Born in Anchorage, Alaska in 1957, Marcus Arana was given the name Mary by his parents. As one of three children in a working class household, Marcus moved around a lot, going to San Francisco and then to Fresno, where he spent most of his childhood. After his parents divorced in the early 1960s, Marcus and his brothers lived alone with their mother, surviving off of welfare and suffering from daily abuse and neglect. Marcus left this dysfunctional home at 14, moving to a cooperative farm outside of Fresno, where he worked to pay his way through a private “hippie” high school. At this school, Marcus found a supportive community of like-minded queer kids, and at 15 he came out as a lesbian. This got Marcus started as an activist, as he was soon speaking on panels before college psychology classes, describing what it was like to be a young lesbian.
In 1976, Marcus moved to the “queer paradise” of San Francisco, falling immediately in love with the City’s vast array of queer bars and its grassroots organizing. Moved by Harvey Milk’s call to be out and proud, Marcus never hid his queer identity. During the 1980s, he helped produce women’s music festivals in rural northern California; and in 1994, Marcus finally began his transition. Since then, he has done vital work for the transgender community. During 10 years with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, he trained over 2,000 San Francisco police officers in transgender community awareness, integrated transgender women into women’s shelters, and helped draft protocols for the fair treatment of transgender inmates. Marcus authored two reports for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and is an expert witness in police protocols on treatment of transgender people. 
In 2004, Marcus met two-spirit people for the first time. This helped him to connect with his Blackfeet and Ohlone heritage, embrace his indigenous two-spirit identity, and find a deep, spiritual balance to all the different elements that add up to Marcus Arana. 
Marcus was one of OUTWORDS’ first interviewees. He immediately invited us to call him Tio (Spanish for ‘uncle’). In his personal life, Marcus has battled cancer, physical disabilities, and homelessness. But his spirit, warmth, and wisdom always shine through.
Mason Funk : Those are some cool names... call you Tio.
Marcus Arana: Yeah, no, whenever you get an Indian name, people will always say things and when I was given my Blackfeet name, all of the old ladies in the neighborhood were like, “Oh, that’s a good name, it’s got old man in it, that means you’re going to live to be old.” “oh, that’s a good name, it’s got holy in it, that means you’re blessed.”
Mason Funk : That’s very cool. Where were you born and into what type of family?
Marcus Arana: [00:02:00] I was born in the territory of Alaska in the city of Anchorage in 1957 into a Catholic family. My father was working in radio engineering which is why we were up in Alaska and my mother was a 1950s housewife. So I have a younger brother and an older brother and my younger brother was born in the state of Alaska. And then we left in 1962 and came to California. My mother and father were both born in California and raised in California so that’s how we came here. But the story of me really begins in Alaska because that’s where I first got my sense of who I am. And uh, and it’s a remarkable story, it sounds almost like a cliché but I went to the movie Pinocchio when I was 4 and I saw the blue fairy and she turned Pinocchio into a real boy and I immediately came home and I asked my mom for a blue fairy, “Mom. Mom, I’ve got to have a blue fairy.”
[00:03:00] “Why do you need a blue fairy?” “So I could be a real boy.” And I was like excited that I had found a blue fairy key to everything but I was also kind of pissed off that nobody had told me about the blue fairy before now. And she, my mom was a native San Franciscan and she was very sophisticated and she was appropriately sweet about it and she said, “Oh Honey, you can’t be a real boy, you’re a little girl. You have an innie, not an outie, your brothers have outies, they’re real boys.” So I learned when I was 4 that I had to hide my gender identity and that’s where the sense of being different began was at a toddler before I even hit school. I knew I was different and I knew somehow, it was something that couldn’t be talked about. So when you’re a masculine little girl, you get called a tomboy.
[00:04:00] And I think in the world of kids, it’s probably easier to be a tomboy than a sissy but I think it’s only marginally easier because I still got picked on and I got called names and I got boys beating on me and little girls not wanting to play with me so it was kind of a solitary childhood. I did a lot of reading and flying kites and hanging out with the dog. My little brother would play with me so we’d play army man and I liked to play baseball and football and things like that, watch cartoons every Saturday morning. Total cartoon, comic books, I drew and painted, spent a lot of time in my room.
Mason Funk : Were your brothers over the years, would you say they were your allies, your buddies, your adversaries, over the years, how did your relationship with your brothers evolve?
Marcus Arana: [00:05:00] My brothers were, I mean there’s always squabbling among siblings so any childhood experience with 3 kids is going to be kind of bombastic in a certain way. But when it came to being queer and especially after I came out, both of my brothers were accepting and defensive in terms of being protective so nobody freaked out. And I remember one time we were all riding in a car together back when 3 people could sit in the front seat and I was in the middle and this beautiful woman walked by and they all tracked her with their eyes. Then they swung around and realized that I was tracking her with my eyes as well. They both laughed and said, “Well, I guess we all share something in common.” So it wasn’t a difficult experience and my mother was also very good when I came out as well.
Her words were, “Thank God you finally figured that out, you’re probably going to be a happier person and definitely more pleasant to be around.”
Mason Funk : So, when was this and what led you to this, I would assume this was your first … You told us about how your gender identity had to go underground initially so was this first coming out as a lesbian?
Marcus Arana: [00:06:00] Absolutely. Coming out as somebody who is attracted to females, I was attracted to both females and males but I was having crushes on females, I wasn’t having crushes on boys, I was having crushes on girls. My 4th grade teacher was my first crush, Mrs. Noble. She read Charlotte’s Web and she cried in the end when the spider died and it just like won my heart over. At age 9, I knew that I was attracted to girls but also you know at a very early age that that’s a bad thing, that’s a wrong thing. So even by age 9 I knew words like lessie and fag and that was in 1966. So, you spend a childhood as a little queer kid who has to keep that under wraps, it wasn’t until I was 15 that I finally came to grips with it. And I remember I was sitting in my friend’s house and I was kind of lamenting about the problems in my life and she looked at me and she said, “It sounds like you need a good man.”
[00:07:00] I shook my head and I said, “No, I think I need a good woman.” It’s one of those moments where like something comes out of your mouth and you can’t really take it back so that was my coming out as a lesbian moment. And I was fortunate because I was going to this private hippie high school that there were other queer kids so I wasn’t the only one. So high school was not a terrible experience in that regard.
Mason Funk : Even like …
Speaker 3: The beeping from the construction vehicle is slightly audible.
Mason Funk : Right, yeah.
Speaker 3: I don’t know what you can do...
Mason Funk : I’ll keep an eye out.
Speaker 3: …. for it, if it seems like it’s really important we’ll just do something important here.
Mason Funk : Yeah, yesterday at Lina’s house, she’s a little more cars and we were just like, “What the fuck?” We wait and they would go whoosh! Then we would just continue, we got figured out.
Marcus Arana: Yeah, we had the J train outside of one of my shoots.
Mason Funk : Really?
Marcus Arana: Yeah.
Mason Funk : J train, where’s that?
