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Help Desk: An Interview with Dallas Denny (1994)

Help Desk: An Interview with Dallas Denny (1994)

©1994. 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas (interviewed by Anne Johnson, Holly Boswell, and Nancy Nangeroni). (2004, July). Help Desk. TransAction.


TransAction was, I believe, the short-lived journal of the Congress of Transgender Organizations.




Help Desk


Dallas Denny of American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc. (AEGIS) and the founder of the Atlanta Gender Explorations support group responds to Anne’s, Holly’s, and Nancy’s questions in the July, 1994 issue of TransAction.


Anne Johnson from IXE (Indianapolis, IN):

The IXE (Indiana Crossdresser’s Society) has recently transitioned from social group to support group. We have having pretty good turnout at our meetings, and we aren’t having any trouble finding things to do. But we need for people to get more involved in planning and implementing activities, from programs, to outreach, to research, to anything else we can think of. What ideas and techniques have been successful in getting people more involved out there?

We are also interested in what kinds of fundraising activities you all have figured out for a closeted group of gender people.


Interestingly, the Atlanta Gender Explorations Group— a group AEGIS started in 1991— has recently transitioned in the opposite direction from IXE— from being entirely a support group to being a social and support group. We did so because we realized social activites are support. Members of AGE and other groups were interacting in a variety of ways outside the group setting— talking on the phone, going out to the theater and to eat, having others over to dinner, throwing parties, going on road trips to visit support groups in other cities, becoming roommates, and even in a couple of instances becoming romantically involved with each other. We realized these activities were telling us something about the needs of the people in the community. But formalizing them, some of the people who had been left out of the social circles— and let me emphasize they were left out because of geography or oversight, and not on purpose— were included. Now the support group officially endorses many of the activities, and some of the people who were not involved have developed a larger circle of support. And we are still a support group. At our monthly main meeting we address serious issues in a formal setting with a facilitator who is a licensed mental health professional. (Our facilitator for the past three years has been Jack Boyan. “Buck,” as we call him, is a Licensed Family & Marital Therapist, and a great source of support).

Because AEGIS chose not to control the AGE support group, but to merely function in a supportive role, it has taken several years for AGE to come of age. The group has been largely transsexual (that’s just the way it worked out; it’s an open group), and the first members for the most part chose to explore other aspects of their lives after their transition, and are currently relatively inactive in the group. The present membership is much more political, and as a result, things are finally starting to take off. By that, I mean the members (who are still largely transsexual and transgenderist) have reaffirmed the group’s commitment to be open and restructured the meetings to hopefully appeal more to crossdressers, and are beginning to voluntarily take on responsibilities.

It seems the majority of the work of any group gets done by only four or five people. That has always been the case with AGE, but by avoiding hierarchical structures (we had to elect a President and other officers in order to open a bank account, but the group operates by consensus), it’s possible for anyone who wants to become involved in a leadership role to do so without being appointed or elected.

Group members are realizing our possibilities are limited only by our imaginations. Recently, one AGE group member, Caitlin Flowers, found herself with some Frequent Flyer miles and invited Riki Anne Wilchins, a political activist, to town to speak. Caitlin set up a private luncheon at her house and a public luncheon which was advertised in the gay media, and of course Riki was the featured speaker at the AGE meeting.

Fundraising is a problem for everyone in the community. The totality of AGE’s funds come from a $25 fee for an initial interview and a five dollar donation which is collected at the door. This has been sufficient to pay for meeting space and an occasional advertisement, but the group is realizing that with a healthier treasury, more and grander things are possible.

When I first become involved with the community, my thoughts of fundraising were limited to mental pictures of transgender car washes and bake sales. Later, I witnessed successful raffles by S.P.I.C.E. (Spouses, Partners International Conference for Education), and received letters from I.F.G.E. asking for money. But my real inspiration has come from the gay and lesbian community, which has developed a variety of fundraising activities which work well within the context of their community. To this end, we [AGE and AEGIS, with the generosity of Caroline Cossey (“Tula”) and her husband David] worked together to hold the “TulaFest.” The TulaFest took the form of a large party, with entertainment, drinks, and a free buffet. Attendees got to meet Tula and have their picture made with her. We raised nearly a thousand dollars, which was split between AEGIS and the Lambda Center, an organization which is working to open a center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. The donation to Lambda Center gave concrete evidence of our support. AGE’s treasury was relatively healthy at the time, and the group decided it did not need its share of the money.

