Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:03 - Introduction

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: Good afternoon. My name is Rachel Muir. I'm one of the
interviewers for the oral history project. That's part of a program here at the
University of North Carolina Asheville. Today I'm interviewing Yvonne
Cook-Riley. I have a series of questions that we will walk through. She has been
kind enough to bring a series of artifacts. We will look at those artifacts and
discuss them, and she is free to speak about any topic that she wishes during
the course of our interview today. Good afternoon, Yvonne.

Yvonne: Thank you, Rachel, and thank you for the kindness and the generosity of
giving me an opportunity to do this oral history project for people that might
be listening to this long after I am gone, and actually find it maybe
interesting. {00:01:00} That can actually happen sometimes. But, I will warn you in advance
that this is copyrighted material under my name. If you're going to use this
material that we will be talking about, please be sure to credit Rachel, who is
making this recording, and the sponsors of Blue Ridge Pride Organization, and
the Asheville North Carolina University at Asheville on their campus. I think
that got some of the business out of the way. What do you think, Rachel? Where
are we going?
Rachel Muir: I think we're good. I think I should mention the date. It's April
17th. We are on the campus of the University of North Carolina Asheville. As we
begin, we're going to start with a series of questions.
Yvonne: How about the year? Maybe somebody will hear us in the year 20 ... Or ...
Rachel Muir: 3000.
Yvonne: 3000, and say, "What did these guys do back then?" {00:02:00} Basically, let's give
them the year.
Rachel Muir: The year is 2019. Would you be kind enough and willing to share
with us your age, Yvonne?
Yvonne: At the present time, I am close to if not feeling like about 68 years
old, heading pretty close to 80 pretty quick. I try to slow it down a little
bit, chemically, and hormonally and mentally, but it keeps on creeping up on me,
and it gives me these issues of no longer being able to do that physical
activity that I once was. The old saying is what you used to do all night now
takes you all night to do. Well, give it a week.

Segment Synopsis: Rachel Muir and Yvonne Cook-Riley introduce themselves and discuss giving credit for using this interview, their location and the date, and Yvonne's age.

Keywords: University of North Carolina Asheville; Western North Carolina

00:02:52 - Childhood

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: That brings up an interesting first question. {00:03:00} How many of those
years have you lived in Western North Carolina, and if you are from someplace
else, what brought you here?
Yvonne: Okay. That's the first hour's story.
Rachel Muir: We're ready.
Yvonne: We're ready. Let's see. Where to start? I guess we start at the
beginning, because most books do in the first chapter. In the first chapter, I
had the wonderful opportunity of coming into Human existence in the city of
Gary, Indiana, right outside of Chicago in 1941, right before World War II,
somewhere before World War II. No, I did not get drafted in that one. Years
later, I came close, but I enlisted on time. Anyway, I grew up within {00:04:00} three,
four blocks of the blast furnaces of United States Steel, and my memories of
childhood is related to the making of steel in the United States, which Gary,
Indiana in the 1940s was, and it was working full blast for the war effort.
Yvonne: I lived there until I was eight years old, and we finally couldn't
handle the smoke and pollution any longer. We moved eight miles south, to a
little town that was called Merrillville. It was a farm town, farm community. We
lived right next to a big dairy farm, and this we had clean air, except for when
the trains would go down the railroad track and be billowing smoke, because they
were still at that time steam driven, and {00:05:00} gave me a total fixation on railroads.
Yvonne: When I lived in Gary, I was living close to a railroad track called the
B&O, to which my grandfather was a conductor with the B&O, and his story, really
quick, which I learned later in life was that he was a bigamist, and he had one
family at one end of the line and another family at the other end of the line.
He would go between the two families on his regular route back and forth.
Yvonne: I like to say I was part of that tradition and tried to maintain it, but
by that time it became illegal, and I had to drop that idea. Moving on, now, I
{00:06:00} went to this farm town and grew up on a dairy farm, which meant that it's 5:30
in the morning, you were up, and you went to bed about eight o'clock at night to
get up at 5:30 the next morning and do it all over again, and in the interim you
went to school. That is basically how my life was designed and put out. When you
were at that age, you were very much the subject of the environment of where you
were existing in, and there was a very interesting and profound lesson that I
learned in that period.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne discusses her hometown of Gary, Indiana, as well as moving to Merrillville and living on a dairy farm during her childhood.

