Partial Transcript: I moved here site unseen. I had head about Asheville from friends. I moved from Gainesville, Florida, another university town. And I moved here because I had a few friends who had moved to Asheville, and also I had met some people at a lesbian writers' conference who had moved to Asheville.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke describes the reasons why he chose to move to Asheville.
Keywords: Asheville; Florida; Transgender; art; artists; creative; love interest; mountains; role models; seasons; topography; transitioning
Partial Transcript: I think that Asheville has an interesting thing that happens in that everybody feels that, because we are such an accepting place and community, that queer people can go anywhere and do anything and there's less bias because of that, in the popular view, in opinion, that we then don't get protection enacted. Because people think, "Oh, it's an accepting place, there's not really a problem. We don't need to press for this," which isn't actually accurate in my opinion.
And I also think that that also makes it so that there's fewer gathering points or places of connection for the queer community. And I'm speaking I guess just specifically to that experience. One of the neat things that I think exists in western North Carolina is there are some really cool things about Southern culture that exist here, because we're in the South. I've lived in the South my whole life. But in this area, as in many areas that border on the rural, you're oftentimes dependent upon your neighbor for things so you have to have a certain level of acceptance, because we are all interconnected. And I think that's something that informs how our community exists and coexists with other communities. And that because in the South we do have such a paucity of resources, I think overall and then most specifically for the LGBTQ population or community, that we really have to be good stewards of what we do have, what resources we have, whether those are financial or whether those are physical resources or resources of connection and networks in communities, so that we can survive and thrive.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke discusses the ways in which Southern culture intersect with Asheville's LGBTQ+ friendly reputation.
Keywords: Acceptance; HB2; Resources; Southern culture; building community
Partial Transcript: So, not really the most healthy place if you want to pursue a career or a life or a family sometimes. And I think that's one of the reasons why alcoholism is something that has had an interesting role in the LGBTQ community, alcohol consumption and how companies target the LGBTQ community. But that was the place where you could meet other people and find other people.
I think for a while there was a boom with bookstores that has waned definitely in recent years. And certainly Malaprops was I think the business that anchored downtown Asheville and began the resurgence, the renaissance, the gentrification. And it started as a lesbian bookstore, owned and operated. My awareness of bookstores I guess was in the 80s and 90s and there were, I don't know, close to a hundred across the county and Malaprops was one of them. And now there's maybe 10. So, I think that's a place that we no longer see people gathering. And the bookstores that have survived are the ones that have diversified and have brought in other communities and don't cater exclusively to the LGBTQ community.
I think in some larger urban areas we see LGBTQ centers, but in areas that are limited in geographic, as we are bounded by the mountains and maybe don't have access to as many resources as communities with larger economic bases do, it's hard to launch an LGBTQ center of some sort. So, not having that is challenging.
Keywords: Community building; Gathering; LGBT anchors downtown; Malaprops; alcoholism; bookstores; gay bars
Partial Transcript: I mean, that's a great question. That's something that I ponder frequently as I try to help create that, or curate that if I can. And I think finding events that appeal to a wide swath of who we are, that's the key. And that can be challenging, we have people from all different backgrounds who make up our contingency and to find something that's going to appeal to everybody is challenging. And then when we get to the level of what's going to be a safe space, or a safer space for most people, where people are going to feel that they can come and express themselves and be who they are and not receive any sort of censure, is very important. And I think that we see a lot of conflicts within our own community. So, those are the challenges.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke proposes some ways for the LGBTQ+ community to strengthen our support of one another and to encourage healthy gathering.
Keywords: Challenges; Community building; Internal Conflicts; Personal expression; Safe spaces
Partial Transcript: In the temples and synagogues that I went to there were lots and lots of people who had numbers tattoos on their forearms by the Nazis... who had escaped and were alive. And I got to hear about that frequently. That's the faith that I was brought up in. And my father had the opinion that his kids, I'm the older of two children for this particular marriage of my mother and father who are still alive and still together, he'd had a prior marriage and religion had been one of the things that was a place of conflict for him and his ex-wife. So, he wanted to make sure that his children in this new marriage did have a faith belief and a strong moral compass and background.
And his opinion was and continues to be that it doesn't matter, he feels that we're all praying to the same God, we're just doing it in different ways, God or Gods. And he said to my mom, "If you want them to be Jewish that's fine, but you're going to have to make sure they get a religious upbringing. And if you don't want to do it I'll bring them up Greek and they will."
My mom chose to bring us up as Jews. Matriarchal descent is the way that it's done in that religion anyway, so that was convenient. But I didn't quite fit in there because I had a father who wasn't Jewish. Being from a part of Greece where we're very close to Turkey in a land that has gone back and forth historically between different countries and rulers, and being somebody who's dark-skinned, darker-skinned, was interesting in Miami at the time. Because there was a huge influx of Cubans and Latino Americans of all those sorts in those years, and there was a large segment of Miami old white folks who weren't very excited about hearing Spanish and about seeing people who didn't look like them. I looked just like all the rest of the Latin Americans and Spanish folks.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke discusses his religious identity and background and the cultures in which he spent his young life.