Marcus Arana: It runs down Duboce Street so every time we’d go to shoot a scene we’d have to wait for the J train to go by.
Mason Funk : [00:08:00] So tell me this, in the ‘70s, you’re saying that you were in a hippie high school and there were other out queer kids?
Marcus Arana: There was …
Mason Funk : Set the stage for me.
Marcus Arana: There was this …
Mason Funk : Do me a favor, just start by saying, “Yeah, in the ‘70s in high school …”
Marcus Arana: [00:09:00] Yeah, in the ‘70s in high school, it was kind of cool because there I met this lesbian girl named Cindy. And she was kind of this Janis Joplin looking hippie chic who was queer, unapologetically queer and out and it was the first time that I had ever met anyone who was out and queer and a lesbian and it was wonderful. So there were other kids who had permission to say, “Well, I am one too.” And so by my 2nd year in high school, there were probably a half a dozen of us, 2 boys and 4 girls who were this little gay codra at this high school. It wasn’t a bad thing and the other students weren’t picking on us and the values of the school were very elevated in a sense so nobody was going to look down on the queer kids. And it turns out that 2 of our teachers were actually lesbians.
I come out at 15 and by 16, I’m hanging out in the bars and the after-hours clubs. I’m sitting in a bar one day having a beer because I could pass for 21 and this voice behind me says, “Weatherly, I was wondering when you were going to show up.” It was my high school teacher, Pam who sat down and had a beer with me. The gay bar experience was a lot of fun because the first time I went in …
Mason Funk : Your favorite, start that thought again and say … You’re talking about in San Francisco?
Marcus Arana: No, this is Fresno.
Mason Funk : Oh, even more important...
Marcus Arana: This is Fresno.
Mason Funk : Okay. So This high school was in Fresno?
Marcus Arana: This is in Fresno.
Mason Funk : [00:10:00] Okay so we’ve got to rewind a little bit and you’ve got to tell me that, basically, “My parents moved to us to Fresno but then they put me in this kind of crazy, hippie high school.” Otherwise people are going to think you were in San Francisco.
Marcus Arana: [00:11:00] Sure. No, we left Anchorage in 1962, we moved to San Francisco for 1 year where I went to kindergarten and then my father wanted us to have a small hometown upbringing so he moved us to Fresno and that’s where I was raised. So, In the early ‘70s, a bunch of college teachers started this private hippie high school that essentially had no tuition, I was a poor kid on welfare, my parents were divorced and my mother knew that I was on the verge of dropping out of school so she allowed me to go to this hippie high school. That’s where there was this caudry of gay kids. So I was one of 6 out students in high school. What was remarkable about that is that at that point, City College of Fresno was actually having panels presented in psychology classes with lesbians and gays like that was a big deal. And so we were out doing queer youth stuff long before there was even a phrase of queer youth.
Mason Funk : Wow, okay. This is to me at least, a bit of a revelation, in a place like Fresno you could find a little space for queer kids and for queer presentations on college campuses and stuff like that in the ‘70s.
Marcus Arana: [00:12:00] It was pretty remarkable. I mean the early ‘70s all across the country there were these little spurts of consciousness raising. Anywhere that academia was happening, there was going to be this kind of a milieu and I was fortunate enough to have been plugged into that milieu and met those academicians or I would have languished in some public school and probably have dropped out. I left home when I was 14 because life was full of poverty and abuse. My mother was not dealing well with her divorce and I think that she was undiagnosed bipolar but I couldn’t handle the beatings, I couldn’t handle the filthy house, I couldn’t handle the poverty and the hunger so I actually moved to a farm and worked my way through high school living on a farm.
Mason Funk : Huh. Who were the people on this farm?
Marcus Arana: This was the People’s Union Co-op Farm which was some hippie farm outside of Fresno that was incidentally partially funded by Joan Baez. And at one point her ex-husband, David Harris and their son, Gabriel lived there. And so I had babysat Joan Baez’s son when I was 14.
Mason Funk : [00:13:00] Wow. So what was that...give me a little more detail about the family, the dysfunctionality that led you to leave your family. Your parents divorced … To the extent that you … You don’t have to go into gory detail but just paint me a bit more of a picture.
Marcus Arana: [00:14:00] I think that...My family’s situation like I think a lot a lot of families is complex. In the 1960s in a catholic family, divorce was really a shady kind of thing. It brought shame to the family. But my father went off to Vietnam, he got an opportunity to be a civilian advisor and he went to Vietnam in the mid ‘60s and really never came back. After a couple of years there, he told my mother that he was divorcing her, he stopped sending any kind of money and we went from working middle class to welfare and poverty just overnight. My mother wasn’t equipped for that, she had a high school education, she had gone directly from high school into being a mother and had no job skills. Her situation was bleak and it was a shameful thing in the late 1960s to be on welfare as well.
[00:15:00] So there was a lot of shame, a lot of deprivation, a lot of poverty, my mother was mentally unbalanced and was beating us for doing things like eating food. “Who ate the cookies?” She’d line us up and interrogate us for hours at a time. She would go to lunch at 11 in the morning and come home at 3 am the next day. And she did it often enough that we actually joked about marathon lunches. That was kind of the normalcy of my childhood experience. She stopped cleaning the house at all so garbage was literally 3 feet off the floor and up the walls. Every year or so I’d go in with garbage bags and what I called mucking out the Augean Stables, I’d go in and clean out her bedroom. But I couldn’t bring people home, I couldn’t bring friends home, the house smelt filthy, there were millions of cockroaches, just incredibly dysfunctional. All of us left home certainly by the time we were 18 but I left home first when I was 14.
Mason Funk : Wow. Wow. So, how was this commune, how would you describe that in terms of an environment, you were still very much coming of age, you were young, you were …
Marcus Arana: I was 14, almost 15, it was a bunch of hippies smoking pot.
Mason Funk : Just say in the commune.
Marcus Arana: Okay.
Mason Funk : ...might turn it up.
Marcus Arana: [00:16:00] Thank you for reminding me. So in this commune that I lived in, it was just a bunch of hippies smoking pot, raising onions and alfalfa, we were taking hay to Saratoga for race horses, getting funding sometimes from … Joan Baez would give us charitable contributions. We would sell hay, we sold onions to A&P. So it was really just a bunch of hippies trying to run a farm. The guy who owned the farm, JC was an ex-con who had been in prison with David Harris. JC was in prison for pot, David was in prison for draft evasion and that was the Joan Baez connection. So that’s sometimes how money came in to the farm for certain projects. And so there were a handful of teenagers who gravitated to this farm who came from broken homes and rather than going into the foster system, we ended up at this farm and lived there for a couple of years.
So by the time ...I lived there for 2 years and by the time I was 16, I found a home with a woman who used to live on the farm. I never returned to my mother’s home after 14.
Mason Funk : You said taking hay to Saratoga, was that a race track there in that area?
Marcus Arana: [00:17:00] Correct. So on the farm we were raising alfalfa and we had a regular contract with the race tracks in Saratoga so we were bringing hay to the race horses which was a lot of fun when you’re a 14 year old kid to ride in a big truck and load hay up and down. But it probably explains my spinal problems.
