, the dozens of Pride parades and marches on Washington. Or the sex-positive if slightly-crazy community we were part of when we worked at On Our Backs. All those positive and negative experiences that really explain why we continue to survive as a couple.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: But we had to think of that as a little like an actor giving their character a backstory. It'll never be told explicitly, you just have to weave those backstories in here or there and let it inform your performance, or in our case, the memoir known as Queerly Beloved.

WCT: Do you consider Queerly Beloved to be reference material for the transgender and allied communities?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: One thing we didn't want was for Queerly Beloved to turn into a Trans 101 book. We know that many of our readers won't be as fluent in trans issues as we are, so we did want the book to be accessible to folks who are complete novices to the subject. But at the same time, we wanted to tell a slightly different story, a love story where Jacob's gender transition is just one part.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: We hope we succeeded, and that we did so without offending anyone, especially folks in the LGBTQ communities. That's part of why I think I say a half dozen times in the memoir something like, "This is my experience, it doesn't reflect the experience of any other trans person." We wanted to get it right. Hopefully we did.

WCT: Diane, you are an accomplished journalist and editor. Is there any nervousness around sharing such intimate details with your public?

Diane: For me, that's an easy question to answer. I'm actually just super-transparent. I do admit that now that my aunt who helped raise me is on Facebook, I'll occasionally rethink something that I'm writing; you know, imagining how our parents might react if they read a particular piece. It's sort of horrifying now that everyone is on Facebook. It makes it a lot harder for us who used to be able to say whatever the hell we wanted and only our friends and fans would read it or see photos we'd never show our folks. But I've always been really transparent as a writer much more than Jacob.

Jacob knew early in our relationship that I wrote about everything; up to and including our sex life. And I've continue to do that even as Jacob's transitioned because it's led to all these complex feelings and emotions for me and debates with myself—and with other people—about things like identity politics and how I define myself. And in Queerly Beloved, there are definitely parts where I'm sharing something I had never shared with anyone, not even Jacob before that moment.

In Queerly Beloved, I talked about banging a dude in New Orleans to get pregnant and it's true, I am terribly embarrassed to have had sex for procreation ( my first time I had consensual sex and didn't enjoy it ) and am embarrassed that I had a free pass and choose a dude. But there's something in the book that I was more worried about saying out loud. And that was that I was faithful, that outside that encounter and maybe a kiss from a random stranger in a truck stop bathroom ( or perhaps that was a dream ), I had not had sex with anyone besides Jacob in 23 years of marriage. I felt like I built a persona—the flirty celebrity skirt chaser and burlesque dancer on the side—who is sexy and sexual and modern and sophisticated and in my mind that translated to non-monogamous. But I"m just not. In 23 years of marriage, I've never met a celebrity I'd rather fuck than interview ( because I don't believe you can ethically do both ) and I've never met a person I've wanted to have sex with more than Jacob. And yeah, I find that oddly embarrassing.

WCT: The transgender community gets a lot of pushback in the larger LGBTQ ( fill-in-the-blank ) spectrum of the movement. What are your thoughts on this?

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: I think the larger LGB community is just sort of becoming aware of trans people, really in the last couple of years. And they often don't seem to understand that transgender people are still marginalized in a way gays and lesbians haven't been for 30 or 40 years. Trans people are still pathologized in the DSM, the diagnostic manual of mental health that catalogs and describes psychological disorders. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM, but trans folks are routinely declared to be suffering from mental health problems just because they are trans.

It's a little difficult because, at least for the time being, many trans people simply wouldn't have access to the medical intervention they need without having the diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Right now, you need gender dysphoria to remain in the DSM in order to get insurance companies to cover things like hormones and transition related surgeries. But the trans community has continued to be pathologized in other venues, too, like the media and mainstream entertainment. It's no longer okay to have a character who is psychotic because they're gay but it is still okay to do that with trans characters. We still see that every season on some TV show, where somebody is crazy because they couldn't have a sex change.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: I think the broader queer community is still a bit oblivious of trans issues. This year there has been a big debate over using the word "tranny," which—for trans women especially—-is a slur akin to "faggot" or the N-word. Yet gay men who perform in drag, including contestants on "RuPaul's Drag Race" still use the word regularly. They insist they are "reclaiming it" like we've done with the term "queer." But for many transwomen it is highly offensive. And I think trans women have been marginalized for so long and haven't been heard that we've reached a kind of breaking point culturally, where trans women are standing their ground and not backing down, which I think is why this debate has become so fiery.

