The Lost Mapplethorpe

One picture is worth a thousand words, but some are worth many thousand and sometimes thousands of dollars. This story is of such a picture, a photograph by the artist Robert Mapplethorpe. When you look, you will see me, the model. What you cannot see is the story behind the image, its provenance.

VV by Mapplethorpe

On the night I met Robert Mapplethorpe he presented a slide show of black male nudes in a men’s center located in the basement of a West Village Church. It seems incongruous in light of how renowned an artist he has become to think of him in such lowly surroundings. Next week, I will travel to Los Angeles to celebrate at both the Getty Museum and the L.A. County Museum of Art, major exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work.

I was about to become a porn star, but in 1982 that had not yet happened. I had just begun explorations into human sexuality, the field that would become my life’s work. A better description would have been swinging bachelorette, uninhibited playgirl, Catholic school survivor. I was spreading my sexual favors around the town like jam on toast, blazing a trail from Studio 54 disco to the swing club Plato’s Retreat. Sex was my preoccupation not my profession. My professional life, thus far, had been in the world of high finance. And I had a neat little nest egg when I began to dabble in the world of erotic art. My adventures were helped along by a new circle of friends: the porn star Annie Sprinkle, tattooist Spider Webb…photographer Charles Gatewood. I began to write stories for Penthouse Variations edited by another friend, V.K. McCarty. I enjoyed writing about sex, but I was still uncomfortable with most of the visuals. The “split beavers” winking from glossy centerfolds, the graphic and gritty newsprint pages of SCREW were a shock, not a turn-on. It hurt to look at them. More than I wanted to see – I wanted to make – beautiful images of sex.

That need for a connection to my own body is what made me snap up the copy of the Village Voice that had a nude black man prominently and beautifully displayed on its cover. In the centerfold were more photos of this man, named Ajito. I saw skin, smooth and taut, stretched over muscle and bone, a human sculpture bending, bowing, testifying to his own magnificence. In my mind, I heard church bells ring. “Who has treated the body with such reverence?” The photographer was Robert Mapplethorpe. His star was just beginning to rise. I identified with Mapplethorpe’s intense curiosity, his capacity to turn bodies into unapologetic sensual objects. I knew this man could take beautiful pictures of sex and I knew I wanted to be in them. The person to whom I most wanted to expose myself was me.

Not long after, a tiny classified notice appeared, again in the Voice: “Robert Mapplethorpe will present a slide show of his ‘Black Male Nudes’…” The show would take place in a gay men’s center in the Village. It seemed like a good opportunity to meet the artist, so I called my friend Denis Florio. Denis, in his 30’s was an art world entrepreneur. He’d been dubbed “the picture framer to the stars” when the National Enquirer wrote about a consultation he’d had with Jackie O. Denis had framed everyone who was anyone in modern art: Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Sandy Skoglund, Tom Wesselman. Diane Keaton visited him regularly for advice. Alice Neel painted his portrait. Chase Manhattan entrusted their collection to him. Denis, who had accrued a great eye and a stellar reputation, also appreciated the aesthetics of an uncut penis, which I told him could be abundant in the slide show presentation. Ten years earlier Denis had come to New York, a hopeful young dancer, and hung out at the legendary Max’s Kansas City along with Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. I suggested we go to the show. “I’ll introduce you to Robert, ” he said. Perfect.

I made sure to dress for the occasion, a turquoise silk dress with a feather print. The goal was womanly and glamorous in an Ava Gardner sort of way. I was out to seduce, to inspire, to have my way with the artist, but subtly, so he would think it was all his idea.

Besides me and Denis there was just a handful of men in the church auditorium watching as Robert Mapplethorpe presented his work. Some may have been art lovers, others prospective models, some were definitely cruising. All of us were horny, needy, in some way. Afterward, Denis, Robert and I relaxed at the Pink Tea Cup Cafe, then Robert invited us back to his apartment at 77 Bleecker. The furnishings were minimalist- lots of clean lines, lots of black walls and plenty of crucifixes. I could tell by the religious content, he was my kind of guy. “And here is a sample of my work,” I said. I had not had needed to dress like a sexpot, because my offering spoke for itself. It was a magazine entitled Post Art Art in America made by me and Annie Sprinkle with our mentor, the Dutch Fluxus artist Willem De Ridder. Willem encouraged me and Annie to think of everything we did as art, so it was a sexy art magazine or an arty sex magazine, depending on how you looked at it. In one article I described the Catholic influence in my life. Another was illustrated with a photo of me wearing a corset and thigh high leather boots, while strung up in the California backyard of my friend Mistress Antoinette. The title asked, “Is There An Academy For My Kind Of Art.”

