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Dallas Denny: A Public Person Speaks Out (2001)

Dallas Denny: A Public Person Speaks Out (2001)

©2001, 2013 by Dallas Denny and Gianna Eveling Israel

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2001). Dallas Denny—A public person speaks out. In Gianna Israel & Donald Tarver, Recommended guidelines for transgender care, pp. 118-120. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.




Thumbnail Photo: Gianna Israel was a remarkable person. She had little formal education but managed to work in her native San Francisco as a therapist and to produce, with Donald Tarver, the remarkable book Recommended Guidelines for Transgender Care. She died in 2006 after a long illness.



View Pages in Recommended Transgender Care (PDF)


 Dallas Denny: A Public Person Speaks Out

Ms. Dallas Denny, M.S., is the director of AEGIS, The American Educational Gender Information Service, and publisher of Chrysalis Quarterly, a nationally respected magazine serving the transgendered community. Ms. Denny is licensed in Tennessee as a Psychological Examiner. She has 20 years experience in the mental health field, and has worked with transgendered persons since 1989. She is a prolific writer. She is currently completing the Ed.D. degree at George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University.

Q: Any preliminary thoughts?

A: Perhaps the term “Conspiracy of Silence” is too strong a term to describe what has happened with AIDS in this country—and perhaps it isn’t. When I think of how things have been and continue to be—the past and present foot-dragging in Washington; the eagerness of the general public to treat a disease which affects us all as “gay-only,” and to blame gay men for its spread; the resistance of the populace to the distribution of condoms and to sex education; the fear of and hostility towards persons who are infected; the current hysteria about mandatory testing of health care workers—I am diminished.

Q: Ms. Denny, presently the majority of the transgendered community and its publications appear to be silent on the issue of AIDS. Silence appears to be broadcasting the message that this is a “gay-only” disease, yet in my counseling practice I have encountered growing numbers of HIV+ individuals who are transgendered. Do you see AIDS as the catalyst which will uncover internalized homophobia within our community? Do you have any thoughts you wish to share with your fellow community leaders and educators?

A: I do see AIDS as a divisive force within the transgendered community. I also see it as a force which helps maintain the separation between transgendered and nontransgendered persons.

The majority of gender-conflicted persons would seem to be less sexually active than average. There are data which indicate crossdressers are less sexually experienced than other men, and many transsexual people are so conflicted that they avoid sexual activity entirely. Yet there is a small, but highly visible segment of the transgendered community which is highly sexually active. Transsexual prostitutes are not uncommon. The high costs of physical maintenance associated with transition, coupled with the inability to find work in the gender of choice, leads some transsexual people to rely upon their bodies for their livelihood. One doubts that safe sex is a high priority among someone who, in desperation, turns to prostitution.

The majority of transgendered persons lead quiet lives. They are, for all practical purposes, invisible to the general public. However, the transgendered people on the streets are very visible and very vocal. And many of these people are notoriously promiscuous, and so at high risk for AIDS. They serve as negative press agents. They are what many people think of when they hear the word “transsexual.” Their behavior reinforces negative stereotypes, and helps to maintain the “freak” status of transsexual people.

Other transsexual people know this, and dislike them for it. This will no doubt become more of a problem as the AIDS epidemic escalates.

You are right in your observation that transgender publications rarely mention AIDS. Certainly they should. I think editors often deal with the issue by not dealing with it. The readers certainly need information, especially as it relates to gender issues. They need to realize, for instance, that fantasizing oneself as a female in a sexual relationship does not reduce the risk of transmission of the virus during anal intercourse. They need to learn safe sex techniques, and to know that sharing of needles is extremely risky. And they need to learn tolerance and love for persons who are HIV-positive.

I suspect the segment of the transgendered community most in need of information is the sexually active group I mentioned earlier. These people typically do not read transgender publications. They are usually heavily involved in the gay community, and I suspect they might best be reached in the same ways that gay men and women are reached.

Q: What thoughts do you have on proposing a “Publisher’s Standard,” which would mean including AIDS prevention guidelines in all books, magazines, and other materials with the purpose of providing education surrounding the issues of gender or sexual identity?

A: I think your suggestion for a “Publisher’s Standard” is an excellent one, and AEGIS will support any such standard. In fact, we’d be happy to be the first to print it, and will help you to develop the standard, if you’re interested.

I’m not sure all educational materials need to address the issue of AIDS, but certainly many, and perhaps most do. It might not be appropriate, for instance, to have a long digression on AIDS in a booklet which purports to help the individual to speak in a feminine or masculine voice. But it would certainly be inappropriate to leave AIDS information out of a booklet which was a general discussion of transsexualism. I think that every publisher should address the issue in the most appropriate place or places—placing public service advertisements in magazines, for instance, and publishing articles about AIDS. We’ve spoken about AIDS in Chrysalis Quarterly, but the thought of running an AIDS ad hadn’t occurred to me until I just said what I did.

Q: As a mental health professional who is involved with the gender community, I can imagine that you also have received calls from transgendered individuals living in isolated parts of the country, many of which have few resources. This state of aloneness can be compounded for the individual dealing with an HIV infection. What words of support and encouragement can you give to our brothers and sisters living in isolation?

A: I recently received a letter from a young lady you are acquainted with. She desperately wants sex reassignment surgery, but her HIV+ status makes it highly unlikely that she will get it. My heart went out to her.

Those with AIDS may have to look a little harder, or may even have to take the initiative and start something themselves. They are, after all, a minority within a minority. HIV+ status is an additional burden.

It can be tough if you live in an isolated area. The cities have always been a gathering place for minorities, and the transgendered are no exception. If there is a major city nearby, there may be resources. But for those who aren’t able to travel, there are alternatives. Publications like Tapestry feature nonsexual personal ads; it’s possible to strike up friendships through the mail. Pen pals can become real pals, especially if you’re lucky enough to find someone who lives in the same general area. Once you have become friends, an occasional telephone call can be of benefit.

Those with computers and modems will find that there are a number of computer bulletin boards scattered around the country. Logging onto these systems is like joining a social club. There are messages, announcements, fantasies, short stories, and ongoing discussions of all types. It would be very easy to start a discussion of AIDS on a computer bulletin board.

It has been my experience that a good deal of the isolation of transgendered persons is self-imposed. Fear and guilt and denial are effective barriers. And they can only be torn down from the inside of the wall. Learning to be comfortable with yourself will help others to become comfortable with you.