The TulaFest was fabulous, thanks largely to the work of Petra Hofmann and Terry Murphy. We managed to get a donation of space and food from BackStreet, a bar, locate entertainers who were willing to work for free, and find a photographer who would take inexpensive pictures. Tula donated a beautiful picture painted by her husband, which we raffled off, along with a bouquet donated by florist Marvin Gardens. AGE members served as volunteers ranging from Sergeant at Arms to cashier.

Other groups have done similar things to raise money. ETVC has an annual ball, Atlanta’s Sigma Epsilon’s chapter of Tri-Ess has a spring cotillion, and DCEA recently had a dinner for Kate Bornstein. I think that if groups will look at the nature of their settings and their members, fundraising activities will suggest themselves.

Our big activity this year is an appearance by Kate Bornstein, who will do her one-transperson play “The Opposite Sex is Neither” during the IFGE conference, which will be held here in March. Tickets will be $22.50, and proceeds will benefit AEGIS and AGE. The KateFest (no I don’t think we’ll call it that) is the doing of Petra Hoffman, who has done a remarkable job in putting the whole thing together.

One thing which been instrumental in allowing all of this to happen is the group members have become proud of their identities as transgendered persons, and are willing to face the world. For this to happen it was necessary to convince the group of the desirability of working closely with the gay and lesbian community, and to help them to develop a sense of pride in being transgendered. We are proud of who we are, we don’t advocate one resolution to transgender feelings over another (i.e., it’s okay to be a transsexual, it’s okay to be a transgenderist, it’s okay to be a crossdresser), and we freely interact with other communities, including the gay and lesbian and feminist communities. I believe this is a winning formula, and the secret of A.G.E.’s success.

Holly Boswell from Phoenix (Asheville, NC):

What about relationships with the Gay/Lesbian communities? How do we establish these relationships? Why should we establish these relationships? How do we make the most of these relationships?

The largest phone sex line in the country reported at the AASECT National Convention that 45 percent of their calls are from crossdressers! What outreach techniques are various communities finding effecting in reaching people and bringing in new blood?


I’ve found the gay/lesbian (and increasingly the gay/lesbian/bisexual) community to be a marvelous source of ideas and support. First, many of our issues are the same. Second, as the Colonies found out, they could fight oppression only by banding together. Third, most gay men and lesbians are receptive to the transgender community. We need to learn to monitor and control our homophobia, to realize that every time we make a statement like, “It’s not like we’re gay or anything” we are slamming not only openly gay and lesbian people, but many of the people within our own community. Homophobia is a character flaw, but one which can be overcome with education and self-examination.

I wrote an essay about the relationship between the transgender and gay/lesbian communities called “You’re Strange and We’re Wonderful” which appeared in James Sears’ excellent journal Empathy: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Persons Working to End Oppression on the Basis of Sexual Identities; I’ll be happy to send it to anyone who would like a copy.


Nancy Nangeroni:

What is so good about coming out of the closet? Why should we come out of the closet? What constitutes “out of the closet?”


As the editor of TransAction pointed out, Nancy’s questions are rhetorical. To give a brief response, I would say that only by coming out of the closet can we help ourselves and help others. If I had not cracked open the door of that closet, I would not be writing this, and if you had not, you would not be reading it. Coming out empowers us and reduces the power others have over us.

Last spring I received a phone call from a post-operative transsexual woman who had gone into what I call “The Closet at the End of the Rainbow.” She had assimilated, and no one she knew was aware of her past. She was in bad shape. “My boyfriend is always asking why I’m so dry when we make love, why we have to use lubricants. I’m afraid he’s going to find out. And I work as a blackjack dealer. Every time someone comes through the door of the casino, I’m afraid it will be someone from my past, and my life will be ruined.”

This unfortunate woman is aware she is but one innuendo away from disaster. She is powerless to stop others from talking, if they so choose, and it holds her in thrall. She’s in exactly the same position as the man whose wife and children don’t know about his crossdressing. Either can be blackmailed.

Coming out eliminates fear and brings power. It entails some risk, but it increases our power and allows us our dignity. Certainly, every one of us must make his or her own decision about coming out. For some of us the risk will outweigh the benefits. But others will find themselves unfettered by fear, perhaps for the first time in their lives. For them, it is a risk worth taking.