When actor Charlie Sheen announced this week that he is HIV-positive and planning to leave his bad-boy days behind him to try to erase the stigma and shame associated with the disease, some praised him for his courage.
“Today, he’s a hero of mine,”Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who is HIV-positive, told The Associated Press. Watching Sheen’s interview on the “Today” show, he said, “I saw someone who has made a major leap forward and is on a new path that will hopefully end up helping a lot of people.”
Sheen, long known for excessive partying, said one reason for going public with his condition was to put a stop to shakedowns from prostitutes and others.
Sorry, but I’m thinking of other people who deserve our respect. People like these:
Jamison Green, 66.
Christina Kahri, 47.
Kylar Broadus, 52.
Marci Bowers, 57.
Renee Richards, 81.
Each one is a transgender man or woman who transitioned long ago and has lived openly for decades in America before doing so was remotely acceptable. Except for Richards, the former tennis player who successfully challenged the U.S. Tennis Association to compete professionally as a woman, I hadn’t heard of any of them.
Richards is an opthalmologist. The rest of them? A speaker, consultant and author. A writer and editor for ESPN.com. An attorney and college professor. A gynecological surgeon.
Each is the subject of a vignette in the November issue of Esquire.
I thought of them this week not just because of the contrast with Sheen but also because of this month’s vote in Houston, where voters rejected a nondiscrimination ordinance that would have extended protections to transgender people.
Consider their words and imagine the courage it took to honor their sexual identity at a time when it was so much harder than today.
Jamison: “I started the medical transition in the fall of 1988. Nobody noticed me anymore. I was just a guy walking down the street, and the energy that I had always had to use thinking about how other people were responding to me, all of it got redirected in ways that were much more productive.”
Kahrl: “Making sure that trans people get all the same benefits of citizenship in this country, that’s something that we will be working for lifetime after lifetime. Trans people, we don’t get a blow-up-the-Death-Star moment. We’re not going to get everything we need all at once. It’s going to be a long haul.”
Broadus: “Until the Internet took off, [transgender] people felt they were alone, in their own little silo, and really most people thought they were mentally ill, because that’s what transgenderism was considered: a mental illness.”
Bowers: “It’s exciting to see all sorts of people proudly standing out, but people often forget history. It wasn’t very long ago that Berlin, Germany, was the most liberal place on earth as far as LGBT issues—it’s where the modern transgender movement, the world’s first transgender surgery, all that happened in pre–World War II Berlin. And when Adolf Hitler came to power, the LGBT community was singled out even before the Jewish community, hence the Pink Triangle.”
Richards: “I don’t wish being a transgender individual on anybody. The transgender community gets battered on both ends. They get battered by society from people who are hostile to them, and they need the protection of the law against violence and assault, and they get battered on the end of their own families, a lot of whom don’t accept them and don’t understand them.”
Read their stories here: 5 Transgender Americans on the Hardships of Transitioning, Then and Now