Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: Good afternoon, Tina.
Tina White: Good afternoon. How are you, Rachel?
Rachel Muir: I'm well. For the purposes of this interview, we start out with a little bit of information. I'm Rachel Muir. We are recording on September 1st in the afternoon and I'm interviewing Tina White. This is the second of two interviews and I will begin about where we left off. But first, any questions or comments before we begin?
Tina White: No.
Rachel Muir: Okay. Well, we were... Last speaking, we were sort of in the middle of coming out narratives and we focused on your story, of course. Earlier on, we had some questions about your interaction with the community which, of course, is an important part because this is sort of a regionally based, Southern based oral history project, interactions with the community and with other folks in the community and I mean community at large, an important element of what we're trying to accomplish.
When we were last speaking, we were talking about the relationships and how they have changed or how they were altered when you came out. First off, would you be willing to share when you did come out and what was the motivation for coming out?
Tina White: Sure. Coming out is... It's a process that spans years. So it's always hard for me to pinpoint a date. My wife uses June 13, 2000... I'm sorry, June 28, 2013. That's when I legally changed my name but I really started coming out probably around 2012 and on through 2014 to people. It took that much time. At first, it was coming out to myself. I really spent most of my life as trans phobic as anyone else. So I couldn't blame the world for forcing me into this cocoon. I did that. That was self-inflicted.
That was quite a journey because it involved a lot of self forgiveness. I mean I've been my own worst enemy and why should I trust myself? The second part was coming out to my wife and she had known that I had issues with gender identity since before we were married. I didn't want her to... I never wanted to keep a secret. At the time though, I thought it was... My goal was to conquer my gender and I knew that it was always going to be with me, the struggle, but I thought I'd be able to manage that struggle and I presented it to her that way that she didn't need to participate and partake.
But after we'd been married about 10 years, I just found myself going deeper and deeper into depression and she could see it. And I really transitioned to stay alive. I never attempted suicide but I thought about it very seriously and it was a day when I was particularly close and I realized that when you are on the edge of that cliff, you're not rational and it's just the question of a heartbeat if your legs sort of take that leap. And so if I really wanted to avoid suicide, I needed to make sure I never even got to that cliff's edge again and that's when I decided in order to stay alive, I needed to redefine victory from conquering my gender to learning to accept it which it was just as strange to me as it was to anyone who isn't transgender.
What was interesting was almost instantly as soon as I made that decision, my shoulders just relaxed and it was like I suddenly became aware that I had been spending my lifetime sort of walking under this dark cloud and there was sunlight and it was that pronounced difference in feeling and it was just the simple act of no longer repressing and trying to kill myself in essence.
And Mary and I worked with that for quite a while before I really came out to other people because I wanted to make sure that I was doing the right thing. This would affect my family, my children, Mary and while I was pretty sure it was, I spent another year just sort of confirming that. I went to a therapist who I selected her because she advertised she was not there to help you with your transition, she was really there to help you to make some really important decisions so she wasn't trying to push me into being transgender or anything other than figuring out what felt like me and felt sustainable.
And then I came out to my family next and with them I did it by letter and you do some stupid things when you transition and you do some things well and this is one I thought I did well. I wrote them a very long letter as Tom because I knew they loved Tom and they cared about Tom and so I wanted them to know how Tom felt about this and what Tom had struggled with because they knew this person and that really helped them and it was actually several months before any of them saw me as Tina but it gave them a lot of time to really internalize, to go do some research, to call me on the phone and ask me what the heck and they were very supportive and I think that's part of the reason is I started with the person they had known and loved all their lives.
Rachel Muir: How old were you when this happened?
Tina White: Early 50s.
Rachel Muir: Do you think there's any age element here or is it more about experience or changes in the world around you? What do you think maybe happened when it happened?
Tina White: Oh, I think age came into it in two ways. One was the information age. I think the internet enabled me to do enough research where I realized I was not the only person in the world with this affliction which is what I thought most of my life. I thought I was the only person in the world who would ever think this way. But age, yeah, as I got older I started to think, gee, my parents are getting old, soon they are going to die and what if they die never having known who I am or this person inside me? And then later on I'll die and if I die and my children never knew who I was at all, then could I ever say that I ever lived? And that freaked me out. It was just that realization that, no, if everyone I love dies and I die and I never expressed who I am, then I did not live at all ever.
