Reid Vanderburgh is a retired therapist, living in Portland, Oregon. During his career as a therapist, he worked with over 450 clients, helping them answer the question, “How do I want to live my life?”, in the context of gender identity. He now works as a writer, educator, and consultant on issues pertaining to trans identity.
He’s the author of Transition and Beyond: Observations on Gender Identity, first published in 2007 and now in its second edition. In late 2014, he published his second book, “Journeys of Transformation: Stories from Across the Acronym.” Reid has authored several journal articles or book chapters, in addition to publishing numerous brief articles on his website: www.transtherapist.com. Read our conversation about his latest book:
Olivia: So first off, can you tell me a little bit about how you arrived at this project?
Reid: I was intending to write a book about mid-transition issues, no one’s written about that, but the book wasn’t gelling. I had already interviewed a number of former clients, so it wasn’t for lack of stories! But I needed something to tie it all together, and that piece just wasn’t coming to me. Then my wife got the idea to compare mid-transition issues with issues faced by gay men/lesbians some years after they came out. So I started reading gay/lesbian history, and interviewed a number of gay men and lesbians, but still nothing was coming to me to tie it all together. Then I started inviting friends and colleagues out to lunch, hoping someone would make a remark that would give me an “Aha!” moment, and it was actually lunch with Q Center’s own Stacey Rice that did the trick! We were talking about various aspects of community that still surprise us, I made some remark about still being surprised at times by things that happen at PGMC (Portland Gay Men’s Chorus) rehearsals, and she said, “Me, too, sometimes I don’t understand either.” And I thought, “Well, of course — why would you?” And I realized, “THIS is what this book is supposed to be — explaining GLBTQQIAA to each other!” From that point on, this book wrote itself.
Olivia: What difficulties did you face? Did anything surprise you?
Reid: I haven’t faced difficulties — yet. But I did quite a bit of deconstructing of how we got to where we are today, particularly the social divide between gay men and lesbians. I lived long enough in lesbian community (22 years) to expect some push-back questioning my interpretations of why things are the way they are. One of the popular mantras when I came of age in that community was, “Question authority.” I invite readers to go a step further and question reality.
Olivia: What specific intentions did you have for trans visibility?
Reid: Trans inclusivity is the next big conversation, I see it happening right now among GALA choruses. I’ve been singing in one GALA chorus or another since I helped found the Portland Lesbian Choir in 1986. Trans nothing was on the radar then; now, every chorus is talking about it. One of my intentions with this book is to de-mystify trans identity for readers, and to give some practical suggestions re trans inclusivity. I also explain why it is the “T” and “B” have taken such a different path over the years while “GL” has achieved much more social visibility and acceptance to the point of marriage equality increasingly being the law of the land.
Olivia: What’s it like to be finished? What does the accomplishment feel like?
Reid: I always feel flat when I finish a major writing project. It makes me wonder, “Do I have anything else to say? Am I done? But now what if I’m done, I’m a writer!” A friend of mine, also a writer, told me once, “When my SECOND book was published, then I felt like a writer.” I understand now what she meant. For both of us, our first books were things we HAD to write, the story we felt we were supposed to tell. I might as well quote my own introduction: “I became a therapist in order to write my first book. I was BORN to write this second book.” I had to write the first book, this second one required a great deal more proactive energy on my part, it didn’t write itself until I had that “Aha!” moment with Stacey. Then I had all these pieces already written, and suddenly a context in which to pull them together.