Kaylin: First off, I want to thank you for your time and your stories. My
name is [Kaitlyn Pressler 00:00:08] and I am a UNC Asheville student working
with two other undergraduates and faculty mentor Dr. Amanda Wray to record oral
histories from elders and representative members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Kaylin: Our goal is to document alternative histories and foster
intergenerational connections. Collected data will be used to develop a needs
assessment, an asset map for LGBTQIA+ people in western North Carolina.
Kaylin: With your permission all stories will be archived for special
collections at UNC Asheville. I have an oral history release form for you to
sign that gives your oral history and other archives you may have to special
collections with or without restrictions. Research participants can remain
anonymous if they prefer a select pseudonym.
Kaylin: Okay, now that that's out of the way can you start by giving your name,
00:01:00pronouns, where you grew up, were born, that kind of thing.
Jessica: You can call me Jessica. I usually prefer
she/her/they/them. I don't live full-time as Jessica but I get mistaken for a
woman a lot. Especially in stores and things, I get called ma'am.
Jessica: Born and raised here in Asheville. I'm one of the rare ones. Let's see.
That basically starts it out.
Kaylin: Yeah. Okay. You've been in Asheville your whole life. What's kept you here?
Jessica: I like it.
Jessica: I like Asheville. I like the mountains, I like the people. I have
00:02:00family here. There's just something here that I like. I don't know if it's ... I
mean, as the Cherokee said, when settlers start moving in and taking over, they
said, "Fine, if you want it, it's yours but it's yours forever. If you leave
you'll always come back." There's just something special here. There's an energy here.
Kaylin: Would you say that Asheville is a good environment
for the LGBTQ community?
Jessica: I think it has become a good environment. I've watched things change
over the years. I grew up in the '60s. I grew up through the civil rights era
and through integration and I've seen things happen for the better, I've seen
00:03:00things that could have been even better. I've seen that also begin to happen for
the LGBT community.
Jessica: Especially I'd say things really started changing in the mid-'80s that
I noticed. That's when I started getting really involved with the local LGBTQ community.
Kaylin: What sort of things did you get involved with?
Jessica: Started going out. I met a good friend of mine, one of my best friends,
Holly Boswell, who is a national figure in the transgender community. We met at
work on Halloween. We kind of looked at each other and said, "We need to talk."
We did and it took a while for us to get the chance but when we did we said,
"You know, there's got to be more of us out here. Let's do something." We
started a support group.
Jessica: Our support group has been active since September 1986. That's Transgender Support. Things were ... You know, you had three
00:04:00full-time gay bars back then. I had never been out to one of them. My friend
Holly got me out and I started going and I started being made welcome in the
bars and I started going out more and started not going out to party but going
out to talk with people. Just enjoying myself, enjoy being out in a safe space.
Jessica: For a lot of trans people that's the first safe space we find. Back
then there didn't seem to be ... For a small town there didn't seem to be the
divisions that you see in a lot of larger towns. Everybody was kind of working
00:05:00together. It was more of a community I think. Trans people became part of it and
more of us started coming.
Jessica: We found out about a national magazine and we listed ourselves in that
and our membership grew immediately after getting a listing in that magazine. We
started getting outside Asheville. Locally, we were not very well known ... For
years, we were better known nationally than locally. The Citizen Times, we tried
to get ourselves listed in their list of support groups and they refused to list
us. That has changed.
Jessica: I've had members contact, people contact me ... We have one of our
members who is my co-director now helps ... She got my address from a group in
California when she was looking for a support group.
Jessica: People started moving here because they started realizing ... I think
Asheville and western Carolina have always had a strong LGBT presence. I think
it's become even stronger. People started coming here because they felt like it
was a safe place to come.
Kaylin: You think the growing number of people here is a good thing?
Jessica: Yes. Well, I think the growing diversity here is a good thing. I don't
necessarily think the way the development is being handled here ... I don't like
the fact that there is little to none low to middle income housing that's really
00:07:00affordable, which seriously impacts the LGBT community.
Kaylin: Yeah. Do you want to expand on that and how it affects the community?
Jessica: Well, I've had ... Early on, I remember ... I know people who lost
housing because they were outed. For years, the Fair Housing Act specifically
included transsexuals and transvestites. That was thanks to Jesse Helms and
another senator who specifically put that in when they realized they weren't
going to stop discrimination against gay people. They had to have something.
Jessica: I know people who lost jobs. I specifically know people who lost jobs
because they were trans. Trans people we're becoming more visible but we're the
00:08:00invisible community in a lot of ways. Trans people and bisexuals. Bisexuals, you
Jessica: Trans people you can't always spot. It depends on whether somebody is
out and presenting but there's a lot of trans people are still closeted, very
closeted, and they still get fired, they still lose family. I'd like to see that change.
Kaylin: Did your gender or sexuality ever impact you in the workplace?
Jessica: Yes. I got fired from a job after I was interviewed in the local paper
because I was co-chair of the North Carolina Pride celebration in 1998. Of
course, they claimed that was not the reason but I found out later that they had
00:09:00a discussion on how to get rid of me in a way that I couldn't sue.