Mason Funk : Wow, did you end up graduating from high school?
Marcus Arana: [00:18:00] I did and I want to say, I did end up graduating from high school and I want to qualify that because this was a hippie high school where if I walked to the store to buy rolling papers I got P.E. credits. If I grew a pot plant I got botany units. Having said that, we had to pass oral exams, I remember one of the questions was explaining the difference between an analogue and a digital computer. So the benefit of the high school that I went to was that it was not about regurgitation and rote memory, it was about learning how to learn, learning how to access information. And that was actually a very, more useful skill than memorizing the states or the presidents. I ended up with a high school diploma but a 0 grade point average because we didn’t have grades. So getting into college later in life in my 30s was a little bit of a difficult jump to say the least.
Mason Funk : You say college in your 30s so then some years went by. Where were you at … As best as you can describe it, now you can say you graduated from high school so you’re probably 17 or 18.
Marcus Arana: [00:19:00] I graduated when I was 16, I graduated a year early. I was working in the fields, I was working as a carpenter, I was working as a colony doing all these different jobs to support myself. I had gone back to Alaska for about 6 months to live with my father and he ended up tossing me out because he found out I was a lesbian so he sent me back to Fresno. Then when I was 18 and old enough to go off on my own legally, I moved to San Francisco and that was 1975, ’76, I moved to San Francisco. And San Francisco in 1976 was just an amazing place. There was the Center for Individual Responsibility which was kind of this clearinghouse for gay activities, there was the Stonewall Parade that happened every year, it started in the Castro and it marched to the Civic Center and it was very political. And that was the year that Anita Bryant and John Briggs were doing their thing, trying to pass legislation in California to ensure that no teachers could be homosexuals.
[00:20:00] In fact, no teachers could even support homosexuality as a viable lifestyle. It was the Briggs Initiative, prop 209 … Not prop 209. At any rate, it was the Briggs Initiative. And so there was a lot of activism going on around that, a lot of organizing, a lot of in the streets activism and it was pre-HIV, it was pre-AIDS so there was a lot of sexual freedom in San Francisco. There were bath houses that were opened, there were beautiful men everywhere, lesbians everywhere, there were 11 lesbian bars in San Francisco in the mid-1970s and I don’t know how many gay bars. So it was kind of a queer paradise after being a farm kid from Fresno to come in to this queer mecca and to be away from conservative San Joaquin Valley.
[00:21:00] I think a lot of my … Politics started to blossom at that point and I began to understand feminism and I began to understand gender politics and queer politics. When I came out in 1973, it was still against the law in California to be homosexual. And I was working in an after-hours club where all the windows were painted black because we didn’t want people to be able to see in. And we had a doorman who would flicker the lights on and off when the cops would come to raid the place so that the butch dykes would start dancing with the drag queens. We’d sort of try to look like some straight club from the outside. It was this weird, oppressive milieu, people were still cruising Radio Park to meet lovers and gangs of men were going to Radio Park to beat up people for finding lovers.
[00:22:00] So to come out of this San Joaquin Valley conservative Nixon kind of milieu into San Francisco was like this blossoming. It was like the sun coming out and you can hear the munchkins singing as we all went down the yellow brick road. It was beautiful, it was fantastic, there were lesbian softball teams, my rent at Octavian Haight for a 1 bedroom apartment was $180 a month. So life was affordable, life was political, life was very exciting. I met my first girlfriend … I had had girlfriends but I met my first serious relationship, Debbie and we got together here. She had a father, she had a family in New York. So, in 1977 we went to spend the summer in New York with her family who did not know that she was lesbian and did not know that we were lovers.
[00:23:00] So there we are, hanging out with her upper middle class, Jewish parents in their house on Long Island, in the same bedroom that she grew up in as a little girl and they don’t know that we’re lovers. And so that was interesting spending time in New York seeing what the right coast was like compared to the left coast. I didn’t realize I had an accent until I went to New York and people started laughing at the way I spoke. These were people who were walking the dog on the lawn but somehow the way I said mayonnaise and orange juice was entertaining.
Mason Funk : [00:24:00] Let’s pause for a second because I want to sort of focus on a bit more about San Francisco in this era. You mentioned the Briggs Initiative, I know a decent amount about the Briggs Initiative, I remember it was winning by quite a wide margin but then president or I guess ex-governor Reagan came out against it. A series of people that you might have expected not to oppose it opposed it and then the tide turned. That’s the little that I know but tell me what you remember more about the battle over the Briggs Initiative.
Marcus Arana: [00:25:00] The battle for the Briggs Initiative, to defeat it was a scary thing because we all knew school teachers and we had all grown up with school teachers who were queer or who at least supported the fact that being queer was okay. I thought about my own high school teachers, I thought about my mother’s college teacher who was gay and the fact that they were going to lose their jobs just because they were homosexual and that was wrong. So it really raised a lot of activism among progressive people, among queer people and it was a very polarizing initiative because it was couched in a way of, “We have to protect the children. We have to protect the children.” And so homosexuals were being painted as people who went out and recruited. And that was the whole line that was being given out was we couldn’t possibly procreate on our own so the only way that we can keep having more gay people is to go out and recruit young people and to turn them homosexual because that’s how it works, you know, we all got turned homosexual.
[00:26:00] We all knew that this was crazy and this was wrong. There was a lot of education going on at that point, people going into colleges, into classes and trying to change public opinion. There were gay teachers, brave gay teachers, like Tom Ammiano standing up and saying, “At the risk of losing my job, I’m going to stand up and speak out against this.” And I think when you demystify homosexuality, when you look at the taboo and you sort of demystify it and you put a human face on it and suddenly, you’re somebody’s next door neighbor and suddenly you’re somebody’s child, it’s a lot harder to hate us. And I think that’s kind of the turning point of where the post Stonewall generation made a difference was enough public education and enough out people came forward to say, “This is wrong, this is bad, here’s why, let’s humanize it. I’m your neighbor, I’m your sister, I’m your brother, I’m your friend, I’m your pastor, I’m your teacher.”
[00:27:00] That people like Ronald Reagan who had worked in Hollywood for years with a lot of gay people including Rock Hudson being one of his very good friends came out against the initiative. That was huge, that was enough to turn what was seeming to be a tidal wave against gay teachers into just enough votes to overturn the amendment. So it was a pretty amazing victory.
Mason Funk : Would you say for you personally, was that a pivotal moment or a memorable experience that galvanized something in you or led you to some different place than you were before, was something like that in your life or not because then you were just already … I don’t know, just throwing out there to see if it had that kind of effect on you in any way.
Marcus Arana: [00:28:00] To me, the Briggs Initiative was the place where I think I found a greater need for a concerted effort in a queer civil rights movement. I’d come out of the anti-war movement, I’d done a lot of protesting in the streets. But that was a point where I saw the efficacy of organizing, of grassroots organizing, of working with allies within a system, of creating equal pressures both within a system and outside the system to create change. So that’s what I saw the Briggs Initiative to be for me was the birth of a really organized movement in California.