I don't know that would have occurred to me in my 20s. I would have had other anxieties but I think it was that beginning to think about end of life and who will know you and how do you want to be known and I realized I didn't want to be unknown. I'd rather be known as a freak than just completely unknown.
Rachel Muir: Better a freak than a fake.
Tina White: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah. And I say that word... I probably shouldn't use that word because someone else might think it's okay but that is how I processed it in my head was I would rather be that.
Keywords: Coming Out; depression; family; gender; gender expression; marriage; suicide; trans; transgender
Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: Were there people in your life that you lost in this process?
Tina White: Hm. I lost a few people. I lost some good friends, who I thought were good friends. I didn't lose any family other than... I didn't lose any family. I had some family through my wife in her first marriage who definitely don't approve of me but we talk but my children, my grandchildren, my parents, my siblings, the people that really mattered, my childhood friends, my high school sweetheart. The first time I told her and she was a bit flipped out and she said, "You got to send me a picture," and I sent a picture and she sent me back a text that said, "You look like a whore. I'm going to have to come help you shopping."
No, I kept just about everyone. What I lost were the in between. If people didn't know me at all, they tended to get through it and the people who are most important to me got through it. It was the casual friends who I think felt betrayed and didn't know me well enough to care to make the investment, didn't feel that large a sense of loss, it's just jettisoning this, it complicated their life, they didn't want me near their children. Those were the only people I lost.
Rachel Muir: What about that word, Tina, betrayed? Why betrayed? Why would someone think this decision was a betrayal?
Tina White: Well, they felt betrayed or that I was lying, that I was fake. I never know quite what to make of it. If I was betraying anyone, I was betraying myself so I feel that very act on their part betrays an ignorance of what's involved and rather self-centeredness but the problem is because they felt I was the betrayer, they felt that I didn't deserve their sympathies. It's like a vicious circle. They betrayed me so then I shouldn't empathize with you so I'm not at fault for not emphasizing with you because you betrayed me.
What I learned was not to go there, that was their journey that they were on and I needed to give them space and indeed I quickly developed a rule that when I came out to someone, I wouldn't consider the coming out complete until I met them for a third time and the reason was, the first day I'd come out to someone, someone who I would expect to be hostile, actually surprised me and was very open and someone that I thought would be open would be hostile. But then I'd also find three days later they often reversed and it's because in their mind they're sort of going back and forth and their first instinct might be I'm going to be nice but then they'd think more deeply about what does this mean to them and I just learned I needed to give people that kind of space to come to their own terms, not mine, with how they felt about me, about gender and that takes time.
Rachel Muir: That's interesting, that term often comes up in discussing these issues within the LGBTQ community and it's just a curiosity to me personally why that reaction, betrayal, you hear to prominently and I don't have an answer myself. I think that's part of the road to understanding but so that's why I sort of emphasize that question.
Tina White: Yes, what I began to learn or concluded was that the worst thing I could do would be to try to meet everyone and negotiate with everyone and to make them feel comfortable. I tried that at first. Number one, it's exhausting. For starters, when you are in the process of coming out, you're constantly keeping in your head, okay, wait a minute, I came out to Rachel but I didn't come out to Lauren, oh they're in the same room together, how do I have this conversation? Now someone new walked in and if you're doing that, you just will go nuts trying to keep track of who knows what and how does every person feel. And it was my children in a funny way that taught me that.
They had a difficult time with it. They were all in their late teens, early 20s and that's not a time when you want your parents to suddenly become the focus of your world. This is your moment to shine and step out. And they were supportive of my gender transition. They also felt deeply wounded and sad and confused but they were supportive. As we talked through it, what I realized hurt them the most was at that age they wanted their father to be the anchor in their life while they go out and try things. Home was the one place you could go and return to and it was stable. You want a stable home and what upset them the most wasn't the clothing I was wearing, it's suddenly I was unstable to them and they felt completely untethered from one of their most important emotional anchors in life.
And that's what I realized is that when you transition, the best thing I can do is be a stable anchor. Here's who Tina is, here's what I stand for, I'm happy to be open about what I am. How you feel about me is all on you. I'll answer your questions but I don't own how you... You have your own transition story. And so I stopped thinking as much about how everyone else felt about the transition unless I felt in danger. To me, when they're defining me, they're actually defining themselves. They're not defining me at all. I'm the only person who can define me. They're defining themselves as ignorant. They may defining themselves as kindhearted. I had people who were very accepting and welcoming of me but to them it was almost a party. They said this is great, you're expressing yourself and I'm thinking, no, I'm not. I'm just trying to stay alive and I'm trying for the first time to express someone I've been hiding and to them it was almost like going to an art show and they were appreciative and I decided to accept that but again they were defining themselves and what they knew and felt about gender.
