Friday, May 9, 2014

Vote for Sophia

I'm running in a mock election and I need your votes. You might be asking why I need your vote, and how in the heck did I wind up in politics? Well, my friends, the answer to the first question is simple, but the second is a rather interesting story. Before I answer the first question, let me answer the second.

It all started with my marriage to Danilynn on December 30 of last year. We had our legal wedding ceremony at the Salt Lake County Government Center a few blocks from our home. By that day, same-sex marriage had been legal in Utah for 10 days. It would only be legal for 7 days more. We had an outside ceremony to honking cars passing by. It was a beautiful experience for me.

Meanwhile, the attorney general of Utah had been ousted from his position for corruption in office, and there were tales of transphobic slurs that had occurred between his staff members. When we were applying for our license, a young hispanic gentleman came into the office and was sworn in just 10 feet away from us as Deputy Attorney General. He smiled at us as he passed us after his ceremony, and I said, "Hi." I wondered if he was the replacement for John Swallow, the previous attorney general, and if he would clean up the office.

more to come. stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Her Name is Donielle

Her name isn't Thing, or Tranny, or Crossdresser. Her name is Donielle. Donielle Hould. That is her preferred name. We never knew what her full legal name was, nor did it matter.

When I saw that transphobic emails were sent about a transgender Republican delegate, the first person that came to mind was Donielle--the similarities seemed to coincide too much to be another person. I mean, how many transgender women who are passionate about Republican politics get to serve as a delegate to one of the party's conventions?

Donielle's body was discovered July 2, 2011.

She moved to Utah from New York following a job opportunity here. Many people in the transgender community remember her sense of humor and her long silky, curly black hair. Her 4th of July Barbeques and Halloween parties, that she hosted in the trailer park where she lived so that transgender people had a safe place to socialize, were the talk of the community. I don't know how many times I heard, "She threw the best Halloween parties." My wife tells me that she was very driven, and had a strength about her that seemed like nobody could bring her down.

I wish I could say that I knew her, but I only really met her once, in a support group before my surgery. The month was March, 2011. She was incredibly excited about her opportunity to be a Delegate at the Utah Republican Convention in April. She was excited to be taking an active part in politics, something she loved and felt strongly about. At the time, we questioned why she was aligning with the Republican Party, but that was her choice. She had high hopes that she could get elected to office.

Something must have happened at the convention, because she started talking about staying in male mode and at the next three events where we would normally have seen her female persona, she came as male (She frequently felt that her desire to be female was an addiction that she could conquer--few rarely do).

She put her effort over the next month and a half into planning the fourth of July picnic, Sending out a reminder on May 28. We didn't hear from her again until a great sadness rocked the community.

Someone contacted me to get ahold of Deborah Dean, the founder of Engendered Species, a transgender positive group of which she was a member. They told me that someone had taken their own life and their roommate needed Deborah's help. By the time I got in touch with Deborah, she had already been to see the roommate and the body. Donielle had taken her own life with no forewarning or explanation. According to her roommate, Donielle had lost both her job and her girlfriend in the three weeks leading up to her suicide. It must have been a triple whammy coming off of such high expectations only a couple of months before. Sometimes it feels like the universe is out to get us.

As a founder of a social support group for people in transition, I felt survivor's guilt. I felt that I did not do enough to recruit her into the group, where she would have had the chance to vent whatever was on her mind. We, as a community, were at a loss as to why she went from a peak of happiness to suicide. I asked around, trying to find out what may have triggered this reaction and to see if there were any indicators that we could be more observant of in the future. I got the same response from everyone. They didn't see it coming.

Now, I hear that a transgender woman was not welcomed by certain individuals at a convention in 2012, particularly staff members of the Attorney General who was up for reelection. They didn't bother to ask her name, and sent transphobic messages to one another. One of the staff members standing next to her got a photograph of her and sent it to the other staff member, calling her a notorious crossdresser, a tranny, and a thing. That attitude most probably was picked up by that woman that day, whether they said something nasty, outing, or just had a disgusted look on their face.

As far as Donielle was concerned, she was never the same again. Less than two months later, two days before she was supposed to host the 4th of July barbeque, she was gone, dead at her own hands.

Her name is Donielle.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Two Transgender Women Marry in Utah

Yup, that's us in the article holding our marriage certificate, the third article that I've written and certainly the one closest to my heart. I have a strong feeling that Danilynn and I are the first same-sex transgender couple to be legally married in Utah since Utah banned same-sex marriages in 2004. We had a wedding ceremony in late October, and when Judge Robert Shelby struck down Amendment 3 to the Utah State Constitution, a flurry of 900 couples and quite a few of my friends became legally wed that day, including a couple in Moab.