Jessica: This was a local radio station here in town because I've worked in
radio for years. I had worked at a family-owned radio station in town and we
were forced off the air. I got a call one day. I was getting ready to go for an
appointment to look for some temporary work. I got a call and somebody said,
"This little radio station is starting up and they really need some help."
Jessica: I went and talked to them. I should have had a red flag go up ... I did
but I didn't do anything about it, when they asked ... They said, "We're not
supposed to ask you this but are you a Christian?" I should have said, "If
you're not supposed to ask why are you?" But I didn't. I told them, "Yes, I am
00:10:00but I may not match your definition."
Jessica: They needed somebody because they knew nothing about radio and I think
the owner at the time had bought the radio station so he could have a soapbox
for his politics and his religion. I'm not going to name names. When I got
interviewed in the paper I went to people at the station and I told them, "This
is what just happened. I got interviewed. My picture is going to be in there.
I'm here. Feel free to ask questions."
Jessica: Only one person did. They were great. They were my ... They kept me up
on news and stuff station after I was fired. The radio station ...
We eventually went back on the air, the family-owned radio station. I was out to
00:11:00everybody there and they were cool. I wasn't out on the air but I was out to all
the people. They were great. I mean, they thanked me for coming out to them.
Jessica: I got outed by the local right wing station by a talk show host who I
won't name. He got mad at me for complaining about something he had said over
the air. We got one phone call at the radio station I worked at and said, "Is
this true?" They said, "Yeah, it is. What about it?" I'm like, "Okay, that's why
I like these people."
Jessica: I think I got ... I decided after I some jobs that I'd had
I decided I'm not going to hide it anymore. Anybody who says anything, fine. I
00:12:00think I got turned down for a job one time because I was open and honest. I
think I got hired for one job because I was trans. I ended up not having some
skills that they needed and ended up losing that job but we were on really good
terms and still are.
Jessica: I have experienced some discrimination. I've had my car vandalized.
I've had minor things. I've had some veiled threats, not as bad as some people
have. I was with my co-chairs for '98 Pride and she got a death threat while I
was over the phone. It was so stupid. They didn't try to hide their number.
Jessica: Yeah. It happens. I mean, there is ... Asheville is ... I mean, kind of
a liberal bastion in the middle of a conservative state. There are some people
here who are really ... They have some real animosity towards the LGBT community
but there's a lot of people who are more supportive. The supporters outnumber
the people who are opposed.
Kaylin: Do you have any coming out stories you would like to share?
Jessica: Let's see.
Kaylin: Maybe with family or friends?
Jessica: Family? Well, let's see. My sister and I used to go to Rocky Horror
together. She's cool. My dad never knew. He passed away. My mom was completely
opposed. She knew but she didn't like it.
Jessica: Most of my friends know. A few years ago when my friend Holly passed
away ... I used to have two Facebook pages. I still do because it's easier to
keep certain things separate and just to keep track of things. I ended up coming
out on the male page. I said, "This is the deal. You want to unfriend me? Go
right ahead. Here's my other page if you want to check it out." I didn't lose
00:15:00anybody and I gained a lot of other friends on the other page.
Kaylin: That's awesome.
Jessica: I still get questions. When I first got online back in 1994 I think, it
was dial-up, one of the first things I did was look for the transgender
community on America Online. I found it and there used to be a great transgender
community on America Online at that point. I used to have in my profile that I'm
trans, I'm out, I don't mind honest questions.
Jessica: I was constantly getting people, "Can I ask you a question? Can you
help me find support?" That's what I did a lot was helping people find support
groups in their area. I figure my friend Holly did it for me and I can continue
... I can never pay her back but I can pay it forward. I can do it for other
00:16:00people and that's why I still do it.
Kaylin: That's great. You mention being active in Pride.
Kaylin: I was just wondering how has Pride changed throughout the years?
Jessica: Well, back when I got involved, when I got drafted, you had North
Carolina Pride and North Carolina Pride traveled from city to city. It had been
in Asheville in 1992 and I was out of town at the time. Holly was the speaker.
She was the first trans speaker at a North Carolina Pride.
Jessica: They still have North Caroline Pride I think but you started seeing
more local prides popping up, which I think is fantastic. Instead of having to
wait for one state group to show up somewhere and travel more and more cities
are doing their own prides and I think that's fantastic. I think Blue Ridge
Pride has done a phenomenal job.
Jessica: I was able to go to Blue Ridge Pride this year. I didn't get to stay as
long as I wanted to because I had just had surgery on my eye about three days
before and was very light sensitive and still am. I loved the fact that ...
Jessica: When we did Pride in '98 we actually had a parade. It was a sanctioned
parade. We had floats and everything. Had a marching band. We had protestors.
00:17:00They were 4000 people marching in that parade and police [inaudible] two dozen
protestors. Some of them were aggressive, some of them tried to get right out
among the people in the street. We had our security basically making sure our
people didn't interact with them.
