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Shoshanna Gillick: A Remembrance (2000)

Shoshanna Gillick: A Remembrance (2000)

©2000, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2000, Spring). Shoshanna Gillick: A Remembrance. Transgender Tapestry, 89, p. 19.






Shoshanna Gillick

A Remembrance


I knew Marvin Gillick. I knew Shoshanna Gillick, too. I met Shoshanna once, just for an instant, back in 1994 at the First International Congress on Sex and Gender. The Congress was crazy, with lots of people and lots of energy contained in a small place, and we sort of caromed off each other, promising we would get together and talk. Sadly, we never did.

We’ll never have that brief encounter, for on August 16, 1999, Shoshanna killed herself. She was found hanging from the foyer in the county mental health center at which she worked. The San Jose Mercury News reported:

Stunned co-workers found Dr. Marvin Michael Gillick hanging from a ceiling beam when they entered the clinic at 7:45 am, authorities said. Gillick, 54, had worked at the outpatient clinic for less than a year, San Mateo County health chief Margaret Taylor said Wednesday. Gillick’s professional references were “extraordinary,” his performance “excellent,” she said, noting that no one had raised any concerned about his well-being before the suicide.


Gillick, who had cross-dressed for about six years, was considering an operation to become a woman, said his daughter [At her request, I removed her name from this online post], referring to her father as “her.” He had been let go by Cigna Corp., where he worked as a staff psychiatrist in Southern California for several years, because he was “preoperative” and apparently violated the dress code there, she said.

Sadly, Barbara Feder, the author of the Mercury Newsarticle, didn’t have a fucking clue, disrespectfully using male pronouns to refer to Shoshanna, even after being clued in by her daughter.  Fortunately, Michele Kämmerer and Janis Walworth of The Center for Gender Sanity were on top of things and via the Internet urged folks to send Mercury News a letter complaining about the pronoun abuse.

Although I met Shoshanna in person but once, I feel I knew her, for we had a ten-year history. Marvin Gillick contacted me back in 1989. He kept up a lively correspondence under an assumed name. Marvin didn’t merely adopt a femme nom de plume; he created an elaborate alias as a child clinical psychologist ostensibly undergoing transition at a community mental health center in Los Angeles. He went so far as to send me a newspaper photograph of the staff of a clinic with “his” androgynous picture outlined in pen. I’m not easy to fool, but I’ll admit, Marvin got me. Years later, Shoshanna phoned to apologize for the deception. She told me, “I was convinced all those transsexuals out there were sick, so I castrated myself into a clinical psychologist and wrote you.” Having a master’s degree and a license to practice psychology, I was a bit nonplussed at the thought of a psychologist being a castrated psychiatrist, but I kept my mouth shut.

Shoshanna emerged a few years later. She was flitting about, seeing endocrinologists, plastic surgeons, voice therapists, electrologists, and aestheticians, happily planning for transition. She was working for Cigna, which at the time was grudgingly accepting her transition. She and I both knew her termination lay ahead, but we talked about other things— or rather, Shoshanna talked. I was rarely able to get a word in as she raved on like a teenage girl on amphetamines, which she probably was— a teenage girl, I mean. She could talk only of clothes, makeup, hairstyles, her new name, and the still distant vision of life as a woman. And her daughter. She was gravely concerned about alienating her daughter.

Then Shoshanna stopped calling, and her phone numbers no longer worked. I heard through the grapevine that she had transitioned and then gone back to living as a male. Later, I heard she had transitioned back to female and was doing well.

The obituary notice in the Mercury News took me aback. I wasn’t expecting it. I thought the worst times were over for Shoshanna. Apparently not.

Shoshanna chose to go out in a public manner. I can imagine being the first one in the clinic that morning, coming through the door and seeing her hanging there in the foyer. It wasn’t easy on anybody. But you know, if she had to do it, I’m proud of her for doing it that way. It was her way of saying “Fuck you, world! I’m Shoshanna. You’ve abused me, you’ve beaten me down, you’ve called me he and will probably call me he after I’m gone, but you can’t take away the incontrovertible fact that inside I’m a woman.”

She was Shoshanna. She was a woman. She is missed.