Trans women aren't going to back off and let drag performers use the same words that are flung at trans women just before they are raped or beaten or before their friends have been killed. Once somebody has yelled "She male!" in the moments before beating or raping you, it sort of changes the connotation and sears that into your brain. And it gives you the right to argue with drag performers about using the term so flippantly.

WCT: Please tell us the story about meeting Jacob. Was it love at first sight?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Ha! I don't believe in love at first sight—I believe in lust at first sight. And, oddly enough, it wasn't even lust at first sight. We actually met at the second LGBT pride parade in Idaho. He's from southeastern Idaho, near Pocatello, which is famous from the Judy Garland song and not much else; and I'm from southwestern Idaho, which is famous for beautiful valleys and orchards. Our hometowns are, like, six hours apart. But for a while there was only one Pride [celebration] in the whole state of Idaho. We were both there by coincidence, each of us having been living different parts of the country for many years. We were both like at some weird crossroad in our lives.

We met at pride through a friend of a friend, basically, and at the time I didn't really give him much heed. Back then Jacob was still Suzy, a little soft butch baby dyke wearing a lesbian nation T-shirt and some hideous khaki shorts. We were both more interested in marching with other people so our introduction was brief and we went about our lives. Then, a month or two later, Jacob came back to Boise and ended up hanging out with a friend of a friend, who happened to know me, my friend Jeff and my first wife, Tina. The two of them came over our house and hung out. He was wearing Shad's clothes and suddenly I was like "Oh my God, she's so hot!" That's where the lust started.

We spent that night trading sexual barbs back and forth, playing Taboo and you know, the kind of games that have a lot of sexual innuendos. We began joking, bragging about our sexual conquests, you know comparing every notch on our belts. Suzy had said something about working his way through the alphabet, sleeping with people whose name started with one of the letters until he'd gotten all 24. After he went back to Pocatello and a suitable amount of time had passed I actually sent flowers, with a note that offered my help with the D or the A. I drove down for Halloween. It was our first date and like great U-Haul lesbians—which we were at the time—we moved in together within weeks. That was 23 years ago.

WCT: Jacob, tell us about meeting Diane.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: It wasn't love at first sight, but it might have been love at first night. Our initial meeting—at Boise Idaho's second gay pride—was pretty blasa. The next time there were definitely a lot of sparks and sexual chemistry. After that we arranged a hookup. Since we lived five hours from each other, Diane stayed overnight, which sealed my fate. When I woke up and saw the morning light play across her gorgeous face, boom, I was hooked. Here's part of what didn't make it into this memoir: things were a little complicated by the fact that Diane was still in a committed relationship with someone else. That Tina had asked for less exclusivity played no role in Diane's burgeoning relationship with me. What we had was supposed to remain purely physical.

Of course, I knew after that first weekend that it had already become so much more than physical to me, but I didn't want it to end, so I kept my feelings to myself—for maybe a week or so. By then Tina had given Diane the freedom to cohabitate with me, so long as Diane didn't move out. When I loaded my car and she filled her U-Haul, we joined Tina and Jeff in a queer family caravan to New Orleans. Five months later we were all back in Idaho but the queer family had dissolved and gone our separate ways.

WCT: Jacob, do you identify in a particular way?

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: I identify as a queer trans guy. The term queer has always resonated with me and it still does. The label didn't change, but the specifics did. I used to be a butchy lesbian, now I'm a metrosexual trans guy for whom "queer" still feels appropriate. Testosterone therapy has altered my sexuality in some ways. Even though I sometimes preferred to have my porn star an all-male cast, testosterone didn't turn me gay—like some of Diane's friends warned her it might. I do think about sex more often now and I find myself more aroused by visual stimulation than I was in the past.

WCT: How about you, Diane? How do you identify?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Ah, the label question. Lately I've been saying I'm either a lesbian- identified bisexual or bisexual-identified lesbian. I generally like queer because it's a word I started using when I was 18 and, like Jacob says, it still fits now. I do feel like my orientation in terms of my identity has been going through a change since Jacob began transition. There's some morphing going on, but it's something that's not really fixed yet, it's not really resolved. Which is why I've written about my changing attractions, trying to find the right words to explain what I feel, and I haven't really hit on an eloquent answer yet.