Keywords: Activist; Classes of "Other"; Faith minority; Gainesville, FL; Greek Orthodox; Jewish; Miami, FL; Religion; Social Justice; anti-semitism
Partial Transcript: My family has audiotapes of me when I was two years old. My mother was sending audiotapes back to my grandmother who was stateside, because my family was over in Greece and my dad, was a boat captain. And my dad was doing his thing over there working and they took me with them, so my mother was sending audiotapes back to my grandmother so she could participate that way in my development.
And we have a tape that's sitting in my desk at home right now, a little cassette tape, where she asks me what I want to be when I grow up and I very clearly say, "I want to be a boy." So, for clarification she asks me in Greek, "Do you want to be a boy?" and I say, "Yes." And then she asks me in Italian. Not, "Do you want to be a boy?" She said, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Because she thought I might be confused with all the languages. So, in three languages I told her I wanted be a boy when I grow up.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke explains coming out to his grandmother at age 2, "I want to be a boy."
Keywords: Greek; Self-Awareness; coming out; dual language; transgender
Partial Transcript: Yeah. I don't know. I never got to meet my grandfather so I'd love to just speak ... My maternal grandfather, I never met. I'd love to just speak with him, know who he is. I'd love to speak with my maternal and paternal ... no, my paternal grandmother and grandfather because they both passed before I was born as well. I only knew one grandparent. So, any of them just for that family connection and some sort of a sense of continuity and connection. I feel like I've inherited a lot of traits and a lot of physical resemblance to my father, so just to see more reflections of that would be interesting.
On my mother's side, there's particular folks. Some of my grandmother's cousins who I would like to speak with a little bit more. They've passed as well. But she had a couple of cousins who never got married and I suspect that there might have been some gayness or something like that.
They might have been family in two senses of the word, exactly, so that might account for why they didn't get married, who knows. And I also would like to question my grandmother a little bit more as well, on my mother's side. They didn't get married until they were in their 30s and my mom always said that the war was part of that prevented that, but there were plenty of people who that didn't limit really. I guess my grandfather got drafted, he was not a teenager when he got drafted.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke thinks about what ancestors in his family he'd like to speak with, especially those who never married.
Keywords: a different time; ancestors; gay family; role models
Partial Transcript: I've had some really neat experiences and interactions with faith communities, and then some that were not so neat. But I think in particular the UCC churches and the Unitarian Universalists, really right after I moved to town ... I guess due to being able to access information about transitioning and having transitioned and being connected with the Phoenix Transgender Support Group, when these organizations were looking to get their certification to be open and affirming congregations there was a series of things that they had to do to interact with the communities.
And they reached out to local LGBTQ organizations and had people come in and speak on panels and speak to congregants and talk to families, talk with the youth groups. So, I got to do a good bit of that, and the groups that I remember them reaching out to are CLOSER, which is a general LGBTQ support group that I don't think exists anymore. And the Phoenix Transgender Support Group was another one.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke discusses his interactions with local LGBTQ+ organizations, including CLOSER and Phoenix Transgender Support Group. He describes his speaking engagements and transgender advocacy work. 2001 - 2004.
Keywords: Advocacy; All Soul's Cathedral; CLOSER; Church; LGBT gathering; Phoenix transgender support; Youth groups; faith communities; national speaker
Partial Transcript: In Asheville. I've gone to the temple and the synagogue, the way they are called here by the Jews, which is funny. And I mean, they're fine. They're nice. I think that Jews have this opinion that, because Jews had traditionally been a marginalized class in the past, that, "Oh, we think we're open to everyone," and that everyone knows that they're welcome. And I think that that's true to a certain extent, but that doesn't always relate or transmit.
And in fact, it is also somewhat I'll say irritating to me when some of the local Jewish organizations brought in trainers from the northeast to train and speak to their congregations about how to be LGBTQ inclusive. And specifically in our mountain community in the South, when there are groups on the ground who are actively doing that work, it's irritating. But when we think about the ways that Southern communities work and differ from the ways that northeastern ones do, it felt a little bit short-sighted on their part.
I would say that we've done some really great work with reconciling Methodist groups, and you've been a part of that.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke discusses his faith experience, talking in particular about LGBTQ+ inclusion efforts across faith communities and being subjected to and helping with "training" congregations to be welcoming.
