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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Changing Sex in a Small Town

By Robyn

Letters to the Editor

Shortly after I began transitioning in 1992, I ceased to read the local newspaper. I have no idea what the response was to the article about me in the local press. In mid-February a young woman named Jennifer Chilcoat spoke at Hendrix College (also in Conway...this is a college town) about the need for homosexual children to have role models as they grow up. The local newspaper covered her speech and the article appeared on the front page of the paper on Sunday, February 21, 1993.

There were four responses to the article on February 24. One of them mentioned that the 30% suicide rate among homosexual children was because the "chosen lifestyle was diametrically opposed to the Bible's many admonitions condemning same" (God's will, as it were). A second said that "if homosexuals' and lesbians' children do not have `role models,' it is their parent's responsibility to provide it, not the government," showing that the women totally missed the point. A third article actually showed a glimmer of intelligence. The fourth of these articles was by a woman who decided that somehow I needed to be dragged into this.

News Article II

From Estelle Gross,

When I read the front page of the Log Cabin Democrat on Sunday, it made me sick. I cannot believe the Log Cabin would put an article such as this ("World lacks homosexual role models") in the paper and especially on the front page. To see a young woman so proudly proclaim her homosexuality, and then tell the rest of her world to accept her and other homosexuals is just too much. To think that Hendrix College would allow her to come on their campus and deliver a speech is unthinkable.

Homosexuality is a choice one makes. Homosexuality is almost unheard of in many parts of the world, especially third world countries. It seems that the more "civilized" a nation becomes the more immoral it becomes. I am also tired of hearing homosexuals say that Christians hate them. Actually, homosexuality is just another form of sexual promiscuity and is certainly forgivable but intolerable.

I also thought I would not see a man dressed in women's clothing up teaching in a state supported university, but that is the very thing being done at the University of Central Arkansas. He is required to dress like a woman before having a sex change operation. This man can often be seen teaching class in a skirt, but he looks and stands like a man. I think it is abominable that our society permits this. Yes, Ms. Chilcoat is right--there are not many good role models left. People are afraid to speak- up for what is right; we are afraid not to jump on the band wagon and be broad-minded. I hope I do not live to be that shallow-minded that I can be blown about like a reed in the wind and willing to accept the "buzz" thing of the decade. I realize that our very President condones this type of lifestyle, and this in and of itself will make many people who lack the moral fortitude go with the flow.

"And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another...And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, ..." This was written several thousand years ago and can be found in its entirety in Romans I. Synonyms for depraved are debased, degenerate, perverted, and warped, just to name a few. And if this letter makes you angry, remember Ms. Chilcoat, and others like you, these words were inspired by God, not me."

---Log Cabin Democrat (LCD), February 24, 1993

One of my coworkers told me about the letter, so I bought myself a copy of the paper. I decided that I needed to reply.

Response to Letter

From Robyn Elaine Serven, Conway

On February 24, 1993, Esther Gross of Conway felt it necessary to comment about me in a letter to your newspaper and you chose to print her letter. I feel that I should have the right to respond to Mrs. Gross.

Mrs. Gross and I have never met. She does not know me. I have heard that she is the wife of a state trooper. I imagine that Mrs. Gross has never even seen me although from the tone of the letter one might assume that she had. I can only assume from reading her letter that she goes to the same church as one of my "colleagues."

Some of the good people of Conway seem to believe that my condition is something upon which they must have an opinion, as if my private life is something of their concern. I wonder if they also think that they must have an opinion about Joe Smith's heart condition or Jane Brown's breast cancer. Maybe the city should vote on what little Timmy Black should do about his epilepsy or whether or not Bob and Sue Clark should have their newborn baby's birth defect repaired.

If my parents had had me treated when I was a child, none of you would have ever heard about me. I might still have ended up a member of the faculty at UCA. We will never know because I could not verbalize my problem to my parents. It was not something that children knew how to talk about in the '50s. You see, I did know even as a small child that my body was the wrong sex for my brain. Try to imagine what that must be like. I know you would fail but you won't even try. You do not know what it is to be transsexual and you don't even want to make an effort to learn.

Instead you find it much easier to condemn me, taunt me, insult me, and apparently talk behind my back to people who are complete strangers to me. Apparently some of you think that I am a homosexual. I think "faggot" and "queer" are the terms you prefer. If you feel you must insult me, why don't you use the correct term. You see, the only person I have ever had sex with is my wife. I have a daughter. Presently, I am celibate. I don't personally believe that my sex life is any of your concern but apparently you do, so I'll be open about it. By the way, the correct derogatory term is "shemale."

Transitioning from male to female is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. One has to put up with the worst kind of bigotrythe kind that comes from people that believe that anyone who is not exactly like them is somehow subhuman or evil. Most often they must find some biblical reason to justify their prejudice, contrary to the teachings of the man they claim to worship. I personally believe that they are teaching an evil lesson to their children and stunting their development as caring, loving members of our society.

I'm sure that Mrs. Gross disagrees with me because she is apparently one of the bigots. She even felt it necessary to attack my appearance before the whole city. I have no one to please but myself and I am quite pleased, thank you. I'm 44 years old and have lived long enough to realize that it is exactly this that is of ultimate importance.

