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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Phyllis Frye: I Make Sure to Include the Asterisk (Part I)

Living Legend

Phyllis Randolph Frye has been around for quite some time as an activist for the Houston GLBT community, and in fact a national activist as well. She has accomplished so much in the past twenty- seven years, and it probably all feels to her like it was just yesterday that she was stepping off a bus and running toward Ray Hill with a flag that said "Veteran" on it at the march on Washington on October 14, 1979.

Phyllis seems upon first meeting her to be a rough and tumble person who's not afraid to tangle with the worst of the worst if she has to. I must admit that it can be very intimidating. But as she began talking and relating her experience to me, I began to know and identify with a very caring woman who has selflessly pledged her life to a cause which will benefit the community that she is part of.

Phyllis said that she always makes sure to include the asterisk. There was a time that GLBT was not an abbreviation yet, and Phyllis simply used Gays* so that everyone would be included. And she has been true to that goal of complete inclusiveness and to the belief that this fight is for all of us, not just for some.

Phyllis Frye is a true living legend among us. We owe her our gratitude and our respect. Thanks to her and others such as Ray Hill, Pokey Anderson and Allen Coleman, we can walk down the streets of Houston holding hands with less fear and less harassment.

The asterisks of the past already went through most of that for us.

I Did Guy Things

OutBC: When do you realize that there was something different about yourself, and how long did it take to go through that and the transition?

Phyllis Frye: I always knew, from the time I was running around in my parents house as little kids do. I was a little boy then, running around in my underwear, and I always knew there was something different, but I didn't know what it was. Anybody that reads book written by Renee Richards or any other transsexual person comes upon a similar story, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that. But I knew that something was different, and I had my first actual cross-dressing experience when I was eight. I knew that that was for me. I knew as I was going through the Boy Scouts. I enjoyed the Boy Scouts and was a very good one. I was an Eagle Scout. But I would have enjoyed the Girl Scouts too, and I would have been an exceptional Girl Scout! I was also very good as a softball player. I played church league softball for years. Well, as we know now, girls (if allowed) are dynamite softball players. I even played in some lesbian leagues after I transitioned.

I was moderately athletic, and I was very accomplished as a boy. I shot rifles and I deer-hunted, but girls can do that too. As I went through high school, I always cross-dressed every chance I could secretly. I had these feelings that I didn't understand, but of course as we all think when we're going through this that we're the only ones. Whenever we even begin to come out a little bit, there are always the questions from the parents and the social and verbal cues that let you know you're just going to catch hell. So you bottle it all up inside. I tried real hard to be a guy, and I was great. I was the ROTC commander of my high school. I went to college on a four- year ROTC scholarship and studied engineering. I did guy things. I got married while I was in college and sired a child and kept trying because I was afraid of who I was.

I'm the Public Person

After I was married, and I don't remember if it was before or after my child was born, (well over thirty years ago), Christine Jergenson was being interviewed on some late night talk show, and of course my spouse and my mother-in-law were making fun of her. I wasn't going to stand up in defense because I was just sitting in there in self-talk realizing that I wasn't the only one, that this is who I was. I eventually told my wife that I was transgendered, but I didn't explain it to her with that term because she wouldn't have understood that. She was totally upset and left me after a couple of years while I was overseas in the military. The military found out because I was not making a big secret of what all was going on. They were going to process me out, and I told them that I would make a big stink if they didn't give me an honorable discharge. I went to college on an ROTC scholarship, and I was regular Army, not reserve. They gave me an honorable discharge.

My spouse divorced me in 1972. I was dealing with a lot of guilt. I had my wrists in stitches. I was struggling to make it in College Station working as an engineering researcher at the Texas A&M University, not as a student but as an engineer doing research in bioengineering. I was helping to develop artificial limbs at the time. That was when I met the woman who has become my very best friend, and my second legal spouse, Trish. She's not a public person. I'm the public person.

