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Dallas Talks Transgender (2003)

Dallas Talks Transgender (2003)

©2003 by Brenner Thomas

Source: Thomas, Brenner. (2003, 23 October). Dallas talks transgender (cover title) or (Trans)Formations: An interview with one of the transgender community’s most outspoken members. Provincetown Magazine, 26(27), cover, pp. 55, 58-59.



I don’t remember whether I supplied answers to the interviewer over the phone or sent a written response. I wish I’d had a chance to edit the printed copy before publication. The text version cleans up the sentence structure a bit. Click the tab to read the text of the interview or the button to see PDFs of the magazine’s pages.


Provincetown Magazine (PDF)



An Interview With One of the Transgender Community’s Most Outspoken Members


The transgender community has in the last ten years experienced unprecedented progress. From local nondiscrimination ordinances to inclusion in federal hate crime bills, crossdressers and transsexuals have come far on the road to freedom. But much like the gay community of the 60’s and 70’s, prejudice and ignorance cloud much of the country’s understanding of transgender issues.

Few people know this more than Dallas Denny, a Southern-born transsexual and longtime supporter of Fantasia Fair, who has witnessed first hand the mobilization of the TG community, and in fact helped initiate it. In 1990 she founded AEGIS, the American Educational Gender Information Service, a national clearinghouse for transsexual and transgender issues. Today, as the editor of Transgender Tapestry magazine and author of three books and numerous articles, Dallas continues to shape and contribute to the discourse on transgender issues. We caught up with her in Pine Lake, Georgia, the world’s smallest municipality with a transgender nondiscrimination ordinance, to talk about her transformation from man to woman and her thoughts on her community’s past, present, and future.

PM: Let’s start with the story of your coming out as a transgendered person. How did that awareness come about?

DD: I was about thirteen, when suddenly, out of the blue, there it was. I guess I hadn’t thought a lot about gender until I was facing the prospect of being an adult. I found myself at fourteen, totally dressed, in full face. I didn’t see a crossdressed boy. I saw a girl, and an attractive one. I knew she was the person I wanted to be, and yet she was a person I had created out of cosmetics and cloth. I didn’t know how to make that person manifest. I also know it would not be healthy to be out about it. So I didn’t tell my parents, although my stash of women’s clothing got found. We had one of those emotional moments.

PM: How old were you then?

DD: Probably fifteen.

PM: And what was their reaction?

DD: My father threatened to make we walk to town, which was about five miles away, in front of the car, dressed, while he followed—which would have been humiliating, but at least I would have been out.

When I was just out of high school I found myself working as a dishwasher and busboy at Shoney’s restaurant, making very little money—and I found myself living in Downtown Nashville in the Ross Hotel. It was located centrally, just behind the Grand Ole Opry. I would sneak out the back door of the Ross, dressed, and be in the middle of the city. I wanted to go full time. I wanted to live as a young woman, but I had no resources, and I could never figure out how to do it. I also knew it would be disastrous to be discovered. I was frightened, but once out the door of the hotel I could be a woman for an hour or a day.

PM: And what’s the time period here?

DD: 1968 or so.

PM: When were you finally able to dress full time and live as a woman?

DD: I wound up marrying. I tried hard to make the marriage work, but it eventually ended. She knew what was going on with me. We talked about it, but it really wasn’t that much of an issue because I wasn’t dressing. I was in graduate school and there was just wasn’t enough time or energy.

After she left I started dressing again. I was 26 or 27 when I ducked into one of those little photo booths. I still have the pictures. I had been to the beauty shop to get my hair done and they had no idea about how I usually looked. Eventually, I moved back to Nashville.

I had determined this was not going to go away, so I came out to my friends. I was dressing, but at that point my beard was hard to disguise. I was still passing well, but for the first time under close inspection people might notice something amiss. I still wanted to go full time, but by then I didn’t feel my body was up to it. I applied for hormonal therapy at the gender clinic at Vanderbilt University. They told me they weren’t going to offer me any help with transition because I wasn’t dysfunctional enough to be transsexual? Why? Because I had been married more or less successfully for six years, because I had two college degrees, and because I had a full-time job. They offered me counseling to help me get through life in the male realm, which of course was not what I wanted.

I spent my spare time for the next six months at the Vanderbilt medical library reading everything I could find on transsexualism. Transsexualism was entirely medicalized at that time. The literature was pathology-based stuff that saw transsexuals as having character disorders and not identifying with their fathers. Eventually, in 1980, I forged a prescription and put myself on hormones at a dose I had figured out from the literature. I was thirty years old. Within six months my thinning hair had thickened and my body had begun to feminize.

Ten years later, I found the community. I joined Tri-Ess, which is an organization for heterosexual crossdressers. They do not allow gay people. They do not allow transsexuals. Since I had had sexual relationships with men, I didn’t feel this homophobic organization was right for me—but it was all I could find.

When I went to their meetings, I was finally able to plug into the larger community. By that time I was quite feminized and had had electrolysis. I prepared to go full time, which, I was sure, would require me to relocate. At that time, few transsexuals transitioned at the work place. I was offered that option, but I thought it would be too weird.

In December 1989 I transitioned. It was like falling off a log. I just loaded a U-Haul with all my possessions. threw away my boy clothes, and drove to Atlanta. That was the last time I ever presented as a man.

I became an activist because the people in the support group were impressed with my credentials. They drafted me into a leadership role and I quickly realized a: there was very little information out there; and b: there were many people like me who just didn’t have the information they needed to make good life decisions. If I had had any support when I was seventeen, I would have transitioned much earlier. It was sort of uphill all the way.

PM: Are we talking about AEGIS here? [Editor’s note: AEGIS stands for the American Educational Gender Information Service]

DD: Yes. I founded AEGIS in 19990 and published a journal called Chrysalis.

PM: And the concept of that organization was what?

DD: To provide information so transgendered people could make sane decisions. If you don’t know, and you can’t get information and anybody you might ordinarily go to for help is sort of crazy on the subject…

 PM: What kind of information?

DD: Information about transsexualism. Information about what you can do about it. For instance, that the feelings don’t go away. You can manage them if you work hard at it, but they’re forever.