More than an ally

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bobbi williams february 2016 for web.jpg

The call Green Daniel got from this grandmother wasn’t very different from many he gets these days. She had been granted guardianship of her grandson who insists he’s a girl. Grandma, who is very religious, told Green, “I don’t understand. My God doesn’t make mistakes.”  Green waited for a moment, then asked, “What makes you think it’s a mistake?”

That’s a question Green struggled with some years ago before recognizing that the mistake was not God’s, it was ours. “If your child is transgender you have just two choices,” Green said, reflecting on his experience with his own son, James. “…to have him or not to have him.”

Green Daniel (and that’s really his name; he’s the third generation of Kentucky Green Daniels) is a former record producer who was based in Denver before coming to Nashville and is now an artist and an ally of the transgender community in Nashville. He currently serves on the board of PFLAG-Nashville, a chapter of the national support group for the parents, families, and friends of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

When he was younger, James had come out to Green and his mother as a lesbian. For the most part, they were accepting of that. Perhaps because of the times and the limited focus of the media, the issue of gender identity didn’t come into it. That doesn’t mean James wasn’t struggling with it. It just means that there wasn’t a clear way to address it—at least not for him at the time.

James attended Belmont for two years and when his parents divorced he decided he wanted to attend The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington. The school offers team-taught, interdisciplinary programs and the faculty use narrative evaluations, rather than letter grades. The curriculum focuses on engagement and collaboration, rather than competition. And Green knew it was the kind of environment where someone like James could explore his nature, so he helped him pack and drove him there.

An experience Green had as a record producer played a major part in what happened next. Back in Denver, when he was producing a record for a group called The Jupiter Rey Band (described as a Cuban/Jazz/Funk group), Green became friends with the lead singer, Lily Rose, who was transgender. Green’s conversations with Lily, who shared her struggle with him, gave him insight to the difficulty of being transgender in a world that demands that gender be assigned to everything.

“That’s just so unreal,” Green said of that demand, pointing to an article from The Week, citing a recent study concluding that “The idea of a unified masculine or feminine personality turns out not to describe real people… It describes stereotypes to which we constantly compare ourselves and each other.”

“Because my only experience with a transgender person was positive,” Green explains, “I wasn’t afraid of it. I knew what it was. I met Lily as the woman she obviously was, with all the related difficulties that such a person had to endure in 1976. I understood why trans people are sometimes accused of being narcissistic. “If you are trans, there is another kind of narcissism at work.” Green said “It’s not that you think a lot of yourself; you think of yourself a lot.”

Transpeople are always thinking about their identities. It doesn’t mean they are self-centered; it means that on a daily basis they face an issue that most of us never consider. It’s a basic, existential matter that forces them to examine themselves and ultimately address the challenge from Hamlet that Polonius makes to his son, Laertes: “This above all: to thine ownself be true.”

So, Green said, “When James finally announced who he was and I went back over things from our past it hit me, like … *Duh, you dumb son-of-a-b!$@#*.” It became obvious. “How could I not have realized it?”

James lives in Olympia now. He has had “top surgery” and a legal name change, but has not gone further in his transition. The journey continues for him. And for Green, too. “I needed to learn and that led me to the local groups, the Tennessee Vals, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) and PFLAG,” where he works with parents who are newly learning that their child is trans. “I’m in the LGBT Ally business,” Green said. “I just wish there were more of us. Transpeople need allies.”

Then he smiles. “The experience is different for everyone,” he says. “It really hit home when James asked me a question that most boys ask when they’re three or four, not when they’re twenty-five. ‘Dad,’ James asked, ‘How should I use the men’s room?”