Mason Funk : What do you mean equal pressures from within and without?
Marcus Arana: [00:29:00] When you’re trying to create change, if all you have are people standing outside of the institution throwing rocks at the windows, people inside the institution are not going to do much, they’re going to feel very defensive and very entrenched in their position. If you have people on the inside who have managed to get in to that position and they’re working on the inside saying, “Yeah, you know the people on the outside, they actually have some valid points.” When you create pressure from the inside and pressure from the outside, that’s when the change happens. But it can’t happen … You can’t have people alone on the inside and you can’t have people throwing rocks on the outside, it takes equal pressure of both to create that social change. And that’s been my experience since 1974.
Mason Funk : That’s cool, that’s interesting. What else did I want to ask, just about that era? Well, I wonder at this time in your life, what was your consciousness of your Native American heritage? Your father having been Blackfeet, what role was that playing if any in your life?
Marcus Arana: [00:30:00] I...so In terms of being Native American, I’ve always known that I was Blackfeet. My grandfather was half Blackfeet, my father didn’t think much of it, he didn’t really identify with being Indian. My grandfather didn’t really talk to me very much because I was a girl so I didn’t get much information. And Indian society for a number of reasons is a very closed society so it’s hard to come in from the outside and be a part of it and because I felt that I was getting white privilege from having also Irish ancestry, I didn’t push myself into Indian culture and I didn’t find an entrée until I became involved with the Two-Spirits in 2004.
Mason Funk : Okay. So It was kind of later …
Marcus Arana: It was, I was more in touch with being Mexican at that point than I was really in touch with being actively, politically Two-Spiriter Indian.
Mason Funk : Where did your Mexican heritage come from?
Marcus Arana: [00:31:00] My mother’s family are Mexican and Spanish and Scottish and Indian. So I have Ohlone roots from the San Francisco Bay area specifically San Juan Bautista. I have indigenous roots from Mexico, I have Mulatto ancestors that came out of Mexico so I have some African ancestry as well. You couldn’t tell looking at me, most people think I’m Jewish actually if they try to guess anything.
Mason Funk : You said something really interesting a minute ago about you were aware at an early age that regardless of what other ancestry you had, you were bringing white privilege. At least you appeared to be a white person, you had white privilege by virtue of above some parts ... When we were talking to Lani yesterday, she also has a very mixed, interesting heritage but she really had grapple with the concept of passing and what that means and the benefits that affords and the downsides. I wonder if you can … It’s such a vague question but can you talk about …
Marcus Arana: [00:32:00] No, it’s a good question. The concept of passing comes up in a lot of places, it comes up for being transgender and it comes up for being multiracial. So For me, I’d always known that I had Indian heritage, I had always known that I had Mexican heritage and I was taught to check a box that said I was white. So there comes this moment when you have mixed heritage, particularly early in the 1960s where things were black or white. You were either this or that, we didn’t talk about being mixed, there weren’t very many multiracial families, it had been against the law in terms of miscegenation up until 1969. So It was really unusual coming out of the 1950s to actually come from a mixed family so you didn’t talk about it. My grandmother would talk about our Castilian aristocracy but she wouldn’t talk about the Indian women that all of the Spanish men had married.
[00:33:00] It wasn’t until I did my own research that I really became aware of the indigenous part of my mother’s family but I had always known … My grandmother would say, “Castilian aristocracy,” and my mother would say, “We’re Mexican.” Having been a farm worker as well, I was really aware of that heritage and I’m sorry, I went off on a rail so you’re going to have to lead me back.
Mason Funk : passing.
Marcus Arana: [00:34:00] Passing so back to passing. So in terms of passing, at a certain point in a mixed family, we were taught to check the white box. I remember the moment it came because I think I was filling out school paperwork, I couldn’t have been 10. And my mother was probably teaching me to fill something out … Anyway, it asked for race and I had never come across this question anymore and I said, “What do I do?” She said, “Check white.” And started to argue with her. We were in public and I said, “But we’re …” She shut me down, “I said check white.” That was the end of the conversation of that. I was actually educated, taught to pass, taught to check the white box, always feeling conflicted about that because it wasn’t the whole story. And feeling in a way that I was having to sacrifice parts of my ancestor in order to fit in to the limited number of boxes.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that we actually got multiple choices when it came to ethnicity.
Mason Funk : Okay so just start off with something like, “In fall of 1978 …” Give me a little thumbnail of what you were up to.
Marcus Arana: So in the fall of 1978, I had moved from New York to Los Angeles, I’d been living in Los Angeles for a year and a half working in a props company making props for movies and Christmas decorations. And we were visiting my wife’s family in Denver, we went for thanksgiving that year to Denver.
Mason Funk : [00:35:00] Sorry, we have to backup a little bit… your wife?
Marcus Arana: My wife Debbie. She went from being my girlfriend to being my wife, we had a little ceremony.
Mason Funk : Let’s just skip that part of the story, okay?
Marcus Arana: Yeah, it’s really not a big story, yeah.
Mason Funk : Yeah, just stick on the main point.
Marcus Arana: Yeah. So I was there with my partner’s family celebrating thanksgiving in Denver in 1978 when Harvey Milk was assassinated. Harvey Milk was a big deal to me because I had been living in San Francisco when he was running for supervisor. I was there when he failed to be elected, I was there when he was elected. I remember his giant signs all over town, “Got Milk”, I remember him making public appearances and being in the gay parade, I even remember him setting up dog doo at Duboce Park to do a filming for his campaign.
[00:36:00] So Harvey was a big deal and the important thing about Harvey was his message about being out. What he said, I’m getting even goosebumps even thinking about it. What he said at that time made all the difference in the world to me and how I lived the rest of my life. And what he said was, “We’ve got to be out, we’ve just got to be out to everyone, we can’t have closets, we can’t hide. The more people get to know us, the more we get normalized in their minds, the better we’re going to make the world, everybody has got to come out.”
[00:37:00] And that moved me and that was a conscious decision that I made that I was never going to hide, I was never going to lie, I was never going to tell stories, I was never going to create a fantasy boyfriend to hide behind. Being out and being a role model became crucial parts of the kind of the activist that I became. It was really important and for years, even before I was doing concerted activism in the jobs that I’d had, I would be out in my social life and people would say to me, “You know I always hated gay people, I never cared much for gay people until I met you.”
I got this nickname in my early 20s, “Mary Sincere, the lovable queer.” So Regardless, just being out, just being me, just be lovable and human and unapologetic and not ashamed about being gay made a difference with every person that I met and every job that I went to and every person that I came across. And It’s not the first thing I would say when I would introduce myself but the minute that the conversation came around to, “Well, who’s your boyfriend?” I would set it straight so to speak and tell them no, it was the girlfriend indeed. So that message of being out I think was the most powerful message of a generation.
Mason Funk : [00:38:00] Do you remember a book called, “Coming Out: An Act of Love”?
Marcus Arana: No.