Danilynn was in town, but exhausted and sleeping in her cab after her night shift as an over-the-road truck driver. She was on a fast turn-around, and it wasn't until she was back on the road that evening that we discussed tying the knot legally for the final time. We held our bated breaths while we watched the attorney general try to get a stay on the weddings, waiting for her to be re-routed to Salt Lake City. She arrived early Saturday morning on the 28th at just after midnight, and we were married at the Salt Lake County Government Center on December 30th by 10:30 am. Outside, in our wedding dresses, passers-by honked and cheered while we exchanged our vows. Everywhere on the application I saw the word groom, I struck it out and replaced it with bride. We're still awaiting the certified copies of our license in the mail.

Before my wife left for the road on Wednesday, we consummated our marriage trucker style in the back of her cab. Eight hours of sure bliss, as her co-driver picked up the empty trailer, cleaned it out, and drove it to the dock where it was loaded up with yogurt. My wife walked me back to my car parked at the yards where we could give our goodbyes and I drove home. We call each other twice a day, and she doesn't know when she'll be back home; it's up to the dispatchers. Last I heard, they had dropped their load in Ohio and were headed back to California. Her birthday's coming up tomorrow, and we will have to delay the celebration for when she finally returns, whenever that is.

The article was published on Thursday evening and so far has 268 likes, 6 tweets, and 6 shares. The Lone Star Q, an online publication that is less than two months old, is not registered as a major news outlet, which means the national media probably hasn't seen this story. That's why I am asking everyone to help this go viral. I am hoping that by putting our story out there, it will help shift attitudes. We could have done this is stealth, but we deliberately chose not to.

The following is an excerpt from the article. If you like it, please share it in as many places as you can.

Hugs and Blessings,
Sofia Featherwind

Two Transgender Women Marry in Utah
by Sophia Jean Hawes Lutrova, aka Sofia Featherwind

We’re legally married in Utah. In Utah!

We’re two transgender women who never saw the day coming when we would be able to do this. We’re going to file our income taxes jointly this year and change our names. I will become Mrs. Sophia Jean Hawes Lutrova, and she will become Mrs. Danilynn Louise (Tingey) Lutrova.

Danilynn feels strongly about the need for marriage equality in Utah because it affects transgender people as well.

A military child, I moved to North Texas when I was 12. With the exception of four years in the Navy in San Diego, I spent the next 33 years in the Fort Worth area, trying to stay true to my Baptist upbringing. I married, had two children, and then began my transition while I was there. Eventually, painfully, I had to leave Texas for employment in first Kentucky and then Utah, leaving my wife and children behind. Our marriage of 13 years was not strong enough to survive all the change and stress.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

My First Experience with ATS

Amy "Luna" Manderino, Founder and Artistic Director of Lunatique, became inspired to study bellydance after seeing FatChanceBellyDance perform at the Festival on the Lake in Oakland, California in 1993.
- Justine Sutton (2002). "Lunatique"
 My first experience in ATS was challenging and fun. I'm about a week or two behind the Wednesday class, and having to play make-up. This is the first time that I have actually met for five hours in a single week to practice dancing. By the time I was done Thursday, my body was finally starting to feel sore, but I was riding high. I had decided that since I had the opportunity, I was going to take advantage of Mecha Ramos's Thursday night beginning class with its Salsa fusion. I paid 24 dollars at the door to dedicate myself for the whole month, and we got started.

Coming fresh from my first ATS class, I started recognizing the same moves that I had been working on in the other classes, only with a slightly different flair. It gave me a chance to practice what I had just gone over and realize that all these different styles feed from and reinforce one another. As I recognize the subtle variations between each style, I'm hoping that it helps me be more graceful. So in addition to technique, this year I am planning to focus on stamina and grace; which further encourages me to study makeup techniques. The few pages I have read and applied from Making Faces has already had a noticeable impact, particularly when my image is being picked up on camera in a conference room setting.

A year ago, I was still not interested in ATS, but after having danced with girls in ATS, and being on stage while they did their thing, I really started feeling the energy of this art form. ATS stands for American Tribal Style, invented by FatChanceBellyDance in the 80s based on the eclectic tribal belly dance culture in the 60s and 70s. From ATS, various fusions, including tribal fusion have sprung.

As I banged my zils in class to the gradual immersion, I discovered that I was only about four moves behind in the basic vocabulary, so the class must have started fresh only in the last couple of weeks. Joanna welcomed me with open arms, and I found myself enjoying dancing with her this first time. Amina had each of us come to the front of the class to demonstrate a move while we kept the 3-3 pattern going on our zils. My brain melted on the 3/4 shimmy, not seeming to be able to zil and shimmy at the same time. I am focusing on that move this week. Yesterday, after about 15 minutes, I was finally able to do the 3/4 shimmy while zilling, but only if I just stood there. Today, I'm going to try to do the same thing, but with my right leg in showgirl position. Eventually I should be able to sway, and then, finally, step while shimmying and zilling.