Jessica: Of course, two weeks later they had ... Both times they had the state
pride here. Two weeks later the local religious right had a Family Values rally.
Of course, they were bigger. They were going to be. It was ridiculous. So much
fear from that group and people fear what they don't understand.
Jessica: The Blue Ridge Pride is great. I love it. I look forward to it. We've
had booths there whereas for years we were the only trans support group in
Asheville and the only one in North Carolina for a while. Now there's about six
or seven different trans groups here in town, including one at the VA hospital
which I think is fantastic. There's a lot of trans veterans out there. I don't
care what Don't Ask, Don't Tell ... There have always been transgender people in
Kaylin: Yeah. You mentioned being drafted.
Jessica: To chair Pride. Yeah.
Kaylin: Yeah. Okay. Can you talk more about trans people in the military?
Jessica: I've never been in the military. I was an ROTC for three years. That
was during the Vietnam era. When I turned 18 I was scared to death about ... I
had signed up for ROTC because I figure I'm probably going to have to go in. I'd
rather have a little edge.
Jessica: I was scared to death about going to get my draft card. I said I walk in and they'll know and they'll throw me in a cage
somewhere. They didn't. I luckily was low on the draft numbers and they got rid
of the draft shortly after I signed up. I was first lottery that I was in.
Jessica: Three years of ROTC. I enjoyed it. It helped me with every class I had
and still. It made me realize that military and I were not going to play well
together. I know a lot of people who are veterans. I have a friend who is a
00:18:00naval veteran from Atlanta. She's the one ... Her name is Monica Helms. She's
the one who created the trans pride flag.
Jessica: There are various veterans groups. I know she went with a group of
trans veterans to put wreaths on the tomb of the unknown soldier and they were
treated like any other group. They were honored as they did it. I think that's
fantastic. That's the way it ought to be.
Jessica: I know other people have not had as good of experiences. I know people
have had bad experiences with police but I've been very lucky in that something I won't go into, which has nothing to do with any of us.
Jessica: The police are learning and there are LGBT people on the
police force. Anybody knows ... It's Asheville. Can't help it. I've always heard
that western North Carolina is, was, probably still is, largest in
the nation for LGBT population.
Jessica: I don't doubt it.
Kaylin: Yeah. Do you have a favorite memory of your childhood or just your LGBTQ
journey in general?
Jessica: Favorite memory in childhood? I was an odd child. I knew I was
different when I was about three years old. That's also parents when
I started reading. I have a lot of good memories from my childhood. I had a
great life with my parents.
Jessica: I was hidden ... Like I said, I knew I was different when I was about
three and by three and a half I knew I had to hide this. I didn't come out until
I was in my twenties and got married.
Jessica: As far as good memories locally, co-chairing Pride, going out to locals
bars. I used to go to O'Henry's a lot when O'Henry's was called the Cheers of
Asheville. It was like an episode of Cheers. You walk into the bar and people
call and you turn around, "Hey." Not be able to walk through the bar without
getting hugged several times. A lot of good memories there, a lot of good people
I met there. Meeting Holly. Going out on Halloween first time dressed and going
00:19:00... Just doing ordinary things was just such a neat thing. It is for most trans
people. Just being able to get out and be yourself and do things.
Jessica: Let's see, I was an extra in a movie.
Kaylin: Oh, what movie?
Jessica: It was My Fellow Americans. Holly and I were both extras in it. If you
have a DVD player and you can stop frame it we're in one scene for about one
second. We're behind ... It's a major scene and we're behind the character that
is centered on screen. You can see us on either side of them. We're holding a
banner that says, "Free gender expression."
Jessica: That was a neat experience. Just coming out to my friends, being able
to say, "Hey, I need to talk to you about something." Letting my friends who
were gay and lesbian and bi know that you can come out to me, which they did.
Being welcomed into the LGBT community.
Jessica: There used to be a group here in town called Closer, which I don't
remember the full name, Community Liaison Organization ... I forget the rest of
it. They were here for about 30 years. We started doing presentations with their
group and we were always fairly well attended. We let people ask questions, we
answered questions. We always had a great time with it.
Jessica: Then they did a dinner one night and Holly and I ... Closer met over at
All Souls Church. Holly and I were presented with the Joan Marshall Award. That
was a big thrill. Getting involved with the South Comfort Conference in Atlanta
was a big deal. I was involved with that for 20 years. Holly got me into that. I
got to meet some incredible people through that. I got to meet Chaz Bono. I got
to meet Jenny Boylan, who is a phenomenal writer and just a super nice person. I
got to meet people of all walks of life, everything from best selling authors to
federal judges who were part of the trans community. That was pretty impressive.
I really enjoyed that. That was a major part of my life.
Kaylin: Did you participate in any big movements?
Jessica: I marched in two Prides. I rode in a convertible in one. I marched in
Charlotte Pride, one of two trans people marching, carrying signs. I marched in
Durham Pride with Holly. Holly and I led the group and we had a lot more
marchers then. I've been in the background doing stuff just quietly. I think
Phoenix Transgender Support is ... We're the oldest open transgender support
group in the southeast and we're one of the oldest in the country and we're
Kaylin: Could you tell me more about Asheville Phoenix?
