Love is a many-gendered thing
Nicole McRory is in a hotel in Thailand with a stent holding open the vagina that was surgically created for her six days ago. The operation is called Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS), and this hospital in Bangkok is especially good at it. Nicole, formerly Colin, began raising the necessary $5,000 two years ago, but has been thinking about the operation ever since she was a voice student at the Julliard School in New York City.Now there’s a documentary film crew with her, shooting a movie about the operation in conjunction with her career as a singer/songwriter in the San Francisco Bay Area the working title is “Have No Fear” and she’s reminiscing about when she used to “have man parts” and acoustic gigs at Beano’s Cabin and the Crooked Hearth in Beaver Creek.”The most frequent comment I got was, ‘The performer was very good, but was it a man or a woman?'” says McRory.One day in the fall of 1999, after nine years in Eagle County and thousands of hours wearing women’s clothes in private, Colin stopped pretending. His marriage ended; he came out in the Arts and Entertainment section of the Vail Daily; left for San Francisco; and became Nicole. After living on the streets for an entire year, she got a gig at Beckett’s in Berkeley and added Johnny Foley’s. Now she’s the self-described “hardest working performer in the Bay Area,” using her three-octave, dual-gender voice to sing Carole King and Johnny Cash back-to-back. It’s an act that she says wouldn’t play in Vail.”I was transgendered and that couldn’t exist in that valley,” she says. “The roles in Vail were such that I couldn’t find one to fit in.”The details of Nicole’s life, as she herself would state proudly, are exceptional, but the story is commonplace. By the estimates of Frank Accosta, president of the Dillon/Summit Chapter of Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), people outside of mainstream heterosexuality, defined as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, queers and the intersexed (shortened afterwards to GLTBQI), comprise at minimum 8 percent of Eagle County’s population, or roughly 3,500 people.”And these are just the people we know about,” Accosta says. “There are people who won’t come out because they are afraid of losing jobs, housing, and thinking they won’t be accepted. That underplays the numbers.”There are also, according to Jeremy Stillman, 22, of Vail, the people who don’t know themselves that they’re GLTBQI.”There are probably lots of people out here who are gay but will never come to terms with it. Some get married; others have random sex at truck stops,” he says. While Summit has PFLAG and Aspen has Gay Ski Week, Eagle County has a small, underground community of close friends and a larger matrix of the silent and lonely, who can’t see where they fit into this heterosexual mecca.Stillman claims he never felt closeted until he moved here in November. He’s lived and worked in other small, wealthy communities (he waited tables at a yacht club in Martha’s Vineyard last summer), but says he was unprepared for socially conservative Eagle County.”I feel like I’m living before my time out here,” he says.When he looks around, he sees a culture that doesn’t nourish the arts (“I can’t believe that many local artists are searching for their inner cowboy”), absent of any expressions of homosexuality that aren’t negative (“I hear people use the word “faggot” or say “That’s so gay,” all the time”). He says Chicago is the closest thing he’s seen to a movie about gay culture. He walked out of Steve Meyer’s apres-ski comedy act on a recent Friday.”At normal bars,” he says, “I see people who I think might be gay and I see the fear in their eyes.”Frustrated, he went to Aspen two weeks ago for Gay Ski Week and found himself sitting on the pool deck of the Sky Hotel, sipping a martini with a couple hundred other GLTBQI’s. Everyone was relaxed. That night he went to a drag show, and no one was looking over his shoulder. In short, it was a scene that would never happen in Vail.”It reminded me that people can be friendly and not worry about the ramifications of being yourself,” he says. “It was like being in an alternate universe, so similar, yet so different. Can you imagine if there was a drag show in Vail? The town would stop.”The reality is, there probably would be ramifications. Steve, 41, is a lifetime resident of Eagle County who has never lived anywhere else. He’s in the closet because he believes he’d be fired if he came out.”They would find something,” he says of his employers, “an ‘i’ I didn’t dot or a minute I was too late to work.”Legally speaking, there is no law on the books, either federal, state or local, that protects Steve’s job, and his employer could fire him and even tell him it was because he was gay, and there’s nothing he could do about it. Accosta says this right extends to landlords as well, and without the rights of a civil union, same sex partners are denied all manner of basic civil rights extended to married couples, including appointment as guardian of a minor, job benefits, tax breaks, division of property in the event of separation, hospital visitation rights, and 55 others listed on PFLAG’s Web site. http://www.pflag.org.Colorado Rep. Tom Plant, D-Louisville, recently introduced legislation, modeled after Vermont’s successful initiative, that would bring civil unions to the state, but the bill was defeated in the House Information and Technology Committee Feb. 5 by a vote of 8-3. Speaking for the majority, committee chair Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, stated that the bill would undermine the institution of marriage.”My objection is to attempting to re-create the family and other forms and structures different from the way the human race has recognized it for all of existence,” Mitchell says.The failure of the bill was dovetailed by National Freedom to Marry Day, which took place Thursday, Feb. 13 (after this article went to press). Speaking to the issue in a press release for the day of recognition, Accosta says that, “This issue is not