Mason Funk : Okay because we interviewed the mother of the guy who wrote this book in the ‘70s and he later died of AIDS but we interviewed his mother who’s 95 and... The whole point of that book was, you think you’re going to come out eventually, people are going to be mad at you and they’re going to hate you but what you are doing is an act of love. I thought it was very powerful.
Marcus Arana: Well, it’s a revolutionary act and the thing about …
Mason Funk : Say coming out.
Marcus Arana: [00:39:00] Coming out is a revolutionary act and the thing about coming out and being out is we don’t do it on our own, we’ve got families and friends that have to come out with us, that have to stand with us, that either are going to reject us or they’re going to be our allies. So they also have to go through their own coming out process too and how they feel about that. And that’s very different than my experience with my own race, I didn’t have to come out as Indian, I didn’t have to come out as Mexican, I never had to go home and say, “Guess what mom, I’m Mexican.” But I had to go home one day and say, “Guess what mom, I’m gay.”
Mason Funk : Talking to Lani, she was really involved in women separation movement in the 1970s, the mid ‘70s.
Mason Funk : How did you relate to the women’s movement as a whole, where did you kind of fit in the women … Did do you do any battle with the women’s movement about it being okay for you to be lesbian, where was your place? Were you a separatist or maybe because you carried inside of you this Two-Spirit identity, were you less inclined to want to write off one whole gender? Just fill me in.
Marcus Arana: [00:40:00] So the 1970s and feminism was an interesting time, certainly how it affected me. On one hand feminism was a good thing because I came to understand the systems of oppression that stand behind patriarchy and how that affects women, how that affects people of color, how that affects poor people. So that was an important part of the feminist movement, sorry, I got something in my eye. There also was at that time in the early and mid-1970s a faction of separatist feminists, of lesbians who did not want to have anything to do with men. And having been an abuse survivor and having dealt with a lot of unwanted male sexual attention, I toyed with that for a minute. I was really angry with men, I understood separatism, I could appreciate why women just didn’t want to have anything to do with men.
[00:41:00] And then I came to the realization outside of my own masculine self-identity that I had a father, that I had brothers, that I had men in my life that I really loved and that it was impossible for me to write off an entire gender with a broad brush. Indeed, I didn’t like having my own female gender being written off with a broad brush either, so why would I turn that around and do it against men? I learned to separate men from patriarchy and that determined the fact that I didn’t become a lesbian separatist and that I always had close relationships with men. And indeed, I’m functionally bisexual so even when I was dating women, having romantic relationships with women, in between girlfriends, I’d date men now and then because they’re very easy to date.
Mason Funk : [00:42:00] Okay so that’s interesting too because I … Maybe talk a bit more about … Then as an out lesbian, did you feel like you had to hide the fact that you would date men in between girlfriends?
Marcus Arana: As an out lesbian, I absolutely could not discuss being bisexual because biphobia in the gay world, in the lesbian world was rampant. It’s not an invitation to women to want to be with you if you say, “Yeah, by the way I’m sleeping with men.” So, I could never discuss that. In fact, a couple of my friends found out in my late 20s when they actually busted the day after one of those of dates and I had to come clean with what I was doing. And somebody said to me, “I would be less shocked if you told me you had shot heroine.” So you can imagine then it just wasn’t something that I felt very comfortable talking about but I’ve always been bisexual.
Mason Funk : [00:43:00] Can you break it down at all for us to explain … Did it just not matter, in other words, if you were just attracted to the person, did it not matter whether that person was male of female or were there different parts of yourself that you felt you could explore more fully when you were with a man as opposed to a woman?
Marcus Arana: [00:44:00] I think that … So when we’re talking about bisexuality, there’s a lot of misconceptions that people have, that you are incapable of stable relationships, that you’re going to stray if you’re with one gender and somebody else catches your eye, you’re immediately going to go off with the other gender. There was a lot of biphobia going on. My relationship with my bisexuality was an understanding that I related to men and women differently and the things that I explored sexually with them were different. So I tended to have far more emotionally intimate relationships with females, I fell in-love with females. I tend to have more vibrant sexual relationships with men, they’re easier to have sex with, they’re a lot of fun to have sex with, it seems very playful, it’s less of an emotional tie to me, not to say that I don’t feel emotion or affection but it’s not the heartbreaking kind of drama that comes with lesbian relationships.
So, I enjoy women for their softness, I enjoy men for their hardness. I enjoy women for their heartness, I enjoy men for their laughs and their fun and playfulness. Just different … Apples and oranges.
Mason Funk : [00:45:00] Yeah. Excellent, that’s really interesting stuff, I’m glad we touched on that.
Marcus Arana: Yeah, I’m glad you asked.
Mason Funk : Okay. One more thing about Harvey Milk because there’s a really cool project if you’re not aware yet, it’s called, imfromdriftwood.org. It’s a guy who started the project based on the fact that Harvey Milk would always hold up a sign that said, “I’m from …” I think it was Glenview. Do you remember that at all? As part of his … it was all part of that ethos you described where he was talking about how important it was to be out and his point in... holding up a sign with his home town on it was, “I/we are everywhere.” But I just wondered if you remember that at all.
Marcus Arana: [00:46:00] In terms of Harvey holding up signs saying, “I’m from Glenview,” I don’t remember that. I do remember in every speech he ever gave the constant reminder that we are everywhere. We’re in every big city, we’re in every small town, we’re not just in San Francisco, New York, that gay people, lesbian people, bisexual people are your neighbors. They’re your teachers, they’re they cop on the corner, they’re the doctor in the hospital. So really, the message was, “We are everywhere, we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it, get over it.” I think that the lesson that we learned from Stonewall was this great, pivot of self-image. Pre-Stonewall, queers were looking at their selves and saying, “What’s wrong with me, why am I so sick, why do I have this?”
[00:47:00] I remember when I first realized that I was queer, this horrible, sinking feeling of why did I have to be this? And what the Stonewall revolution and everything that came after that did was to create a change of self-image where we suddenly said, “You know what, it’s not my problem, it’s your problem if you don’t like it.” Harvey Milk built on that to not only say, “It’s your problem if you don’t like it,” but to say, “We’re here, we’re out, we’re always going to be out, we’re going to be your next door neighbors so let’s all be friends.”
Mason Funk : How did you hear the news that Harvey had been assassinated?
Marcus Arana: [00:48:00] I heard the news about Harvey’s assassination sitting around drinking eggnog with my girlfriend’s parents. And suddenly...I think we had the thanksgiving programming on in the background and suddenly a news flash came on. This was before CNN, this was before 24 hour news. When the news flash came on, it was usually something really big and it was, it was the double assassination of Moscone and Milk. It was heartbreaking, it was absolutely heartbreaking to have this man killed, to have this man murdered, not because he was gay but because Dan White was homophobic. And that he could just walk in and snuff out a life without even thinking about it was heart wrenching, it was absolutely heart wrenching. I’m sorry, I didn’t even know that was there. I would say that I was 21 years old when that happened and that Harvey Milk had been my first real, strong role model, I was 6 years old when JFK was killed.
