Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Blast From the Past

As I have said before, I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama, so I was a bit surprised when I saw that location mentioned on Suzan Cooke's web site. At first, I thought it might be an article about a friend of mine who was a post-op FTM who happened to have been the star witness in the trial of his uncle who was convicted for the 16th Street Church bombing that killed four girls in 1963. He was featured in the book "Transgender Warriors."

But I was even more surprised when I realized the article was about a person most commonly known in Birmingham as "Ms. Sid," the "notorious" transsexual... Cooke had linked to a story from Birmingham's past, and as is typical for Cooke, missed the real facts in favor of a bit of political drivel...

Born Sidney McFerrin Ford, Jody Suzanne Ford became something of a local scandal when the hairdresser known as "Mr. Sid" revealed plans to become a woman. The sign outside the shop was changed to "Ms. Sid's" and tongues began wagging. About this time, I was struggling with my own issues, though I had not yet fully realized that I was transsexual. In my mind, the term had some rather negative associations. I was first aware that such a thing was even possible when I saw an episode of a TV show hosted by Joe Pyne where he profiled Christian Jorgensen. It was presented so sordidly that the concept failed to fully resonate with me. Not long after that, when I read the book "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex..." the description of sex change surgery was so horrifying that I was totally repulsed by the idea. Thankfully that description was not remotely close to reality.

About this same time, Renee Richards was in the news, having created a scandal in women's tennis when it was revealed that she had been Dr. Richard Raskin.  So, curiosity drove me to pay a visit to "Ms. Sid's."  Fortunately, it was also a boutique, so I had an excuse to wonder in and have a look without having a haircut I would have had to explain.

The shop was located in Five Point's South, which ironically, was a neighborhood I would later live in for about ten years.  I remember, walking in, and starting to look at the clothes while trying to discretely see if I could spot Ms. Ford.  I remember a very tall woman at one of the stations, who I assumed must be the object of my curiosity.  Other than being rather tall, I noticed nothing out of the ordinary.  I honestly was not sure if this was really her, but I saw no one else that might have been.

On at least two other occasions I saw her (I now know it was her I saw), once getting into her car, and once at a bank.  Of course, I was too shy to actually approach her and ask questions.

A few years later, she was killed in an incident at a local motel.  It was only through the article that Cooke linked to that I learned, as Paul Harvey would have said, "...the rest of the story."  

Sadly, she died when she reacted to some nasty comments made by Larry Maddox, the owner of the Vestavia Hills Motor Lodge.  She was at Brookwood Mall with her former wife, when Maddox made some anti-gay slurs.  Ms. Ford chased him up the highway in her car and confronted him outside the motel.  He went in, and came out with shotgun and fired.  He claimed self-defense, and was found not guilty.

Based on details in the story that Cooke linked to, I wonder if she was truly transsexual.  For example there was an incident, before transition, where this person is described as being seen in heels, a woman's suit, and full beard.  Before transition, this person was also a member of the gay community, though she had been married twice, and had a child.  She played basketball at a college affiliated with the Church of Christ, and played semi-professional football for a time.  All in all, it is a history more typical of some who are better described as "transgender" than transsexual.  And the act of chasing someone down and confronting them as she did seems more male than female.

It is hard to say, but Cooke, and the author of the original article, try to spin it as a hate crime. I had previously thought that Ms. Ford died when a romantic encounter turned nasty.  I was not aware that she had chased her killer and confronted him after an altercation.  

That is the problem with mixing legitimate transsexual issues with politics.  Cautionary tales get lost in the rush to make someone a martyr.  This person died, sadly, because she acted like a man.  Maddox should have faced manslaughter, not murder, as he started the incident, but Ms. Ford might still be with us if she had not made a stupid choice.  A fact, tragically lost on those who have adopted the transgender mindset as Cooke clearly has.


Athena Blakely said...

Jennifer let me state that I am a straight woman that grew up in Birmingham in the 70s and there were many of us that firmly believed that the undue harassment that was heaped on Mr./Ms. Sid created the anger in her that just exploded that night.

