“I care about who you are, who you have been, who you want to be. I open myself to you to listen and learn about you. I cherish you, not just my fantasy of who you are, not just who I need you to be, but who you really are.” Betty Berzon, “Permanent Partners”
Anne Balay (above) was a houseguest while in town to talk at Valparaiso University on “Steel Closets.” A flyer, which I distributed at IUN, identified Anne as the 2015 Lamda Literary Foundation’s Dr. Betty Berzon Emerging Writer award winner. Berzon, a psychotherapist born in 1928, played a major role in convincing the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. Author of “Positively Gay” (1979) and “Permanent Partners” (1988), as well as a memoir, “Surviving Madness: A Therapist’s Own Story” (2002), Berzon at age 22 attempted suicide, slashing her wrists when a female lover left her. For many years, psychiatrists tried to “cure” her of her “queer” sexual preference. She came out as a lesbian at age 40 and five years later became a life-partner to Terry DeCrescenzo for 33 years until succumbing to cancer. DeCrescenzo was a founder of GLASS, L.A.’s Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services, which provided a place to stay for needy LGBT teenagers.
During her talk Anne identified me as one who encouraged her to interview gay, lesbian and transgender steelworkers after she discovered virtually no scholarly works on the subject. In the audience were a half-dozen of Anne’s Miller friends, including a 70 year-old cross-dresser nicknamed Bobcat whom I had met both at Anne’s house and Miller Farmers Market. Hope to know him better. Ditto Anne’s friend Marilu Rose Fanning, also in attendance, whom Anne interviewed for her latest project on long-haul truckers. Writing in Huffington Post’s “Queer Voices,” Fanning identified herself as a “63 year-old retired over the road truck driver. Grandparent, Folk Musician, Transgender woman. My perspective is that of an older transwoman. Our experience, that is, girls of my generation, as transwomen has been vastly different than that of the younger generations, and I believe that we need our voices to be heard as well.” Marilu lamented the difficulty at her age of finding a life partner; with her a couple rows behind me was a strikingly handsome M to F bartender with shapely legs named Katie who during Q and A suggested that Anne investigate gays in his line of work.
On “Queer Voices” Marilu Rose posted:
Back, when I was still pretending to be a man, (not that I ever really was one, of course), dreaming the impossible dream -- just to live the rest of my life as a woman, no more, no less -- would make me “oh, so happy!”
Then, as the world started to change around me, I realized that I actually could live the rest of my life as my true self, and I thought: “How Lucky Am I?” At least I will be able to live the last part of my life openly being the woman I was meant to be.
Previous generations of trans women never had that option. Most of my older sisters went to the grave with their secret intact. Now, at least we finally have a world in which we are allowed to exist. For that unbelievably huge change in our society to have happened within my lifetime, I am and always will be truly grateful. It's amazing, I can live right here in Indiana, the last bastion of conservative values, and I can live openly as myself.
Not only do I go and do all of the “normal,” day-to-day things like grocery shopping, going to the hardware store, the health club, Walmart, (well, Walmart isn't much of a stretch now is it?) -- I even go to local straight bars to karaoke, where oddly enough I am treated like every other "normal" person in the place.
I would love to attribute all of this public acceptance to my overwhelming beauty, charm and feminine grace. Of course, as soon as I start to sing, anyone who didn't already know instantly realizes that I am transgender. One would think I should be satisfied with my current life. I was certainly old enough to understand the consequences. And for the most part, I am far happier with my life now than I ever was before transitioning.
Marilu Rose Fanning has spoken at Hobart Unitarian Church and Metropolitan Community Church in Portage. She has performed at the Rainbow Serenity Music and Art Fair in Hobart. In a post entitled “I am a woman, not a man in a dress,” she wrote about a drunk hassling her verbally:
At one point, early in my life, this experience would have been traumatic enough to send me back into the closet for months. Nowadays, it's usually just annoying. But for some reason, this time, it hit home.
Transitioning to womanhood late in life has its own set of problems. Not that transitioning at any time in life doesn't have similar problems to face and overcome, but some -- like speaking in a passable woman's voice -- seem to become harder and harder to do the older that you get. It has proved to be a particularly difficult problem for me.
When people first meet you, they really perceive you as a man or a woman subconsciously. They don't have to think about it. Your voice and then your looks tell them whether you are male or female. For me, my deep male sounding voice is something that, while I haven't given up on developing a more passable voice, I have to live with on a day-to-day basis. Until last night, I had not let my vocal problems affect my emotional well-being.
Drunken assholes will always be drunken assholes, and I'm afraid that we will always have to endure their slings and arrows. But it would be very helpful if the vast majority of people out there, the polite people, the ones who understand the value of a certain level of civility, remember that the nicer, kinder, gentler, more respectful kind of society that we are all striving for includes just a bit more attention to the fact that I am a woman and not “a man in a dress.”