Keywords: Childhood; Farmland; Hometown; Indiana

00:07:02 - The Transgendered Experience

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yvonne: It goes along {00:07:00} with the story of why am I here. Why am I even talking
about myself and realizing that I'm Yvonne Cook-Riley, a person of transgendered
experience. I have to go back and relate to you how do I know that I was a
person of transgendered experience. When I was an adolescent, growing up for the
very first time, outside of the steel mill environment, which was very macho in
the 1940s, which was male-dominated, alcohol and sex infused kind of an
environment, where women did not work in the workplace, but they stayed at home.
Yvonne: The environment also lent itself {00:08:00} to a strong religions community that
was involved. My grandmother at that time period, was a Baptist, and she felt
that we should be involved in that community. I totally kind of really did not
feel comfortable with it at the age of three, and totally rejected every
opportunity to not feel that I need to be religiously organized, educated. I
carried that with me for close to 80 years. That hasn't changed at all.
Yvonne: The passion at that time for me was dealing with the awareness that {00:09:00} how
I felt was not congruent with what other people's anticipation of my behavior,
or at that time we didn't have the terminology of gender fluent or whatever. So,
I was very uncomfortable. What gave me great comfort was looking at images that
were female, that I can identify with, and draw into myself, and escape from my
reality into the beauty, the kindness, and the intelligence of women.
Yvonne: That was my goal. {00:10:00} I really didn't share that with my mother and father,
but it exposed itself one day when I pursued myself as dressed or presented in
female attire, and I was three or four years old at the time. I don't remember
exactly the date or when. I knew it was the summertime, because I was in a light
dress, and we had a two-story house. I came off the second story out of the
bedroom, and I walked into a coffee clutch that my mother was having in the
front room or the dining room, or living room at that time, and I was
immediately {00:11:00} met with a resistance to my behavior.
Yvonne: This was reinforced by my father, and reinforced with my first exposure
to a hospital with a broken collarbone. These experiences at that age gave me a
life lesson that no matter what I did or how I felt, I could not share, and I
had to keep this internal secret of pursuing my desire for the next 38 years.
Or, no ... It would be less than that, but take four away from about 40 years
old, and 36 years I guess. For 36 years, I fell in line and went along with {00:12:00} the
masculine side of my behavior, and journeyed along in pain.
Yvonne: Everything I did was in secret, by myself, alone. Could not share. I was
not a very intuitive person. I did not have a library card at the time, and
there was nothing in the library anyway at that time, so I guess information was
totally unlike the year 2020, where you have your computer in your pocket, and
you can tap a little, what we call a cellphone at this time, to retrieve all
kinds of information. That was not available. I {00:13:00} hope that maybe one of you
social anthropologists would find it comfortable enough to look at my story and
say it's worth of being repeated, because it exemplified what most people of my
time were doing as an adolescent, before puberty.
Yvonne: As puberty existed and came along, the need to present my feminine self
in the mirror was more prevalent, and I fell in love with this image that I saw
in the mirror. That love continues today. How that has moved me into my
relationships, {00:14:00} into my life, and into my later years as an elder has all been
based upon that continuous reinforcing of that love of myself and that
reflection that I saw in the mirror at that age.
Yvonne: Now, as I move along in the story, as we get into later years, I have
shared with my person who is co-presenting on this, my photo album. I hope that
we will have some way of being able to attach photographs of some of the things
and archiving some of the things that are pivotal to my story.
Rachel Muir: We will, Yvonne.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne describes what it felt like during her childhood to feel the need to express her feminine self, and the fears that cam along with that due to the beliefs that the townspeople held. Yvonne also describes the first time that she dressed in female attire and the violent reaction her father had.

Keywords: Childhood; Experience; Rejected; Transgender

00:14:58 - Coming to Asheville, North Carolina

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yvonne: All right, and now I've got to take a drink of water, so {00:15:00} let's look at
my first example that goes into my story. Moving into ... I was in Northern
Country. How did I get to the southern part of the world?
Rachel Muir: And how did you get to Asheville specifically?
Yvonne: My mother had the great courage to get into what was considered a mixed
marriage at the time. My father was from the North, and my mother was from the
South. Again, this was at the beginning, and this was in the 1930s, and people
didn't move like they do in later years. This was right after the depression.
So, {00:16:00} relationships didn't happen outside of that little community that you were
raised in. My mother was an exception, because she was going to college, and my
father went to conferences and different things like this, and they had the
opportunity to meet in Montgomery, Alabama.
Yvonne: Coincidentally, her father also worked for the United States Steel in
Bessemer, Alabama, as well as my father worked for the United States Steel in
Gary, Indiana. So, there was a coincidence there that made my family's
connection between the North and the South. I guess the rest of my life I spent
between the two of them, {00:17:00} until my later years, after my transition and coming
out, that I was invited to the mountains here to be a part of a group called
Kindred Spirits. Kindred Spirits, again I will talk about that quite a bit later
was based here in Asheville, North Carolina, and using Hot Springs, North
Carolina as our gathering site, and did a lot of our work in the group on Max
Patch, which opened up a whole segment of my life that I was not aware of.
Yvonne: My first experience in Asheville came in 1992, {00:18:00} when I was invited to a
conference in Hot Springs. The first week I sensed that there was something
predominately right about being in the mountains. I couldn't put my finger on
it, but it was very very grounding. It was very earthshaking to me, mentally.
So, I came back from that experience, and I quarried my favorite aunt and said
to her. I said, "Betty, I had an experience in Asheville that I just can't
shake." She says, "Well, that's not surprising. That's where you're from."
Yvonne: I had to come back, and think about that, and say, "Where you been?" He
says, "Well, your grandfather {00:19:00} was born there, and right after the Civil War, and
the place of birth was Mills River." And, consequently when he had to find work
he ended up, like I said, in Birmingham, Alabama, working for United States
Steel, because he was a smithy. He worked with metal, and shaped a lot of the
working tools at the time and the early turn of the century, from 18 to 1900s.
Yvonne: My heritage, and you have a plaque over there that brings me to the
research that I did after living here, to find out that I was {00:20:00} privileged enough
to become a member of the first family of Buncombe County, which was formed in
1780. So, I think that my roots are well established in Western North Carolina.
As my story goes on, it will reinforce the reason for the fact that I have
chosen to come here in my later years, to die, basically. To die where a spirit
would welcome me, and to feel that I have completed my journey, and I have come home.
Yvonne: They do say you never can come home, but that was a drunk, {00:21:00} that was
another culture, and I don't pay any attention to them. They have a talent that
I do not. They can write. I can't. Or, I'm so handicapped as a person of severe
dyslexic behavior that writing and a writing skill evaded my life and also my
education. So, I'm very fortunate, I feel, like I have been able to pursue
kindergarten very well, and I have mastered the ability to take a nap. More
today than before.
Yvonne: I think that the lessons that I learned as a youth were more inline with
the ability to listen to other's stories, not just to share {00:22:00} mine. Of course, I'm
in your ear today, or now, and I am sharing mine, so what comes around goes around.
Rachel Muir: Yvonne, we have, as you know, we have sort of a script of
questions, and you've covered a lot of ground in the opening questions already,
but there are a couple of things I'd like to pick back up on, if you don't mind.
Yvonne: Okay, if you want to, but this is the reason why I'm here in Western
North Carolina.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne describes how she first came to Asheville, North Carolina. She discusses her family's roots within Western North Carolina and how it has now became a place for her to call home and peacefully die when the time comes.