Unfortunately you do not have "the rest of the story" only the end of the story. My grandmother lived in 5 points south and I spent a great deal of time with her as a child. Mr/Ms Sid was an icon in the local community at that time for being brave enough in the racially prejudice and homophobic southern city of Birmingham, Alabama to openly declare her intentions.

I met her, I knew her, I know many transsexual people. I am a woman and if I had been there when that jerk had said what he said to Jody I would have jumped in the car with her. The only difference between me and Jody is that I would have been armed because my family comes from of a long line of women that have served in the military or as support services for the military. We all know how to fight and how to shoot and I, as a white "color-blind" teen in Birmingham, Alabama, had to be able to defend myself.

Athena Blakely said...

post 2

Jody was transsexual. Jody was sick of being abused. You and the other author failed to mention the numerous physical and verbal attacks that had preceded that infamous night. You and the other author failed to mention the bricks through the windows of her shop and the vulgarities painted on the building and on her car. You and everyone else that barely remembers the times she turned the other cheek either want to make her a martyr or diminish her contribution to combating prejudice in general. Neither is an accurate portrait of such a complicated person.

Dr. King's dream can only actually come true when all men and women, regardless of color or birth gender, intellectual ability or learning difference, wealth or poverty can sit down across that table he spoke of and share a meal in the spirit of love and acceptance. Then, and only then, can we all say those mighty words, Free At Last, Free At Last, Thank God Almighty WE Are Free At Last. Free from Prejudice, Free from Ignorance, Free from Greed, and Free from the binding chains of Hatred of our fellow man because of his difference from us, FREE FROM FEAR!

Jody (Sid) was not a warrior or a man. Jody was a woman trapped in a body that ravaged her personality. Jody was not fearless but lived each day in fear that she might not ever make a difference for confused people like herself. She was not an insignificant blip on the larger radar of LBGT issues. She was a human being that loved everyone that she met who wanted to ask honest questions and get honest answers. I had that privilege. I had her hands in my hair on several occasions. I talked, I asked questions, and with my grandmother's help I became a better person. Some of my family never knew I had this chance. Some of them could never know. Most of them are dead now and the others have grown up a lot over the years.Their own ignorance and prejudice would have created a problem in the family in those days. However, my grandmother, was an intelligent woman that was not raised in the ignorance of the south. She never allowed that ignorance to permeate her thinking. She knew the world would one day grow up and realize that prejudice of any kind, bullying of any kind is totally unacceptable. At least she prayed that it would grow up to that point. She prayed and she took me to see Mr/Ms Sid to get my hair done.

Athena Blakely said...

post 3

Now I am an Autism Rights Activist on behalf of my Autistic children. I am demanding that my kids get what society does not think they deserve. When I lose faith, when I struggle with whether or not to actually try to keep going, I think of the day I was sitting in Jody's shop and that brick came flying through the window. I will never forget the look on the faces of the boys in the back of that truck. I will never forget the rebel flag and the rebel yell they let out as they peeled off form in front of the shop. We all begged Jody to call the police. we begged her to press charges. I even identified two of the boys because I knew who they were. She said, "No, they are just children. They learn this from their parents. They are not responsible for what they are doing. The ignorance doesn't begin with them."

Then her tone turned more ominous and she said that if she could charge their parents for the actions of the kids she would. She also stated that she would like to strangle the parents that teach this level of hate to innocent children and turn them into the little rascals that just threw a brick through her window.

That night she had just reached her tolerance level for adults behaving badly. I believe that those boys crossed her mind. I believe that all she wanted to do was to talk to this man about his remarks and the pain that they caused her and the damage that adults like him inflicted on their children and society as a whole. Jody was nothing more than a pissed off woman that was far more worried about the damage to society that ignorance and prejudice creates than about her own life.

You have no idea the number of times she has been an inspiration to me. I may one day end up just like her, dead from the gun of an idiot. My cause, Autism Rights, will be dismayed by the event. I may be seen as crazy, an angry mother, a warrior, a martyr, or a person that had done a great disservice to the efforts of Autism Advocates that are less demanding of justice then myself. All I hope is that while I lay bleeding on the ground and the other side opens up for me that the first face i see is that of Jody. Then and only then will I know that my life has accomplished my promise to her.