Jessica: Okay. We started out ... When Holly and I met we said, "We need to get
a group and we need to meet other people." We said, "We want an open group. We
want this to be all aspects of the transgender community, cross-dressers,
transsexuals, female to male, male to female. Everything. Family members,
inner-sex, support group, gender fluid." That's what we did.
Jessica: We got the group started. It was pretty slow at first but when we found
00:23:00out about the magazine TV TS Tapestry were just coming out of Waltham,
Massachusetts. We got ourselves listed and Holly ended up writing articles for
the magazine and became their editor for a while.
Jessica: We always kept ourselves ... We've never charged dues, we've never had
officers. We've been mainly support, a place where people can come, talk, ask
questions. We don't do the political activism with Phoenix, although we support
the groups who do. We've never gone for a 501C3 status or anything because we
never dealt with money that much. Enough money to buy coffee and pay for the
meeting space, that's all we ever wanted.
Jessica: It was a real blow to us when Holly passed away two years ago. She died
of a sudden heart attack. She had literally become one of the major movers and
shakers in the trans community. We've had other groups tell us that they've
modeled themselves after us. There was a group in Atlanta. We had someone come
to one of our meetings from the Midwest who was starting a group and they'd been
told, "Go check us out."
Jessica: We were so glad to see the other groups, groups like Transmission, the
Asheville Transformers, and the trans feminine group. It's just phenomenal.
Things have really grown here. One of the people who was involved with Tapestry
magazine has moved here. She's had family in this area and she moved here and
she's become majorly involved in the community. That's Yvonne Cook-Riley. Now
she's got some history. She's somebody you need to interview.
Jessica: She's one of the transgender elders. Give her a couple weeks, though,
because she just had some heart.
Kaylin: Okay. Well, thank you. You mentioned her and, of course, you mentioned Holly.
Kaylin: Are there any other individuals that have impacted you or played a big
role in your experience?
Jessica: Yeah. I've met so many people through the transgender community and
everyone has their own story, everyone is important. I don't care what aspect of
the transgender community you are. I hate it when someone says, "Someone is just
a cross-dresser." Nobody is just anything. They're all human beings, they're all
00:25:00deserving of fair and equal treatment, and to be treated with dignity.
Jessica: There's so many people that have had an effect on me. I've had people
come up and thank me for being with the group. I've had people come up and thank
me for coming up and talking to them. I made a point of when I would go to
Southern Comfort and we started out maybe 200, 300 people and it ended up being
close to 1000. I made a point of going up to some of the new people and talking
to them and asking how they were doing.
Jessica: I used to go to science fiction conventions a lot. I'm still a big
science fiction fan. I could always spot somebody ... I would enter the costume
00:26:00contest and I would do a female costume. I could tell certain people were
looking at me going ... I can recognize that look. "I want to talk to you but
I'm scared." If I saw that I'd go up and talk to them.
Jessica: Thanks to things like Facebook I've been able to reconnect with some of
those people. Everybody is important. Everybody has ... I think one of the
people who made an impression on me was ... I met some of the doctors who
perform the surgery. I met Dr. Biber, who was famous in Trinidad, Colorado for
doing surgery here in the United States, was one of the first surgeons to really
do it. Got to meet him and sit and talk with his wife and daughter. He was just
an old country doctor who saw a need and started filling it. I got to meet him.
Jessica: I went to Southern Comfort one time and there was a woman there who had
her 10 year old trans daughter. This is the first time we had someone like this
at Southern Comfort and got to sit and talk with the little girl. We've had
people in our group from age 10 up to 80 plus.
Jessica: I met someone at a retreat that Holly was having in Hot Springs. I'd
heard about them, I'd seen them in the Tapestry magazine. They were instrumental
in inventing a type of circuitry. I met people who'd done certain things. People
don't realize that these people have had a part of their lives. Everybody I meet
00:28:00has impressed me in one way or another.
Kaylin: What does it mean to you to get to talk to these people and see how far
things have come?
Jessica: I love watching somebody come to our group or something else and it's
their first time out and they're nervous and they're scared. You go talk to them
and I love watching them as they progress along their path. Some of them have me so much. I get a little jealous sometimes.
Jessica: I love seeing them progress, really seeing them blossom. I love the
fact that that's both male to female, which is what most people I think but there's a lot of trans men out there. There's a documentary
00:29:00called Southern Comfort that was about the last year in the life of a trans man
named Robert Eads. I knew Robert. Genuinely enjoyed meeting and talking with him
every time I saw him.
Jessica: He got turned down by over a dozen doctors who wouldn't treat him and
before he finally found one who would by then it was too late. He was dying of
ovarian cancer, which you've got to see that movie. It's really good. It's out there.
