It is often said that the LGBT community sometimes forgets about the "T." Lorrainne Sade Baskerville is here to remind those people.
Baskerville, until very recently, was a lifetime Chicagoan; she comes from a family of seven children and very modest means. "I had my family but there was no support," said Baskerville. From a very early age, she was confronted with the harsher realities of life. She was one of the first to speak out and lobby against Chicago's controversial ban on cross-dressing in public. "I was arrested many times for dressing in women's clothes. I had to fight to get that law repealed."
Baskerville also spent time as an escort to help support herself. It was during that time that she met her life partner and best friend, Bruce Lomar. "We spent 20 years together. He was learning to ride a scooter so he could join me in Thailand, and then he was gone. There just are no words. I know the trip from Thailand to Florida is 20 hours and three transfers, but I still cannot remember how I made it to Florida. I just knew I had to be there and grieve. I still am grieving today. It's like my left hand was severed."
Her heartbreak and her recovery from the death of her partner are parts of what she calls her "spiritual journey" to womanhood. Her new memoirOne Trans Woman's Spiritual Journey: Transcending into Womanhood in Phuket, Thailandincludes the story of how she met Lomar and how she inevitably lost him. But perhaps more personal than that, Baskerville shares with her readership the intimate details of her "surgical intervention." She told Windy City Times, "Words are powerful. I didn't have a 'sex change'. People identify negatively with that term. I had a 'surgical intervention'."
Baskerville explained that although her initial reason for penning her memoir was to encourage other transgender individuals and to put their minds at ease, it quickly became something bigger: "I needed to transcend and teach others about what it is to be trans and what it feels like to be trans. I needed to show people that the trans community has layers and that this isn't a masquerade or about sex. Being trans and living trans is saying 'I have to be me'."
She also noted that there are transgender women who are still married to their wives: "Many trans women got married and even had children because they felt they had to please, whether that was their parents, their girlfriend, their community. So the trans woman still loves his wife very much and this can be extremely confusing for society to understand and accept."
Misinformation on the transgender community makes individuals frequent targets of tasteless humor and violence, both inside and outside the LGBT community, according to Baskerville. "People begin by saying, 'I don't like you.' They are ignorant and fear you and that ultimately leads to hate. We're all on the same river together, cut from the same fabric and part of the same human family," she said. "We all have our own little bubbles that we live in and oftentimes we don't see beyond or outside of that bubble. 'Here I am in my rich guy bubble and I have to do those things and be concerned with those things in my bubble.'"
Today, Baskerville is content with herself: "I have transcended into womanhood and I am free and happy. I didn't have my surgical intervention earlier because the techniques were still crude in the '70s. It's a weird analogy, but think of a car. Do I want to be driving around in some rusty old nasty thing or do I want the latest and nicest model?"
Baskerville also related the story about the obstacles faced by trans individuals that many cisgender (non-transgender) people take for granted: "For years I couldn't use a woman's locker room or changing room. Now I can do cartwheels and the splits out of joy. There is no more hiding, no more tucking. I'm free." Baskerville added she used both the idea and an actual mirror as an affirmation of who she was and what was important to her: "Being born Black and trans could seem like it's the absolute worst it could be. But I looked in that mirror. I examined the temple that is my body and I took care of that temple and loved it. Nothing in life is perfect but you've got to look in that mirror.
"We, as a trans community, need to decide if we're just existing or if we're going to live, really live, and reach for our goals. Without someone to motivate you, you may never get anything accomplished. I wanted to insure that the [trans] community help one another and reach for their goals."
She said she started the organization transGenesis in 1995 for that very purpose. "When I want help from social workers or from counselors, I want to see me," Baskerville said. "I want to see someone else who is trans. There just was no such organization." Before her surgical intervention in 2003, Baskerville closed transGenesis. "Some people might say I abandoned the trans community; I didn't. These children are with me forever. But I got burnt out without any help. I had to do what I had to do."
Baskerville believes very strongly in the power that a community can bring to an individual: "I think it is extremely important that trans youth and other trans people find positive trans role models. They need to see themselves reflected in the staff of a counseling center or a shelter. It's a hard life. Some end up in jail, abused and beaten down." She said the secrets to her success and adjustment as a trans woman are to "[b]elieve in yourself. Demand respect for yourself, for you are a human being. Ask yourself, 'Are you living or just merely existing?'"
Baskerville is a trans activist, teacher and author who now lives near Bangkok, Thailand. She will be in town June 21-July 2 to promote her book at Howard Brown Health Center and Center on Halsted, among other places. Visit www.windycitymediagroup.com for continuing updates.