“Would you model for me, sometime?” Robert asked. Would I! It took a few months before Robert telephoned and said, “I’m photographing a black man and he would like to do some sex shots with a woman, would you…ah…be…ah…interested? He sounded so timid, almost as if he was afraid I might think he was pimping me.

“I can pay you, ” he added, “though I can’t pay much, or I could give you prints.” What would he offer me, I thought, fifty bucks? I knew I would much rather have the prints. And good little Catholic that I was, I felt much better fucking for art than for cash.

My partner’s name was Marty. I immediately conjured politically incorrect fantasies… Marty as the huge Mandingo glistening with sweat at he plundered the depths of the lily white virgin (me). The real Marty was small, but he was big where it counts. His cock was exquisitely shaped and his body definitely up to Mapplethorpian standards. Instead of the primitive cave man I imagined, he was a young corporal home on leave. He’d been reared by his religious mom to be god-fearing, proper and polite. He wore a cowboy shirt and pressed jeans. But not for long. This was actually Marty’s second modelling experience. He’d already posed for a gay magazine. That made him “A professional,” as he announced. He said the word several times, each time with a crisp, military ring. He liked the sound of it. In no time at all, corporal Marty was at attention.

It was like playing doctor. Me, Marty, Robert and Robert’s lover Jack. Jack was the photo assistant who jumped in to remove a curl from my eyes. Such sweet, gentle, fun. Robert under the dark veil of the camera, a peeping Tom who peered through the keyhole and interpreted what he saw. I was a creature under the microscope. Robert scrutinized, Jack primped, Marty fingered and stroked. I loved the attention.

We were all pretty inexperienced as pornographers. I had never had sex on camera. Robert had never photographed a man and a woman in the act. Even Marty, with his claims to “professionalism” had appeared only solo. So we were blissfully ignorant of formula poses. We did whatever popped into our heads. Mindful of Robert’s penchant for dissecting the body, I asked him to be sure one photograph showed my face.

Marty&Veronica

I brought home the prints he gave me and propped them against the wall to make a closer inspection. They seemed to be three dimensional. Marty and I came alive, little creatures in a sex dance on my glass dinner table. That is when I understood what it meant to paint with light.

Some months later, a second modelling session was inspired by my romance with Officer Benson a visiting policeman with an attractive buttocks. “Hello, Robert. My lover is a policeman with a butt that deserves to be immortalized.”

Once again, I visited Robert to pick out a print. There was no image of Officer Benson’s butt, however there was a lovely one of mine and I choose it over the vulva shot. It would be much easier to hang on the wall, less intimidating to prospective dates. Why, I could even leave it up when my Dad came to visit, an anonymous buttocks and foot…who could tell?

The photos from this second session were very different from those of the first. They were much lighter, more like drawings. “I have a surprise for you,” said Robert. He presented me with my portrait, a profile from the shoulders up, taken during the shoot, but when I was unaware, an unseen Officer Benson lies beneath me. I stared at my eyes, my nose, my mouth and felt more naked in this portrait than in any photo Robert took of my genitals. I saw myself not just as a woman, but as a girl. This was not simply Veronica, this was me, Mary, having sex. “Thank you, Robert.” Little did I know how meaningful that gift would become.

From the moment of their creation, the photos took on lives of their own, like children they were off on their own adventures. Every show of Robert’s work was accompanied by excitement and controversy. An exhibition of the artist’s work was held in the city that Officer Benson called home, so  arrangements were made for him to pick up his print at the gallery. He showed up in full police uniform and strode purposefully past the tulips and calla lilies to inquire where the sex photos were displayed. The nervous gallery assistant directed him to the back room, in fear that he had come to bust the show. Instead she found out that the cop was a collaborator.

In 1988 AIDS took my friend Denis Florio “picture framer to the stars. It also took Robert Mapplethorpe. A show of Mapplethorpe’s work was presented at the Whitney Museum in summer, 1989.(?) “Marty and Veronica” hung in the show and for this I was so proud–to have accomplished what I set out to do those years before, to take sex from the pages of the porn mags and class up its image, be a sort of spin doctor of sex, take it from Times Square where it was hidden, to the art museum where it could be examined and appreciated in full view.

An article by the art critic Hilton Kramer, now deceased, appeared in the New York Times on July 2, 1989. It was entitled “Is Art Above The Laws Of Decency?” In his article Hilton Kramer completely negated the idea of an artist’s “intention” as a criterion for art. For him it seemed to be all about following the accepted rules of art. Dead art. A woman possessed, I immediately sat down to write. My letter appeared in the Times under the heading “Unique Perspective.”