Jessica: I got to be in the background of that. I got a call one day from who is a photographer in New York who has done two or three books on
the transgender community. She called and said, "You're in a movie." I'm like,
00:30:00"What?" She told me ... She'd seen a preview of the documentary. Of course, they
had me sitting at a table crying as Robert makes a speech. I got involved ... I
was a little part of that. That was cool.
Kaylin: Yeah. Overall, what's been your experience with medical care in the
trans community? [crosstalk 00:37:51].
Jessica: Medical care?
Kaylin: Has it changed very much?
Jessica: It's changed a lot.
Jessica: Especially locally. For years, people had difficulty accessing being
able to get hormones, things like that. I know people in town who were having to
go out of state to find a doctor that would treat them. That's completely
changed now. You have two groups. You have WNCCHS, Western North Carolina
Community Health Center, which is I think part of. They
treat transgender people, do hormones, everything. Also Planned Parenthood
treats transgender people now.
Jessica: You didn't have that for the longest time. We were always trying to
look for people ... If somebody said, "Where can I go get this done?" And get
other services like electrolysis. We were very lucky we got one of our local
people is a licensed electrolysist. And she's good.
Jessica: I've heard of people ... I've heard horror stories about how they got
treated in hospitals by doctors, people like Robert who died because of it, but
I've also heard people who went in and had great care. Things are changing and I
hope they continue to change. I hope that the current backlash that we're
feeling because of the extreme right wing doesn't ruin all that.
Kaylin: Yeah. Yeah. Do you have any comments on that, the extreme right wing?
Jessica: It's a backlash. They're scared. They're fearful of anything they don't
understand and they don't want to understand. It's like the climate change
deniers. It's right in front of you but as long as I don't look at it I don't
have to see it and I don't want to. I think that's what they want. They know we
were always here. They want us back in the closet.
Jessica: I think Donald Trump said, "I will protect the LGBT community" and then
00:33:00turned right around and let ... I think most of it has come from Mike Pence and
from his so-called religious advisors like Tony Perkins. I think that's where
most of the anti-trans stuff and anti-LGBT stuff has come from.
Jessica: When you've somebody who's elected and immediately the administration
goes in and wipes out all reference to LGBT people in the White House website
I'm not a fan.
Kaylin: Yeah. Yeah.
Jessica: It disturbs me when I realize that during the election there were so
many trans people who were fans of him. You know, again, that just proves to me
that trans people are just like everybody else. They are across the spectrum,
politically, religiously, physically, monetarily. Everything.
Jessica: The trans community is a microcosm.
Jessica: I wish we'd be more like the Native American tribes and, for them,
trans people were honored people.
Kaylin: Could you tell me more about the tribes?
Jessica: The tribes? I wish I details. There's some very good books
out there. I think there's a book by a man named Walter Williams called The
Spirit in the Flesh, which is about Native American and aboriginal tribes around
the world and how they respond to trans people.
Jessica: Trans people have always been a part of Native American culture. It's a
positive part. Hawaii, Hawaiian culture has always had trans people. Every
culture except the Western has accepted and honored trans people.
Jessica: There used to be a group called Kindred Spirits, that Holly was
instrumental in starting, that had retreats and they were involved in a lot of
Native American-based spirituality and ... Excuse me. I'm having some sinus dribble.
Kaylin: You're fine.
Jessica: I'm glad to see information is coming out about that. It's easier to
find information. Used to ... I mean, the internet has made ... When we first
started the Phoenix Group I'd say the average age for somebody coming out as
trans is probably in their forties. Now you're seeing kids.
Jessica: When you consider the fact that gender identity manifests much earlier
than sexual orientation does, gender identity manifests as early as two or
00:34:00three, kids are going to know that. I don't care what anybody says. They say,
"Kids can't know anything like that about themselves." Yes, they can. I've
experienced it myself. I know plenty of other people who have. I've seen it.
Kaylin: How does your own experience as a kid play into that?
Jessica: Like I said, I started realizing I was different when I was about
three, realizing I need to hide it very quickly after that. I think it was
because I was really a kind of precocious child. Like I said, I was reading at
00:35:00three. I was watching news programs and reading the daily newspaper in the first grade.
Jessica: I remember talking ... I found out that when I was about one and a half
years old, first Christmas when I was old enough to ask for something at
Christmas, I asked for and I got a stove and dishes. I think ... I'm seeing
things now where I wish we'd had back when I was a kid. I wish we'd had the
information. I mean, I used to scour the libraries and go through the card
catalog and through the periodicals guide and every article I could find even
remotely related. It's so much easier to get information now.
Jessica: I was very closeted as a child. I felt like I had to be. I would go out
00:36:00of the room if there was somebody on television cross-dressing in a movie or TV
show because I didn't want anybody to see that I wanted to see that.
Kaylin: Right. Yeah.
Jessica: It's not easy when you're a kid.
Kaylin: No. Could you tell me about your experience in theater that you mentioned?
Jessica: In theater? I got involved in theater ... I never did theater in high
school. I got tricked into auditioning for a play. They wanted me to be in it.
It was a production of Our Town. I didn't drive so I didn't have a way to get to
rehearsals so I didn't do it.