Keywords: Asheville, North Carolina; Home; Journey; Roots; Western North Carolina

00:22:26 - A Neutral Amount of Life Improvement Since Coming to Asheville

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: How has your life improved since you've gotten here?
Yvonne: Good, but not so much. My life was pretty fantastic before coming here.
I came here with the advice of a person we'll be talking about later, and I had
a job. Most people when they come here, they just pick up the roots, and follow
their heart {00:23:00} and mind. They're still on the trail over at the Appalachian Trail,
and they just stopped here and never got on with the rest of their life, maybe.
I don't know. When I got here, it was already established the concept that this
was the P-town or the San Francisco of the mountains. The LGBT community was established.
Yvonne: It was both underground and above ground. People were coming here to
seek the comfort of the connectedness to Mother Earth. Hippies, or tree-huggers,
{00:24:00} or whatever you want to call them, but basically fundamental people that look
upon the spirit of the mountains, which is still very very relative, and every
morning that I wake up. That being said, I brought a tremendous amount of
talent, resources, having now moved through my life and have moved from the
masculine to the feminine many years before coming to Asheville.
Yvonne: So, I brought that experience of that transition with me to help other
people, and also to appreciate more the way of the native American spirituality.
{00:25:00} I studied hard the concept of the Red Road, which is not as dominant at the
time, 20, 25 years ago, in the native community as it now is coming back. So,
I've been a part of that teaching for over 20 years, or 25 years, I guess, here
in Western North Carolina. Why don't you throw another question at me, because
I'm getting ready to run out of words, and I need a drink of water.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne discusses how her life was fantastic before coming to Asheville and that much had not changed when she arrived here. Yvonne came to Asheville already aware of the LGBT community and brought talent and resources to this community because of her transitioning experience. Yvonne also discusses experience with and appreciation to Native American spirituality.

Keywords: LGBT community; Native American Sprituality; Nature; San Francisco of the Mountains; Western North Carolina

00:25:43 - An Interest and Love of the Natural World

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: You drink your water, and I'll pose another question. How did a
child of the Midwest, from a steel town and a dairy farm connect with the
natural world, which in part you said was responsible for bringing you here to
Asheville, along with the fact that you had ancestors here?
Yvonne: {00:26:00} I was not aware of the ancestors here at the time that I was my youth.
My journeys into the South were into Birmingham, where I experienced what
slavery was all about, and what it mean to segregation, because I came down here
without segregation, so I drank from the wrong water fountain, and got scolded
by my cousins. But, go back. Tell me what it was you were asking about. I lost
my way.
Rachel Muir: That's okay. Your background, incidentally, in some ways like mine,
was from a rural part of the country and/or an industrial part of the country,
Gary, Indiana. My question was, you expressed an interest in the natural world.
{00:27:00} How did you come by that interest and love of the natural world, given your
background and where you grew up?
Yvonne: I lived primarily on a dairy farm. We had 26 milking heads, and farming
is an earth based occupation. The farm that I was associated with at the time
that I was young still had horses, and used animals to do a lot of the work.
Caring for the horses and this particular farm group had the total array of that
home grown. You had the garden. You had the orchard.
Yvonne: {00:28:00} You had the pigs. You had the chickens. You had the substance of our
everyday life was coming from these sources of earth from grandmother. As you
learned to be more appreciative of that that grows, you didn't take it for
granted. You knew that it required the work of planting. You knew that it
required the work of hoeing, and you knew that it also required the work of
harvest and preparation, so you worked seven days a week. There was no real
saying, {00:29:00} "I'm going to take this week off or that week off," in my youth. You
just moved along. Those cows got up in the morning, and if they didn't get
milked, the whole farm was going to get woke up. But, they got milked every day.
Yvonne: Most people don't realize a cow has to be milked two times a day: in the
morning and at night. So, you got into that rhythm of recognizing seasons. The
hardship of the seasons and the beauty of the seasons. What I remember so much
was migration had, at a time of my youth, when I would look at the sky and could
not see the son because {00:30:00} of the birds flying in the fall. To watch the V of the
geese and things like this was great. Living close to Lake Michigan, I was
involved with the harvest of some of the perch that was at the time, before the
Great Lakes became a huge fishing community, it was a very small fishing community.
Yvonne: So, I was introduced to our form of seafood, or our form of fish food,
which consists of perch and catfish, and things {00:31:00} like this. We didn't have
shellfish or the exotic shrimp. We had to import that. But these awarenesses as
a young person, and even today, to recognize that the gift of grandmother and
grandfather, grandfather being the gift of the universe, and grandmother being
the gift of the planet that we live on, is so important.
Yvonne: Here, in Western North Carolina, the people who live here who are aware,
honor so much that gift in their everyday life. So as I journey here and I talk
here, I talk about these things, and I don't shy away from mentioning the beauty
{00:32:00} of the trees, mentioning the beauty of the spring and the gift of the apples and
other fruit bearing trees that we have here. I think that my connection as to
the connection of my four fathers of recognizing the resources of what nature
had, and especially here, are something that the rest of the country only sees
in a travel monologue, or some little bit piece, but they don't live it.
Yvonne: Being here in Asheville North Carolina and Western North Carolina, if
you're here long enough, you will understand that no matter how you can deny it,
you're going to live part of the four seasons {00:33:00} and what they all represent, like
the four directions. All right, next question, please.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne discusses in more detail how she got an interest in Native American spirituality and how she grew an appreciation of the beauty of the world around her.

Keywords: Childhood; Familial Ancestors; Native American Spirituality; Natural world; Nature

