Cook-Riley, Frye and Frederickson: Pioneers of the Modern Trans Community

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I’ve noticed that some of the folks who claimed that the “transgender community” didn’t exist until after the mid 1990s seem to be curling their toes after a wonderful interview with Yvonne Cook-Riley was published. They seem to feel that her story wipes away all the documented cooperative group efforts by transsexuals and non-transsexuals going back to the 1970s.

In her interview, Cook-Riley talks about how she and several Texas trans folk created what came to be known as the modern transgender community (BTW, Texans also created what became trans law and trans health care). I interviewed Phyllis Frye a number of years ago about all of this and think that the Cook-Riley interview will be a great supplement to that interview. The only thing that Cook-Riley left out was the part of the story where Tere Frederickson went toe-to-toe with Virginia Prince about the term “transgender” being a taxonomy that was inclusive of a diverse group of constituent members back in 1991.

Anyway, a number of the folks who grouse about the fact that I’ve dared to make historical records available that don’t support their beloved narratives are claiming that:

  1. I’ve said that our community has used the term, “transgender community” since the early 1970s.
  2. This Cook-Riley interview proves that I’m wrong.
  3. I should apologize for misleading people.

This is yet another example of they way separatist opinion leaders seem to simply make stuff up, sell it to their constituency (usually with a heaping helping of ad hom attacks) who then gobble it up without ever bothering to question why the assertions were made without any supporting evidence. First, I’ve never, ever made the claim that the term “transgender community” was used to describe the early trans community back in the 1970s. I claimed that the earliest modern use of this term (that I’ve been able to find thus far) was in 1984; here’s the supporting evidence. What I have claimed is that there was indeed an organized group of transsexuals and non-transsexuals working together for common cause, that this group fits the dictionary definition of the term “community” and that this community existed going back to the 1970s; here’s the supporting evidence.

While Cook-Riley talks about the genesis of what we think of as being the modern transgender community in her interview, I talked about the roots of the modern transgender community. Arguing that Cook-Riley stating that there was nothing analogues to the modern transgender community before the early 1990s is exactly the same as saying that there was nothing analogues to community is a non sequitur. Before Cook-Riley began her efforts to forge the modern trans community with folks like Phyllis Frye and Tere  Frederickson, there were already community magazines and newsletters, community helplines, networked community groups, community BBS, preferred community providers, organized political efforts, uprisings and education efforts as well as a number of community-focused national conventions that had taken place years before the 1990s. Cook-Riley isn’t saying that all that didn’t exist; what she’s saying is that a mature, robust and focused national movement that became what we think of today as being the modern “transgender community” found it’s genesis in the efforts of people like herself in the early 1990s.

If you’ve not yet listened to her interview, I urge you to do so here. Since there’s interest in this topic, next week I’ll post the fight between Tere  Frederickson and Virginia Prince in my research blog. For a more robust understanding of how all this happened (and which feminists supported it back in the 1980s), watch a great interview with Phyllis Frye here.

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