Jessica: Holly was, again ... Holly pulled me into a lot of things. She was
involved in a local theater group called Asheville Repertory Theater. She called
00:37:00me and said, "Hey, could you do sound for us?" I was already working in radio. I
said, "Yeah, I guess."
Jessica: I went down and did sound for production for them. They asked me to
start doing a radio and I did. I started ... I got involved with the
theater group and this was a community theater. Everybody would get together and
say, "Let's put on a play."
Jessica: We became fairly well known in Asheville. We had a loft theater that
was in the same building Holly and I worked in. We did the kind of things that
the actual community theater couldn't do. We did Sam Shepard, we did Glengarry
Glen Ross. We did locally written plays. We did unique stuff. That was fun.
Jessica: I did mostly sound. I did lights on one show. I ran the house on one
show. I got drafted into acting. Holly was supposed to do a walk on part and she
couldn't do it one night and said, "I need you to do this for me." I said, "All
right." Oddly enough, it was a trans character. Ended up doing the role for the
whole show. Just a walk on, no dialog or anything like that but it was a locally
Jessica: I enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing theater. I did not enjoy acting. I was
scared to death. I was used to being in radio and behind the microphone and
being out of sight. I really enjoyed it. I met a lot of really great people. We
00:39:00did some fun stuff.
Jessica: Got to be in a play that Holly directed. I got to direct a couple
plays. That's what I really enjoyed. I miss it. I don't miss the work and the
time that you had to devote to it. We made money and if we made money we got
divided up. I think the most I ever got paid was about $16. I had fun. We got
some really good reviews.
Kaylin: That's awesome.
Jessica: Never did Rocky Horror, though. Always wanted to. As a play.
Jessica: We talked about doing some more esoteric plays like Vampire Lesbians of
Sodomy. Excuse me just a moment. I'm going to go get a napkin.
Kaylin: Yeah. No worries.
Jessica: Okay. That's much better. More of that.
Jessica: That's my phone. It'll have to wait. I'll catch that call later. Okay.
Kaylin: Okay. Did being part of the community help bring you into contact with
00:41:00people of different classes or racial backgrounds?
Kaylin: If so, how did that [crosstalk 00:50:31].
Jessica: I'd say it did. Admittedly, one of the things ... We were finally
getting more is more people of color within the transgender community. For the
longest time it just wasn't there. Holly and I were like, "How do we reach out
to these people? We know they're there. We know they exist." I'm seeing more of
that now with groups like Trans Nation. I'm really glad that's happening.
Jessica: I've met people from, like I said, all kinds of backgrounds. I've met
people from poverty level, living on the streets, to owning their own airplane
in the trans community. I've met people from all political walks of life, like I
said, Democrat, Republican, in-between, libertarian. All religious backgrounds,
Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, all within the transgender community.
Jessica: I like that. I like learning about people. I like experiencing. I got
to go down and participate in a celebration one Halloween. I'd never
done anything like that. Even though I consider myself a Christian I was like,
"This is great. This is not my path but I can honor it and honor the people."
Kaylin: You say you consider yourself a Christian.
Kaylin: I am just curious how religion plays into your experience as a trans person.
Jessica: A lot of guilt.
Jessica: Because everything is ... It's so odd, especially growing up in the
South because you have this ... They use what they call the clobber passages in
Jessica: You know, man shall not wear that which pertain to a woman and vice
versa. Then the same group that is preaching on that used to turn around and
have a at their church, which used to be a big deal here in the
South. I used to see those in the newspaper, see them and going,
"Wow. I wish we had something like that."
Jessica: I just find it just an interesting dichotomy because it was all in fun.
I think it was also kind of like their version of a minstrel show. You can't do
00:44:00minstrel shows anymore so they thought, "We'll do this. The women haven't risen
up yet." I honestly think some people their attitude was like that. I also think
there are probably a lot of trans people who got involved in those women-less
weddings and women-less beauty pageants because it was the only outlet they had.
Jessica: I've been very lucky. I grew up in a Baptist church but it was really
pretty mellow, not one of the screaming and pounding and shouting Baptist
churches, which I was thankful for. I'm just not a church person but I have a
very strong faith and my faith gets me through a lot of times.
Jessica: I used to pray to take this away from me. It's almost like it was just
a little quiet voice that says, "I gave you this for a reason. It's my reason,
00:45:00not yours. Just go along with me for a while." I honestly feel that. I do have a
very strong faith but I look around at some of the extremist religion, both left
and right, and I'm just like, "That's not me. I don't want to be involved with that."
Kaylin: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
Jessica: I hope that answers that.
Kaylin: No, yeah. Absolutely. Would you say that the religious community in
Asheville is pretty inclusive or do you try and [crosstalk 00:55:22].
Jessica: It depends on where you go.
Jessica: Now we did a program with five, we'll call, welcoming churches and we
ran some short films and we had question and answer period. I participated in
that. That was great. That was a mix. There was a Baptist church, a Quaker
group. It was five completely different churches.
