An Interview with Nancy Nangeroni and Gordene MacKenzie

We asked Nancy and Gordene to catch the community up with what they’ve been doing and what they hope to do. We also asked how they got together and we asked Nancy about her stint as Executive Director of IFGE.

Answers to Dallas’ Questions

Nancy Nangeroni, with Gordene MacKenzie

So, how was it being the Executive Director of IFGE?

Well, it sure wasn’t easy, and not a lot of fun either, but I learned a lot. I volunteered for the job when other members of the executive committee were advocating shutting the organization down. Having served as a member of the board of directors for four years, I thought I knew the organization pretty well– but nothing could have prepared me for the challenges I would face. In particular, the lack of support I received surprised me more than the organizational problems. I had been around long enough to know the consensus of those working in Waltham on which direction the organization needed to go, but the board of directors was not so easily convinced. So I made some unilateral decisions that made me unpopular with some of the board members. But I was investing about $10,000 of my own money (most of my savings) in order to do the job, and I wasn’t about to be stopped by the misgivings of someone who hadn’t spent nearly as much time in Waltham as had I. Eventually a generous donor stepped forward and underwrote my work, as I struggled to right what I considered to be the mothership of transdom.

Weeks before I started the job, IFGE ran out of money. The executive committee (including myself), approved a loan from the Winslow Street Fund to keep IFGE solvent until I could start fundraising. This became fodder for a few outspoken critics in the trans writing community, who seized on it as an opportunity to undermine the organization in general and my efforts in particular. Nobody rose to stand by me. By the time I actually started working at the IFGE office, I felt alone and under attack, and actually regretted my decision to try to help the organization which had helped me and so many others so much. By that point, though, I had little choice but to stick it out for as long as possible.

As I began to work on some of IFGE’s problems, I was disturbed to find instances of checks received with book orders for out-of-stock books, where the checks had been cashed more than a year before and the money long since spent. The bookstore was in deep financial trouble, in part because money was siphoned off from it to pay for other expenses. The conference lost money every year, and tied up large amounts of staff hours in its production. The magazine was glibly edited and written; one board member sold it on the basis of its cheesecake cover shots, and another had suggested “up-the-skirt shots” for its pages. The personal ads prevented it from being sold in educational and other venues, tied up too many resources in its production, and attracted voyeuristic readership. Advertising sales were almost nonexistent, missing a vital opportunity to provide some badly needed financial support.

I instituted a strict financial policy that outstanding debts to readers and community members must be paid, period. With the help of a generous individual, we paid off all bookstore debt and nursed it to financial health, while paying off the WSF loan in short order. I fired the magazine editor, whose imperious defiance of reasonable requests demanded no less. I hired a good editor whose primary limitation was that he was not typically transgender (although his aunt was a well-known transgender musician and he certainly defied male gender stereotypes); he restored the magazine’s quality and integrity. I also equipped IFGE with computers and email and created a respectable website.

I am particularly proud of winning the first-ever grant for IFGE of $11,000 from the Gill Foundation. This I accomplished in the face of discouragement from some influential board members. As far as I know, this was the first grant made to a national transgender organization for any purpose, and one of the first non-medical grants won for transgender education anywhere. The following year, Gordene and I (even though I wasn’t working for IFGE in any capacity) wrote another—substantial– grant that Gill awarded to IFGE for general operating expenses.

I made two unilateral decisions which I knew, from having worked at the office for many years, were badly needed. First, I separated the personal ads from the magazine, including them as a separate binding for subscribers only. This was necessary in order for the magazine to continue its mission of promoting respect for trans persons and to gain entry into respectable places which wouldn’t accept the magazine with personal ads. I caught hell from some board members for this, but the people whose opinions I respected most agreed with my decision– indeed, it was a consensus decision, although only a few on the board participated.

The other unilateral decision I made was to cancel the convention, to relieve day-to-day operations of considerable burden. Promoting, preparing for and running the convention was a large money and time sink, and I felt that other conventions were filling nearly the same need, doing an excellent job of bringing together and promoting community. As it turned out, Allison Laing and Kristine James believed strongly in the convention. They took on the responsibility, and ever since have been running an excellent and profitable event which has provided supplemental funding for IFGE operations.