[00:49:00] So, I was 10 years old when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. So assassination had been this fabric of my childhood since I could remember. So to have somebody who meant so much to me, who I’d had such great hopes for be killed for such a petty, ridiculous reason was heartbreaking.
Mason Funk : Yeah. So, you weren’t living in San Francisco. Were you part of the white night, were you there when the verdicts were... announced, did you witness any of that?
Marcus Arana: [00:50:00] So, when the white night riots happened I was living in Los Angeles at the time and we were watching everything over whatever was coming across the television, radio and the newspapers because that’s really all we had. There was no internet, there was no Facebook or Twitter, there was no kind of instant thing so we were just glued to radios and television sets, listening to the trial, listening to this ridiculous gay panic defense and then this ridiculous Twinkie defense. Just crazy and thinking, “Surely a jury is going to see through this.” The fact that they didn’t just said to everybody who was queer, “It’s okay if we kill you. People will get away with murder because you really don’t matter.” I really appreciate the rage, if I had been in San Francisco, I’d have been down there, I’d have been throwing rock, I’d have been screaming, I was young, I wasn’t afraid of being arrested at that point.
[00:51:00] I’m not a vandal, I’m not into violence, I’m not into burning things down but the rage that I felt when Dan White was let off, I can appreciate why people would want to light cars on fire, why they would want tear down City Hall and everything that that power structure represented. That really set the ground for Queer Nation to rise up and say in no uncertain terms, “Fuck you, we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
Mason Funk : It makes me wonder whether … Well, it’s a whole separate topic, we’ll get there in a minute. Okay, again during this time frame, so now you’re 21, it’s an intense time obviously to have this happen to you so right when you’re 21. What was happening with regard to that 4 year old who said, “Mommy, mommy, I want a blue fairy.” What was going on with regard to your gender identity during these years I guess?
Marcus Arana: [00:52:00] So, what does somebody do with their gender identity when they’re hiding it? Does it ever go away, does it disappear? There was always this background hum, there was always this high pitched whine, there was always this constant nagging sensation. Even though I had come into a lesbian life where I could be romantic with women and fulfill that, even though I could be this out lesbian and not care what people thought, there was still this knowledge of myself and if I couldn’t talk about being bisexual with lesbians, I certainly couldn’t talk about having the inner guy inside. And so for a lifetime …
Mason Funk : Pause one second...
Speaker 3: In 30 minutes I would say.
Mason Funk : 30 to go, okay, great. Okay and so, for a lifetime …
Marcus Arana: [00:53:00] So for a lifetime, I had disclaimer for what I would tell people because eventually when I would couple with a female partner, I had to say something, I couldn’t just hold this inside. I had this standard saying, “Well, you know I’ve always felt very much like a man inside a woman’s body but this is my karma and I’ve learned to live with it.” So this was kind of the truce I had made with the inner man that somehow I had figured out that I was born as this man inside this woman’s body.
Mason Funk : Pause one second, Okay so somehow I’d figured out …
Marcus Arana: [00:54:00] Somehow I’d figured out I was this man inside this woman’s body but somehow it was some great lesson plan that I was supposed to learn and live the rest of my life. And so I would pacify myself and yet it never went away and it was always this nagging sensation that followed me all through my teens, all through my 20s, all through my early 30s and through college and it wasn’t until 37 that I finally came to grips with being transgender, that I even learned the word transgender.
Mason Funk : Great. We’ll get to there …
Marcus Arana: Right, that’s why I sort of stopped there.
Mason Funk : Right, perfect. So, did you have any role models, were there … I certainly don’t know anybody, we’ve all heard of Renee Richards, Christine Jorgensen... but in terms of being a female to male transgender person, did you have any role models in these years, was there any representation out there at all of what you were experiencing?
Marcus Arana: [00:55:00] So where are the role models for transgender people, who do you get to see when you’re growing up? I remember in 1968, the book, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask” came out and it was by Dr. David Rubin and we were all just, “Oh great, this is beyond Masters and Johnson, this is beyond Kinsey, we’re really going to have just a plain dialogue.” I remember looking up homosexuality and he said, “One vagina plus one vagina equals 0. One penis plus one penis equals 0. Homosexuality is wrong, it’s bad, obviously if genitals don’t match up, it’s not a natural state.”
[00:56:00] So, you can imagine what he said about transsexuality being the same thing. So, The only images I ever saw of transsexuality came from books like that, came from funny stories about Christine Jorgensen, came from Renee Richards coming out finally as a tennis star in the ‘70s but never any female to male role models. And so there’s the sense that you’re the only one, that it must be this strange, unusual thing but there have to be other people like me. And in 1977, when I was living in Los Angeles, I opened up the San Francisco Chronicle one day and there was a picture of Steve Dain. And Steve Dain had been Doris and Doris had been teacher of the year the year before I think it was in the state of California, teacher of the year. Worked in Emeryville as a teacher and then transitioned to male and was fired from his job.
[00:57:00] And so the whole newspaper article was about this controversy about losing his job and it was somewhat around the same time as the Briggs Initiative. But for me, I remember the fascination of looking at the before and after pictures of Doris and Steve and for the first time in my life, at age 20, I was seeing a picture of somebody like me. And he looked just like any other guy, he had a beard, he had muscles, I didn’t see any moving pictures of him so I had no idea what he sounded like but he was just any other guy. And I knew that it was possible. There was no infrastructures in place, there was no way to access hormones, there was no words to describe it, it was still all about being transsexual.
Mason Funk : How did he transition, did he do hormones, have surgery of any type or was it mostly … In Steve’s case, how did he do it?
Marcus Arana: Steve Dain transitioned I believe through the Palo Alto clinic that had been started by Dr. Donald Laub. In the mid ‘70s there was a gender clinic in Palo Alto at Stanford and I believe that Steve went through that program as did a few other people.
Mason Funk : [00:58:00] You also say I guess by and large for you personally, there was no infrastructure in place, in other words, there was no path.
Marcus Arana: So for me, the appearance of Steve Dain was this beautiful thing because suddenly I realized it was possible and I could have greater conversations with people about it. On the other hand, there was no “how to” manual attached to that story with Steve Dain. I had no idea how he went from being Doris to being Steve. There were no support groups set up, there was no newsletter anywhere, no organizations set up for transgender people, the word transgender didn’t even exist.
Mason Funk : [00:59:00] So you mentioned a minute ago at the age of 37 when a big shift occurred for you. Just give us picture just to fill in the blanks of these years, say your 20s and your 30s, what were you doing out in the world during these years?
Marcus Arana: All throughout my 20s and 30s I was working as a radio disc jockey. From 1983 to 1993, I worked at several stations all throughout Northern California. So I went from being a carpenter and a cook and a heavy laborer to suddenly having a sit down job doing radio. It happened because I walked in to a radio station one day where a friend of mine was working in Garberville. I was watching him work and I realized, “I could do that.” And I became friends with the owners and I said to them one day, “I’ve never done this before but I know I could, can.” They said, “Yeah, okay, well volunteer, take a Sunday shift.”