00:33:06 - The Farm and Femininity

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: A little bit off the script, Yvonne, but I was curious, did your
life on a farm, where you had a responsibility of stewardship over the farm
animals and the land on which you lived, did you find that an avenue to express
femininity? That sort of empathetic and caring nature that often is required of
someone who lives in a rural environment, and lives off the land?
Yvonne: At the time, I could not express it in that way of saying, did I
identify with the nurturing of growth of seeds, and planting, and that kind of
thing to my feminine self. I was {00:34:00} pretty selfish at the time, because I was so
enthralled with that image that I was in love with in the mirror that I sought
that image out quite a bit when I could be alone. Working in solitude with the
land gave me a chance to experience getting balanced in that relationship
between my feminine side and my masculine side, and bringing the beauty that was
there that I could not talk about, because I didn't have the language to talk about.
Yvonne: Our vocabulary at the time, when the survival, and after the war, and
trying to make the {00:35:00} mortgage payment, and trying to look ahead and anticipate the
weather, and all these other things, and the elements I was not regularly
responsible for, because I was the child within the community doing those things
that were being required as a young person to do, such as the hoeing, the
picking of the weeds, the feeding of the chickens, making sure the pigs were
healthy, and birthing.
Yvonne: I got to help with birthing of pigs and cows, and I had a wonderful
wonderful veterinarian that came by, and I actually got to stick my hand in the
cow, and help the cow achieve {00:36:00} an orgasm as the sperm was being placed into the
cow. At the age of about 14, 15, I had that experience. Of course the
veterinarian at the time didn't tell me they had gloves.
Rachel Muir: You learned about the birds, the bees, and the cows.
Yvonne: Yeah. But, it was fun. It wasn't fun. It was work. It was hard work, and
it installed in me a sense that if you were going to do something, you had to
work at it.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne discusses how working on a dairy farm during adolesence created a balance between her feminine and masculine sides.

Keywords: Balanced relationship; Farmland; Feminine and masculine; Femininity; Gender; Language

00:36:54 - Academic Performance in Grade School

Play segment

Partial Transcript: At the time, I was under performing, and my {00:37:00} school situation, they
could not figure out what was wrong. They kept on giving me these things called
IQ tests, and I would sit there and kind of read what I thought I thought I
read, and answered the questions, or do the puzzles, or do whatever it was they
asked me to do, and they would evaluate the IQ potential and walk away with
their heads shaking, can't figure out what was going on.
Yvonne: Was it being dyslexic Which, wasn't a word that was used then, which it
was, but we didn't have the vocabulary or the research behind it. Because I was
close to Chicago, in the third grade I tested {00:38:00} 149 IQ. They sent me to the
University of Chicago, and I, as a child, I participated in research at the
University of Chicago for two years as they kept on testing me, monitoring me,
and shaking their head, and by this time they were able to determine that it
wasn't really worth it. That I would probably, no matter what I did, I would
probably survive quite well without a heavy, formal education. Which, today, if
I had my choice, I would go back and try to correct, but we have better tools
today that we didn't have back in the '50s.
Yvonne: I graduated from high school in 1960. I thanked several {00:39:00} of my teachers
for not letting me just slide by, but take a real effort in tutoring and making
sure that I could read, which I'm eternally grateful for. But, moving down the
road, sometimes that first 18 years or 20 years of your life has such great
great influence on how your path will be in the future, and the littlest thing
that could happen could direct that path in any one given direction. It's
amazing. Let's move on [crosstalk 00:39:59]-

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne describes her performance in school as a child. She discusses evaluations done on her IQ potential and becoming a test subject for research at the University of Chicago.

Keywords: Academic performance in grade school; Childhood; Education; IQ; Research; School; Test subject

00:40:01 - Coming Out

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: I {00:40:00} think if we work across the timeline, we're going to skip one set
of questions in our narrative, and we're going to come to the coming out
narrative, if you're okay with that. There's a series of questions.
Yvonne: Okay.
Rachel Muir: You also have the script, so you can follow along with me. The
first is, how would you characterize the relationship with your blood family, in
the context of coming out.
Yvonne: Coming out?
Rachel Muir: Yes.
Yvonne: That's easy. When it was exposed to my father, who was the domineering
person of the family, I was told, "You're an abomination. You're not worthy." My
father took up the {00:41:00} mantra, "The best part," now I don't know if this is going to
offend somebody, but this is what my father said. So I'm quoting my father. "The
best part of you went down your mother's leg." That was my feeling. That I
wasn't really worthy. That was my dad's attitude when I came out. He says, "I
will never speak to you again." Two weeks after he died, my mother out of guilt
called me and said, "I had to call you and let you know that your father has
passed on, and I want to be able to talk to you."
Rachel Muir: When was this, Yvonne?
Yvonne: This was probably about, {00:42:00} I'd say 1985, '86.
Rachel Muir: Okay.
Yvonne: If you do the numbers, that meant that I was in my 40s, or late 40s. I
already transitioned, and came out. Amazingly, my extended family, cousins,
aunts, uncles, things like this, was not as bigoted as my father. I never had a
problem with that part of my cousins, my aunts and uncles. They embraced me as
being a human being. Also, because {00:43:00} I had to follow my father's directive in
going into my 20s and 30s, I ran away from home. It was called the United States
Air Force.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne explains her father, mother, and extended family reacted to her coming out an transitioning.

Keywords: Coming out; Experience; Gender; Rejected; Transgender

00:43:13 - Enlisting in the US Air Force

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I ran away from home. It was called the United States
Air Force.
Yvonne: I enlisted in 1961, after getting out of high school in 1960, and was
immediately pushed into a career path that was kind of a trade school thing,
which might or might not served me well, but I was in communications, and I was
in {00:44:00} the kind of communications that I, because I had tremendously high security
clearance, I'm sorry I can only give you hints of what happened. I was at Cape
Canaveral when John Glenn went around the Earth. I was in Florida during the
Cuban Missile Crisis, and I was in Korea during the establishment of the Vietnam
War, and I am a Vietnam error veteran, and I had the privilege of going to
Vietnam for about an hour to fix some equipment, and get the hell out, at Da
Nang Air Force base.
Yvonne: So I had the privilege also traveling quite extensively in the Middle
East: {00:45:00} Japan, Korea, Philippines, Okinawa. Mostly Air Force bases. Getting off
the base every once in a while to see the community or town. In Korea, I lived
in the community most of the time. I had a place in the base, but I basically
lived out in the community. I could not read Korean, but just a little bit to
make out the headlines, or things like this, but I became immersed in the Korean
language at the time, and I was able to converse with what we call street
language. Not high languagers. Four dialects in Korea, and I learned the dialect
of the farmer or {00:46:00} the non-city dialect that was not the lowest, but the second
lowest kind of thing.
Yvonne: At that time, we were in Don't Ask, Don't Tell, so my preference of
gender and gender expression was stymied for four years. But, I found different
ways to get around it.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne describes enlisting into the US Air Force and the ways in which her gender and gender expression were hindered during this time.