While it was supportive, it was also kind of ignorant and I don't mean that critically but they really didn't appreciate what I was going through. They thought it was a cool journey of self-expression but again they're defining themselves when they have that reaction.
Rachel Muir: How do your children refer to you?
Tina White: I've stopped keeping track but in the first year they had five different ways of referring to me. My oldest daughter or my oldest daughter by birth would refer to me as Tina or Mom. My son by birth, I asked him and he was very supportive, but he said Dad and he said because that's what you meant to me and he did not mean that as an insult. In company, he'd refer to me as Tina but he did still think of me, I fathered him and that was our relationship. My youngest daughter referred to me as Tina and in her case initially I think she almost meant that as a way of distancing. It was her way of saying you're not my dad, you're this other person, I'm going to get to know you, I'm going to give you a chance. But it kind of felt like a... It didn't feel like an embrace.
My two children by my second marriage, the stepdaughter, I'm sorry, daughter-in-law, no stepdaughter, she would refer to me as T because she refused to use Tina because that was acknowledging something she refused to acknowledge. She's a very conservative Christian. So T was her way around it and I would just start calling her L and I would just laugh and she got the hint. And then her brother sort of avoided names and pronouns altogether and would just talk to me as you or hi and would just, that was his way of being supportive. He was supportive but was just more complicated I think than he wanted to deal with.
Keywords: acceptance; coming out; family; parents
Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: You got to choose your name. Is there a story behind your name?
Tina White: Honestly I can't remember how I came by Tina. My middle name I know but Tina... It's interesting. When so many of us, at least in my age cohort, we choose our name and we're kind of going through the early stages and some people call that Cinderella stage where you're suddenly discovering womanhood and these wonderful things and I think that may explain why I know a lot of middle aged transgender people who have incredibly feminine soft names and that's my theory. I can't remember how I chose Tina but I do know after I had it for a year and a half with Mary and she got used to it, I talked to my old high school sweetheart and we were just good friends and, again, she was very abrupt and she said, "Tina, you're not a Tina. That's a ridiculous name. You need a more powerful name because you're a powerful person." And I had used briefly Louise, my mother's name, middle name, but I went and did research on names and I found about eight and reduced it down to Madison and I thought I'd go with Madison and I went and told my wife and she just scowled and said, "Look, I've gotten used to a lot. It's staying Tina. I'm used to Tina and you're not changing your name. You've changed your gender. Your name stays."
So I made Madison my middle name so that if someone didn't like Tina, then my fallback was they could call me Madison. A lot of thought into that.
Rachel Muir: Wow. It's interesting that there is one experience in the LGBTQA community that only the T portion have that, I would generalize, have experience of selecting their name or changing their name. Sometimes it's meaningful and sometimes I have the impression they're not sure where it came from.
Well, in this process, particularly in the Cinderella stage, were there elders or influencers that you looked back to, either people you knew or people you read or other resources that helped guide you through those early stages?
Tina White: Oh, I think Laney Rose I think was the most important when I was reading and I can't remember the title of the book but it was about transitioning and she wrote a very lighthearted look at it but it was very serious and she said that it was like deciding to become a fireman, that when you're little you see some fire engines go by, you're interested, you go follow them and if that still has your interest, then you might read some articles and then you might stop by the fire station and if you're still interested, you might say well then let me take a few courses and then you'd say school and so it's not... You don't decide one day I'm a fireman, it just keeps calling at you and you explore it more and she really took the pressure off me because I had been trying to intellectually decide what was I and she said, look, it's experiential and you need to go out and meet people and take baby steps and you'll figure it out like anything else experiential and stop trying to sort of make this big leap at once.
I think that the other thing that influenced me the most was going to big conventions and to group therapy where I was with anywhere from 20 to 500 of me and I referred to it as window shopping. You're with these people, you've repressed this all your life, you don't know what the heck you are but as you see all the different personalities in the room and you meet people and you see their expressions, how they express themselves, how they think of themselves, you're constantly trying on all that. It's sort of like when kids used to role play or when we were children and we would role play and I think that was by far the most important experience I had because it really helped me to humanize myself in our community.