[01:00:00] Within 3 weeks, they had promoted me to a full-time job in the morning and I worked there for 2 and a half years. I went from different radio stations through Redding, Arcata, Eureka being a radio personality. Then in 1987, I decided that I needed to go to college, that even though I had a high school diploma, I essentially had an 8th grade education. I was always going to be a laborer and I was always going to be earning minimum wage unless I went to college. So at age 30, with an 8th grade education, I became a first time freshman. I went to Humboldt State University where I studied American history. I carried 15 units a semester and I worked 20 hours a week and I worked my way through college and after 5 and a half years, I graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in American history.
[01:01:00] That was my ticket, just about the time that I was graduating college, I had met a woman from San Francisco named Nancy. And as soon as I graduated, I moved back down to the Bay Area because I wanted to be with Nancy. I got a lot of menial jobs, I was working customer service for DHL, I did some customer service and some office work for an incense company and then my big break came. And I say it’s my big break because I actually got into paid activism at this point. I’m 37 years old, I’ve got my brand new Bachelor’s degree, I’ve worked some customer service jobs, some office jobs and an office job, a secretarial position opened up at Community United Against Violence, CUAV. CUAV was an organization in San Francisco that addressed hate motivated violence against the queer communities and also addressed domestic violence within queer communities.
[01:02:00] It was really the first time that we started talking about domestic violence among ourselves. This was an organization that was, pretty much came out of a speaker’s bureau program started by Tom Ammiano in the late 1970s and became this organization. So I was the administrative assistant to the executive director and I started off doing office work there. And that was the context in which I came out as transgender and it was at a staff meeting. So we’re sitting in a staff meeting, debrief what all the different programs are doing and I’m taking notes because I’m the secretary. And one of the staff people says, “We keep talking about transgender people and offering services to transgender people but we don’t have any transgender staff members and that’s a problem.”
[01:03:00] I remember kind of weakly putting up my hand up sort of halfway and saying, “Well, I’ve always been a man in a woman’s body but it’s my karma and I’ve learned to live with it.” People kind of looked at me and said, “Okay.” Didn’t think much of it, didn’t say much of it. 2 weeks later, the same conversation happened, “We say we’re serving transgender clients, we don’t have any transgender staff members.” All of a sudden my arm shot up in the air and I said, “Yeah, you do. I am that person.”And it was like squeezing a tube of toothpaste where you squeeze it and all this stuff comes out and you can’t cram it back in, you can’t unring the bell, you can’t suddenly unsay the thought. But it was really the first time …
Mason Funk : [01:04:00] Sorry. What’s that? Okay, I think we’re all right. Could you repeat the thing because I like imagery, you can’t un … You can’t toothpaste, bell …
Marcus Arana: [01:05:00] It was like squeezing a tube of toothpaste where all of this stuff came out and you couldn’t cram it back in again, you can’t unring the bell, I couldn’t take back the moment of coming out. It was actually really liberating because for the first time really, I had been unapologetically out as transgender. I just learned this word, it sort of described what I’d been feeling for a lifetime, even better than transsexual. And it was liberating, it was magic, all of a sudden I felt this weight come off of my shoulder and that background hum suddenly got a little bit lower. And because I was working in this wonderful, queer milieu, in this great, progressive office, I suddenly had access to, “Oh, well you know there’s a support group that meets every Saturday over here.” “Oh well you know there’s a special clinic on Tuesdays, the Tom Waddell clinic, it’s run by the city of San Francisco. You don’t even need a psychologist’s permission.”
“Oh you mean I don’t have to get a diagnosis of GID?” “No, you just go down to this clinic and they’ll give you hormones.” And that’s what happened. I went to the clinic, I talked to a social worker, they did a physical exam on me and they said, “You know who you are, you’re really clear. We’re going to give you hormones.” They … Okay.
Mason Funk : I want to back up before I forget some of the things. So first of all, you mentioned transgender as compared to transsexual in terms of terminology, you said it fit you better, is that right?
Mason Funk : [01:06:00] If not, give me a sense because I certainly understand to a certain degree the 2 terms and how they’ve been used historically. What do they mean to you at that time and tell me what year you’re talking about.
Marcus Arana: [01:07:00] So, in 1994 through 1998 is when I was working at Community United against Violence. That’s when I first learned the word transgender. I had always heard the word transsexual and it had evoked images Renee Richards and Christine Jorgensen and not even Steve Dain to me. It seemed like this very heteronormative, everybody goes in and they come out good little straight people on the other end. And that didn’t quite feel like who I was because I was bisexual, because I knew that if I started living as a man that I’d be seen as a gay man. All of this was going through my head at that time. Guide me again.
Mason Funk : The term I guess transgender, yeah.
Marcus Arana: Right. For me, the term transgender was a broader term, It really meant to cross gender and that meant a lot of people in a lot of different ways. There’s paradigm of trans-sexuality being that everybody comes out as happy, little straight people on the other end didn’t have to be my paradigm. And I think that was what was liberating, having a more umbrella term. And the more transgender and transsexual people I met, the more I realized that there were lots of varying ways that people could transition physically. That it wasn’t just one prescription of you take hormones and you do all of the surgeries that you can do to your body.
Mason Funk : [01:08:00] Great. Was transgender as a term also did it fit you better also because not only were you not embracing the model of you going one end and you would come out the other end a straight person like you said but also that it was messing … You said this but it was messing … The transsexual terminology seemed to indicate you are from point A to point B, you are A or B. And Transgender seemed like a more … It was like an umbrella term, is that right? Was there is more room for variation?
Marcus Arana: [01:09:00] Transgender is more of an umbrella term, I see it to be more embracive. A lot of transsexual people I think at that time were seen to be very heteronormative which is not a bad thing if that’s what you are. But that’s not what I was. I was a radical queer and so it seemed like more of a restrictive term. In terms of being Native American and being Two-Spirit, transgender fit better for me because there’s still that person that I was born. I didn’t lose Mary when I became Marcus any more than Marcus wasn’t with me when I was living as Mary. So I’ve always had both of these people inside of me. Transgender just felt like it was a way that I could hold that imbalance.
Mason Funk : [01:10:00] That’s great. Now, you say that they said, “Go down to this clinic and they’ll give you hormones and they won’t make you go see a psychologist or get anybody to sign letters for you and so on and so forth. And they’ll give you the diagnosis I guess GID.
Marcus Arana: They won’t give you the diagnosis.
Mason Funk : They won’t give you the diagnosis. Where do you come down on the idea of standards and care of … It sounds like you were in a place where you didn’t want to have to kind of like submit your journey to the medical establishment. I know it’s not as simple as just saying, “Fuck the medical establishment.” So break that down for us because I’m sure you thought about the value of steps and protocols and all that kind of stuff. It’s not like you could just throw that all out the window but can you break it down for us?