Keywords: Feminine and masculine; Gender; Gender expression; US Air Force

00:46:33 - Marriage and Children

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I also got married, and I still haven't figured out why I
did that, but I felt that I was being pushed into it to reinforce that masculine
identity. At the time, it was a high school sweetheart who today we still have a
wonderful working {00:47:00} relationship together.
Yvonne: We had three children. Two girls and a boy. We have one boy and one girl
left. Our oldest daughter was killed in a horse accident at the age of 14, which
was profound, because at that time that that happened, it also shook me to my
core to say, "Why am I living a life that's not me?" That was a major point of
my transition of moving past that masculine identity which was well established
to my feminine identity. That was another little checkpoint in my life, and
because it was done within the family environment, it was also in that case too ...

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne describes her marriage and children, and how the death of one of her children creates Yvonne to go through a major point in her transition of moving past her masculine identity.

Keywords: Children; Feminine and Masculine; Identity; Marriage

00:48:01 - Awareness of the Gay Community

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yvonne: {00:48:00} One of the joys in my life is that because I was aware of the gay
community, and kind of going to the gay community's things, I was involved
before HIV, I knew where a good party was. It was where the gay bars were. I was
a good dancer, and I could dance all night for hours and hours on time. Today
I'm lucky to dance for 20 seconds. As we went on, I had a really nice social
environment with the gay community. Not so much the lesbian community, and never
heard of the bisexual, or never met one at that time.
Yvonne: Of {00:49:00} course, I always accused myself of maybe I wanted to be a bisexual,
but I tried to, and then I ran out of money, and I could not pursue it anymore.
Rachel Muir: Your first contact with the LGBT community was as a transgender
person. Though, that was probably not the word used at the time.
Yvonne: No. I wasn't doing drag yet, but I was exploring the gay community, the
gay lifestyle, because this is where we would see gender variant people that
presented very feminine, and they were beautiful. They were young, pervacious,
easy to talk to, easy to get along to. I was divorced {00:50:00} at the time, single, so it
gave me a great deal of latitude to find out where I was going. And let's revert
back to my family. At 14, my son came out as gay, and I think maybe I'd like to
talk about something that's very pertinent today, if I could, Rachel.
Rachel Muir: Of course.
Yvonne: In one of the examples of one of the things that you'll see in the
frame, or in the picture that has the blue frame in the archival material that's
at your feet.
Rachel Muir: I see it.
Yvonne: Would you describe what you see there?
Rachel Muir: Let me bring it up. {00:51:00} A bit of a stretch. In this frame, we have a
picture of a young woman and a young man, both wearing t-shirts that says,
"Love," and then is it Fresno?
Yvonne: No. It's, "Love sees no gender."
Rachel Muir: Sees no. The S is covered up. "Love sees no gender." It looks like
it's some sort of event. Perhaps a Pride parade.
Yvonne: Absolutely. It is Pride in New York City, for the 25th anniversary of Stonewall.
Rachel Muir: And the 50th one is coming up.
Yvonne: And the 50th one is this month. So, it's very pertinent that I have that
example for you. It will be in the archives in the photographic section {00:52:00} of this
package, or whatever the case may be, of me and my son, Eric, marching together
in the gay parade in New York City for the 25th anniversary of the movement of
Stonewall. I'm delighted to be able to say that I am a member of so many
organizations dealing with the LGBT community, but that comes a little bit later.
Rachel Muir: Wow. That's a fantastic photograph. Thank you.
Yvonne: Yeah, I actually was skinny back then.
Rachel Muir: It's a lovely photo, and you are lovely in it.
Yvonne: Thank you. I had legs.
Rachel Muir: She's got legs.
Yvonne: Yeah. Somebody says, "You've got such great legs, they run all {00:53:00} the way
up to heaven." I said, "You don't know what hell's like."

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne discusses her awareness of the gay community and how it was a very social environment for her. She also touches base on accusing herself of being bisexual. Yvonne also talks about and shares a photograph of her and her son at Pride in New York City for the 25th anniversary of Stonewall.

Keywords: Gay community; LGBT Community; Pride; Stonewall

00:53:04 - A Coming Out Experience

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: Can you describe one of your coming out experiences? Maybe one of
the first times you presented as a woman in public?
Yvonne: I presented in public in such a way that nobody would know that that's
what I was doing. But I will describe, if I can, the first experience that I had
interacting in an event that was held in 1984 in Chicago, Illinois, that was
based around a support group coming out of California that was dealing with the
then declared issues of {00:54:00} transsexual. George Sanders, who wrote a magazine back
then ... I can't remember the name, so excuse me for that, out of California,
dealing with transition of the male to female individual.
Yvonne: So I went to this gathering, and I'm sorry, the name escapes me for the
name of the gathering, but we had a total of 91 people of transgendered
experience at the gathering from all over the United States and Canada. That was
the first time that I met that many people of like individuals. {00:55:00} As anything
else, when it's so monumental that this is the first time you could sit down and
talk to somebody, and not have to lie, not have to hold back. The freedom of
being able to not carry that baggage was like a yoke being taken off my shoulders.
Yvonne: A freedom that I wanted to experience more and more, and I wanted to get
more and more involved in it.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne discusses the first time that she presented as female in public and the first time that she met a large group of individuals like herself.