After Anne’s talk VU professor Allison Schuette drove me to my car so I could follow her for a gathering at her hundred year-old home. She noted that it was a switch from when I chauffeured her around Gary neighborhoods. By chance she met IUN grad Marla Gee, now a VU law student. Marla had just missed her bus to campus, and Allison offered her a ride. She learned Marla’s background and that we were friends and arranged to interview her for the VU “Welcome Project.” At the party Allison and I discussed music of the 1980s that she and my sons listened to as teenagers. They both preferred alternative groups such as REM and Midnight Oil to the normal Top 40 fare or stadium bands like Journey or Poison.
I spotted an art piece that I suspected was by Allison’s housemate and collaborator, interdisciplinary artist and Welcome Project co-director Liz Wueffel, from an exhibit entitled “Studies of Decay” that opened in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This is how Wueffel described her enduring project:
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of the fresh fruit and produce grown locally in Florida: bruised and scratched, flavorful and juicy. In contrast, I am now living in a city that offers only perfect rows of waxed fruit under fluorescent supermarket lights, while produce with blemishes are relegated to the dumpster as inedible. Once home, I feel pressure to consume what I've bought before a speck of mold or soft bruise appears. I feel guilty that I sometimes buy more than I will eat and, over days, I watch it mold or shrivel. Allaying this guilt, I started laying this food on top of my digital flatbed scanner. The images produced show how organic material, vibrant and nourishing, decays in an equally beautiful way. This intimate look, magnified to a level that connotes anatomy, can bring both disgust and pleasure. The limited depth and focus granted by the scanner allowed me to see the literal subject – skin, mold, fiber – and simultaneously appreciate a more abstract view – color, texture, pattern – as form emerges from and recedes into darkness.
In an odd way “Studies in Decay” reminds me of Camilo Vergara photographing urban ruins as symbols of industrial decline. In a 1995 article entitled “Downtown Detroit: An ‘American Acropolis’ or Vacant Land – What to Do with the World’s Largest Concentration of pre-Depression Skyscrapers” Vergara wrote:
We could transform the nearly 100 troubled buildings into a grand national historic park of play and wonder, an urban Monument Valley. Midwestern prairie would be allowed to invade from the north. Trees, vines, and wildflowers would grow on roofs and out of windows; goats and wild animals—squirrels, possum, bats, owls, ravens, snakes and insects—would live in the empty behemoths, adding their calls, hoots and screeches to the smell of rotten leaves and animal droppings.
Staughton Lynd in 2006
Since Anne had been up since 3 a.m. to catch her flight from Philadelphia, I had her in bed by 10 p.m. Next morning we ate breakfast at Sunrise Restaurant near the condo, which reminded her of the late, lamented Jonathan’s in Miller. She’s teaching a class at Haverford on oral history and activism and assigned Don Ritchie’s “Doing Oral History,” which I first turned her on to. I suggested she introduce students to the work of Staughton Lynd on rank-and-file steelworkers, Palestinian refugees, and American prisoners. Lynd, now in his late 80s, profoundly influenced my research methods and interest in social justice causes; a Quaker, he dedicated his life to helping others. When I told her he was the son of Robert and Helen Lynd, the authors of “Middletown,” she exclaimed that it was one of her favorite anthropological studies, first read in high school. I dropped her off at VU’s Center for the Arts; Allison’s students were going to interview Anne, who describes herself as a serial monogamist, before she caught the South Shore to Chicago to be with partner Riva Lehrer. It was great to witness Anne flourishing despite all the crap academia has dealt her. That she hasn’t yet secured a permanent job despite undeniable credentials is an indictment on my profession.
I caught a cold and overnight bit my left cheek hard, causing me to scream in pain. I have come close to doing it again, perhaps due to the swelling. Moreover, during a bathroom trip I twisted my back. In short, I’m a mess physically and resigned myself to couch potato status most of the weekend. Reading about Andrew Jackson becoming president in 1828, I appreciated the political skills of New Yorker Marin Van Buren, the “Little Magician,” architect of what became known as Jacksonian Democracy and, some think, the illegitimate son of Aaron Burr.
I watched two movies about writers’ fascination with jailed murderers, “True Story” (2015) and “Capote” (2005). The former, based on a memoir by Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), is about Oregonian Christian Longo (James Franco), reared a Jehovah’s Witness in Michigan and nicknamed “Shortstop” (from his last name, Long-Go), who killed his wife and three children. “Capote,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, primarily deals with writer Truman Capote’s relationship with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.), who with Dick Hickock killed four members of a Kansas farm family. Both Finkel and Capote saw personality elements of themselves in the murderers they wrote about. Capote was known as a conversationalist without peer, and the movie’s best scenes show Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote in action at cocktail parties.