Keywords: Baptists; LGBTQ inclusive; Methodists; Southern inclusion; advocacy; religious inclusion; sensitivity training
Partial Transcript: In western North Carolina, I think that one of the table settings for this conversation, I think for me, is the fact that the Phoenix Transgender Support Group, that's the longest continuous running transgender support group, one of the longest continuous running support groups in the world. We're the longest continuous running one on the East Coast for sure. I think there's one on the West Coast that's got us beat, so we're I think top two.
Not that anybody's counting and not that I'm one that likes hierarchy particularly. But that has an impact on the community, right? And it attracts people. That's how I got to Asheville, was because I knew that there were people that were here that were transgender. So, we have probably more trans people per capita than your average small town, and probably larger than many major metropolitan areas. Although I think that with the attention that's coming from the media and generations that are more open-minded and more freethinking and more creative than ones that have preceded them are rising, that we're seeing more and more people identifying as transgender and under the transgender. And I believe that that's because there's a better spread of information where people know how to access what they need.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke states that more transgender folks exist in WNC than perhaps other places of similar size, and he argues that the presence of transgender support groups in Asheville is key to elevating the level of care and inclusion within healthcare spaces here.
Keywords: Phoenix transgender support; Tranzmission; advocacy; physicians; support groups; training healthcare professionals; transgender
Partial Transcript: So, there were certainly things like available out there but I didn't really have a strong sense of autonomy at that point in my life. I went there and my goal was to find more gay people. I did that and then needed to find myself within the community and play and explore and grow. And pretty quickly flunked out of college.
And then I went back home to my parents for, I don't know, six months or a year or something like that after two semesters there. Then did another semester at a junior college and then moved up to Gainesville. And then over the course of eight years got a two-year degree. And that's where I stopped because I thought, "I don't want to put any more money in this until I really know what I want to be when I grow up."
Because I've always had wide-ranging interests, and while education's always been important to me, being an autodidact has served me well. I've always been able to learn whatever I needed to learn. Hindsight's 20/20 and there's really a lot of great stuff that happens when you are in an institution that is focused around learning and knowledge, you can succeed more rapidly. And certainly having letters behind your name goes a long way.
Segment Synopsis: Zeke explains his college experiences and the search for his autonomy and self-actualized identity.
Keywords: advocacy; autonomy; college; educational institutions; flunked out; identity; looking for gays; moving back home; parental influence; social justice; worker's movements
Partial Transcript: You know, for schools, we also have done a number of trainings in preschools, kindergartens. We regularly do panels and speak to the students at a number of schools, middle schools and high schools mostly in the area. And obviously Francine Delany for the younger kids, Evergreen for the middle school kids, Asheville High T.C. Roberson.
We worked with all of them. And we also were able to work with other community organizations to really get some good policy in place for Buncombe County schools, some beginnings of good policy for their treating gender identity and how facilities are accessed by transgender students in schools. Taking it from a everything's a one-off case to a, "No, here's a blanket how we work with trans students."
Segment Synopsis: Zeke explains that "all of our struggles are united" and that our distrust within the LGBTQ+ community is harmful. He describes some of the educational advocacy work done here in Asheville, primarily in local schools.
Keywords: Evergreen; Francine Delaney; TC Roberson High; diversity training; hotline; microaggressions; sensitivity training; solidarity; transgender advocacy; transgender education; trust; unity
Partial Transcript: Yeah. That's something when I was at a homeless forum, that actually was at the UCC church that I pointed out, and it set off some light bulbs with some people over at Blue Ridge Pride a few years back. And I think working with youth outright also ... The recent small survey samples that we've done, most LGBTQ kids don't try and access services because they're afraid of that. And they end up doing a lot of couch surfing. Some of them engage in survival-based sex work of varying kinds. And I don't think that we have an accurate estimation or tally of how many of those youth that we see, because it's difficult to count, it really is.
Rachel Muir: Right.
Zeke C. People just fade into the fabric. And we do have kids who access direct services with all the different organizations that I listed. We've got kids who will come to our youth and families programs. We've got kids that will show up at our name change clinics. We've got ones who are disenfranchised from their families, ones who've been kicked out, ones who will show up at the youth homeless shelters or at the adult shelters looking for food.
And we'll hear stories from some of them about how they're forced to ... I don't know. Youth is difficult because you have the 18 and below and then you have the 18 to 24 group that still gets categorized as youth but really have reached the legal age of majority. So, that 18 to 24 group is the group that we tend to interact with more. Definitely here I work with kids, the 18 and below group. So, for the ones that can access social services under their own agency as somebody who has reached the age of legal majority, we know stories of them being forced to be housed in the wrong gender, which we know there's ... we've seen instances of physical and sexual violence. And certainly it's psychologically damaging for those folks
Segment Synopsis: Zeke discusses ongoing safety issues impacting LGBTQ+ communities, including homelessness.
Keywords: LGBTQ+ youth; advocacy; allies; community building; discrimination; getting help; homeless; safety; shelters; social services