“By putting these images on paper, Robert accepted them as a valid part of his evolution as a human being. I think it took courage to do that. Mr. Kramer may choose to see these photos as pornography, I see them as debunking the whole idea of pornography-helping society to get rid of that self-hating concept which ghettoizes sex, which implies that some parts of our sexuality are too unspeakable to mention, too private to be public- and this is all part of some law that decent people do not question..”.

Hilton Kramer had written “What we are being asked to support and embrace in the name of art is an attitude toward life.” I countered “What we are being asked to support and embrace in the name of life is an attitude toward art. Is there any difference?”

The recognition of Robert’s vision, his skill and talent combined with so much controversy and publicity made prices soar. I decided to try to sell some of my prints. I knew very little about dealing art, but I knew a great art dealer. My friend Patrick Roger Binet of Galerie Coligny in Paris was an expert in 19th Century French drawings, not exactly modern photography, but I figured a dealer knows how to deal. He was coming to town for “Works On Paper” show of 1989 (?). One evening I met him at the show. Again, I dressed for the occasion in a high necked black lace blouse, a skirt puffy with crinolines and my waist squeezed tight in a lace-up corset. We prowled the stalls until we saw some Mapplethorpe flowers prominently displayed at the Weston Gallery booth. There were two photographs and one had sold for $18,000, that also caught our attention. I let Patrick do all the talking. He chatted up the dealers Maggie Weston and Russ Anderson, introducing me as the model, letting them know the photographs came directly to me from the artist. “Every dealer loves a great story,” said Patrick. The dealers Russ, Maggie and Maggie’s son Matt Weston were eager to come to my apartment and take a look at the prints. Russ said the photographs could sell anywhere from $8000 up. Again, I heard bells, but this time it was the tingle of the cash register. We made an appointment with them for the very next morning.

On our way downtown that night, Patrick ordered the taxi driver to halt. Leaving me in the cab, he dashed into a brand new open-all-night Korean deli and bought up every red tulip in the place. “It’s important for the dealer to treat you like a rich person, someone who is not impressed with a little money, that way he will likely offer you more. One look around your studio apartment and he might guess that you are not rich, so we must make him think you are eccentric, that way he cannot be sure.” Before we went to sleep, we filled all of the vases with tulips and when we ran out of vases we filled the pots and pans. Two dozen red tulips sat in a spaghetti pot on my Chinese red dresser next to a benevolent Balinese goddess.

As we scurried about, my dear friend and house guest porn star Gloria Leonard snoozed on the pull-out sofa. We surrounded her with so many flowers, I thought she might wake up and think she was dead. Sure enough, in the a.m. she said all that was missing was the big horseshoe that said “Good-by Guido.”

Maybe it was the flowers, in any case, the dealers wasted no time dickering about the price: 10,000, 12,000, 18,000, 20,000. My retail value seemed to be worth its weight in tulips, the kind by Mapplethorpe. He loved the erotic content of the photos and did not talk it down like it was a liability. “Don’t sell them all,” advised Maggie Weston, “Keep your portrait.”

“If you want to sell your portrait, let me know, said Russ, “I think I would like it for my private collection. Patrick’s hand shot up in the air as if he were at auction. “Me first. If anyone is going to get that portrait, I am.”

Already there was a bidding war going on. Now I really felt like a rich girl. Gloria who is as famous for what comes out of her mouth as for what went into it, had the last word. “Veronica,” she said, “you give new meaning to the phrase, ‘some day my prints will come.”

Two of the smaller prints from “Marty & Veronica” went off to the Weston Gallery, a few years later, my buttocks followed. In 1999, the large photo of “Marty and Veronica”, the one that shows my face, sold at Christie’s. I hated to part with that one, but I told myself I was not in a position to be an art collector.

Though I no longer owned the physical images, they endured in my writing and other work. I had included them in my video docu-diary “Portrait of A Sexual Evolutionary” which was the center of a censorship controversy at the University of Michigan Law School in 1993. Another connection to Robert Mapplethorpe was my friendship with Thomas Williams, the model in some of the most famous images. When Thomas and I became lovers, I felt that Robert had sent me another gift, the big, strong, black man I had imagined I would meet at that first shoot. Maybe he was still taking pictures.

As to my portrait, Patrick and I made a deal to co-own it and he took it home to Paris. Though Patrick was gay, we had started off as lovers in the late 70’s, long before A.I.D.S. was in the public consciousness. I had lived with him for a short time in Paris. Our friendship continued when he visited New York once or twice a year on gallery business. Then Patrick, too, got very sick with A.I.D.S. and I was not able to go to Paris to see him. I made lots of rationalizations as to why – reminding myself of times we had argued – but these were just feeble attempts to assuage my guilt. Patrick died in 2007.

