A Blast from the Past

| Nov 1, 2007
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aw9.jpgTen years ago this week, I had the opportunity to not only meet JoAnn Roberts, but to sit down and interview her. The plan was to write up the interview for our local support group’s newsletter. But, like many plans, it was set aside, and the cassette tape was forgotten. Until now.

The setting was Omaha, Nebraska. Fall Harvest, 1997. JoAnn was there as a presenter and as a speaker. She graciously took a few minutes to sit down with me and answer a few questions.

Questions like “where have we come from, and where are we going?” JoAnn said in the mid-80’s, the biggest way for transgendered people to meet other transgendered people were the classified ads in the back of porn magazines. But that all changed when she, along with another person, started LadyLike magazine. She said the distributor waited a full year before sending out the second issue because they wanted to see how the first one would sell. The distributor had major doubts because LL was not overtly pornographic, and didn’t think it would sell. (JoAnn pointed out that at the time, (1997), she’d been offered $100 for her copy of Issue 1.)

Would the Internet mean the death of paper publications? “A publication must pass the 3-B test: can you take it in the bathroom, to bed or on the bus? Maybe in ten years, we can take electronic publications with us, but print publications are going to be around for at least through the beginning of the next millenia. So that means there’s plenty of future for LadyLike.”

In 1997, “80% of people with computers were not connected to the Internet, so print still has a major role.”

How had the Internet affected LL? Nicely. In 1996, there was a 25% increase in the subscription base, mostly coming through the Internet.

In the mid-90’s, there was a proliferation of transgender and drag images in the public. Think Birdcage, To Wong Fu, Priscilla, and RuPaul, who had her own talk show on television at the time. Was this proliferation good for the community?

“Overall, it’s a good thing. In large metropolitan population centers, it habituates the general population to the idea that there are people who switch gender roles. So, it’s not so shocking; people have seen it before. And that means more tolerance. Out in the hinterlands, there will still be problems, but on the coasts and in the large cities, it helps.”

But what about that camp factor? There’s a big difference between a drag performer and a heterosexual crossdresser. “The general public doesn’t make a distinction between a person trying to pass, and the public personae of RuPaul. The general public isn’t sophisticated enough to pick up on the differences. So they lump us all together.

“It’s interesting, because Angela Gardner, Allison Lang, (and I)…have a philosophy about passing. Don’t worry about passing. You’ll put too much stress on yourself. Go out and have a good time. Who cares if they read you? It’s how they treat you that’s important.”

Is there a unified transgendered community? “We are not unified, but I don’t know of a community that is. Pay attention to the gay, lesbian, bisexual communities. You’d think there’s no unity there either.

“The transgender community is just beginning to coalesce. A major factor to legitimize transgender issues is the emmergence of more female-to-males. They’re working with male-to-females is pulling us together. But there’s another four to five years of work before we even sound like we have a unified voice.”

What’s the biggest obstacle facing the TG community in 1997? Power struggles, and positioning inside the community. “There is the beginning of a political voice, but it’s not clear who our main speakers will be. Phyllis Frye, Riki Ann Wilkins… there are others who are playing state level roles…

“The biggest issue in the general population: transgender rights. People getting fired, losing housing. ENDA is an important thing for transgender community. Along with hate crimes.”

(Photo courtesy of Annie)

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Category: All TGForum Posts, Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Ronnie Rho has been writing for Transgender Forum since May of 1999. One of these days, she'll get it right. She's been described as the "world's most famous recluse," but only by people who don't know her very well. She is unmarried, and lives in Cincinnati.

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