I also approved the first-ever Tapestry cover featuring a transman alone. It seemed fitting to me that Leslie Feinberg, the first trans writer to call for a transgender liberation movement, be so honored. I caught hell again from certain board members, one of whom complained he’d be unable to sell that issue to vendors who resold the magazine based on its cover girls. Frankly, I didn’t care if we didn’t sell the magazine to people who bought it for that reason. Tapestry has always been a forum for trans persons to write about ourselves, our lives and our concerns, with the intention of healing our self-esteem and building community. Pretty girls on every cover is not essential to that cause.

I stopped drawing salary from IFGE after about 8 months, and resigned my job one year from the day I started. I accomplished much, but felt great frustration at my lack of experience with building organizations, especially a non-profit service-oriented group. I could only hope that the person who followed would find the work that I had done adequate as a foundation for their further efforts.

How did you and Gordene meet? How and when did you come to be life partners?

My partner Gordene MacKenzie and I met at the very last Texas T Party in San Antonio, Texas in early 1998. I was there to sell books for, and promote, IFGE. Gordene (a gender rebel and feminist professor who wrote about and taught transgender studies) was there doing a workshop on transpersons in the media and selling her hand-made jewelry in the vending area near the IFGE book area. She was also visiting and staying with her dear friends Linda and Cynthia Phillips, the T Party organizers.  As she was packing up in the vending area I approached her to introduce myself. I had heard that she was a leading trans activist in the Southwest, and I was hoping to meet and possibly collaborate in our work. At the same time, she was holding $20 to give me as a small donation to IFGE.

The two of us hit it off immediately. She told me I should have asked for donations after my well-received talk on behalf of IFGE the night before. She suggested we try and fundraise for IFGE, and soon convinced the Phillips’ to let her make an appeal. We raised nearly $1000 at that evening’s event. Later, we ended up roaming the halls of the hotel all Saturday night long, talking about our work and activism, our fathers, accidents we had been in, and our love of motorcycles, cherishing every moment until time to depart on Sunday.

Following our initial meeting, we traveled back and forth between Cambridge and Albuquerque, broadening and building our mutual appreciation and coming to love one another deeply. When I visited her that Christmas, it became clear we could not be separated any longer, and I helped her move east in January of 1999. Gordene had gained some radio and TV experience in New Mexico, and she soon began producing and co-hosting GenderTalk Radio. We moved to Albuquerque in late 2000 to spend time together in her enchanted home state, co-producing GenderTalk from the University of New Mexico’s radio station, KUNM, in concert with the staff back in Cambridge at WMBR. In mid-2001, Gordene was offered the directorship of Women’s Studies at Merrimack College, and back East we came.

We now live in a crooked house on a zigzag lot filled with nature and critters in a diverse, friendly neighborhood in Beverly, on the ocean north of Boston, where we enjoy as much of nature as we can indulge each day.  We both love to write; we’ve written some fiction and articles together and edit well for each other, so we’re a good team that way. And we love doing GenderTalk together. We also made a short educational video about Rita Hester and other transwomen— especially those of color— who are victims of hate crimes. Gordene wrote the words to one love song I love to perform, and helps me with my music– she even took up guitar lessons as a birthday present to me so we could play together! Of course, dressing up remains one of our special pleasures, and it’s a joy to be with a partner who enjoys dressing up as much as I do. I feel indeed fortunate to have made a profound connection with such a gender visionary.

Please talk about the early days of your radio show.

GenderTalk got its start when Merissa Sherrill Lynn, then the Executive Director of IFGE, asked me to appear with her on a gay-themed radio interview program on WMBR at the Masschusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. I got along well with the interviewer, who asked me back again some months later. Again, we had lots of fun and a good show, and afterwards, she confided in me that she was looking for someone to take over the show. When I later met with her to discuss taking it over, she told me, “You can do whatever you want, and call it whatever you want. You could even call it GenderTalk.” And so I did.

I wasn’t comfortable doing a talk show by myself, having never hosted a radio program, so I sought out help from the community. At a local trans social event, I asked for help, and Hal Fuller responded. He had done radio for many years, had a great voice, and was a crossdresser besides. At a course I was co-teaching at MIT on gender diversity, I also put out the word, and Ross Lippert, a grad student at MIT, volunteered to help. He had no radio experience, but was a tremendous help behind the scenes and in cameos on-mic. Also volunteering was Jamie Stowell, but she didn’t stay with the program long because of a job-related relocation. But she helped us get organized and started.