I wondered what had happened to the portrait but I could not bring myself to ask anyone who might know. Perhaps, it had gone to pay bills as he lay ill, perhaps some other of his art dealer friends took possession of it. So be it, I thought.

This past September, I received a phone call from a couple visiting from Mexico, who invited me to dinner. I had met Eric and Francoise LeDoux in Paris where they had lived for many years. They were Patrick’s chosen family. Their son Adrien was Patrick’s godson. I welcomed the opportunity to discover what it had been like for Patrick in those last years. Was he surrounded by friends? Did he have support?

He had friends and support but it was Adrien who was steadfast – when Patrick was able taking him by wheelchair to the Louvre or to Patrick’s beloved Musee D’Orsay where he was known to be erudite. I was so grateful to know he had received such love and care.The LeDoux’s and I reminisced in the restaurant. It was a balmy night, so we moved to the sidewalk café for our coffee. “You know,” said Eric, “there is this photograph…”

“You mean the one by Robert Mapplethorpe?” I immediately unburdened myself, telling Eric and Francoise how sorry I have been not to have visited Patrick to say good-by. For years the portrait had remained over Patrick’s bed. Since his death, it had been in Adrien’s possession. It felt so good to know that though I had not made it to Paris, my portrait still had a place of honor in Patrick’s home. This news helped me to forgive myself. Not to do so would have dishonored the love of a cherished friend.

“So what do you say, you and Adrien sell the portrait and split the money?” Eric suggested. That felt so simple and so very right.

I’ve lived long enough to believe in magic and in messages from the beyond. The “lost Mapplethorpe” has now been found and at “The Perfect Moment.” It began its life as a gift from Robert Mapplethorpe, a way to say “thank you” for a collaboration. That significance has not been lost on me. What must never be lost is the spirit of self-determination that makes each of us defy rules that don’t seem to fit, to find a personal truth, and turn life into art. Whatever money comes from the sale of the original photograph will never exceed the value of its provenance. This rich history – the lives, creativity and experiences – are my treasures to share.

 

 

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Miss Vera’s Perspective: Why Bruce Jenner said, “Asexual” and more…

By Dr. Veronica Vera, DHS

The Bruce Jenner Interview conducted by Diane Sawyer which aired April 25, 2015 on ABC was smart and sensitive. I felt very uplifted. This next morning I am surprised at how I feel this much more emotionally. I feel grateful and connected and inspired. I’ve been remembering all of the people who have passed through Miss Vera’s Academy in the 23 years since I founded the world’s first male to female crossdressing academy and how this interview is so healing for them and helpful to so many, of any gender. I posted some thoughts on Facebook, but I thought I would gather those here, and add more.

Graduation Day

Early Days of Miss Vera’s Academy, circa 1995.

Graduation Day:msn

The show was “smart” because the producers (both those on air and off) had done their research, consulted many authorities and shared a lot of information. Much earlier that day, as a guest on ABC’s Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer promoted the show saying this would be a program about love. The focus of the show was love, more specifically the acceptance of transgender people, not simply by their own families, but by society. The producers were “smart and sensitive” because they were careful not to confuse the viewer. An example was in the choice to not use the female pronoun. My friend Topaz asked me why I referred to Bruce Jenner as “she” when in the interview BJ had chosen the use of “he.” I responded:

     I think Bruce Jenner has made it very clear she identifies as a woman, so referring to her as she comes much more easily to me. I recognize her. Jennifer Boylan who appeared and consulted on the interview also referred to BJ as “she” in her posts the next morning. I believe that the choice to use the male pronoun in the interview was to 1) to lessen viewer confusion and any negative feeling that might occur by using the female pronoun when Bruce was physically presenting as male; and 2) to save the she word for a big moment on BJ’s new show. We are definitely going to see an unveiling and big fanfare, for sure. And she’s gonna rock! So, I’ll stick to my use of she because, if not mainly for those two reasons above, that is how Bruce self identifies, she said so.

Throughout the interview Bruce emphasized time: time to make decisions about surgeries; time to “re-emerge as myself.” Bruce may also want to time to stand up to world scrutiny when she presents as female. I can understand that. Right now, I feel more honest, and feel I am supporting Bruce more by using “she”, but given different circumstances, I could change my mind….it’s a woman’s prerogative.