I promised her on that day as I stood there holding the brick that landed less than a foot away from the chair where I was sitting that I would work tirelessly all the days of my life to combat ignorance and prejudice wherever I was led by the events of my life. Jody looked me in the eye and said to me that I was destined to make a difference because I asked the important questions and formulated insightful responses to the answers given. I pray every day that I will live worthy of that faith that she had in me.

Athena Blakely said...

post 4

You should have walked up to her. You should have talked to her. You should have been more courageous. However, you were not. Please do not equate your lack of courage with what it means to be a woman. I am a woman, by birth, and I was courageous enough to get to know her. My grandmother was a woman by birth and was courageous enough to get to know her and take me, against the will of my parents, to meet her.

Fear does not equate to womanhood any more than half of the "social skills" listed on Jody's to do list. You see as an Autism Rights Activist I keep harping on the fact that social skills are a social construct designed to create a discriminatory environment against anyone that does not conform and many people on the spectrum are incapable of conforming. Social skills are not real and tangible and are relative to the ideology of the builders of the construct. Within the Gay and Lesbian Community at that time prejudice against Transgendered and Transsexual people was at a high point. The reason was that they attracted too much attention. The cross dressing members of those groups brought unwanted media attention to the entire LBGT community and the Lesbians and Gays wanted to stay under the radar to avoid trouble. Jody tried to be a part of this community only to find people like herself. The community was not really a single community at that time. It was highly fragmented by those that were more "normal" looking with only their bedroom activities coming under scrutiny and those that were more open which tended to be the transgendered/transsexual community. The transgendered/transsexual community was far more emotionally volatile because they endured more of the open hostilities. "Normal" looking and acting (often closeted) gay males and lesbian females did not want to be associated with these people at all. Great bastions of our society had for a long time tolerated semi-closeted gay males and openly lesbian females as long as they did not promote their ideologies. Vassar College and Wellesley College were filled with openly lesbian staff members and students. However, open in those days did not include public displays of affection at all. Of course heterosexual couples were not prone to public displays of affection either. Unfortunately, a transgendered/transsexual person was far more difficult to hide.

As you and the other author pointed out Mr/Ms Sid was once seen walking down the street dressed in women's clothing with a full beard. Of course no one bothered to explain why. Electrolysis was rarely new at the time and was no where near the precise procedure that it is today. the longer the hair was the easier it was to remove in those days. She actually grew the beard to make the hair removal process easier. It was probably a good thing no one ever saw her on the street when she only had the beard on her half of her face. I can just imagine what kind of story that would have been.

Jody was a beautiful person. I am so sorry that you did not have the pleasure of knowing her. Please do not diminish her contribution to the general civil rights movement. Yes she lost her temper that day but I want you to think about every time you have lost your temper. Do you want those moments to be the defining moment of your life? Was she a warrior in her life? Maybe. Was she a martyr in her death? No. Was she an inspiration to those of us who knew her? ABSOLUTELY!

Just Jennifer said...

Confronting people in that manner is never wise, and it was especially unwise in Alabama in the1970's. In 1977, I was at the University of Alabama. A great deal of my friends were in the gay and lesbian community, and I remember the things they had to live with. It was that halcyon time between Stonewall and the onset of AIDS when it looked like things were going to be better for them.

I can imagine the anger that was heaped on Jody, but confronting that person was a fatal mistake.

Thank you for what you do. Autism is a very misunderstood condition and I shudder to think about how some react when encountering it.

But I stand by what I said. This person had issues, and I will agree, was a complicated person.

As to my reluctance to the time, I was painfully shy. For me, venturing from the safe haven of my suburban home west of Ensley, all the way to the distant land of Five Points South was quite extreme.

I am very familiar with electrolysis, and the thought of presenting as a woman with a full beard during that time was unthinkable to me and every other transsexual I knew.

Please don't try to lecture me about being transsexual. It would be like a white person telling someone black how to think about race.

alan brady said...

Electrolysis was first invented in 1875 and is proven both functional and enormously safe. Advancing technology has intended electrolysis in Birmingham has become more gentle and delightful, even more in force and remains an affordable, well along treatment increasingly popular today. Equally dynamic as a stand alone treatment, or as pension of a programme of retain for hair position systems such as IPL or laser, electrolysis will organization for you.