Finally, I sought out a co-host who was female-to-male identified. I felt that it would help balance the show, and tend to counteract the shortsightedness of my MTF perspective. I also felt that the burden of doing a program every week would be too much for me, so I wanted to alternate with someone else. A local transman agreed to host the program every other week, but the week before the show started, he changed his mind, citing personal security concerns. So, I ended up doing the show every week with Hal and other volunteers.

At first we were all very nervous, of course, but when I’ve gone back and listened to that first program, I’ve enjoyed the clear statement I made of the show’s purpose and our intentions. GenderTalk’s purpose is to provide a forum in which diverse gender perspectives can be presented in a respectful environment. We bring under-represented voices forward and encourage healthy social and environmental alternatives. We try to be collaborative in producing the program and include other progressive issues in the hope of fostering collaborations among diverse groups. We know that the world is an enormously complex place where we cannot hope to understand all of the interactions that influence any one issue, so we try to use the program to plant seeds of health, understanding, peace, and harmony. Now, more than ten years later, I feel amazed that we’re still here, and hopeful that we’ll find reason to keep at it for another ten years, at least.

Please talk about the radio show today and your plans for the future.

Over the years, we’ve added features like Question of the Week, the announcements and Gender News. Each one gave us an opportunity to serve listeners better, and to have a little more fun. We’re all particularly fond of Evelien’s Diary, produced by a trans woman in the Netherlands. She’s a real sweetheart, and writes wonderful stories about her own real life that connect with the lived experience of many of us. We’d love to have more people around the world producing segments that talk about their true life experience; the more such stories we can tell, the better we can represent our community, and share our ways of dealing with the everyday challenges we face.

We’ve also gone through some changes since the early days, and we’re thrilled to have the enormously talented staff that now produces the program each week. Of course, it’s a great pleasure to have someone as capable as Gordene MacKenzie, author of Transgender Nation, as a co-host and producer. Director of a growing Women’s Studies department at Merrimack College, she’s been raising the whole program to a higher level since 1999. A meticulous researcher, she brings to GenderTalk cutting edge guests in the world of gender and progressive politics. We’re also pleased to have had Ethan St. Pierre and his wife Karen with us since late 2003.  Ethan, an FTM transman, is a committed transactivist who suffered a trans murder in the family in 1995 when his MTF aunt Debra Forte was brutally killed. Ethan is highly motivated in this work, and hosts his own news and humor show (TransFM) as well as bringing the latest gender news to GenderTalk each week. Karen (an MTF transsexual) is an intelligent and thoughtful person who performs many behind-the-scenes tasks and co-anchors the news with Ethan, focusing on stories that make us all laugh or wonder. Lately, her participation has been limited by her health, but we are confident that she will overcome her physical challenges and be with us for the long run. Our engineer Hal Fuller, sadly, left GenderTalk in 2004 due to health issues, and his presence is greatly missed. He is replaced by Mark Weaver, a vegan bisexual man with great leftist politics and burgeoning intellect. He’s a serious techie, more than adequate to any electronic challenge, and we’re hoping to hear more from him as he grows more comfortable on the show.

Moving forward, we’re in the process of taking our state-approved non-profit organization, Gender Education and Media, to the federal level. Our intent is to do whatever we can to continue to improve the quality of our program and related work and expand its reach. Progress has come slowly over the years, though, so we’re not expecting too much too quickly. Right now we’re collaborating with and encouraging other producers of trans audio programs to create a single stream online that carries all of our programming so that we can all share and build a common audience. As the leading program of this type, GenderTalk welcomes other voices and programs, and we will do whatever we can to encourage all people of diverse gender to speak up and tell their stories, so ours will become the norm, rather than the exception, to the gender of our culture.

Over the years, GenderTalk has gained tremendous respect from our peers at WMBR, as well as our local listening audience in the Greater Boston area, and our growing international audience online. We hope to build on that start, to continue to grow along with our community, towards fostering a world that not just tolerates, but values those of us who lead the way to escape from the personal bonds of presumptively imposed gender. Ours is an optimistic world, where each one of us has the power to add to the momentum of growing respect for gender diversity, and each one of us has the right to see that change in our own lives.