Monday, September 2, 2013

Trans Art Project Interview: Venus DeMars

As mentioned in prior posts, I will document the progress and evolution of my project on this blog. I put together an "ice breaker" questionnaire to get conversations going between participants and I. I hope that these will also offer insight and connect those who follow this project with the participants. Below is the first questionnaire returned to me.

What was the name given to you by your parents?

Steven Grandell. However there's a story behind this. Neither of my parents expected a boy. This was before doctors had the ability to tell the sex of a child before birth. I was born in 1960. Teresa was the name they'd decided on. When I was born they had to scramble to decide on a boy's name. My dad hated his name, Gustave Adolf so my mom suggested Larry-Gus as a possibility. He hated it, still. He liked the name Steve, so they picked that. Ironically that name is now so distant from who I feel I is somewhat painful when I'm addressed by it. But it was a good name growing up and I respect my father's decision. I've often wondered about Teresa. How much different my life might have been if everything had gone the way my parents expected.

What is your chosen name?

Venus DeMars. It began as simply Venus, but the documentary of myself and my wife came out and the title became Venus of Mars. I adopted the de Mars as in Venus de Milo or Venus of Milo. So I am now Venus DeMars.

When/How did you first know you were trans?

I knew I was different from the age of 2 or 3 when I wanted to wear my my older sister's petticoat skirt. She thought I looked cute and wanted me to show our parents. I became afraid and would not go with her. So...I knew I was different, as well as understood an early version of feeling as if this was wrong.

How did this realization make you feel? 

As above, I immediately felt something was wrong with this feeling. That was reinforced as I came across other kids who displayed gender varinace. A girl from a few blocks away who came to play with us said she was actually a boy, but that her mom made her wear dresses. The other kids whispered in my ear that she was actually a girl, but we should go along with it so we could see under her dress. Her mom saw this and came to drag her away from us, scolding the entire group. There are other incidents like this. I also remember overhearing parents talking about another girl from down the block who insisted on wearing boy's underwear and pants instead of dresses. That was a troubling issue for her parents.

How would you describe your childhood/life before your transition?

Pretty normal on the outside. Inside I always had this nagging feeling that I should be something else...and became somewhat jealous of the girls I knew. But again I felt this was wrong so I worked very hard to suppress my feelings and did as much as I could to be as boy-like as possible.

Who were some of your role models then?

When I was 10 I saw Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich on TV one afternoon. She immediately became a role model. She still is.

Who did you first tell?

My therapist, after a number of sessions attempting to discover why I might be dealing with depression.

What was their reaction?

Positive. He said I could be or do anything I wanted and was glad we'd discovered it. This was in the late 80's, however. Not much was known about transgenderism. The idea was that I would need to do a full transition and my wife and I would need to get a divorce. Laws at the time would have prevented us from staying married. Very few people were out as trans back then. There were no real trans role models to look to. I think my therapist was part of the GLBT community when I think back, but many people were closeted during that time, especially in professional settings, so he never let on about his own identity issues. I do believe now that he was probably gay. I was very lucky to have him as my therapist. I've had therapists since then.
One in the mid 90's was gay and out. He completely did NOT understand being trans. He even disbelieved it as a possibility. This was during our marriage counseling. He let his bias take over and dismissed out issues. I think he may have thought that I was actually gay. I've heard this from other people who believe that trans is just a variation of gay. They believe there are no real trans issues, only gay issues. It's kind of crazy, especially for a therapist. This was a common attitude throughout the 80's and early 90's. You really had to fight to define yourself as trans within the medical community.

Do you have any fears or concerns about "passing"?

Absolutely. Constantly. Still do, when on the road, touring. Or traveling overseas. This mostly revolves around bathroom use. As now I pass way too well to use the men's room, however it's still illegal for me to use the women's room. It could result in an arrest if I am confronted. Unisex or single stall bathrooms are best. I try to pass well enough as to not be confronted but it has happened. There was an argument between two guards in a New York museum because one had pointed me to the women's washroom and when I came out another guard was there. He confronted the other guard about allowing me to have used the ladies' room. This was just last year. I have to be constantly aware. Note, I am both genders. I have not have gone through reassignment surgery. My legal status is still male, though I am usually seen as female because of my hormone use and breasts.

Have you experienced any unkindness, or worse, from strangers in the community as a result of being identified as a trans individual?

Yes. Early on, especially. Lots of insults and confrontations from groups of youths or men. In pairs or groups, usually. Not so much from women, but on occasion. These were public comments questioning my gender, expressed loudly enough so that other people would turn around and look. As far as in the music industry, during the 90's and early 2000's I was never taken seriously because of my transgenderism. When interviewing with one New York music lawyer for possible label interest, I was directly told he couldn't see how he could help if I continued to be as I was on stage. Though he confided that he liked what I did very much, he just couldn't see any business advantage. He wouldn't represent us. This is one of the reasons I've been an indy musician for my entire career.

What is your profession?

Musician. My band is Venus DeMars & All The Pretty Horses. I am also a visual artist.

Can you describe your experience transitioning in the workplace?

As above, the difficulties with the music industry's attitude toward me in the 90's and early 2000's. We were about the only trans-fronted band around back then. Other bands had a trans-member on occasion, but not in the lead position. Not in Rock and Roll and not as out as I was at least. In many ways this gave me the freedom to be myself completely from day one. But it also hinder the advancement of my career in the traditional ways. I just learned to move forward on my own. The experience has made me who I am and I am glad for that.

Are you dating/partnered?

Married for 30 years now.

How did you meet?

Initially in high school, but we seriously dated after I'd started my first band when I was in my early 20's and married shortly after that.

Do your families know?

My wife's mom knew, as did my parents. I untangled my transgenderism five years after we'd been married and our marriage unusual occurrence.

Are they supportive?

They were once they understood. My wife's mom and my father have passed on. My mom is now dealing with memory issues, but still knows both of us. She's living in a memory care unit now.

What has been the most difficult part of transitioning?

For me, uniquely, it's the balancing I do between the sexes. I wish there was a legal term for who I am. I constantly have to educate custom officials when traveling and negotiate social situations, medical and legal situations. Being pulled over while driving, for example, can easily become an ordeal. It would take an enormous pressure off me to have a legal status as an in-between-genders individual.

What are some of your life goals?

To do as much as I can as an artist to make a difference in the world for everyone. Of course being a trans individual, my work comes from that perspective, but I've found if I make my humanity the center of my emotional place, I can reach beyond just the trans community. My work crosses all gender identity, sexual identity and racial barriers. Even political and religious barriers, often. I hope I can continue in this direction.

What would you most like the world to know about you?

My history.

What would you tell someone just realizing they are trans?

You have been given a gift.



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