Jessica: There's several churches who are very open and welcoming and
supportive. All Souls Church has always been very supportive. First United
Church of Christ downtown very supportive. I've got to see some very good
programs there because they welcome the LGBT community.
Jessica: I've also seen, especially working in radio ... I used to work for a
... I used to do Sunday afternoon gospel at a local radio station and had to
work with a couple of preachers. That was a unique experience. I've also seen a
00:46:00lot of extreme animosity. It seems to be a lot of the same people who go in that
direction and almost make ... It's almost like they try and make a career out of it.
Jessica: There's a couple of local political people who ... I'm not going to get
into the names. I'm not going to give any advertising. It's like they go out of
their way to target specifically the trans community. They see the gay and
lesbian community as making strides and realize they can't stop them so they go
Jessica: A lot of it comes from just flat out ignorance. A lot of it comes from
00:47:00no desire to learn. I think that the more that we have trans people out there
and put a face on it that the more likely the average person is going to say,
"Hey, I know somebody."
Kaylin: Can you tell me more about your work with the preachers?
Jessica: I ran the board.
Jessica: I remember one instance specifically. I had not expected to do this. I
had to come in early and help out because somebody had to go out of town. I went
in, talked to the guy. He was nice, polite. I said, "All right. Here's the
headphones." "What's that for?" "That's so you can hear yourself and know what
you sound like." I figured, "Okay, this is going to be easy" and I set the
monitors and did some levels and then the next thing I know the guy is moving
all over the studio away from the microphone.
Jessica: I'm sitting there just jockeying the controls and one of the hardest
things I ever did, trying to keep up with him. I wanted to go in and strap those
headphones on him and say, "Stop and listen to this."
Jessica: I filled in at a radio station in Black Mountain preacher
on Sunday. I talked to ... A couple of them specifically were targeting LGBT
people. I said, "Why are you doing that? Why do you promote so much hate?" "It's
not hate." I said, "Yes, it is and you know it." They. I'm
only here for one day. I don't care.
Jessica: I've seen people ... I went to a program Tuesday night at the library
about Keeping Asheville Queer, LGBT history in Asheville. There was a Baptist
00:49:00preacher there. He just asked a couple questions and I went over and talked with
him afterward and he said, "I'm just curious. I don't know how to address
people." I said, "The fact that you're here willing to ask questions is a big
plus." I wish there were more people like that.
Jessica: There's certain people that are never going to. There's certain people
that as we've seen with certain politicians and all that end up getting caught
doing something. Sometimes the ones who want to scream and yell about it the
loudest are the ones that are doing it in the closet. I think that's more common
than we think. They've done studies where it shows the more homophobic you are,
00:50:00the more likely you are to be gay or lesbian or trans or whatever. I think
that's true. I've seen examples of it.
Jessica: I had an experience one time where I was walking along in front of a
store, dressed like I am now. I had a black sweatshirt on. I got my
hair pulled back. I'm presenting as male. This guy is leaning over looking at
some plants. He turns to me and says, "Excuse me, honey. How much are these
plants?" I just wasn't thinking. I just walked by, "I don't know." Out of the
corner of my eye I saw him jerk his head and look at me and I heard this, "Damn faggot."
Jessica: I turned around and looked at him and started to say something but I
00:51:00didn't. I just went on. I said, "I'm not in the mood to deal with stupid today."
I mean, this is somebody that they misgendered me and then they blamed me for it.
Jessica: Things like that have happened. I've had different things like that.
I've seen it happen to a lot of other people. Sometimes it's been fun. You know,
when people get ... Especially if you're at Halloween or something. People get
confused. People are trying to figure out who's who and who's what and what's
what. That can be fun sometimes.
Jessica: Then I've seen people who, like that one guy, they make the mistake and
then they get angry and blame you for making the big mistake. That's when it can
00:52:00get dangerous. I've seen that happen.
Kaylin: Yeah. What would you say that this region needs to better support and
include LGBTQ people?
Jessica: A community center.
Jessica: A brick and mortar community center. They're trying to get an online
community center but they need a brick and mortar community center. They need a
homeless shelter that is willing to deal with LGBT people and especially LGBT
kids. They need elder care.
Jessica: There's people that are working on that. There's Yvonne and others are
working on that because they know that nursing homes don't necessarily know how
to provide for trans people. When you have someone that has transitioned and has
00:53:00lived their life, spent the past 40 years of their life living one way and then
has to go into a nursing home and is getting told, "No, we're going to call you
sir" or, "We're going to call you ma'am" when you're a trans man ...
Jessica: We need more people to be out. We need more people to be willing to
listen and willing to ask questions. We need people within our own community who
are willing to accept all the different factions of the community and realize
we're all in this together.
Jessica: It used to bother me that I would go to another group and they were a
group mainly for straight crossing ... They were primarily for straight
00:54:00cross-dressers. I went out to eat with them and there's a gay waiter
who comes in and wants to bring his friend in to meet us.
Jessica: Then as soon as he's gone ... They're laughing and joking and as soon
as he's gone they're doing the same homophobic crap. I'm just like, "No, that's
not cool. That's not good at all. We don't need that."
