The Media Mavens: Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall
Author: John Morgan Wilson
May 2, 2010
Diane Anderson-Minshall and Jacob Anderson-Minshall are award-winning writers, social change activists and media personalities, currently living Portland, Oregon. Co-conspirators in life and love, they co-author the Blind Eye Detective Agency mystery series published by Bold Strokes Books and co-founded Girlfriends, a national lesbian magazine that published for over ten years. Diane is the editor-in-chief of Curve magazine, founder of Alice magazine, author of the Lambda-nominated erotic thriller Punishment With Kisses, as well as a celebrity and travel writer.
Jacob is an environmental writer and just became the Portland Green Living expert at Examiner.com. He also hosts the radio talk show Gender Blender on Portland’s KBOO FM 90.7, and is the founder of Re|new|velopes, dedicated to keeping padded envelopes out of landfills. As a couple, Diane and Jacob have been foster parents to several teenage boys and continue to work with LGBT and homeless youth.
JMW: Tell us about your original relationship, Jacob’s decision to transition from a woman named Suzy to a man named Jacob, and how you ended up staying together when many other couples in similar situations split.
JACOB: We got together when we were both lesbian identified. During the early days I was really embracing a butch persona and felt comfortable in the guise of a butch identified lesbian feminist. Diane was my first relationship that lasted more than a year. Up to that point most of my relationships lasted only an average of three months. She was the first woman I kept wanting to work through my shit to stay with after three months, six months, a year, etc. We were activists back then, ran for homecoming king and queen, started a LGBTQ student organization at Idaho State University. We ended up in San Francisco where we started Girlfriends magazine.
During those years I assumed my gender issues were because of my lesbianism. I embraced the lesbian community. It wasn’t just that I felt more comfortable and like I belonged there more than anywhere else I’d ever been; it was a political, feminist, radical action to choose women over men. I mean, my attraction was to women, but I also felt like women were just better than men. Why wouldn’t I choose to be with women instead of men? It wasn’t until we’d been together a really long time that I came out to myself as transgender.
DIANE: That’s always the big question, eh? We got together twenty years ago, after we met at Idaho’s first gay pride parade (we were two-fifths of the Queer Nation contingent). We are both Idaho natives who were there briefly after living in other places. We got our first domestic partnership certificate in West Hollywood, when it was the first city to offer them. Through the years we would have four more commitment ceremonies, each time after a new step in the law—when California offered domestic partnership, followed by San Francisco, then when San Francisco briefly legalized marriage—each time we rushed to the altar. After we had been together about sixteen years, Jake (then still Suzy) was going through a lot of self-exploration and I could see that some new awareness was dawning on him. He began to say things like, maybe if I was younger I would have identified as transgender. He was reading a lot of the burgeoning trans literature and really finding relevance in it and I could see something was brewing, probably before he did.
I think it may have at one point been a total shock to our friends, only because you know we were a couple of set-in-our-ways dykes at this point, happily married sixteen years, and the only thing we had really said previously about trans issues was not very trans supportive. (I think we both had espoused a sort of “it’s ok for you but I don’t understand why anyone would do that to their body”—so we were quite ignorant at the time). Then I saw this really resonating with Jake and about six months before he mentioned it, I knew it was coming.
JACOB: I’ve been very fortunate that Diane is an incredible, unique individual able to make the transition with me. It’s an enigma: she identifies as a lesbian, and yet sees me entirely as a man and is able to embrace that in all parts of our relationship. Even physically. At first, I didn’t know if she’d stay with me. I worried she’d leave me. I worried my transition would cost her everything she loved – her wife, her identity, her job, her friends. We’ve been fortunate that it hasn’t. You know, there weren’t a lot of role models when we first started this transition as a couple. Most of the books, films and stories we heard all ended the same way – with the trans person alone in the end.