Rachel Muir: What were some of the events that you attended that come to mind?
Tina White: I went to one of the, as it turned out, the last event run by IFGE, the International Foundation for Gender Education, I believe. They had run events in the 90s to 2000s and into the early 2010s. I went to in Harrisonburg, a keystone conference. I always wanted to go to Southern Comfort. I never made it to that. And then Trans Health Philadelphia is my favorite of those events because it's by far the most diverse crowd that comes in part because it's free and so people who can't afford those other conventions can come to that and you just meet a much greater variety of people and particularly people who are marginalized and I learned a lot at those.
Rachel Muir: When you say diversity, you mean racial diversity or class diversity? What kind of diversity did you meet?
Tina White: Oh, every... Racial certainly, ethnic, religious, age. Those other conferences tended to be attended by people who are 40 and over. It wasn't a rule, it was just those are the people who could afford those conferences but, yes, so meeting transgender millennials, I think the millennial part was at that point more shocking to me than the transgender part.
But also different family models. Mary and I would always attend the group sessions for couples and early on that was typically a male and a female who had started marriage that way and then one of them was transitioning, usually the male to female, but we had lesbian couples who had been lesbian and then one of them was transitioning and I had never thought about that and the anger was actually, of the partner, was more intense than I found in the heterosexual couples and I realized it's because in their case them being lesbian and finding a lesbian partner was a huge undertaking and so then to have that person betray them and change sides felt huge to them because declaring themselves lesbian had not been easy whereas in the case of heterosexual couples, there wasn't all of that tied into it because that was the norm. It just added something that I'd never thought about.
Keywords: International Foundation for Gender Education; Trans Health Philidelphia; coming out; marriage; naming; southern comfort; trans; transition
Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: Was any part of this transition, and it also maybe reflects a question I had about these conventions and these meetings, to what degree was explorations of sexuality, not just gender, a part of these meetings? What part of the spectrum of the LGBTGQ community were involved in these events?
Tina White: That's a good question. I can't speak much to the sexuality because I was married and very happily so and so that was just kind of off the table for me. I knew I was very happy with my wife. I was also in my 50s. I wasn't... So while there were all sorts of people there with every form of sexuality, sexual expression I suppose, I would go to these with Mary and so we would go to dinner with other couples who... That's something I don't feel I'll ever feel competent to speak on which is fine by me. I've got plenty to speak on but sexuality is something I didn't... I thought about it. I've wondered about it but I've never felt a need or desire to explore that and so when my trans friends ask for advice on that, I beg off and say I really, I can't help you, I haven't thought about that.
Rachel Muir: The other transgender individuals who I've interviewed, it's often one of the fears they have as they initiate transition is they're concerned, if they're in a relationship already, they're often concerned if that will come into a play. It doesn't sound like that's part of your experience.
Tina White: No. Mary, my wife, likes to refer to herself as a situational lesbian. She's heterosexual. I'm still very attracted to her. She's still very attracted to men and we are more best friends I think now than anything else and we're both very comfortable with that. We're very happy but if someone's looking for us as a model, I don't know, this is just our situation.
Rachel Muir: It's a bit of an aside, but I've noted that on many of these in person events, not just during the pandemic but prior to it, where people in the community get together have gone away and they've been replaced sometimes by digital kinds of things. There is no Southern Comfort. There is no conventions like that that I'm aware of. Do you think that's had a negative effect on the community?
Tina White: Oh, I have no idea. It's a great question. The other thing that tends to go away I've noticed, and I was no exception, is that people who are transitioning go to those conventions for typically two to four years and then they want to just get immersed in just regular society and they sort of been there done that and so they don't return to the conventions except maybe once in a blue moon because the topics being discussed at those conventions are kind of old business for you. And so if I went to one now, I would be doing it more as a service, not because I felt it was going to be answering questions for me or more because I wanted to learn about people different from me, like younger generations.
So I don't... Now that I feel fully engaged with the larger world outside, I don't feel a need for those conventions so I haven't thought about it. I'd be curious to know what someone who is currently transitioning would feel but I don't know. It's a good question.
Rachel Muir: For all of the community, to some degree or another, interactions with the medical community can be an issue. What was your experience with the medical community during transition and since then?
