I Didn’t Know Holly

| Apr 11, 2022
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Holly Boswell

I’ve been busy writing papers this whole week, so this won’t be the longest column. One thing I learned this past week was about Holly Boswell. Ever heard of her? Well, I didn’t, and that’s a shame. You see, as part of my PhD studies, I’ve learned a lot about U.S. transgender history, and about the people who made a difference. Holly Boswell was one of them, yet I didn’t know about her. Now I do, and so will you. In addition to so much else, she wrote for this very site back in the day. A lot of the information I’m using here comes from various internet sources, as I never met her, and never will. She died in 2017.  

“Holly Boswell co-designed the transgender symbol, created one of the longest running transgender support groups in the country, and pushed for gender neutral bathrooms in Asheville businesses long before HB2 (the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, commonly known as House Bill 2) attempted to mandate bathrooms by birth certificate data. Her scholarship shaped the language of the transgender liberation movement beyond gender binaries, and her advocacy facilitated a paradigm shift toward LGBTQ+ inclusion” (Wray, 2020, p. 173).  

See what I mean? That’s a LOT!  

“Holly’s groundbreaking essay, “The Transgender Alternative” appeared in Chrysalis Quarterly in 1990. “The Transgender Paradigm Shift toward Free Expression” has been published in Bullough’s Gender Blending (’97), Denny’s Current Concepts in Transgender Identity (’98), and Ore’s The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality (2000 &’03). “The Spirit of Transgender” was published in the International Foundation for Gender Education’s Transgender Tapestry in 2000″ (Holly Boswell, para. 5).  

So I started looking for her work in the scholarly databases and found a few bits, but not “The Transgender Alternative.” I saw that one of the places it was published was Chrysalis Quarterly, which was run by the legendary Dallas Denny (who has also written for TGForum — find an article HERE.) I contacted her, and she was kind enough to send me a copy. It isn’t a long piece, but it said so much. I don’t have the space (nor rights) to quote the whole thing, but in it, she proposed using the term “transgender” as an umbrella term for crossdressers, transsexuals, and more (Boswell, 1991). She believed, as I do, that there is space under that umbrella for all of us–that crossdressers are as valid as those who transition.  

Do yourself a favor: if you want to learn a bit about one of the giants who have helped us to where we are today–able to congregate and share with our sisters, then Google “Holly Boswell” and learn about her. Google “Dallas Denny.” “JoAnn Roberts.” “Sylvia Rivera.” “Angela Gardner.” “Marsha P. Johnson.” “Dorian Corey.” Learn about these amazing people, as well as those like them, and read what they have done, and in some cases continue to do for us all.

Without them, where would we be?

Boswell, H. The Transgender Alternative [1991]. Transgender Tapestry98.

“Holly Boswell.” LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/holly-boswell. Accessed 11 Apr. 2022.

Wray, A. (2020). Holly Boswell: Asheville’s Social Justice Warrior, Voices from the LGBTQIA+ Archive of Western North Carolina. Journal of Appalachian Studies26(2), 173-190.

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Category: Transgender History

Sophie Lynne

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