DIANE: There was never any question in my mind about staying together because you know, it’s sixteen years, you don’t just let the person you devoted your life to walk away because his anatomy changed. He worried about my job – I’m editor-in-chief of the country’s best-selling lesbian magazine and having a lesbian in that role is, I think, crucial – and I worried about it too. Would readers accept me now that I had a, gulp, husband? But the truth is, in the same way your sexuality isn’t ruled by your partner’s anatomy, neither is mine. I didn’t change, he did, so that shouldn’t affect my career.
But it did affect some things because we were just absolutely symbiotic. As women, we did everything together, but in America men and women can’t do everything together. I mean something as simple as soaking in the hot tub at the spa was suddenly a boy or girl thing, never the twain shall meet. So I lost a lot of stuff I took for granted, that I enjoyed with a female partner. But I gained a partner who loves himself a lot more and that’s definitely worth the trade off.
JMW: This puts you both square in the controversy among lesbians regarding lesbian-to-male transitioning. Talk a bit about that issue, and where you stand.
JACOB: I don’t think that there is a community-wide “controversy”. I think there are concerns about the future face of the lesbian community. I mean, there are those who believe that all the butch lesbians are becoming men. I don’t think that’s true. I think there are plenty of butches out there and that they are distinctly different from transgender men. In particular, I think those women are happy being strong, butch women. I don’t think people transition because society has made their gender presentation uncomfortable. Butches don’t become trans men because of social pressure. If they transition it is about their gender identities.
I do recognize that the younger generation is changing everything. In the future there might not be lesbians or FTMs [female-to-male] or trans identified people in the same way there are now. For one, many of their genders are far more fluid and even what we might find contradictory, you know lesbians having chest surgery, FTMs who don’t transition, trans guys who identify as lesbians even post-transition. I think that change in our community and in the boundaries of these identities is a little frightening for all of us. I’m an endangered species too. I don’t think we’ll see a lot of trans guys in another generation who have lived half their lives as lesbian women.
DIANE: I think there’s an understandable and palpable fear among some segments of the lesbian community that we’re losing all our butches and that each time a lesbian comes out as trans—especially if he is dismissive of his former lesbian experience the way Chaz Bono has been, for example—it does feel like a rejection. But I think that’s lessened when you intimately know a trans man or woman and know what they went through—and know that while that trans man (in particular) might have almost mirror origin stories with lesbians. Because they often do—they both didn’t want to be girls, they both didn’t want boobs or their periods, they didn’t want to play with dolls or dress up, etc. These are origin stories that help some women decide they are gay and help some trans men decide they are men. But while they may have mirror origin stories, the results of that are simply not the same. So some trans men find comfort in the lesbian community but never their absolute truth and so coming out trans is their final honest coming out to themselves and the world.
If you’re a lesbian you face losing a lot by making that step. I love that Jake remains a feminist and that he became the kind of guy we need more of in the world. He’s strongly identified with lesbians and cares about our issues, feelings, culture. I thnk it was Rocco, the co-founder of Original Plumbing, who said he was culturally or politically a lesbian even if he’s now a man. I think that’s a tough line but lesbians appreciate men who straddle it, while still owning what privilege they’ve gained as well.
JMW: Has Jacob’s transition impacted how and what you write, individually or together?
JACOB: Oh, absolutely. The first few years after I started transitioning I wrote almost exclusively about the transgender community. You know, I came out and started to really see that community in a way I hadn’t before and I realized how little visibility the trans community had even within the LGBT community. So I launched my syndicated TransNation column, which ran for three years in LGBT publications from San Francisco to New York. Every week I profiled another transgender or gender variant person. Over the years I spoke with more than 125 different individuals and started to get a much better sense about the breadth of the trans community. I’ve also written a number of op-ed pieces for SheWired.com that have really been a trans perspective for a lesbian audience. We also have a character in our Blind Eye mystery novels who is examining their gender and that is certainly informed by my experiences.
DIANE: Fiction, no, because we started fiction after he transitioned. But non-fiction, I’ve made sure to include more trans work in the magazine because I can now suddenly see who trans people are, what they mean to our community as well as how many transgender women are lesbians and how many FTM or trans men are married to or partnered with queer or lesbian identified women. Their stories are under told but not, I hope, in my magazine.