Tina White: I had wonderful experiences with the medical community and I think that was part luck, part white privilege. I had a doctor who had been my physician for 10 years. I thought about changing doctors because he had no experience with transgender people, didn't have the medical knowledge but he had been my doctor so I stuck with him as long as he felt comfortable and I'd see specialists for endocrinology and things like that and our appointments suddenly went from being 15 minutes to an hour because he was just full of questions and they were more out of human curiosity than medical curiosity.
The first time after I had all of my, and I've had what is commonly referred to as bottom surgery and I completed my physical transition as far as I planned it, and I went in for my first physical with him at that point and he suddenly blushed and said, "So how do you want me to handle this?" And I thought, because he had girl patients and women patients, he meant it politely. I don't think he was really nervous. He was nervous about making me nervous. And I said, "No one's shown me how to do a proper breast exam, I'd like to learn that and beyond that do whatever you normally do," and I said, fine, and he very professionally showed me how to do it and then he said, "Okay, now turn around and bend over," any men listening to this would instantly know what that means. It was time for a prostate exam, because I still have a prostate, and I just heard this giggling behind me and I turned around and he looks up and he just laughed and said, "I've never done both of these in the same appointment, a breast exam and a prostate exam."
I found that if I... Most people in the medical community were more afraid of coming off a fool with me and if I was pretty gentle, they relaxed and things were fine. I got misnamed or mispronouned occasionally but never maliciously and I would usually make a joke about it but, yeah, I have to say I've been well served by the medical community.
My biggest concern isn't how they treat us, it's long term. I care about my health and the fact is since all of our blood pressure medicine dosages and things like that are tagged based on huge databases that are either male or female, they're never quite certain how to detect underlying health issues for me and I don't blame them for that. To me, a priority would be having some initiatives to build up that database for transgender people longitudinally. What is our experience? We haven't had a generation of people that have lived for 60 years or 80 years on hormones excepting birth control so we don't really know what those long term effects are and I think we're fooling ourselves if we don't think it important to collect that kind of information.
Rachel Muir: How have your experiences with the medical community been here in Asheville in Western North Carolina?
Tina White: Oh, good. Very... Yeah, I've had no issues. I have wonderful doctors. When I've seen skin specialists, I see lots of doctors who don't specialize in the trans community and they're all very polite. In fact, I sometimes have to remind me that, as I said, I care about my health so I am not uncomfortable talking about the masculine elements of my health because the doctors need to know that and they need to talk to me about that and so I do try to encourage them to speak to me as a patient more than as a gender and just what will they talk about if they're focused on my health and not my self-expression.
Rachel Muir: Do you see a urologist or would you see a gynecologist or both?
Tina White: I have seen a urologist and I guess I saw a gynecologist in connection with my surgery but, no, I haven't seen a... I wouldn't normally see a gynecologist.
Keywords: health care; marriage; trans; transition
Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: It's interesting because other interviews I've done, [inaudible] have suggested they do that for some health reasons from their experience and I know that folks have had difficulty in finding a gynecologist who will administer to them.
This is an oral history project and an overarching question is you want to say something to future researchers or folks who come upon this project, what are some of the fundamentals that you'd like to share going forward? What do you think is important to say as part of this as being a participant in this oral history project about your time and your experience?
Tina White: I think that we focus too much on labels and labels are necessary but I don't think they are very effective when it comes to identity. If I talk race as a form of identity, and I'm speaking here about science and not social justice, it's a pretty meaningless label because there's so many grades of brown and black that to say that brown or black, either one, defines someone's race, that's not defining their race, that's defining how society treats them. The same thing with gender. I understand the need for these labels and they're not without any meaning but I don't think they'll ever define me and I think where we get into trouble as a society is when we combine discussions of identity with discussions of social justice.
Identity I think is a very personal matter. Your identity is something that is very unique to you that has so many facets. And I don't like the word intersectionality because it implies that I'm the intersection of these things outside me. No, intersectionality is a tool that's useful for getting all of society's shortcomings with all of it's labels. I'm at the center of me. Period. End of story. And if you want to know me, you've got to get to know me, not all my labels.
My labels again tell you how society has probably treated me. It probably tells you about the prejudices, good and bad, that I've had to deal with. It tells you nothing about the inner qualities of me and I think that when we talk about identity, we're actually usually talking about racial and class and other politics is what we're really talking about. That's one thing I would say.