Keywords: Coming out; Experience; Feminine; Freedom; Gender; Gender expression; LGBT Community; Transgender

00:55:39 - Experiences and Exposures During the 80s

Play segment

Partial Transcript: That experience and that particular conference was
another one of those points in your life that coming out and being exposed to
different people who have different needs, and learning {00:56:00} some of the coding, some
of the words that we were using back in this, and this was also at the time
where the AIDs academic issue was going through the gay community. It was a gay
issue. It was a stigma. It changed the whole atmosphere of the community.
Yvonne: Matter of fact, the gay community did an 180-degree turn. They were no
longer as gay, or happy, or whatever the case may be, as you would imagine back
in the day when you had these little clusters of lesbians and gays that got
together. For {00:57:00} them, there was no barriers. There was no rules, total anarchy.
Whatever felt good was acceptable, whatever you wore was acceptable, whatever
you looked like was acceptable.
Yvonne: Drugs was limited to poppers. There wasn't a big involvement in
pharmaceuticals at the time. Heroin was the worst thing that was on the street.
Pot didn't really have a big place at that time. Sex as what it was all about.
So, I learned what it meant to, now, because I ran out of money and I told you
earlier, what I was when I tried to bisex, and {00:58:00} could no longer be a bisexual. I
moved my category to trisexual.
Yvonne: I figured, if it was sex, I had to try it. So, I was easy. Good thing
there wasn't drugs involved, or I'd probably be dead now.
Rachel Muir: Yvonne, could you describe what a popper is?
Yvonne: A popper came in a little bottle like an energy drink, or things like
this, but you snorted it, and took it in the nose like cocaine. Cocaine was
probably prevalent back then too. But it wasn't cocaine. I twas kind of like a
base, but it boosted your {00:59:00} energy level up, and to an euphoric point, but not too
in a point of falling into NMOSD ultra state of consciousness that drugs will do
today. If you were on the dance floor, and you took a little snort of popper,
you could dance for another hour, hour and a half, and keep on going.
Yvonne: Today, they sell it as an energy drink. It's legal. That kind of thing.
Rachel Muir: I se.
Yvonne: Did that answer your question?
Rachel Muir: It does. So, in this time that you described in the mid-'80s as a
person who identified as a transsexual, how did other people in the community
receive you?
Yvonne: Well, they {01:00:00} didn't. Because, I didn't identify as a transsexual. Matter
of fact, I never really felt comfortable identifying with a transsexual. I had
friends who went through that route. It was still experimental at that time. It
was being done in Europe, and it was being done in the United States in Colorado
and in Canada. It wasn't as pervasive as it is today, because it was so few
practitioners in, and we call it sexual reassignment surgery, or SRS. Today, we
call it many many other things. But I did participate in {01:01:00} chemical behavior.
Yvonne: As soon as I could put my hands on hormones, I started taking Estrace or
birth control pills. Anything I could get my hands on that had female hormones
on it. There was a cactus derivative that they had on the market when I was
transitioning that didn't do a damn thing for me, but it was out there. Again,
we were going to funerals. We were participating in saying goodbye to
individuals {01:02:00} who were beautiful. Beautiful not only physically, but beautiful
mentally, beautiful in their art, and any form that you could identify with
alternative. And different segments.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne discusses her experiences with the gay community in the 80s when it came to sex, drugs, gender and sexual identity, and more.

Keywords: 80s; AIDS; Drugs; Experience; Exposure; Feminine and masculine; Gender; Gender expression; HIV; Hormones; LGBT Community; Sex; Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS); Stigma; Transgender

01:02:29 - Isolated Communities

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yvonne: In New York, it was one segment. In Chicago, where I was involved in a
little bit was another segment of where they lived. They lived in communities.
The term gayborhood was established back in the '70s. San Francisco was the
mecca. There was actually three meccas in the United States. There was San
{01:03:00} Francisco, the place of one of our most influential social political figures,
Harvey Milk, and there was Fire Island in New York, and Provincetown in
Massachusetts, on the East Coast. The South, you kind of got your way down to
the Florida Keys, out in the Keys to ...
Rachel Muir: Key West?
Yvonne: Key West. Thank you. And that community. All these communities were
isolated. They are isolated and within a geographic boundary. Once you {01:04:00} cross a
point in time in the landscape, you were involved in that particular community.
Like, walking into a nudist colony. You either felt like you belonged, or you
were embarrassed. I knew that they were there. I knew where they were at. I did
not partake of that particular community, but they were there, and I knew that
there had to be the gay community along with that same time.
Yvonne: There was a transgender community in Chicago that I did not connect with
earlier in the '60s and '70s, only because I was afraid. I went back to the
experience of my father. {01:05:00} I went back to the pain of having my collarbone broken
as I hit the wall. The fear of that was really tough, and the memories of that
time in my life brings back that isolation, that being glad to be out in a
cornfield by myself with my thoughts, because I didn't have to talk about it.
And that solitude that it represented was of my own making and my own peace, but
I wasn't happy. I was very conflicted. It came after the death of my oldest
{01:06:00} daughter, that conflict maintained itself, and the grief of losing my oldest
daughter manifestated for me a point of suicide.
Yvonne: The depression, at that time, was something that I really really
appreciate our soldiers that are going through it, and I understand how and why
they can commit suicide. But, I went as far as that point. I did not choose {01:07:00} a
gun, or a chemical, but I chose my vehicle to have an accident that would end my
life, and I was identifying as male. When I swerved back off the path of that
bridge embankment I was heading to, I made the decision that, "This is it. I
can't hide anymore." I had to come out.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne describes her experiences within isolated communities and the depression that she experienced that eventually led her to almost attempt suicide.

Keywords: Coming out; Confliction; Depression; Fear; Gay community; Geographic boundaries; Grief; Isolated; LGBT Community; Rejected; Solitude; Suicide; Trans community; Unconnected; Unhappiness