I work hard to educate your children and have often been told that I am the best mathematics teacher at UCA, not that the community or the administration at UCA appreciates that. They certainly have shown little concern for my welfare.

I should point out that the citizens of this city and the administrators at UCA are earning a pretty bad reputation. You see, I pride myself on my honesty and when my friends from around the world ask me how things are going I tell them the truth. And young adults from around this state, this country, and even from the rest of the world who attend one of the colleges here are going to tell people in their hometowns how the citizenry of Conway has behaved.

Finally, I would like to inform Mrs. Gross that one of my friends from one of those third world countries that she mentioned read her comment about homosexuality being nonexistent in those lands, she laughed so hard I thought she was going to have a stroke. You see, outside of the United States, Great Britain, and a few countries dominated by religions or dictators that you abhor, there are not many places that harbor the animosity toward homosexuals or transsexuals that is exhibited by the socalled Christian fundamentalists. Please try not to show your ignorance in public, Mrs. Gross.

---LCD, February 28, 1993

The following response purports to be from a ninth grade student, but why a ninth grader would already be looking at what college to attend is beyond me. Apparently there were other responses to my letter but this was the only one brought to my attention.

Response to Letter

From Tara Gardner, Conway

This letter is regarding the letter from Robyn Elaine Serven. I do not understand how he or she can preach to us in a letter about how we shouldn't judge him because we have never met him, but he is somehow allowed to call Mrs. Gross a bigot when he has never met her. I do not feel that Mrs. Gross judged him in her letter. She brought up the simple fact that any administrator or student at the University of Central Arkansas already knows. She commented on his actions, not on him personally.

As for Mrs. Gross and his "colleagues," I think they are right. Every Bible verse Mrs. Gross quoted was true.

I am in ninth grade and I'm looking at colleges right now. I would be appalled if I had to look at a transsexual everyday in class, especially if he or she was the teacher.

In closing, I would like to point out that he thinks no one considers his feelings, but he did not take into consideration the feelings of the people who must look at him, everyday, in women's clothing.

---LCD, March 14, 1993

One of my students defends me.

Response to Letter

From Leah Hammett,

This letter is in response to the many letters concerning Dr. Robyn Elaine Serven.

As one of Dr. Serven's students, I would like to explain what our class is like. Students sit at their desks, with pencil in hand, taking notes as she presents a well-prepared, detailed lecture. She asks questions to make sure we understand what is being taught and is very receptive to all questions we ask. She makes homework assignments that help in understanding a topic and is available for office hours above and beyond those required by the university.

As you can see, this is just like any other class where the instructor's concerns are with the class. Dr. Serven's personal life is just is mine. I did not choose to attend the University of Central Arkansas because of who the instructors were but for the quality of education. I only hope that anyone wishing to attend college will choose that college on its educational values rather than their own personal views.

---LCD, March 18, 1993

As a footnote, Ms. Chilcoat and I were chatting in the parking lot of a Little Rock restaurant in July and approximately 20 high school students, some wearing jackets proclaiming them to be students of Central Catholic High School, decided that throwing baseball-sized rocks at us while yelling "Queer Bitches" and "Dyke Cunts" might be a fun thing to do. One rock hit me in the neck, one went through the window of Jennifer's car. Patrons of the restaurant ran inside and had the management call the police. Meanwhile a couple of women in a car in the lot wrote down the license plate numbers of the six cars involved. Long after the youths left a lone policeman arrived. He did not want the list of license plate numbers. He told us basically, "No harm, no foul." That is, he said there wasn't much he could do because we couldn't identify specifically which of the youths threw the rocks and besides, it was only a misdemeanor. I challenged him on the misdemeanor determination, citing assault as being more than that. He told me is was not assault because, as he put it, "you're still standing."

The Little Rock newspaper (the DOG) refused to report the incident. The police department refused to report it as a hate crime. Ms. Chilcoat filed a report with the district attorney's office. They assigned their most inexperienced lawyer to it and the case was dropped.

Both of us were interviewed by the Arkansas Times, a widely-read weekly publication with a more liberal slant than the DOG. They nevertheless did not see fit to include anything about the incident in an article they did about hate crimes.

The only newspaper to interview us and report on the incident was the Little Rock Free Press, a biweekly publication known mostly as what you should read to find out what is going on in town socially, musically, and artistically.


  1. This was originally posted to DK on June 22, 2007, as part 15 of my Gender Workshop series.

  2. Okay, Robyn, after reading this, all I can say is that I admire your courage. I can't imagine what it would be like to be transitioning in a place like Arkansas almost 20 years ago. Still less can I imagine being brave enough to face down this kind of bigotry so publicly. Having grown up in the south, neither Ms. Gross's attitude nor the later attack on you surprises me. I'm sure you must have feared for your safety, but you stood up to those things nevertheless. You've got guts, that's for sure.

    Thanks for the wonderful post.

  3. No guts, no they say.

    There were times I would have preferred being a trophy wife.

  4. thanks for these powerful diaries Robyn. Your strength and courage continue to amaze.

  5. @ Robyn: There are times when I'd prefer to be a trophy wife, but those positions appear to be in short supply. ;-)