Today, I want to share of you three items I discovered over the past week that immediately earned “The Allison M. Seal of Approval.” [Sound of blue ribbon being affixed to hard surface] Rather than just include all of them into one super-long blog post as I originally thought about doing, I thought I’d break them off into separate entries (this one and the next two that are coming up). First off is something I heard last week on NPR (don’t sneer your nose, they have very intelligent programming) as part of the StoryCorps project. For the unfamiliar, StoryCorps is a public service (their term) that records conversations between two people in order to share and preserve their stories, not to mention help foster the art of true conversation, which seems to be a lost art form these days. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is; if you’re a human being, if you have a story, and you have someone you want to converse with, you can have your talk recorded by StoryCorps. One such story comes from Sissy Goodwin of Wyoming. Sissy is 68 years old, a straight male, a college teacher, a Vietnam War veteran, a former rodeo rider… and a wearer of women’s clothing. Openly. Regularly. In public. Sissy recorded a StoryCorps conversation with his wife, Vickie, from whom he initially hid his crossdressing during their early courtship, choosing instead to act all macho. Eventually, after the two became engaged, Sissy revealed his feminine side to Vickie, who overcame any early trepidation and embarrassment to stand by Sissy through their now 4+ decades of marriage.
StoryCorps is not the only place where Sissy has told his story. On NPR’s story is a link to a 2013 Los Angeles Times profile (and related video, which you can see below) of Sissy, where he speaks frankly about his early worries over his crossdressing lifestyle. He talks about how dressing up served as a “safety valve” from a difficult childhood, when he had to deal with alcoholic and abusive parents; how he had to keep his dressing covert while in the military and on the rodeo circuit; and how he chose to start wearing dresses openly in order to overcome a severe depression.
In the StoryCorps feature and especially in the Times profile, Sissy also discusses overcoming derision, harassment, and abuse living in Wyoming–the so-called “Equality State”–where the conservative-leaning populace has long had a reputation of hostility towards alternative lifestyles, the Matthew Shepard incident being the most obvious proof of that. The physical abuse Sissy has endured has included everything from vandalism to a neighbor knocking his teeth in to an altercation while on business in Salt Lake City, where he declined to go to the police out of fear they would arrest him instead of his attackers. The verbal abuse has included the usual sneers from cowboys and the self-righteous to the snubbing of those Sissy had known since childhood (the greatest of insults, according to him). One catcall incident included the term that he has fully embraced and made his adopted name, Sissy.
When hearing and reading Sissy’s story, you get the clear sense that he has remained defiant even through the negative experiences. As he mentions at one point in the Times video, “You might not like the way I look, but, by God, you are going to respect me.” Sissy has indeed gained some respect and acceptance: Some bystanders have congratulated Sissy for being the person he is (and complimented him on his wardrobe); at least one former abuser has apologized; and his college pupils, in a moment of solidarity for their teacher, arrived in class dressed in pink skirts and hair ribbons. You also get the sense that Sissy clearly appreciates the support he receives from his wife and their children; despite his times of self-doubt and any embarrassment he may have put them through, they clearly stick by him. That’s especially clear in the StoryCorps interview, where Sissy thanks Vickie for the support and inspiration (and lessons of self-respect) she has given him, and Vickie reciprocates by stating, “I love the person I have become because of you.”
Sissy’s story is an amazing one, and count me among those applauding him. Though I am a simple crossdresser who generally stays in the closet, I still appreciate and admire the bravery of those who, as Sissy puts it, openly express “gender independence.” Sissy wears a skirt around his waist, puts a bow in his hair, and still presents himself as a well-adjusted male; for that, Sissy has stood taller, remained dignified, and proven himself more manly than the oh-so-masculine cowboys that populate Wyoming. Applause should go to his wife, Vickie, and their family as well; they have stood by him and continue to love him for the man–and the human being–he is. If only every crossdresser in this world could be as lucky and fortunate as Sissy has been with his familial support.
Sissy’s story, it should be noted, does have a postscript: One day after his StoryCorps featured aired on NPR, the LA Times provided an update to its 2013 profile. Sissy has chosen to retire in May from his college teaching position, and will relocate with Vickie from Wyoming to the Portland, Oregon area; there, they plan to purchase a small farm, do some more traveling, and continue to live openly as crossdressing male and supportive wife. Sissy states he does not feel as if he’s now being chased out of Wyoming, where he believes some people (though not all) have become more open towards alternative lifestyles; it’s just that he and Vickie have longed to live in a locale such as Portland where the climate is more temperate, their future travels can be made more easily, and where, yes, a crossdresser such has him can be more accepted. Good luck to them both!
(Oh, one more note about Sissy and Vickie’s StoryCorps conversation: As with every interview StoryCorps records, theirs will be archived for posterity at the American Folklife Center inside the Library of Congress, meaning their story will live on long after they have gone. “Saved for posterity….” Pretty powerful thought, isn’t it?)