01:07:33 - The Beginning of Her Path

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Yvonne: This was back in the '70s. So I kind of worked my way into where I found
a group in the early '80s, and started on my path. That particular opportunity
in Chicago, there was people that became {01:08:00} my role models, and most of them today
are passed on to the other side.
Rachel Muir: Could you tell us about them?
Yvonne: Two people at that particular conference that was notable was also a
person from Indiana. Ellen Summers, who was married, was there, and as the years
go forward, we served on different boards, and committees, and things like this
as an activist. Then, a person called Merissa Cheryl Lynn. This is where I
really, I don't know if I made a mistake then or not, {01:09:00} but I don't think so. The
short story is that during Saturday night of this conference, we were dressed
up, and we went to downtown Chicago, to a place that had a five o'clock closing time.
Yvonne: It was a disco. If you know what it meant to be in a disco in the early
'80s, then you had some idea of really what a wild, friendly party that that
could be. No boundaries or anything like this, whatever, going on. At that time,
cocaine was the substance of choice, and it was readily available, and if you
wanted to do a line, {01:10:00} you had to ask your friend and give them a kiss, and they
would invite you to participate. I never chose that, because I was high enough
as it was just on the energy and the joy.
Yvonne: But, we were partying until dawn, and there was about 12 of us, and this
was in June, right around the 20th, the 21st of June, the longest day, shortest
night. After partying all night, and trying to hook up, and whatever the case
may be, pick and choose what you wanted to sleep with for a second or whatever,
it was over with. It was about 5:30 in the morning, and I walked out on the
shores of Lake Michigan, on the north side, and {01:11:00} the sun was up. It was a
beautiful day. I looked around at the rest of the group, and I never saw so many
ugly people in my life, because all their makeup was running down, and they all
looked like zombies. It was terrible.
Yvonne: Because all the good looking ones already got taken and were gone, but
the rest of them that were there, the kind of leftover drudges of the parties,
including me, went out into this bright sunshine, and everything was melting
away. I fortunately did not ever need to have that much makeup, and I
fortunately have never had any surgery to enhance my great beauty. That's why I
fell in love with the mirror. {01:12:00} But, those who needed makeup and things like this
as they came out, I said, "Man, did I really kiss that? Did I hug that? Did I
..." No, nevermind.
Yvonne: It was a wake up call. I went back to the hotel, and I went into this
door, and I smelled Dunkin' Donuts and coffee in this room, and there was this
big conference table, and there was people sitting around the conference table.
This was at six o'clock or seven in the morning having breakfast, and they were
talking. I said, "What the hell? I missed this last night. These people are
sober. What's going on here?" I laid down in the bed that was in the suite,
listening to the conversation. And the conversation was very serious, because it
was dealing with a concept of community, dealing with {01:13:00} the concept of networking.
Yvonne: At the time, the community, if you want to call it that, consisted of
about 25 support groups in the United States, and about 15 known other support
groups worldwide. The communication mechanism was an international magazine out
of Boston, Massachusetts, or, Waltham, Massachusetts called Transvestite
Transgender Tapestry. Which, if you see it on a news stand or something like
that, you had no idea what it was about unless you went through the cover.
Yvonne: It was not something that would draw your attention, because it did not
have any drag queens on the cover, or something like what Drag did with Time,
that was a Lee Brewster publication out of New York, or Queen, which was out of
San {01:14:00} Francisco, which was gay male orientated to the drag community, which was
deteriorating. They would've been better off it said just gay obituaries, and I
can make fun of it today, but it was very very serious 35, 40 years ago, because
it killed so many, like I said, beautiful beautiful people, and the heartache
from that still persists today.
Yvonne: I laid there, and I listened to the discussion, and this person called
Merissa Cheryl Lynn was reciting a white paper that she did a couple years
before on community development. What she wanted to do at the time, she wanted
{01:15:00} to put together a series of conferences called Coming Together, Working
Together, around the world, and kind of gather in these different little small
kingdoms of groups, and start to have them share their newsletter, share their
space, and things like this. Now you've got to remember back in those days,
everything was a big secret.
Yvonne: It was by word of mouth. There was no internet. You had to hear
something or be around somebody that knew everybody. So, it's really word of
mouth kind of thing. There was no Twitter.
Rachel Muir: Yvonne, excuse me. Was this around 1984, 1985?
Yvonne: Yes.
Rachel Muir: Okay. Thank you.
Yvonne: This was in that {01:16:00} timeframe. I was laying there in the bed, and I had my
first cup of coffee and two doughnuts, and started feeling human again. At the
time, they were really kind of disorganized. By that time in my real life, I
owned my own company in Chicago. I shared somewhat of a successful career in
marketing. I knew what it was to put on events, because the company that I had
established was an event driven company. I did trade shows and managed and
worked and developed trade shows in an industry which was the funeral industry.
Yvonne: I figured I've got to get some job security some place. {01:17:00} At that time, it
was the closest thing that I did the research on, because I'd just left a
Fortune 500 company that went chapter 11, because of a little company ... What
was the name of that little company that developed that little laptop computer?
Anyway ...
Rachel Muir: Some kind of fruit.
Yvonne: Yeah. Anyway, after that little laptop computer came out, and then
everybody could have a little laptop or a little working computer on their desk,
and people could write code for it pretty easy, the first codes were pretty easy
to write. It was a takeoff of IBM {01:18:00} 81-column cards. But it was just binary,
non-binary, and off. Three modes of operation. So, we were moving from punch
card, to tape, to different kinds of storages for the computer, now to a small
computer that could do single functions, and some of those functions took some
of the companies, like the one that I used to work for into bankruptcy, because
they couldn't compete with that kind of technology.
Yvonne: They couldn't adapt to that kind of technology, which was a shame. But,
they gave it a try and it didn't work. The company that I worked for {01:19:00} was the
first one to sell point of sales devices to Burger King, and sold ... And this
is what division I was in, sold credit cards. And those little things that you
would put your credit card in, and swipe across, and it would print on a
document that the gas stations would use, and things like this, and hospitals
use, and things like this. I worked on a group that established MasterCard and
then Visa, and made more money than I'd like to talk about.
Yvonne: I blew it all, what can I tell you, buying sex. But, {01:20:00} that was my
background in the '70s. Meeting Merissa Cheryl Lynn now gave me a role model
that was not a transsexual, but wanted to do the transsexual path at the time,
and ... Can I stop this recording for a minute, please?
Rachel Muir: You may.
Yvonne: Was actually involved in the particular group of people who started
going to these conferences in the late '80s, and decided to develop the
International Foundation for Transgender Education. Are we back on tape?