Capote’s good friend Harper Lee (who died just days ago), played by Catherine Keener, accompanies him to Kansas and offers moral support as he struggles to complete “In Cold Blood.” My favorite scene is when Capote gives a reading to a NYC audience, beginning with this opening of “In Cold Blood”: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” In the movie the narcissistic Capote is envious of the success of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Interestingly the two gay childhood friends (Scout and Dill in “Mockingbird”) never completed another book after their masterpieces. One wonders whether the competitive Norman Mailer, who labeled Capote “the most perfect writer of my generation,” undertook to write about Gary Gillmore (“The Executioner’s Song,” like “In Cold Blood” a so-called nonfiction novel) as a way of one-upping Capote.
Ray Smock wrote:
The passing of Harper Lee has many of us reflecting on the power of her book and the marvelous motion picture that was made from it. Some things stay in your heart forever. She helped shape my view of the world in the 1960s. I still have in my library this 54-year old paperback copy that has yellowed pages and a torn cover. In my mind it as bright as if it were published yesterday. I paid 60 cents for it. Priceless.
Marissa McDermott at husband's Inauguration; NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano
Attorney Marissa McDermott, wife of Hammond mayor Tom McDermott, is running for Circuit Court Judge against incumbent George Paras. A Notre Dame Law School grad, Marissa has been a precinct committeewoman for the past 12 years. NWI Times columnist Rich James regards the battle as part of a power struggle between Mayor McDermott and Lake County sheriff John Buncich. On January 28 James provided this background:
It is only of late that politics has played a role in the Circuit Court race. Judge Felix Kaul was Circuit Court judge for six, six-year terms, retiring in 1980. He rarely had a challenge.
Lorenzo Arredondo took over as Circuit Court judge in January 1981 and served five terms, retiring in 2010. Arredondo now is a Democratic candidate for attorney general.
It is what happened at the 11th hour of filing in 2010 that has drawn so much interest in this year’s race. Alex Dominguez, a young lawyer and nephew of then-Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez, heard that Arredondo might be retiring and filed for the office on the final day.
But the anointed one was George Paras, who had the backing of Arredondo, who hadn’t made a public announcement about retiring. Paras narrowly won, defeating Dominguez by just over 2,100 votes.
Six years later, uncle Roy Dominguez is giving serious thought to running for the Circuit Court judgeship. Dominguez lost a county commissioner’s race after leaving the sheriff’s office.
If there is one Hispanic in a race in Lake County, chances are there will be two or more. Eduardo Fontanez Jr. says he is considering a run. But Dominguez says that is only because he is talking about getting into the race. Dominguez contends that political operative Bob Cantrell is pushing Fontanez to run.
Cantrell was blamed for Fontanez’s candidacy in 2006 when Fontanez ran unsuccessfully against Lake Superior Court Judge Jesse Villalpando, a former state representative. Cantrell later went to prison for his role in having convicted traffic offenders directed to a consulting firm with which he had ties. He is a free man today.
In his autobiography “Valor” former Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez described behind-the-scenes political operator Bob Cantrell:
He viewed politics as a contact sport of sorts. He was a person never to be underestimated or taken for granted. He made deals irrespective of party label or principle. To him politics was about power, deceit, deal making, competition, and intimidation, and he loved it when people groveled to him. Even with friends, he enjoyed playing all sides so he could undeservedly take credit for either candidate’s victory. He appeared to thrive on creating chaos and to relish spreading rumors to enhance animosity amongst political camps.
I am not sure how [Rich] James would have any idea of what crosses my mind, as he and I have only spoken once, in a social setting, years ago. Despite any actual firsthand knowledge, he argues my candidacy is nothing more than the ego-fueled ambition of my husband — as though a woman could not possibly have her own notions about her own career.
I spent the first 3 1/2 years of my life in a Polish orphanage. I was raised by a New York police officer and special education teacher. My father didn’t raise a princess, teaching me to clear brush, paint houses, lay brick and spackle drywall right alongside my brother. He later cashed out his police retirement to send me to college and then to Notre Dame Law School, where I met my husband, Tom. I turned down a job offer at one of Manhattan’s largest law firms to set down roots here in Northwest Indiana.
In the 15 years since graduating from Notre Dame, I have raised four children, taught at Purdue Calumet, served in various community organizations and launched a successful law practice, representing individuals in almost every court in Lake County from federal court to small claims court.
I value the good relationships I enjoy with my colleagues, and I think James would be hard-pressed to find a fellow attorney who would doubt my ability and professionalism.
One marvels at the byzantine nature of Lake County politics. Unless my friend Roy Dominguez enters the race, I’m for Marissa McDermott.