When Diane Sawyer asked Bruce Jenner about sexuality, BJ used the descriptive “asexual.” The interview emphasized the difference between sex and gender quoting: “Sex is who you go to bed with; gender is who you go to be as.” This was another area in which the producers chose not to confuse viewers with too much information. We learned that Bruce Jenner has been on hormones for the past 18 months; hormones inhibit the sex drive. Diane Sawyer mentions the hormones have lessened the “duel” inside. Since the word was spoken, we don’t know if she said “duel” or “dual,” both fit. Prior to female hormones, male to female trans persons can feel and be very sexually active, alone or partnered. Hormones can have a very tranquilizing effect, which can be quite a relief, especially initially. Also, let’s not forget that Bruce is still married and discussions of future partners are premature. Bruce is humble. She has so much to learn and admits she doesn’t know all the answers, so when Diane Sawyer repeats “asexual” and adds “….for now.” Bruce agrees, “…for now.”

The parts of the interview that touched me most were the small moments, like when BJ said she just wanted to wear nail polish long enough to let it chip. Actually, from the moment Bruce let loose that ponytail I thought we might be onto something good, and we were. Just before the show aired I received an email from a student who I knew would be watching with his wife. I said “Tell your wife that Miss Vera says, not every crossdresser wants to transition, many cherish their lives as men.” I thought of that couple and so many others of my students who have shared some of BJ’s history but want to live in both worlds. I was glad when a statement that flashed across the screen made a distinction between crossdressing and transgender. Crossdressers are definitely part of the transgender community, though some might better identify with the word “crossgender.” I was also happy to see so many different people in the trans community represented, even if briefly. Many of the students who enroll at Miss Vera’s Academy are professionals, but in 20+ years as dean of my academy and ten years prior as a writer in the field of human sexuality, I have been privileged to know and to learn from many trans people from all walks of life, all economic levels, all places in their personal evolutions. I am grateful to them all and proud of what we, and so many others have accomplished together. In the midst of writing my third book, suddenly my task feels lighter. I feel especially grateful to Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, ABC. They have put the power of the media to good use and raised public consciousness with informed intelligence. It makes my job easier and this world a better place.

Graduation Day

Graduation Day

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Miss Vera On Bruce Jenner: A response to the New York Times

Transition or Fashion Statement?

Transition or Fashion Statement?

Bruce Jenner: Transition or Fashion Statement?
Is Bruce Jenner in the process of gender transition or could this be simply a bold fashion statement? I’m surprised that Jacob Bernstein writing in the Style Section of the New York Times on February 5, did not think to pose this question. What better place than the Style section to discuss how as a society we get our knickers in a twist when a man presents in ways we consider feminine? Kilts have remained a fad and,try as he might Gaultier has never been able to put men in skirts. David Beckham in a sarong, notwithstanding. Instead Bernstein’s  article mainly rehashed a bunch of quotes from other sources, some gossip blogs, some tabloid, some as he described them “mainstream.” The quotes he included from those working as trans advocates and helping professionals were carefully worded and politically correct. The entire article seemed to be simply a way for the “Grey Lady” to hop on board the gossip express without getting her pumps dirty. Don’t be surprised. In complicated issues, the lazy press chooses simplification, to clarity, much to our loss. Or shall we accept that Trans people just appeared fully formed, no personal histories; no mommies, no daddies;immaculate conceptions or maybe just landed from another planet?

I really do think that this is more than a fashion statement for Bruce Jenner, but in a way, I wish it were. As dean of the world’s first transgender academy, Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, which I founded more than 20 years ago in NYC, I, a cis woman (not trans) have guided many adults who cross the gender border from male to female, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a lifetime. Of those who choose to live in both worlds, presenting sometimes as male, at other times as female, there are some who also use hormones, for a variety of reasons: to make physical changes, to calm libido…Like Bruce Jenner, many of my students are highly functioning adults, heroes in their own fields.

Rita and Misty take Wall Street.

Rita and Misty take Wall Street.

No matter what the gossips throw at him, Bruce Jenner exudes serenity, the kind of joy that comes from self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-love. Qualities  I see more and more in my students, especially those who come out to their nearest and dearest and in those who transition.

MVA alumna Patricia

MVA alumna Patricia

I could almost laugh at some of the quotes I’ve been reading about Bruce Jenner, except that the dissemination of ignorance is not funny. Mr. Bernstein quotes one source as saying “You don’t become a woman because your wife is pushy.” The truth is that feminine men often have a strong attraction to assertive women, and vice versa. Some cite Bruce Jenner’s three marriages to women as proof of his red-blooded maleness, when this fact could just as easily suggest the opposite. Secrets, even from oneself, can eat away at a relationsip. Overcompensation can lead to philandering. Some men when cross dressed identify as “male lesbians.” Others are sexually attracted to men, or other transgender people. We all have bodies with enough opening and appendages to experience sexual pleasure from any gender.

Amy & Wife Trish together for 40 years.

Amy & Wife Trish together for 40 years.

