â€śIâ€™ve been in the family for so long - nearly 30 years - itâ€™s home to me. Straight, to me, is a lifestyle I just canâ€™t relate to even though I present fairly straight.â€ť C. Michael Woodward identifies as heteroqueer; â€śIt means Iâ€™m a man who enjoys the company of women - although that has been known to be flexible - but lives almost exclusively in LGBTQ social circlesâ€ť
The 45-year-old is a committed LGBT activist. The former executive director of Southern Arizona Gender Alliance (SAGA) says when he first joined the organization, â€śI just kept showing up everywhere and talking about my experiences with invisibility as a hetero transsexual man with a lesbian history still living intentionally in the LGBT community.â€ť
Woodward also helped found the Arizona Transgender Workplace (ATWORK) Project and establish the Alexander John Goodrum Transgender Mental Health Advocacy Project, in memory of TGNet Arizona founder. Enveloping TGNetâ€™s programs, SAGA then folded into Wingspan, Southern Arizonaâ€™s LGBT community center and today is one of the largest regional trans advocacy programs in the country. Woodward has gone on to become Wingspanâ€™s Health and Wellness Programs Manager.
Heâ€™s also continued to speak about transgender issues to a wide range of audiences, from PFLAG and Sunday school classes to the Arizona Attorney Generalâ€™s Civil Rights Division staff. This Thursday, October 2nd, Woodward is giving a keynote speech at Atlantaâ€™s 18th Annual Southern Comfort Conference, the five-day trans spectrum symposium.
Despite his accomplishmentâ€™s Woodward isnâ€™t resting on his laurels. He contends: â€śWe still need universal access to health care, better legal protection, less violence and discrimination, better surgical techniques for men, and an inclusive ENDA. Clearly there are a few things I havenâ€™t gotten to - yet.â€ť
Growing up in Indiana, Woodward had his first lesbian relationship at 17. After graduating college, he discovered the National Womenâ€™s Music Festival (not to be confused with Michigan Womynâ€™s Music Festival).
â€śNWMF was a transforming experience for me,â€ť Woodward says. â€śSeeing all those women-loving-women together in one place at one time was very moving.â€ť
For the next 14 years, Woodward filled volunteer positions at the festival and met the eraâ€™s celebrity lesbians like Cris Williamson, Meg Christian, Kate Clinton, and Tracy Chapman. He served several years as president of the NWMF board of directors and the experience started him â€śon the path to a full-time career in the LGBT community. I wanted to be a professional lesbian and earn a living because of who I was, not in spite of who I was.â€ť
After transitioning, Woodward wasnâ€™t sure where he fit. â€śIâ€™d lived openly as a butch dyke for 20-some years [but] I was pretty hung up on people not assuming I was a gay man just because I was in gay space. Ten years down the roadâ€¦both my orientation and my identity [has become] a bit more blurred over time, and my lesbian-separatist aversion to men and especially their penises eventually melted away.â€ť
His spirit of activism has led Woodward to staff True Spirit and Gender Odyssey conferences; present at Southern Comfort, FORGE-Forward and Creating Change; and - earlier this year - bring the International Foundation for Gender Education conference to Tucson. In 2009, as part of his new position, Woodward will co-chair the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network conference.
When Woodward discovered the existence of trans men at 35, he says he knew almost immediately that he wanted to transition, but was terrified heâ€™d lose his singing voice.
â€śIt did take a fair amount of work to retrain my ears and vocal muscles to not think like a female voice. It was a good two years before I really had command of the new vessel.â€ť
Woodward, whose parents met doing summer stock, grew up in front of an audience. â€śMy first performance was a kidsâ€™ piano contest at age 5. I played â€śGreen Tambourineâ€ť and came in second place! I spent many a night finishing my homework backstage.â€ť He enrolled as a voice major at a prestigious music college but was â€śquickly disillusioned when I realized there wasnâ€™t going to be a lot of work for butch sopranos. After one semester, I quit.â€ť
Now he fronts the rock and blues band, Too Much Information, which has five originals and a â€śhomegrown demo cd. Thereâ€™s not a lot of expectations around hitting the big time; but - we all have the rock star fantasy.â€ť
Trans writer Jacob Anderson-Minshall co-hosts Gender Blender, a new show on Portland, Oregonâ€™s 90.7 fm KBOO radio and streaming live at KBOO.fm.