by Calpernia Addams and Andrea James
July 22, 2003
We two have come together to create change from very different backgrounds. Many people became aware of Calpernia’s story when her boyfriend, Barry Winchell, was murdered by fellow soldiers in Kentucky in 1999, following months of harassment about his sexuality. In the face of this devastating loss, the media made things worse for Calpernia with insensitive coverage, reducing her relationship with Barry to “friend” status and completely discounting her identity as a woman.
The Showtime film Soldier’s Girl helped correct that. Most trans women in film and on television are portrayed as prostitutes, punch lines, or psychos. But in the hands of writer Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) and director Frank Pierson (a Star Is Born), Calpernia’s story became one of filmmaking’s most realistic and positive portrayals of a transgendered woman’s romantic relationship.
While Calpernia worked to side-step show-business pitfalls as a Nashville entertainer, Andrea made her transition under different circumstances. With family support and an established corporate career, she was able to make the change on the job in a progressive workplace. She also had the income needed to pay all the costs that make transition so challenging-and so rife with consumer fraud. Andrea’s job in advertising had taught her how to fight such fraud, so she decided to share her knowledge through her Web site, with hundreds of pages of free information on setting realistic goals and making informed purchasing decisions. (She spun off the section on hair removal into one of the Web’s most popular free consumer sites on the subject.)
The two of us met shortly after Barry’s death, and we saw an opportunity to work together to make transitioning easier for others and to get the trans perspective heard in the media. Between us, we have experience in print, theater, film, and TV. This year we moved to Los Angeles to start Deep Stealth Productions-the name is a wink to a slang term used by some in our community to mean “living without question or discovery in one’s chosen gender identity.”
We have been anything but deep stealth: The enormous response to Soldier’s Girl has allowed us to share with people what an incredible man Barry was and to have people see Calpernia as a regular woman with her own business, goals, and aspirations. Young transgendered women coming up through the club scene have heard the message that they are not condemned to the gender ghetto. Any of us can make a difference.
There’s work to do. For example: J. Michael Bailey, a professor who claims to be a friend of our community, has just put out a very defamatory book. In The Man Who Would Be Queen, he links transsexual women to The Silence of the Lambs and notes that we work as “strippers and prostitutes, as well as in many other occupations.” Because we believe in fighting unjust media depictions wherever we find them, we took time from our other projects to address and counter this insidious book.
One countertactic is writing our own stories in our own words. Calpernia has just published her autobiography, Mark 947, chronicling her strict religious upbringing, her time in the U.S. Navy, and her rise to fame in Nashville’s club scene. It’s the inspirational back story to Soldier’s Girl. We are also developing a short film with the working title The Voice Lesson–the story of women in our community finding their voices, both literally and figuratively.
We are especially excited about our next project: producing and performing in a transgender-themed production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues for early 2004. With Eve writing a new monologue just for the production, this is a wonderful chance to strengthen the connection between trans women and non-trans women in a project that benefits Eve’s global anti-violence effort, V-Day. Gender issues including stopping violence against, all women–are everyone’s issues.
We know that change comes from within, even when it seems impossible to others. How we respond to the challenges we face daily shapes the direction of our lives. Once we each realize how much we can change ourselves, changing the world is easy.
Find links to Deep Stealth and the other sites mentioned here at www.advocate.com