Another similarity between Bruce Jenner and the students of Miss Vera’s Academy is that he comes from the world of “white male privilege.” The homogeneous nature of our student body is more reflective of income level and age, than anything else. The transgender umbrellas covers people of all ages, colors, incomes, sexual orientations, physiques, i.q.’s and on and on…Trans men and trans women. There are those who identify as gender fluid; for others crossgender is a more apt term. So many individuals, so many needs and experiences, so much to understand, but with a common refusal to be locked into two categories. It’s time we acknowledge the time of gender binary is over, there is a third gender and it is trans, and like male and female, this third gender could not exist without the others.

Young TransMen and their Girlfriends surround me at SCC, 2014.

Young Trans Men and their Girlfriends surround me at SCC, 2014.

If he comes out as trans, and does become a spokesperson as Nicholas Kristof suggests in his Op Ed column which also appeared in the NYT on February 5, then Bruce Jenner will stand along side many: Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, but even more closely with the brilliant “gender outlaw” Kate Bornstein. That is very heady company, particularly for someone so immersed in reality show’s commodification of life. Jill Soloway, creator of TRANSPARENT took a lot of heat for posting a visual parody she received called, The TransDashians. Many in the trans movement were offended. They labeled Ms. Soloway an enemy – a cis woman who like all cis (non-trans) people could not be trusted. Do trans people and cis people have no shared emotions, beliefs or experiences? Ms. Soloway is the daughter of a trans person, credentials which give her a unique perspective and, she has created a show that is honest and true. If a Bruce Jenner transition show does air, TransDashians would be an excellent name and Ms. Soloway’s seeming faux pas would be not be. What the trans movement and arbiters of political correctness would then confront is another commercialization of trans, perhaps the most challenging yet.

With Ginger in vendor area, Southern Comfort Convention 2014.

With Ginger in vendor area, Southern Comfort Convention 2014.

Note: For an unflinching and highly informative coming out story and photos see Chadwick Moore’s interview with me and student “Ginger” who comes out in OUT, March 2015 on news stands mid-February, 2015.

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Review: Miss Vera Gives TRANSPARENT an A+

In honor of TRANSPARENT’s Golden Globes wins, I’m reposting my review! Congratualations to all.

Veronica Vera's Blog

 

JILL SOLOWAY HAS DONE HER HOMEWORK

The beauty of the show TRANSPARENT, is that in telling the story of Mort who is Maura Pfefferman creator Jill Soloway has chosen to include sexuality as a theme, as equally important as gender. The show and all involved get an A+.

Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street. Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street.

TRANSPARENT Is sex positive which means that the sexuality of the characters is, first of all, included and second, presented without judgment. This is particularly important to me because over 20 years ago when I created Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls, the world’s first transgender academy, I included sex ed as part of our curriculum. This went against the current thinking of the time, which was that trans people would be safer and more respected if sex were not part of the discussion. “It’s a gender…

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Review: Miss Vera Gives TRANSPARENT an A+

 

 

JILL SOLOWAY HAS DONE HER HOMEWORK

The beauty of the show TRANSPARENT, is that in telling the story of Mort who is Maura Pfefferman creator Jill Soloway has chosen to include sexuality as a theme, as equally important as gender. The show and all involved get an A+.

Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street.

Rita Petite, Miss Vera, Misty Madison on Wall Street.

TRANSPARENT Is sex positive which means that the sexuality of the characters is, first of all, included and second, presented without judgment. This is particularly important to me because over 20 years ago when I created Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to be Girls, the world’s first transgender academy, I included sex ed as part of our curriculum. This went against the current thinking of the time, which was that trans people would be safer and more respected if sex were not part of the discussion. “It’s a gender issue, not a sex issue,” became the operative phrase, and for some people, still is. It wasn’t so long ago that trans people were considered perverts and subject to arrest. Sex  as a subject, it was thought, had to go. But the people who arrive at my door wanting to find the woman inside have run the gamut of being total virgins to those who are very, very sexually active, and they confide their trans nature has definitely influenced their sexual identity and practice. So I was delighted when in the pilot episode Mort is described by his son as “a pussy hound.”” Oh, yes, I thought, we are going to go there.

Miss Vera's Academy students and friends pre-makeovers for Candy, the transversal style magazine, 10/2013.

Miss Vera’s Academy students and friends pre-makeovers for Candy, the transversal style magazine, 10/2013.

 

In TRANSPARENT Individual characters’ sexual orientations are  presented with clarity and complexity and a wide variety of sexual orientations are included. We learn in the pilot episode that of the three adult children of Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) and Shelly Pfefferman (Judith Light) first born Sarah (Amy Landecker) is bisexual; her brother Josh (Jay DuPlass) loves younger and older women; and the youngest sibling Ali (Gaby Hoffmann), well it’s hard to pin her down but she herself agrees she needs “discipline.” Their mother, Shelly must have liked sex enough with Mort to have given birth to three children, though how much, we can’t be sure because what is sex, but a dance, and Shelly states she doesn’t like music. She also mentions Mort’s money being spent on younger women.