Rachel Muir: We are. We never left it.
Yvonne: {01:21:00} Thank you. Are we picking back up on everything there?
Rachel Muir: Yeah. It will all be edited when the time comes.
Yvonne: That particular meeting and meeting Merissa Cheryl Lynn was a catalyst
for my involvement, because I rolled over after having two swigs of coffee and
said, "I'll help," and I immediately became the treasurer. They had a voice
vote, I think of two. Off I went, into the world of nonprofit, into the world of
events, conferences, and things like this, and doing the non-writing things, but
doing the books, which I could do {01:22:00} very good. I never was dyslexic in math. I did
very extremely well.
Yvonne: Having owned my own company, I knew my way around the IRS because I was
audited a couple times. Great experience. I don't recommend it for everybody,
but it sure taught me a lot about accounting.
Rachel Muir: Yvonne, can I go back for a moment? You mentioned an organization.
It was IFGE?
Yvonne: Yes. International Foundation for Gender Education.
Rachel Muir: Got it. Thank you.
Yvonne: It was established in 1987. It stripped a 501(c)(3) away from my little
support group called Tiffany Club at the time. You can find that on your web in
your history. There's a story about its beginning, and how {01:23:00} it got established.
It was, again, meeting community needs of a support group. They named it
Tiffany, and they actually had enough money, and they bought a house in Wayland,
Massachusetts, and they had six residents, transgendered people and residents at
that house, so it was a shelter.
Yvonne: And, it was a place where the basement was a huge basement that had tons
of clothes in it, and a huge makeup room where you could go in private and
quiet, and you could actually pursue a experience of cross-dressing, or whatever
the case may be, and leave from there, and go into Boston, and party that night
and come back, and take it all off, and go back to your {01:24:00} false identity at the
time. That was an example that was going on around the world. Different support
groups sprung up in Asia, and Japan.
Yvonne: There was a dominant club, which had the same facilities as the Tiffany
Club in New England. It was called Tiffany Club of New England, by the way.
There was a club in England, can't remember the name of it right now, and there
was a club in Germany, and there was a club in Africa, in South Africa. The
tying together of all these organizations and groups was the emphasis between
{01:25:00} this particular group and its publication of a magazine called TBTS Tapestry.
Again, my involvement was I was not the editor.
Yvonne: Whatever that I published that was published under my name was not
written by me, but was written in tandem with an editor, a ghost writer, you
might want to say, and the articles that I published or had published in my name
and ended up in book print were part of the journal's mission of being able to
publish PhD papers or master's paper working for PhDs, and to have them
published was {01:26:00} part of the PhD process, so we were considered a medical
psychiatric journal in the world with the American Psychiatric Association.
Yvonne: We were not in the American Medical Association, but we lived in the
same town as the American Medical Association, because we were win Waltham,
Massachusetts, and a lot of people assumed that we were affiliated with the
American Medical Association, along with Brandeis University, and Harvard, and
MIT. A side note, my secretary was retired MIT, had a PhD, and he's the one, or
she was the one, he/she, that {01:27:00} I relied on to do most of my ghost writing. Funny,
here I was, had an eighth grade education, and dictating to a PhD to get it
written down for me.
Yvonne: The person later passed away in California, and not the best of
circumstances. It seems to me that as I'm sitting here, a lot of the people that
I'll be referring to have now, are dead. Merissa Cheryl Lynn is dead. The story
of Holly Boswell, which I'll be talking about, she's dead. Holly Cross who was
my secretary, she's dead. Virginia Prince, who was kind of {01:28:00} the grandmother of
the cross-dressing movement starting in the '60s all the way up until in the
'90s, she's dead. And, some of the doctors that I've worked with, like Sheila
Kirk and things like this, I guess I was the youngest person, and I just kind of
inherited all their stories, and things like this, as time went on, and they're
no longer around to tell them.
Yvonne: So I hope that whatever I say does some justice, because they're in a
reaction to me from 1987 through even today is a lot of the transgender movement
worldwide {01:29:00} was based upon what they were doing at different times to facilitate
different things happening. One of the other people that I want to talk about is
Phyllis Randolph Frye, out of Houston, Texas. Some of the group called [TRIEZ
01:29:25], which was Virginia Prince's group, all these people and all these
different things that happen in the world today and the LGBT movement had people
behind it. A person living in pain, or glory, or whatever the case may be.
Yvonne: Harvey Milk, of course is dead. So, as we are recording these things,
and we're looking at you, {01:30:00} the person who is listening here, who might be working
on their degree in social anthropology are some kind of social movement within
communities, but are related in some way into the LGBT ... Well, let's say GLB,
or LGB, then LGB ... Or no. GL, GLB, GLBT, and the T came in Detroit, Michigan,
through a group called Creative Change, which was the gay taskforce in
Washington, DC. They were the ones who drove {01:31:00} the community after Stonewall and
brought it to Washington, DC.
Yvonne: I think the first time that I was there as a lobbyist, I was working on
equality, and today, 35 years later, they're still working on equality. So, as
far as we've gone, we've also gone not too far. There's no really good way of
saying any one person is responsible for the LGBT or that community by
themselves. It took networking, it took time, it took love, it took a lot of money.
Yvonne: This goes on today to the organizations that {01:32:00} are prominent in our life,
like HRC, the taskforce being two. The national one, and then a lot of the
groups that broke away from or became part of something greater than the
International Foundation for Gender Education, which basically, because I was
there I was the first full-time paid employee of what we now look upon as the
transgender movement. I had that privilege of sitting at the table pretty much
from the beginning.
Yvonne: IFGE, the International Foundation for Gender Education {01:33:00} has completed
its mission. It took about 22 years to complete its mission and make it
relevant, and it's stepped back because of the web has killed the publication,
which was the golden goose that paid for everything, now has fragmented itself
and going off into many many directions. So, looking in the mirror, and falling
in love with that beautiful person that I saw back in the 1940s, and watching
her grow up, and coming away from the mirror, and becoming a real person, has
been a real privilege for me. I think I was going to stop there.
Rachel Muir: Yvonne, thank you very much. We'll have a second session soon, but
I appreciate all your comments, {01:34:00} and the history you've provided us today, and I
will provide you with a transcript of what we've talked about today for you to
review. Thank you again for your time. I look forward to our next recording.

Segment Synopsis: Yvonne describes how she came to meet her role models and how this helped create a path that she followed; leading to a number of opportunities and experiences.

Keywords: Career; Community needs; Conferences; Equality; False identity; Funeral Industry; International Foundation for Transgender Education; LGBT Activism; LGBT Community; Management; Marketing; Money; Networking; Non-profit organization; Role models; Self identity; Suppport Groups; Trade Shows; Transgender movement