So what does that mean to me? Am I a woman? I don't know that it would be fair for me to say that because what does that mean and there are women with so many different experiences I'm not even sure what that says for them. I know that I feel very incomplete when I try to hide or mask that very important side of me. I know that it's a very important part of my expression. I don't know that I will ever pin it down and I'm fine with that. I think academics sometimes want to pin it down. Politicians want to pin it down but if we're ever going to understand this, I think it will only come when we let go of that labeling.
I know I've told you before about Robert Pirsig who wrote "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and tells how he was traveling in the back country of South Dakota with an Indian chief, a tribal chief, Chief Joe was his name, and then this woman and this dog came sauntering out in front of them and disappeared with the brush and the woman turned to the chief and said, "What kind of dog was that?" And he thought for a moment and said, "It's a good dog." And Pirsig's head just exploded in that moment because he realized that we Westerners are so trained to think in terms of Aristotelian categories, that the way I can understand something is it four-legged, two-legged, animal, vegetable, mineral, male, female but those aren't the essential qualities and this Indian chief had jumped right to what do I really want to know about that dog? Well, I want to know it's a good dog.
From a social justice standpoint, I fight very hard for LGBTQ rights and for understanding transgender people but at a purely individual level, personal level, I find those distinctions of very secondary importance. I may know someone who's transgender that I can't stand and someone else who I like and so it's more a question of protecting their right to express and determine their identity.
Rachel Muir: If you were to take your experience and compare it to what you know about the generations before you, their experience as part of the community, and then compare that to the cohorts behind you, younger people, what do you think your experience is that would be useful to share from those communities before and after you, generations rather, not communities, and what do you think is different that they need to understand across generations?
Tina White: When I look at people who transitioned 20 years before me, I'm in awe. I don't know how they did it. It must have been absolutely horrible but I suspect they didn't feel that they had a choice. What's interesting to me in that generation aren't... While the people who did transition in the 70s and 80s and 90s are interesting, I'm just as interested in all the people who didn't transition because they had repressed it and those are stories that may never be told and as sad as I am for the people who did transition, I think I'm just as sad about the ones who didn't. They are the tree that fell in the forest and nobody heard them.
I think you skip ahead now where you have the opposite issue. There is a cacophony in the world. The internet has freed up everyone to express and share where before you were bewildered by the straight jacket of having no options and now it's wonderful to have lots of options but I feel that often they're all pressing themselves on you as you should be like me and you should be like this option. Why aren't you this form of intersectionality? They are two completely different environments and I feel that I'm sort of sitting betwixt them.
What will be interesting that I don't think I fully appreciate, it must be very scary and confusing in a different way to grow up in today's world, not with the options, but with all of those groups, all of those different peer groups and splintered groups and all of them asking are you going to join me? It must be a lot of pressure. In my youth, it was pressure to conform to precious few options and now I feel that there's pressure to experiment with lots and lots and lots of options and I can't even imagine what must be going through their head that it's not visible to us.
Keywords: LGBT; identity; labels
Partial Transcript: Rachel Muir: I was looking at the list of questions we have and one of them I sort of skipped over is influences and a question that I have that often when we talk about influencers we're talking about particular people that affected your journey. What about in popular culture? Were there books, movies or other elements to popular culture that influenced you, that had an impact on you or changed your world view that affected your journey?
Tina White: None are coming to mind. I'm sure a lot of things did influence me but there's nothing where if I were telling my life story something that pops to the surface that this was a seminal moment for me. Yeah, I can't think of anything.
Rachel Muir: If you could take any of those elements, is there something that you would say that's the best part of my culture, as in LGBTQ person, that's something that I can say a reflection on my community of my experience?
Tina White: Yeah, so I don't feel a part of the LGBTQ community. I feel that it's a part of me. I feel that I'm a part of so many communities and I love the LGBTQ community. I know a number of people who spend 95% of their time in some LGBTQ community and they're strongly identified with it and it's their group and they... I moved around so much professionally and otherwise. I've got my children and grandchildren that sort of dragged me into other interest areas so I've never... I think what... And my son shares this. He's gay but he doesn't, and he's very proudly gay, but he doesn't identify as part of the gay community. He's just a man who happens to be gay and he has lots of friends who may or may not be gay.