We learn, however, that no character’s sexual orientation can be taken for granted. We may think we know one person’s story, but, not for long. For instance, I thought the woman Josh visited in episode one was a prostitute with whom he was very familiar… but stay tuned for a surprise.

Miss V and Ginger Liscious in vendor area, Southern Comfort Conference 2014.

Miss V and Ginger Liscious in vendor area, Southern Comfort Conference 2014.

The show is transgenerational. There are three generations of Pfeffermans and there are flashbacks to Mort’s life in 1989. This is particularly helpful because transgender as a movement has grown so rapidly in such a short time. Transgender as a word was not really in use until the 90’s. The T in the Los Angles LGBT center Maura visits was most likely not added until the late 90’s. The support group that Maura attends there would have existed years prior to today, but not with so many confident and diverse members, and certainly not with trans actors in the roles.

Young TransMen and their Girlfriends at SCC, 2014.

Young TransMen and their Girlfriends at SCC, 2014.

Dr. Ted and new DHS

Dr. Ted McIlvenna, founder Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality w Jane Hamilton, Candida Royalle, Veronica Vera, newly invested as Doctors of Human Sexuality (D.H.S), June 2014.

We learn not only how the lives of trans people have changed over the years, we are also presented with ways one generation’s life choices affect another’s. When my students tell me they are afraid to share their transness with their children, I suggest that they could be liberating their children from living in the same emotional strait jackets they’ve worn themselves. Maura’s children appreciate their dad’s “going for it” and it impacts their own lives and desire for sexual integrity. Remembering that “a little child shall lead them, how lovely to hear Poppa Mort’s grandchildren easily adapt to calling Maura, “Moppa”, a word the will now enter the language.

In later episodes, we are treated to gender and sex education, right along with our entertainment: Premarin pills and hormone injections, trans men, female ejaculation, erotic shaving and much more… This free flow of information, in fact the entire attitude of the show reflects the development of the field of sexology which emerged from the sexual revolution of the 60’s, as well as the formation of the transgender movement. Both fields of study have inspired professional degrees, support groups, associations and conferences across the country and around the world.

Club 90 on stage for Keynote, Catalyst Con, sexuality conference, 2014.

Jackie Strano and Club 90 (Veronica Vera, Jane Hamilton, Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle, Gloria Leonard (R.I.P.) on stage for Keynote, Catalyst Con, sexuality conference, 2014.

 

In episode 8, Maura and her friend Mark who is Marcy (Bradley Whitford) arrive on the site of Camp Camellia, they see crossdressers in all their feminine finery, casually strolling along the path. I was reminded of Fantasia Fair, a week long gathering where for 40 consecutive years the trans community has taken over Provincetown, Mass. One of my favorite scenes in #8, the most revelatory episode in terms of all the characters, is the dance party at Camp Camellia, the joy expressed was truly transcendant.

Amy & Wife Trish (student) Shot_05_1193

Amy & his wife Trish, together for 40 years, have 3 children and 3 grandchildren (so far). by Philippe Vogelenzang.10/2013.

 

Also at Camp Camellia, Connie, a crossdresser’s wife is presented as independent and strong. She will go after what she wants, though she may need a drink to relieve some inhibitions or simply put her in the party spirit. She is not presented as a sad martyr. She even mentions the “Crossdresser’s Wife’s Bill of Rights,” a real document. The way Mort’s wife Shelly laughs and later shrugs off her husband’s crossdressing resonates with truth. “She knows but doesn’t want to know.” I’ve heard this so often from my students. I’ve always said it’s better that at least she knows. Transparent makes us wonder if that is really enough.

To get TRANSPARENT on the air was a major accomplishment for all involved. To have it presented by Amazon, a company originally founded to distribute knowledge, seems particularly appropriate. I’d like to think that my own two books, and every book written on sex or transgender have helped just a bit. But the gold star goes to Jill Soloway and company. By creating a show with so many layers and opportunities for twists and turns, the story and the characters have room to grow and so does everyone who watches.

transparent pr picNote: Your first month of Amazon Prime is offered free, and all ten episodes of the first season are available now.

 

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Invitation to Club 90 Doctoral Celebration in SF, June 26.

(L to R)Annie Sprinkle, Gloria Leonard, Veronica Vera, Candida Royalle, Veronica Hart)

(L to R)Annie Sprinkle, Gloria Leonard, Veronica Vera, Candida Royalle, Veronica Hart.