Culturally I feel lesbian identified because I've been part of lesbian community for so many decades at this point. And I feel most closely identified with and attracted to other women. But I also don't want to hide or be part of bisexual erasure. I think there are still some attractions that are almost taboo, even in the queer community.

I was sort of attacked last year for saying that since Jacob transitioned I've begun to find other trans guys attractive. I said I'm attracted to women and trans men and many readers felt I was saying that trans men weren't "real" men and I was accused of being a "chaser." I try to say this with an ounce of caution: I've started feeling like I have a sexual orientation that is attracted to both women and transgender men. The transgender men I'm attracted is in part about their maleness not despite their maleness. What I do like about some trans men is their familiarity with what women go through in our society. They were often enculturated as women and have seen what it's like to be in a world that still privileges men over women. Plus, physically, there are just a lot of hot transgender men and a lot of hot butches so I don't know what that makes my orientation or my identity. And it's sort of constantly in flux right now.

WCT: Why are labels important in a relationship, and in a movement? Why are labels detrimental in a relationship, and in a movement?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: I'm a huge fan of identity politics. When I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago I noticed that people were pretty averse to identity politics. I've had more people here tell me they don't want to be labeled then any place I've ever lived: San Francisco, New York, Portland, New Orleans. Southern California is the one place where people like to tell me they don't like labels.

Labels are things that we can use to define ourselves and also to define who we want to be and what kind of world we want to live in. Some people like to say "Why can't we just all be people?" and it would be great if we lived in a world where we all were equal we all had all of our rights. But we don't live in a utopia. Part of the reason why we need to say who we are in public is because there are other people coming up behind us who are still afraid to do so and who may be you know not just bullied for being who they are but can be in danger from themselves. Suicide is still depressingly high among LGBT youth.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: Yeah, unfortunately in human history when we didn't see all the color and diversity of specific identities and instead just saw all of humanity as people those where the same periods where the majority ruled and all people were white or had to conform to specific standards in order to have rights. Identity politics started because white men had all the power. Women needed to bound together and fight for their rights. And when lesbians felt ignored in women's groups, they connected with other lesbians and so on. So without identity politics we wouldn't have the civil rights movement or women's right to vote.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Another negative is that sometimes people box themselves in with their identity. They think, "I can't be gay and have kids," or I can't work for NASA because I'm Asian American, or bisexuals can't be monogamous, or whatever. Labels are important, but I think it's also important for us to push back and constantly expand what those labels mean.

WCT: Please tell us about the day Jacob said, "I think I'm really a man."

Diane Anderson-Minshall: Actually, I had seen that coming. I knew that was coming long before he did. I was sort of waiting for it because it's not something you can really bring up to somebody and say, "Hey dude, it looks like you're reading a lot of books about trans people and you're saying a lot of interesting things about trans people. So, are you thinking maybe you might be trans instead of a girl?"

I knew Jacob like the back of my hand at this point so I could see the wheels were turning and I could see all of that being in his mind. I'd had some time to—as much as you can—prepare for it. I was sort of bracing myself, but at the same time sort of hoping maybe things would just keep going as they had been and maybe this humongous change wasn't really going to happen. Jacob is somebody who's spent a lot of time finding himself when we were younger and so I really had to see if this was another quest to find himself or if this was innately, authentically real for him.

It is such a serious undertaking to come out as transgender and then to begin to live your life in the gender that you feel you are; so I think that very first day I was very supportive and action oriented. I said, "We'll get through this." and that we need him to see a therapist immediately. Not that I thought he was crazy or anything. It's just that's how you have a diagnosis of "gender dysphoria" confirmed and it's one of the first steps in a gender transition. ( Of course I had been researching this while waiting for the other shoe to drop. ) So, in those first days after his announcement, I clicked into make it work mode. I wasn't in trauma mode or grieving mode that day. There were many, many other days that were much harder than that day, surprisingly.