When Amina called me forward, she asked me to do the Basic Egyptian, "I know you can do that."

Confused, I asked, "Which one."

She proceeded to show me the Egyptian one, and as I did it, she corrected me. I have been doing a Turkish Belly Roll all this time. What she asked from me was more simple, just a swaying pelvic walk with nothing added on top. This was reinforced two hours later in Mecha's class, when part of the choreography used that same Basic Egyptian, only with a kick-release, and from the side. Mecha used to be one of Amina's students years ago, so I can guess where she got that from.

Amina was telling Joanna, in my hearing, that the class was meant to help bring people up to performance level, so they could join they performing troupe, and that the Saturday class is an accelerated one. I'm willing to stay where I am, at least for this month, so that I can start getting more confidence. My goal at this point is to just start learning the technique, build my dance vocabulary up, and have fun with the group dances. I want to see which tribal fusion moves I learn come from ATS. When I feel more comfortable rotating into the lead, then I might switch to Saturdays. Until then, I'm going to enjoy every moment I can.

A funny thing happened. I accidentally joined a group demonstration of ATS to the rest of the class. I didn't know if I was supposed to participate or not. I happened to be in position 4, and just started following along. Practically all the moves Amina was improvising were variations that she had taught us in our Wednesday evening tribal fusion performance class, especially with the last choreography. I followed along as best I could, even through the half-turn sequences, when she suddenly stopped, facing the group, gave me a high ten, and said I "did a good job faking it." It was fun! I never felt so energized as I did in that moment, contributing to something larger than myself. I've had a taste, and now I want more, so much more.

Hugs and Blessings,

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Woman in Progress

I never lost weight to fit better in the ballet world.  Maybe something inside told me that I was really okay the way I was, that it was not important to be a waif in order to dance. Of course, I wouldn't know how true that was until years later. But I kept dancing. It was what I knew and loved. I assisted my teachers in classes for the younger students and kept dancing every day. My mother was continually supportive, driving me to dance school and waiting patiently while I took my classes.
- Paulette Rees-Denis (2008). Tribal Vision: A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Belly Dance

I am a woman in progress and I always will be this side of the grave--even then, my proteins will break down and the organic material will recombine, lending its support to new life--always changing, always evolving. I have been through many passages in my life, but perhaps one of the biggest was my transition. There is a truism that transition is never complete, and I agree with that. My transition from male to female only was the beginning of a lifetime of change. Challenge, and the change that goes with it forces one to push her boundaries, to step out of the comfort zone and redefine who she is as a more open, complete, and round person. Being is a verb. It means about being active about who you are, and interacting and changing with the environment around you. It means finding new elements to express about yourself and finding ways to express them.

Dancing is for me a way to continually plumb to new depths as I link my body to my soul, which in turn links to the music. I become the marionette, but I do it my way. Everything becomes one. And I take classes to expand my dance vocabulary, and to help develop my body so that it can indeed have more expression.

Because of classes shifting, I am, for the time being, having to give up my tribal fusion technique class for troupe practice with Zarandeo Dance Company. Instead of crying in my soup, I thanked the fabulous Michelle Sorenson for having had the advantage of her instruction over the last year, and looked at my options.

I am about to enter my fourth year of belly dance, and most of what I have studied in the past three years has been cabaret style. I had a request to start teaching classes at my church, while at the same time I have been getting more interested in American Tribal Style and Burlesque. I am still in three performing troupes: Azalea, for the third year; Masheed, for the second year; and Zarandeo in its first year.

It turns out that the time that the church wanted me to teach is still in conflict with my current troupe practice, so I turned to the choice I really wanted to try: American Tribal Style. I started reading a book on it as an Amazon recommendation, and then my friend Kathy loaned me a signed copy of Tribal Vision. My tribal fusion dance instructor, the fabulous Amina, told me that she has another book for me to read on ATS. Several of the members of our tribal fusion troupe are also members of the ATS troupe Azar. I have been onstage and in class while I watched them perform ATS with such dignity. The lead/follow dynamic reminds me of Swing dance and the improvisational element reminds me of my own improvisational style. The culture is also attractive in its emphasis on building each other up together instead of competing to get the best audience reaction. I understand ATS has a huge vocabulary to it, so I'll be joining Amina's beginning ATS class on Thursdays after work.