about sex, it is not about worship or religion, it is about civil equality. Gays and lesbians are expected to pay taxes, serve their country, obey the law and behave like citizens and yet are denied access to a civil liberty that belongs to everyone.”Locally, Accosta and the rest of PFLAG have worked to secure what rights they can. Last fall, after negotiations with a lawyer recommended by PFLAG, Vail Resorts initiated a benefits policy for same sex couples equal to that of married couples. According to corporate human resources director Pat Donovan, the arrangement only makes sense.”If you’re a heterosexual couple, you have the fairly inexpensive option of getting legally married,” he says. “As a same-sex couple, you don’t have that option.”And although the ski company doesn’t have a specific anti-discrimination policy as it applies to sexual orientation, Donovan states that VR has an overall policy of non-discrimination that includes every issue of non-work-related dismissal.”Vail Resorts is on board,” says Accosta. “We’re hoping to get few more people on board.”PFLAG’s number one mission, however, is to get the family members of GLTBQI’s on board. In the same breath as he related his fears about reprisal in the workplace, Steve expresses his fear about his family’s reaction.”They wouldn’t accept it,” he says very definitively.Darlene Frederick, a four-year resident of Avon, has a mostly reticent relationship with her family back in Michigan.”We don’t talk about it much,” she says, although she mentions one time, during one of her weekly Sunday conversations with her mother, when they discussed K.D. Lang being gay.Frederick used to have a rainbow sticker on the back of her car, but her former employer asked her to remove it. At her new job, she says all of her customers know about her sexual orientation and are comfortable with it, but she’s still single, and says with a laugh, “lonely as hell.” She doesn’t like bars and spends all of her time working or hiking, but claims she’d never move.”It feels like home,” she says, pointing out the window to where the elk sometimes cross the mountain on the other side of Highway 6.Others, like Rebecca, are more silent but less lonely. She moved to the valley with a partner three years ago, but keeps her orientation a secret because she fears for her job and the possible retributions of a “small, but vocal minority.” (Statistically, sexual orientation ranks third after race and religion as the motivation for hate crimes.)Yet she’s also a part of a small, but tight-knit community of gays and lesbians who meet one night a week at a bar and also plan dinners, ski days, bowling nights, camping trips, and private parties. They don’t carry flags or wear feather boas. If they sat down next to you, you wouldn’t notice it, says Steve, who is also active in the group. There isn’t much dating within the group because everyone is friends, which Rebecca says “makes dating strange.”So the single people occasionally drive to Denver or Grand Junction, where Steve had a date this past week.”You can’t do anything in the valley without driving a hundred miles, gay or straight,” he says. “It’s something you have to do if you want to find somebody.”Both he and Rebecca express a mild hope that things are getting better in terms of acceptance. Rebecca says she still hopes to be out someday. Steve is less optimistic. He’s considering “throwing a dart at the map” and starting over, like Nicole (but without the operation). Steve acknowledges that the situation would be improved by more people coming out, but he blames what he calls the “backwoods mentality” of the local populace on the fact that no heterosexual leaders have stepped forward to support gay rights. He believes it will take a couple of mayors or councilmen to carve some legal avenues before more people will have the courage to come out.Stillman places the blame more squarely on the shoulders of the local GLTBQI’s. It is they who must come out before they can be accepted.”I’m sure people feel their actions are restricted, but that’s partly self-imposed. You can’t blame other people for that,” he says, but then pauses and adds, “But when you don’t see yourself in the society around you, naturally, you close off that part of yourself. You watch your community like a movie: you look for yourself in it, and when you don’t see reflections, it’s tough to identify with it.”Stillman, however, has the knowledge that he won’t live here past the ski season on his side, and he’s decided that he won’t be looking for a love interest while he’s out here. He tried the Internet and got a few responses, but he describes them as representative of a “small-town gay mentality.””I’m not interested in people who don’t like themselves,” he says, “which is hard to do if you’re closeted or confused.”Nicole McRory, finishing up her recovery in Japan and looking forward to her triumphant return to the Bay Area stage, agrees with him.”If we really want to be responsible to our community, then we have to stand up and be proud of who we are,” she says, though it’s important to note that she’s been back to valley only once since she left, despite the fact that she says there are many locals, including her family, whom she misses.One of them is her ex-wife, Laurie Bower, a former candidate for county commissioner who now works for a local radio station. The two are still close, despite the fact that Bower’s inability to continue the romance of their relationship was ultimately what drove McRory away.”It was a tough decision,” Bower says, “but I’m just a heterosexual woman, and eventually I had to say, ‘I love you, but I can’t be your wife.'”Their close friendship continues, McRory says, because they’ve been able to accept each other for who they are. McRory views her time in Vail then as a necessary, but painful, period of her life, because she met Bower.”Let this be my valentine to all the people in the Vail Valley that I love unconditionally,” she says, and then adjusts her stent. “A picture’s worth a thousand words, isn’t it?”
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