WCT: And that led to the transition period…

Diane Anderson-Minshall: In one part of Queerly Beloved, Jacob talks about becoming a man overnight. There was a point where one day he was a woman named Suzy and then the next day we were calling him Jacob. But there's a different reality as well, one in which his transition took a great deal of time and red tape. There are all these legal documents that have to be changed, like your driver's license. You change your name and gender in mundane things, like getting a new email address and clicking a different box on dozens of websites and writing letters to credit bureaus and all of that. He was freelancing at the time for Bitch magazine and had very supportive and trans-friendly editors who immediately adopted his new name. So, really in the beginning it moved pretty quickly.

I think people expected me to put the brakes on the whole thing and I was sort of the opposite of that. I mean, I didn't completely throw myself into supporting him. Because—this is going to sound terrible when I say it—but I have to admit I was uncomfortable with the thought of him being between genders and him being neither gender or both genders or defining himself as gender queer instead of as a trans man. I really respect people who can push the boundaries of gender and who can defy everybody's need to categorize and label their gender. I have a lot of friends who are gender nonconforming who don't use pronouns and who defy those categories or visibly embody masculinity and femininity at the same time. I respect that they do that but I think it's really difficult in our modern world today.

When he transitioned, Jacob and I were already in our upper 30s and professionally established and had finally gotten to a place where reached a level of acceptance from our families. And I didn't want to lose all of that. It felt difficult enough constantly explaining to people who this person was who used to be my wife. I wanted to move through the uncomfortable space in between and get to the end game, which I thought initially would happen quickly. Now that I'm older and better informed and it's been nearly a decade since we started down the path, I've come to realize that transitioning is not a temporary state of being.

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: I was also naive enough to think that you had a "sex change" and you were done. I remember reading Testosterone Files by Max Wolf Valerio and being really surprised at his timeline. It took him years, not months to grow facial hair, for example. It's not I take hormones today and tomorrow I have surgery and then boom, I'm done. In fact, I've come to see transitioning as more of an on-going journey or a state of mind. It's sort of like some of the other major life transitions people go through. Like parenthood- I imagine you don't just have a baby and become a parent and that's it.

WCT: How did the transition affect your relationship?

Diane Anderson-Minshall: We transitioned as a couple. And we've begun to see that for a lot of trans people; not all of them but for a lot of people it's a lifetime thing. It's not just one fell swoop the way that it's often portrayed in movies and TV where someone goes away and come's back fully transitioned. I mean, at one time, that might have been the trajectory but that's not how it is for most people now days.

In terms of a timeline I think many partners, friends and family members probably go through the stages of grief during a transition. And just like in grieving, you don't necessarily go through each stage in order or anything. There were moments I was delighted to see Jacob become more comfortable in his own skin and those could be followed by profound sadness that bordered on despair at the thought of never again seeing the woman he'd been. There were more moments than I would like to admit that I tried to mitigate his developing maleness by decreeing what kind of man Jacob could become—we settled on Ryan Seacrest as an acceptable male role model. When we started going out into the world as a male-female couple I was really startled to realize how privileged I had been to have a partner of the same gender. We've always had this sort of intense closeness that we used to be afforded even in public spaces. I think the first time we went to the YMCA and I realized he could no longer accompany me to the locker room I cried in the bathroom for 20 minutes.

WCT: Do either of you want to have children?

Jacob Anderson-Minshall: Actually, a fair amount of Queerly Beloved is about our desire and attempts to have children, and what it has meant to us to fail in that endeavor.

Diane Anderson-Minshall: This is one of those questions where I can have an answer today and it could be different than the next day. As a couple who've been together 23 years, it's not surprising that we get asked this question a lot. We were foster parents for a number of years and had that experience was both painful and delightful. We can't rule out something in the future, but I think we're definitely past the point of being able to conceive a child that shared one of our genetic heritages. But we've always been big proponents of adoption. My father and the aunt I adore are both adopted. So we're not averse to adopting, it just hasn't worked out yet.

Things have been different since we moved to southern California, where my brothers and sisters live with their families. I have seven nieces and one nephew—all of them under the age of 10—and we recently bought a home to be closer to them. I spend a lot of time with the kids and think that I've been able to channel a lot of the energy I had wanted to put into having a child into my nieces and nephews instead. I've gotten so close to some of them I feel a part of the village that is raising them. But does that mean I'll never want more, that I'll never want to raise a child of our own? I don't know. That's not a question that's resolved in my mind.

Find out more about Queerly Beloved via the book's website: www.anderson-minshall.com/queerly-beloved. Purchase Queerly Beloved on Amazon.com .


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Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.