Jessica: We need education. I think we need to make sure that kids in school are
protected from bullying. There's a lot of things we need. Hopefully, we'll get it.
Jessica: I'm figuring that when we get through this dark time right now we've
got politically, things will change. Right now it's not looking.
Kaylin: Yeah. Okay. What has provided you with the greatest satisfaction in life?
Jessica: Greatest satisfaction in life? I could list so many simple pleasures.
Greatest satisfaction in life? I have a daughter who is great. I have good
friends. Greatest satisfaction in life? I haven't hit that yet. I've just had a
lot of good things. I've had some bad things too. I went through a bout with
clinical depression years ago. That was hard. When I went through that I
realized I may face depression the rest of my life off and on but I know how to
ask for help now. I can ask for help. I see that with other LGBT people.
Jessica: I think as far as satisfaction I'd say being involved in all of this,
being a part of it, even a small part. Knowing that maybe I've done something good.
Kaylin: Yeah. Yeah. Would you like to speak about the role that you've noticed
depression playing in the LGBTQ community?
Jessica: I can speak as a trans person. I know that it's there. I think we need
to remove the stigma that's attached to depression and realize ... I've had
00:57:00someone tell me, "Everybody gets depressed." That's not quite what we're talking about.
Jessica: You're going to have depression when you have ... Look at the amount of
youth suicides and a lot of that can be traced right back to societal attitudes.
If you are constantly being beaten down you're going to develop depression one
way or another.
Jessica: If you don't start addressing this and realizing ... I've heard people
on the anti side say that, "Well, look at all of these trans people committing
suicide. It's because of transgender." No, they're committing suicide because
you treat them like shit because they're transgender.
Jessica: When you have your rights stripped away from you, when you have people
telling you that you are worthless, that you are evil, that you are a sinner,
that's going to have an effect. We need to start realizing that and realizing
that that's where that comes from, not from being LGBT. Just because you're LGBT
doesn't automatically mean you're going to be depressed. I know some people who
are very happy people. You know?
Jessica: I generally live a pretty happy lifestyle.
Kaylin: Yeah. Yeah. Well said. How has the world changed since you were young?
Jessica: In so many ways. There is information out there now that if I had had
when I was younger, oh, wow. There are people coming out at younger ages, which
I think is fantastic. People are willing to stand up for themselves.
Jessica: You're always going to have a backlash but on the whole it's becoming a
global community, whether we want it to or not. If people just start realizing
that, "Hey, people are people. They generally want the same things, they want to
be clothed, fed, housed. They want to have work" and start realizing that we're
more alike than we are different.
Jessica: I think that's beginning to happen. There's always going to be a
backlash involved. It's always an action reaction thing. In order for a scale to
00:59:00balance when that scale has been hanging like this for so long even if you put
the exact same amount of weight on this side it's going to tip and make it look
like it's unbalanced again before it levels out.
Jessica: I've seen that with the civil rights movement. I think we need to ...
There's still things we need to do. Racism is still a far worse problem than we
realize in this country. If we don't with this and start realizing,
like I said, we're people ... There are no racists. There is the human race.
Some of us may be Martian but sometimes we feel like we are. If we don't start
realizing this is a human race, we're all in this together, we're screwed.
Jessica: I hope we're not. I'd like to see things get better. I think they will.
I try to be optimistic. I've had people tell me I'm too optimistic. I figure
it's better than being the other way. I can get cynical too.
Kaylin: That's all I have for you today.
Kaylin: Is there anything you'd like to add?
Jessica: Go out and meet a transgender person.
Kaylin: All right.
Jessica: You know, if you meet somebody generally most people are going to be
01:00:00okay with answering questions as long as you're polite, as long as you're
honest, as long as you're not a jerk. Most people are going to be cool. There's
certain things transgender people are really tired of hearing, "Where do you go
to the bathroom?" It sometimes makes me want to say, "Well, I've got a litter
box on the porch." Good enough for the cats, good enough for me.
Jessica: As long as people start really going up to gay couples and
saying, "Well, which one is the woman?" Neither of us. You know, people just ...
Don't be jerks to each other.
Jessica: That's what I would advise about anything. No matter what it is, no
matter what the subject is. Learn as much as you can. Broaden your perspectives,
01:01:00broaden your horizons. Pay it forward. I first heard that in a Robert Heinrich
book. He said, "You don't pay back, you pay forward." I've tried to make that a
part of my life, all before that movie ever came out. That's what I hope I
Jessica: I don't know if that was the interview you were looking for.
Kaylin: It was. It was incredible. Thank you so much.
Jessica: Thank you.
Jessica: Thank you. Glad to do it.
Kaylin: Yeah. I appreciate it.
Jessica: I didn't know what to expect.
Kaylin: Well, you did a great job.
Jessica: Thank you.
Kaylin: Thank you.
Jessica: How much was that by the way?
Kaylin: It was ... It's doing a slow spin-y thing. It was an hour 14.
Jessica: I mean, how much ...