That's always been a source of stress for me because sometimes I felt pressure that to show my bonafides I need to be of just the community and I love finding people's humanity and when you limit them to just a community, whether it's Christians who carve themselves off from the rest of society, I think they're missing so much. And I just like the richness and maybe that's the answer to your question is I've always liked the kaleidoscope of reading lots of different literature, seeing lots of different movies and meeting lots of different communities and I just love that almost sensory overload of just learning all these different perspectives.
One of the more profound moments for me was in Hong Kong on a business trip and I ran into this missionary and he spent the evening, I had a night to kill, and so we went out and had dinner together and he just talked to me at length about his love affair with Jesus. It was so beautiful. He was not trying to convert me in any way, shape or form. It was like someone talking about their girlfriend and I was just sitting there thinking, wow, I want that. And I contrast that with so many other religious interactions I've had where someone's got an agenda and they want me... You should do this and they're not witnessing to their own experience, their own identity. I could listen to just about anyone who just honestly wants to talk about their identity and what gets them on fire, whether that's race, literature, religion, gender. I could enjoy that from just about any identity.
What I despite or when anyone, including our own community, tries to impose a particular interpretation or expression of an identity. I think that's... It's inhumane.
Rachel Muir: Are you hopeful for the future, Tina?
Tina White: Yeah. Yeah. I'm hopeful. Look, I think the world... I guess I'd say I'm zen for the future. I think the world has been full of catastrophes. It's been full of wonderful moments and we keep trying to impose some kind of arc of history, religion or something on it and I think the reality is that, one, I feel very fortunate I am probably singularly fortunate to grow up where I have, when I have, with for most of my life the identity, the public identity, that I had. Talk about privilege and that's the trifecta. This year it's been a difficult year politically but I look at other countries, people who grew up with their cities being bombed, who grew up under dictators, things can get a lot worse and it might and I think it will get a lot better. I don't know that I see a particular arc to history. It's what we make of it.
Rachel Muir: Last questions. Is there something that you identify as your generation that has done or not done that will contribute to future generations of people in the LGBTQ community and if so what are those? What would you hope them to be?
Tina White: I think the greatest thing that I've seen recently in our generation and when you say our generation, do you mean people who are in their 60s now or do you mean people who are alive now as LGBT? Are you talking about a 10-year generation or a 50?
Rachel Muir: However you want to define it, how you view yourself in the soundtrack of history if you will.
Tina White: I think that what I've been intrigued by is the explosion of letters in the alphabet of pronouns and some people find that distressing. I actually think that other generations have fought for the rights of very carefully labeled identities. I think our generation and I'm using the very generous... I'm encompassing younger people today, but I think we're all in this journey together because the internet makes things happen at light speed. I think we're seeing a generation that is asking questions of identity in a way that has never been asked before or at least not by a whole popular culture, this notion of intersectionality it's not new. What's new is that it's getting such mass play, this notion of thinking about identities in ways that [inaudible] challenge are labels that the labels crumble before them I think is new and I am hopeful, hoping might be the better word. I am hoping. I'm hoping the world improves. I'm hoping that things go well. I don't know what will happen but I love that we're asking that and not just adding to categories but really becoming much more human centered I think as a culture.
That probably betrays not just my generation but there are people of my age who don't share that, that are incredibly close minded, that believe in things like white supremacy, things that I find just horrific to even ponder. And I hope that ours is the voice that ends up informing history. I don't know whether that will happen. We'll see.
I think in reality this dance will happen as long as human beings live. It's just part of the human condition.
Rachel Muir: I'm pretty much done with the questions that are part of our interview process. Is there anything you'd like to add?
Tina White: I don't think so. You've been a very thorough examiner.
Rachel Muir: Well, I hope it wasn't an examination. I thought it was an opportunity to express your experience and your ideas and a final note that we will address later, we don't have to address here, is that if there are materials, artifacts if you will, things like, oh, you could have a poster from one of those conventions or letters that you would like to share that express some of your experience, I know that you have the advantage of having written an autobiography so that's a very detailed guide to Tina Madison White but if there are other materials you would like to donate, let me know and we'll work through the process to provide those to our oral history project.
Tina White: Yeah, I'll think about that. That's a great idea. I might actually have some things that I haven't thrown them out.
Rachel Muir: Okay. Okay. Well if you agree, I'll cease the recording and thank you for spending your time and sharing your story.
Tina White: Thank you. This has been great. Thank you, Rachel.
Rachel Muir: Thank you, Tina.
Keywords: community; lgbt activism