Please welcome Brettany Renée Blatchley as a contributing writer to LGBT Perspectives. Her first piece here is about her hometown, Asheville, North Carolina. The First Person series features narratives about personal LGBT-related issues and experiences.
By Brettany Renée Blatchley
Stunningly beautiful, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina …
… Asheville is a wonderful place to transition, though I was quietly into the second year of my transition before I realized how special this place is.
Our community is safe enough that I went through six years of my gradual, gentle (but quite public) transition, with few issues and less scars. It is safe enough that many in our community think nothing of being “out” and chatting about things trans and queer in public. Our city is both cosmopolitan and small town, in some of the best ways of both — it’s very musical, artsy-crafty, inviting and eclectic and edgy. Those of us who are genderqueer and/or transitioning actually find that we look like “local color.” (In the “in-between” part of my transition, someone assumed that I was just an “adorable hippie” when I came out to them!)
We who are trans are many here: Yvonne Cook-Riley, one of our distinguished resident leaders (she put the T in LGBT in the ’80s), estimates that there are around 5,000 transsexual and genderqueer people in the metro area, and that is not counting the drag and cross-dressing communities.
We form a visible and active part of Asheville’s Queer Community and are influential in our community pride activities. Currently, we are helping to form a major community center where “T” is not an afterthought. It has been my experience that many in both the LGB and T communities strive to work and play together in relative harmony.
There are seven trans support groups of which I am aware, including the southeast’s oldest continuously running group: Phoenix TGS. Other groups include LGBT Elder Advocates, Asheville Transformers and Tranz Mission. Most of these groups “cross-pollinate” and also cooperate with other groups in our wider queer community. Some groups that very much involve the T are JUFA (Just Us For All — they coordinate Asheville’s TDoR) and WINCAP (Western North Carolina AIDS Project).
Then there is WNCCHS (Winch-es: Western North Carolina Community Health Services), which spearheads our health care under the caring leadership of Jennifer Abbott MD (a.k.a.: St Jennifer). With WNCCHS, It is possible to have basic transgender care including hormones even if you cannot pay. We also have one of the few Planned Parenthood offices that do hormone replacement for our community. MAHEC is another medical group that is looking toward handling hormone therapy for trans folk (I’ve been their “pet tranny” for years, and I’m trying to encourage positive change for us). MAHEC sponsored the SouthEastern Transgender Health Summit in 2012. TransHealth Coordinators helps to educate other health-care professions in our area. There are several therapists here as well. Pisgah Urology is providing gynos for the guys and orchidectomies for us gals (I had mine there recently).
There are open and affirming churches here as well, and trans-spirituality is well represented in Kindred Spirits, who hosts an annual retreat. Sadly, there are also plenty of religious folks who have difficulties with us (something I’m trying to help change in my little way).
All of my interactions with law enforcement and emergency personnel have been positive. For years of my transition, I was quite obviously trans, and I never had an issue. We have become well known to EMS because of my spouse’s frequent medical issues, and also to police for various (mostly) good reasons. I was able to change my name here in Asheville, but it was a difficult $300+ process requiring almost three months. However, changing my name and gender marker with the Social Security people was quite easy. But most surprising was that the DMV allowed me to change my name and gender marker with my “magic passport letter.” However, Yvonne notes that trans folks are still stuck into jail cells by the appearance of their genitalia, and crisis sheltering is still a problem here.
Of relief groups, there is sadly only one: Be Loved House, and they are small, beautiful and fearlessly-caring of queer folk. One indication of their success is that shelters like the Salvation Army misrepresent them (whilst denying help to trans folk in need). There is an informal “underground railroad” of individuals and families who are lending their couches to trans folk in need and we are trying to expand our numbers.
The big downside here is work opportunities: it’s difficult to find decent paying work here. There is a lot of tourist and retirement money here, but there’s not much in the way of industry, and the Mission Health seems to be one of the main employers. In my case, I’m working remotely with a company outside this area, but for most others, they are tied to service-oriented jobs. So the typical transgender struggle for income is very much alive here.
Asheville has been a fantastic place for me and a number of other people to become themselves. At the same time, I have noticed that there are some (gals especially) in the trans community who are glorious in their appearance, and yet they are treated badly by some of the very people and institutions I have always been blessed by. I have wondered whether this is an Asheville or attitude issue? I hesitate to say this, but I feel like some folks have “passing privilege” and yet there is something about their attitudes that says “trans” in an unpleasant way. At the same time, I am a plain woman who happens to be transgender, and the fact that I am trans elicits reactions along the line of “Oh, really? Okay …” The difference seems to be in our attitudes. I am not a victim, and I joyfully own my gender, nor am I ashamed of being transgender. People say that I am “at ease” with myself, and that helps them be at ease with me. Anyway, I mention this just to suggest that whatever our limitations and struggles (I’ve got plenty of both), with a positive attitude, everything is so much easier. So, possibly this colors my perception of Asheville as a great place to be?
Blessings & Joy!!