JMW: How can other trans writers network, find trans-friendly publishers and publications, etc. Can you recommend any special organizations or resources?
JACOB: There are some remarkable people doing really interesting transgender media. Many trans writers find outlets through blogs like bilerico.com, transadvocate.com, trans group blog and Pam’s House Blend Then there are zine’s like Original Plumbing and a few other local zine’s with a focus on trans issues. Trans guy Matt Kailey edits Colorado’s queer paper OutFront and T Cooper writes for Out magazine.
As long as local LGBT media continues to survive there will be some trans folk involved in them. The women behind the trans radio show Gender Talk have moved into filmmaking, but I host a monthly trans radio show on Portland’s KBOO 90.7 (kboo.fm/genderblender), a legendary non-profit, listener-supported radio station, and there are other radio hosts and pod casters out there as well. I’d also recommend connecting with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (nlgja.org).
Book publisher have been struggling for many years now and more and more are going out of business, but two I’d recommend for trans authors are Bold Strokes Books, my current publisher, and Homofactus Press, which is run by trans folks and publishing some really interesting work.
JMW: Tell us about your Blind Eye series (blindeyemysteries.com) for Bold Strokes. Why fiction, and why mystery?
DIANE: Sure, there are three books in the series: Blind Faith, Blind Leap and Blind Curves. It follows a detective agency lead by Yoshi, a nearly blind Asian American lesbian, crimes that happen inside the queer community, and a motley crew of mostly- LGBT crime solvers. We were both at a place where we wanted to move into fiction. I fantasized a lot about killing people, ways to do it, as part of my post-Girlfriends therapy (I was forced out of Girlfriends in 1999), just getting my anger out. And we’re obsessed with crime shows fact and fictional. In fact, I want to move into crime writing about the LGBT world because no one is really doing that, covering our real lives and deaths in that way. Anyway, we both were talking about what we had come up with and decided to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) (nanowrimo.org), where you write a book in thirty days. We did it together and eventually that became our first book. By then we were hooked. I can’t imagine stopping now.
JACOB: I had written fiction decades ago, though it was never published. We definitely have both been fans of mysteries, thrillers and crime TV. Maybe we’re a little dark, fascinated by the evil side of humankind and how those who commit crimes are brought to justice – or often not. This September is the 10th anniversary of the murder of my brother-in-law Tom Sherwood. The case hasn’t been solved, partly because it was originally considered a suicide until the medical examiner determined it couldn’t have been self-inflicted. It’s so frustrating that justice isn’t being served, that a murderer still walks around free to live their life. Fiction offers us an opportunity to resolve crimes the way we want to – the bad guys always get theirs in the end.
JMW: Jacob, tell us more about your radio show.
JACOB: Gender Blender streams live over the internet at kboo.fm/genderblender, plus there is a downloadable podcast. We talk about broad issues as well as profiling local individuals and upcoming events. We have had some really remarkable shows. One of our most powerful shows recently examined people who had “transitioned” twice and also looked at the life and death of LA Times sportswriter Mike Penner /Christine Daniels. I also help with the other two LGBT shows, OutLoud and the Other Team. I recently examined the connection between environmental pollution and gender variance in humans.
JMW: I understand you two are now collaborating on a memoir.
DIANE: Yes, it’s a memoir of our relationship, Jake’s transition and how we stayed together – all with a hefty dose of twenty years of cultural changes in the queer and trans communities. We’re calling it Queerly Beloved.
JACOB: We’re trying to answer many of the same questions you asked us here. I think we’ll also be demonstrating how the changes we’ve experienced as activists and journalists reflect broader changes in the LGBT community. Knowing Diane, she’ll write something incredibly revealing, which I will find embarrassing. We’ll talk about how getting legally married changed so many things for us. We’ll try to answer the question of how we managed to stay together for so long! Twenty years!