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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Remembering Gianna Israel

Did you know Gianna Israel? She was one of the most remarkable women I've ever met. I met Gianna before she met me, reading her columns in Transgender Tapestry. What she was writing about us and our lives was better than anything else I was reading about overcoming our struggles and how to overcome them, keep the people we love in our lives and to be happier in our affirmed gender.

I sent her an email and to my surprise and joy, she answered back. This was in 1996. I never think that people who have accomplished so much will have time to spend on me. I'm always wrong about that. Happens every time. Now, in some ways that is a pretty sad comment on how I feel about myself at times, but on the other hand, imagine how happy I am when someone of her stature writes back to me and even better, we become friends! That's the part I mainly end up thinking about.

Gianna and I wrote back and forth, then we started calling each other on the phone from time to time. I'll always remember her wonderfully hilarious sense of humor; once she had been complaining to me about her little dog, a Yorkie, for a while. Her dog was lavishing her affections on her roommate and ignoring Gianna, much to her disgust. She used to refer to that dog as "that farm animal" and was always talking about getting rid of it and getting another dog. I about rolled on the floor laughing the first time she called her a farm animal, and after that I always had to get updates on the farm animal!

 One day she sent me a picture of the dog over the internet labeled "farm animal. jpg. When I opened it, there was this little dog sitting on the roasting pan in the oven surrounded by potatoes, onions and carrots looking at the camera with her little bright eyes and a doggie smile on her face! I just about died laughing and still laugh when I think about it today.
Another time I had been complaining about how long it took to shave my legs and body. She said she had something that really helped her speed up the process and sent me this picture of a disposable razor with three heads! She was just about the funniest woman I ever met.

As our friendship grew, we would call each other once or twice a month between our emails and I would call upon her to consult with me on my transgender patients when I had just started working with others, or just for some nice girl talk.

As a professional courtesy, she did my evaluation for HRT, but I didn't use it until 2006 due to my own fear and indecisiveness about whether to transition or not. I kept the letter all these years and used it for the doctor I was going to see originally, who I have been referring to over the past 15 years. I have that letter in my scrap book I am making and I cherish it.

What was the most interesting thing about Gianna, was that even though she had been a throw away transsexual street kid and never even earned her G.E.D., she was highly self educated and was one of the best gender scholars I have ever known. She wrote and edited the book Transgender Care as the principle author with Donald Tarver M.D. The book discusses in depth how to provide quality comprehensive services for transsexuals and proposed revisions and additional recommendations that informed the American Psychiatric Association and the World Professional Association of Transgender Health of which she was a member, (At the time of the publication of her book, this organization was still known as The Harry Benjamin Gender Dysphoria Association) on revisions to enhance the quality of lives for people uncomfortable with their assigned birth gender.

But what I admired most about Gianna was that she had the most remarkably kind attitude and love for life despite having been thrown out on the streets as a very young teenager, having to cope with a seizure disorder and was suffering from AIDS. She eventually succumbed to neurological complications while writing and editing another book on treating transgendered people that I was supposed to write a chapter for on family preservation.

When we lost Gianna on February 22nd, 2004, we lost a bright shining light of love and hope in our community. In my own little way, to honor her presence in my life and that I may never forget how much she meant to me as a friend, I still keep her name and phone number on my cell phone as it gives me a reminder of who she was and of our friendship.

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