I find it amazing that I actually backed my way into tribal style. Tribal style already has a very rich history over the close to 30 years since it's inception. It has branched out and flowed into so many new forms of belly dance in that time. I began with Cabaret and Egyptian Cabaret, took a gypsy workshop, and then over the last year joined a tribal fusion troupe and started taking tribal fusion technique classes. A few months ago, I was invited to join a troupe that specializes in Ethnic Fusion, and now I am going back to the root of fusion, American Tribal Style. I will actually have a chance to learn which moves are the tribal moves that infused into tribal fusion.

I have also entered another passage of my life. Last weekend, I had a wedding in Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City. I wed my road warrior Trixie in a celebration that involved an exchange of collars BDSM style, a Cherokee blanket ceremony, and a handfasting. It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony and Bert Fontana made me look like a goddess with my hair and makeup. As a result, I am now encouraged to start exploring makeup manuals to work toward recreating a glam look. All I had to know was that it was obtainable.

Hugs and Blessings,

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Honoring Courageous Transgender Veterans

I am dedicating my performance at the Stars and Stripes and Slinky show at the Fort Douglas Post Theater on July 6 to Kristin Beck, the retired Navy SEAL from SEAL team 6 who just came out in her memoirs. I have already written a trans-feminist piece that celebrates the forgotten warrior, i.e., women warriors, including trans women warriors, and am in the process of preparing to perform it monologue style at this benefit, which is a USO-themed burlesque show with the benefits going to area veteran's organizations. In a way, it is a cut at Don't Ask Don't Tell. In the poem I am going to deliver, I close with a rendition of a true story of a transgender woman who died on the battle field.

I am a Navy intersex transsexual veteran who served on the USS Lynde McCormick (DDG-8) and USS Mahlon S. Tisdale (FFG-27) from 1989 to 1993 during Operation Desert Storm as a Torpedoman's Mate.

I have been doing public performances since 2008, early in my transition, when I had the opportunity to do and the desire to perform They Beat The Girl Out of My Boy...Or So They Tried (as part of the Vagina Monologues) at  Casa Manana in Fort Worth in front of hundreds. I performed in the Vagina Monologues twice more here in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah in 2011 and 2012.

I am also a performing belly dancer, and have been doing solos for almost three years, almost as long as I have been studying the art of belly dancing, and performing in several troupes. It was via the belly dance community that I got my first invite to deliver some of my poetry at a burlesque show in February of last year. I decided to do a piece from the book that I published because it was the closest piece that I had that fit the theme. It was also a risk for me, because I was essentially outing myself to a whole community in which I felt loved. I left the audience crying.

I was asked to perform again this last February, in which I did a piece of trans-feminist slam entitled Certain Other Inalienable Rights, finding the packed audience very responsive. I had just had voice surgery and was surprised when I came from behind the curtain to have my first-ever standing ovation. As a result, I was asked to perform again this July at the Fort Douglas Post Theater for veterans.

When I saw the breaking article on Kristin Beck, I knew I had to dedicate this performance to her courage above and beyond the call of duty.

Hugs and Blessings,

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Washed Out at the Renaissance Faire

The weekend before last turned out to be a complete washout. I drove from Taylorsville, Utah, through the rain and overcast skies up to Marriot-Slatersville, Utah, with a bag full of snacks, my sword, and my portable jam box, dressed in gypsy garb.

When I got to the site, there weren't that many people present for a Saturday morning at 10:00. I parked near tha gate on the gravel, with the warning that the mud was so bad that parking anywhere else would be impossible to get out. The sand of the farm, mixed with steady rain had created a sloggy mess.

Regardless, I slogged my all the way back to the stage where were to perform. The staff had laid bark on the trail to aid in footing, but it ran out pretty quickly. As I slid and slipped my way back with all my gear, I eventually had to remove my flip flops because they were so full of muck and proceed barefoot. By the time I got to my destination, one of my friends came out and told me that they were probably not going to open that day. On our way back to the gate, I lost one flip flop and a really good book. I called my troupe members and gave them the sad news.

On Saturday morning, I drove out to Tooele to do a benefit performance at a nursing home that was adjoined to Asylum 49, a reputedly haunted hospital. My bra busted before I could even get out of the car. A couple of large safety pins later, I was dancing with my sword for the senior citizens of Toole, who clapped enthusiastically as I performed. I was able to also throw in the new moves I had been working on last week, and closed with a kiss and sword flourish.

When we took the tour, I felt a strong presence at the end of a long, dark hallway, and I wasn't the only one. There is also supposed to be a child ghost present on the site, but my impression is that he is very shy, as I didn't feel a strong presence in the area set aside for him.

My next scheduled performance is at Taylorsville Dayzz in Taylorsville, Utah, just south of the Taylorsville Recreation Center on Friday, June 28. I will will be dancing with the modern fusion troupe Masheed, and there is a possibility that I may be doing my sword solo as well.

Hugs and Blessings,Sofia