Seeing the Big Picture

I had been in Methodist churches all my life, and I had always accepted what had been told to me. I decided to read the Bible myself, chapter for chapter and verse for verse. I found tons of contradictions, lots of stuff that didn't make any sense at all, and the fact that the things that I was beating myself up over and what society beats GLBT people up over was such a small part of things. Nothing about this is in the Ten Commandments and Jesus never talked about it. It was off on this periphery, and yet it was being made such a big deal. Well I became very confirmed in being born again as a Christian, and of course a lot of Christians didn't like me because I was telling them that their stands against GLBT people was wrong and hypocritical. I also found a booklet by Elizabeth Caddy Stanton, written in the late 1800's, called "The Woman's Bible." I recommend highly to everybody because she and Susan B. Anthony and other feminist thinkers of the time went through all of the Bible verses that condemned women and showed how out of context they were. The Jerry Falwells, Pat Robertsons and Fred Phelpses of today were present back then too.

Well that was all a very big part of my life, and then Trish and I got married. She knew that I cross dressed. She didn't really know exactly how far it was going to go, and I didn't either. I really didn't understand everything that was happening. She said, "I love you, and if that's all that's wrong I'll give it a shot." So we moved to Pittsburgh and I continued to cross dress, and I went out from time to time. I didn't go to any bars, I just went out. Once I went to a workshop that was being put on the then Janice Society which is now defunct. Zelda Zuplee was there. Zelda was not transgendered, but she was a researcher in that area. Paul Walker was also present, who was a student at Johns Hopkins at the time where John Money and Richard Green were doing all of their ground breaking research on transgendered people. They wrote a lot of medical articles and books. Some of them, as we now know, were really bad. But at the time they were ground breaking. Paul was a graduate student, and he told me that he was going to be going to Texas to take over a fledgling program at the University of Texas at Galveston Sealy Hospital. He knew that I was going back to Texas work. We exchanged addresses, and he asked me to refer people to Galveston. Paul was also coming out of the closet as being a gay man. He is another one of our losses to AIDS. So I became involved with Paul at the Gender Clinic down in Galveston, which is now being run by Lee Emory, M.D., and Collier Cole, Ph.D. It is now called Rosenberg Clinic, and it's a very good operation. Operation, that's a Freudian slip!


I really didn't know that much at the time about the lesbian and gay community. I cross dressed, and I participated at the clinic. I went to the clinic every three months for my exam and blood work, and to get my hormones. But I still didn't know a lot about what was going on. I was reading Jan Morris's "Conundrum" and a book called "Canary" by Canary Conn. Canary was from San Antonio like me. He went to Lee High School, and I went to Jefferson High School. If I had lived one block north, then I would have gone to Lee High School. Canary was trying to be a guy then. He was in a rock and roll band. He would have been one year behind me. So I read a lot, including Christine Jorgenson's book. I also saw her movie. She was the one who broke all the barriers in the 1950's. She went over the Denmark and had her surgery performed by Dr. Harry Benjamin. She came back and went through all kinds of bloody hell.

I was still pretty isolated, but I would go out dressed from time to time because it was just driving me nuts to keep Phyllis repressed. Trish was very supportive. We had to deal with the neighborhood because we didn't want the neighbors to come up in arms. I would sneak out early in the morning and come back at night. One of the reasons we got garage door openers was so I wouldn't have to get out of the car to open and close the garage door. A lot of times I would call around and find university professors who dealt in these issues which at the time were called abnormal behavior. I would go and lecture for them. Some of them were Jim Carey (now deceased and his son runs the class at the University of Houston's Psychology Department), Ruth and Jerome Sherman at the University of Houston Downtown (Jerome is passed now), and JoAnn Small (she took over the Shermans' program at the University of Houston Downtown).

God Doesn't Make Trash

Well, then I met Ray Hill. I went to lecture for Jerome and Ruth Sherman at the University of Houston Downtown in either October or November of 1975. Trish and I had been back in Houston for only a year. I was working as an engineer. Ray was in the class, and he had just been out of prison a couple of months. He was out. He was VERY out. He was running for the Class President. He was known as the Fruit's Rights Freedom Fighter. He wore a button that said "Fruit's Rights." Well of course he asked a lot of questions and introduced himself to me after the class. He said that he was very active in the Houston gay and lesbian community. So I told him that I had a problem. I told him that I left the house very early and didn't return until late at night because of my cross dressing. I told him that I really didn't have many places to go after doing a class like that. I was afraid of being arrested because at the time there was a law that was being used to arrest anybody that cross dressed.