DAY OF THE DIVAS—A CELEBRATION OF THE EROTIC ARTS

An Open House, Meet & Greet, & Erotic Art Exhibit with Porn’s Golden Era Stars & Sexuality Innovators

At the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS)

1523 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA 94109 (At Sutter)

June 26, Thursday. 2:00-5:00 pm.
Come enjoy a rare opportunity! For one day only, the public is invited to tour the groundbreaking Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality’s campus, peruse its incredible library, and view part of its vast, priceless erotic art collection gathered from around the world. Also on display will be ephemera from the world’s first porn star support group, Club 90, items spanning its thirty-year herstory. Golden age XXX films will be screened. Meet and mingle with Club 90 members Candida Royalle, Veronica Hart, Veronica Vera, Annie Sprinkle, and their “golden era” friends, including Sharon Mitchell and Howie Gordon (aka Richard Pacheco). Guests can also meet some of the Institute’s administration, faculty and students. Cameras are welcome for some great photo ops. Drinks and snacks will be served.

This special occasion is in honor of four former adult movie stars who have been innovators in diverse fields of human sexuality, who will on this day each be awarded the degree, Doctor of Human Sexuality. Jane Hamilton (aka Veronica Hart), Candida Royalle and Veronica Vera will receive their degrees from Dr. Ted McIlvenna at the Institute. Gloria Leonard, who died in January 2014 will receive her degree posthumously.

Founded in 1976 by Rev. Dr. Ted McIlvenna, the IASHS was the first to award advanced degrees in the newly emergent field of sexology that grew out of the sexual revolution. Says, Dr. McIlvenna, “These Divas personify, what has always been, a primary goal of the Institute which is to spread the truth of human sexual experience in all its complexities. To acknowledge the Divas’ visionary work renews our shared commitment to that goal and helps assure our continued success.”

While the public is invited to the afternoon’s Day of the Divas Open House, the evening’s graduation ceremony is private. If you are a personal friend, family member, or press and would like to attend, please contact one of the Divas to rsvp.

candida@candidaroyalle.com annie@anniesprinkle.org, missvera@missvera.com, Veronica@loveisbetterwithage.com

Facebook event link is here. Please rsvp here and share this info widely. Thanks.

https://www.facebook.com/events/415538841917987/

For more information contact Ted McIllvenna at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. 415-928-1133. Extension 23.

http://www.humansexualityeducation.com

WE HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!!!

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Miss Vera on TRANNY

Miss Vera's Academy students and friends on location for Candy, the first transversal style magazine, 10/2014.

Miss Vera’s Academy students and friends on location for Candy, the first transversal style magazine, 10/2013.

Note: I created Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, the world’s first transgender academy, 22 years ago.Prior to that I interviewed people and wrote articles about all aspects of human sexuality including many people who self-identified as transvestites, transexuals, crossdressers, transgender, drag queens, shemales. A word in common usage was “tranny.”

Reality: The word tranny has its origins within trans culture and from people who themselves identified in some way as trans, or were the allies of trans people. These were the people who fought the real battles, who came out of the closet. They stood on the side of tolerance and freedom. These people are owed respect for their efforts and their courage.

Reality: The origin of the word “tranny” was not used as a prejorative. It has been turned into a prejorative mainly by people within the trans movement who choose to see it as one.

Reality: Censoring language censors history. In this case, the history for whom the word “tranny” was and is a unifying word and a step up. Turning “tranny” into a prejorative is an insult to those who stood for the rights of trans people to be seen and heard.

Reality: the real enemies of trans people did not use the word tranny because they did not acknowledge trans persons or trans culture. The enemies of trans people used and still use words like “pervert”.

Reality: The word “tranny” is being used less and less even by those who once used it to self-identify. It is becoming out-dated, not because of the anger and divisiveness of the language police, but because of actions of those with the courage to claim they are not simply trans, but also women and men, or  both,  not the genders the outside world assigned them, but the genders they know from within. They are not a perversion of humanity, but humanity’s essence.

Reality: Humanity is messy and chaotic and can be dangerous. It is something all human beings share no matter how we identify. We need plenty of love and compassion and understanding – we need unity- to get us through not only this moment in time, but those moments to come. For the times, they are a-changin’.

With thanks to the students of Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls and to Kate Bornstein, RuPaul, Mariette Pathy Allen, Annie Sprinkle, Calpurnia Adams, Jane County, Jamison Green, Johnny Science, Angie Extravaganza, Ariadne Kane, LaVerne Cox, Janet Mock,  Diane Torr, Jill Monroe, and so many more, plus Bob Dylan…

Note: These thoughts will be included in a larger article soon to appear in the New York Observer.

 

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