Ray told me about MCC and gave me the address. I went to the church, and it had just moved into the JoAnne Street address, and Bob Falls was the pastor (the sweetest nelliest queen you've ever met in your life). There was still a lot of stuff in boxes, and I walked in and chatted with him. I told him my story, and he said that I was welcome to stay there. I went into the sanctuary, which was an old printing warehouse. They had about two dozen metal folding chairs, a table with a cloth on it for an altar, and two 4x4's that someone had used a handsaw and a chisel and fashioned them so that they were coupled together to form crosses. They were hanging from chains from the ceiling, and there was a light shining on them. I looked at that, and I prayed a little while, and I felt like I was okay. And that was really the first time that I felt that I was okay and that I was doing God's work. God doesn't make trash. That was very important for me. I told Trish about it. It was a place where I could go as Phyllis without having to sneak out. I wasn't in a dangerous position to get arrested. So we started going regularly. They had a very fledgling choir. I'm a singer and Trish is a singer, so we sang in the choir.

Stepping Out

And that was really our introduction to the gay community. That was where we met a lot of wonderful gay men and lesbian women, and to this day Lance Shelton and Davis Raley, who were two wonderful men that we met at MCC, are still wonderful friends of ours. They're still involved in the church and the choir. It was really an eye- opener for us because we saw gay people who weren't stereotyped and who weren't at the bars. We really began to see that these were our people, and I was slowly coming out of the closet. My family was really upset, and Trish's family was very upset. I was also coming out of the closet in the neighborhood, and the neighbors were extremely upset. They fired me at work in 1976. MCCR became our family and our home, and that was when we switched from being Republicans to being Democrats. We thought that being Republican was the way to go. They're a bunch of fucking goddamn bigots! Everybody who claimed to be a Republican just flushed us! But I found a home in the local Democratic Party.

This was in 1976. I was fired in June 1976. Only a very few neighbors would talk to us. Our house started getting egged, our tires were being slashed, graffiti was being painted and many other things. That was when we also started getting a lot of obscene phone calls around the Christian high holy days. Trish and I ran into some racism at MCCR. It never made sense to us how gay people could be racist. Obviously MCCR took care of that pretty quickly.

Penny Pinching

I remember we did the Anita Bryant march, and that was the first time that Trish had really participated in anything that public. She was terrified that there would be cameras there which would show her face and that she was going to be fired, and she was terrified that maybe a lot of rocks and bricks would be thrown at us. In fact, we were told to take umbrellas to hunker under in case things were thrown. There were very few people actually in the parking lot to assemble, but there were all kinds of people on the outside waiting to see if this was actually going to take place. When it actually did start to take place, they all came in and joined the march. Trish and I were among the few that were actually there to participate in the march. The gay pride marches also started around that time. I believe that the first march was in 1976 and the second one I believe was in 1977.

In 1977, I had been unemployed for almost a year. I had interviewed everywhere and no one would hire me because I had transitioned and I was being honest about it. We were struggling because back in 1976 (before all the huge inflation that hit the country in 1979). I was 28 and she was 33, and we had both been working in our professions for a long time. Suddenly, sixty percent of our combined income disappeared because I couldn't get work. We didn't have that much in the way of savings, and we still had mortgage payments and child support payments. We turned off our air conditioner, and from the summer of 1977 through the summer of 1989 we did not use our air conditioner because it was an expense that we couldn't afford. I learned how to sew so that almost everything that we both wore was made by me to save money. We just did all kinds of things to save money.

Merry Christmas

In December of 1976 or 1977, our door bell rang on Christmas Eve and there were student ministers from MCCR. All of the food stuffs that had been brought to the church that Christmas to be given to a needy family was given to us. We got all the food. As a result, we were able to buy some warm shoes instead of food. All that we had at the time were open-toed sandals in December. We had another transgendered friend who was almost living on the street. We took ten percent of everything out of the food we had been given, and we boxed it up and took it to her. And that was her Christmas. I believe in December of 1977 we still had a couple of thousand dollars left in the bank.

Ray Hill and I were very close (and still are), and he was trying to get the second gay pride parade organized. This was when the parades were on the streets of downtown, and you had to get a permit and an insurance bond. The insurance bond was the problem. Ray told me that he had someone who was waiting on a dividend check to come in who would pay it but that he wouldn't get the money until after the parade. Well Trish and I, starving as we were, believed so much in what was going on that we loaned the money for the insurance bond. We did get the money back.

(Continued in next part ... }

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