Marcus Arana: [01:11:00] In 1994 and ’95 when I first started transitioning, standards of care were a lot more stringent. They were based upon this notion if you were transsexual, that you had Gender Identity Disorder. It was actually a psychological diagnosis. And it had funny criteria such if you were female, you always wanted to stand and pee. Not all of this criteria necessarily fit all of us who were transsexual. That’s another reason why I had a hard time with the term transsexual like, “That’s not me, that’s not my diagnosis.” Furthermore, I resent and resist this idea that I have a psychological disorder that makes me transsexual. I actually believe that it’s a medically treated condition. I think that it’s a medical condition, not a psychological condition, that for some people, it’s a social choice to be gender queer or to transition for gender, for some of us it’s not.
[01:12:00] It’s a very deeply compelling. There’s not this one certain way of being transsexual but for me, it was nice to be able to access the medical technology to transition without having to have a psychological diagnosis. And here in San Francisco, they had at the Tom Waddell clinic created a standard of care that was not based upon that kind of pathology, that was based upon more of a consent model, that you were an adult, that you made an informed consent about your own body, that people do body modification in all sorts of ways all the time and they are not asked to get letters from psychologists. You can get nose jobs, you can get your ears tucked, you can get your breasts enhanced unless you’re a transsexual woman then you can’t get your breasts enhanced unless you get a letter from a psychologist.
You can get your penis lengthened unless you’re F to M and then you have to get a letter from a psychologist. So I really resented this double standard, this gate-keeping idea that somehow my psychological well-being was what was at stake, that I needed a diagnosis in order to treat a medical condition.
Mason Funk : [01:13:00] Great, that’s fantastic. This kind of reminds me, we interviewed this woman in Denver last week who … She introduced me to the term community … The idea of a community based health care as opposed to I think what’s considered to a hierarchical. It’s an approach and I had never really realized, it was came up in the context of the AIDS epidemic and doing a community care model as opposed to a top down model.
Marcus Arana: [01:14:00] Well, a community care model is when you have advisory capacity of the affected communities. So when transsexual people participate in creating the standards of care as opposed to doctors who are not transsexual creating the standards of care. We have much more of a humane and approachable way to transition. So I think that the Tom Waddell clinic was more set up on a community model and as I said on a consent based model of you’re an adult, you can make your own decisions. We’ve interviewed you, you’ve talked to a social worker who’s clear that if you have any mental health issues, it’s not trans-sexuality and that we can treat any other mental health issues as such but we’re not going to conflate those.
Mason Funk : Correct.
Speaker 3: 10 minutes.
Mason Funk : Okay, we’ll go a couple of minutes and we’ll take a little break. So after the toothpaste came out of the tube, what were the ramifications to your personal life?
Marcus Arana: [01:15:00] What changed for me after I came out as transgender? Well, obviously a serious conversation with my girlfriend about transitioning. We had been together for about a year and a half, we had met as lesbians, she had just re-emerged from a heterosexual marriage into the lesbian world and I felt like I was taking something away from her. And so I had to have a conversation and negotiate with her and fortunately for me, she was okay with it. She was bisexual, she was okay, she wanted me to be happy. Then I had to come out to every friend that I had and say, “Well, no, I’m not really lesbian and no, I really have always been this guy.” And I was really worried that I was going to lose friends and I’m really grateful to say that not one person turned me aside.
The worst thing I got was from one of my old lesbian friends who said, “Well, you’re going to regret it.” I said, “Well thank you for your support.”
Mason Funk : That’s pretty strong.
Marcus Arana: [01:16:00] But she didn’t say I’m not your friend, she just said you’re going to regret it and I had another ex-lover who tried to talk me out of it. She said, “You know I’ve always felt strange with my own gender and I just think that you have abuse issues from your past that you need to work through and once you do that, you’ll be fine.” And you know, I was used to psychologists telling me if I lost 5 pounds I’d be happy. It was used to all that kind of, “If you just do this, everything will be right.” It didn’t make sense to me and I had known since I was 4 years old who I was so I wasn’t going to be talked out of it. Nobody understood me better than me and I was tired of apologizing, I was tired of making excuses, I was tired of having to create stories and disclaimers about who I was.
[01:17:00] So I was not so much asking permission as informing people about who I was going to be. I lost family, my father disowned me, he said, “You are dead to me, I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to talk to you, don’t call me, don’t come by.” And unfortunately in that 6 year period, my stepmother got ill and died and I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to her. I found out where the funeral was and I put on a suit and tie and I went to the Chapel of the Chimes and I stood in the back of the room. It was a Vietnamese funeral because my stepmother was Vietnamese and my father was in the front of the room with my older brother and he looked to the back of the room and he saw me and he came over and he introduced himself. He said, “Hi, I’m Marv, thank you so much for coming, how did you know my wife?”
[01:18:00] I said, “I’m really sorry dad that your wife has died, I loved Helen very much.” He was shaking my hand and he kind of looked at me oddly and then scurried away and then started talking with my brother and looking over at me and talking with my brother some more. So I think he figured out who I was but it was really unusual to have my own father introduce himself to me. I must have looked a bit different.
Mason Funk : Yeah, I’d say. Topic number 1, transgender health benefits. It’s a topic more than a story per se but obviously you feel that there’s something important to talk about there.
Marcus Arana: [01:19:00] Transgender health benefits is an important topic because by and large, covering transition procedures: hormones, surgery, psychology et cetera is not covered by insurance companies. It’s seen as experimental, it’s seen as cosmetic, it’s seen as non-medically necessary even though the standards of care indicate for a successful treatment of trans-sexuality, some kind of combination of hormone and surgical interventions are necessary. So we change the body, we can’t change the mind, we change the body. In San Francisco when I was working for the city and county of San Francisco, I had a discussion with my boss in 2000 when I was hired and I said, “You know, you’re offering exclusionary policies for me because there are procedures that I need that won’t be covered by my health insurance because I’m transgender.”
[01:20:00] I think there were many attempts previously by many activists like James Green and Claire Skiffington to get transgender health benefits into place. And It had failed because there wasn’t enough will power in the city and county of San Francisco. Fast forward to 2001, the city and county has more money, there’s a good tech boom going on and so we decide to challenge this notion. And we start meeting with the city’s health service system and we have to explain from the ground up why it’s discriminatory, why it needs to be changed because really it’s the law that you can’t have these exclusions. And so after many months of negotiation and education and tinkering, we devised a plan that for the first year was going to be just in the self-insured plan and then in previous years would be moved into the HMOs.
[01:21:00] And there was this great fear that it was going to cost a whole lot of money, that it was going to cost the city a million dollars a year. So they started charging every city employ $1.70. At the end of 2 years they had collected a 5 million dollar surplus because they found that actuarial information and expectations were wrong and it was affordable. But it was a big deal in 2001 to convince insurers, to convince Health Net and Kaiser and Blue Shield and Aetna that they’re eventually going to have to remove the exclusions for transgender health benefits and remove this notion that it’s cosmetic and not medically necessary. So the city and county of San Francisco by a narrow vote approved transgender health benefits for city and county employees, their dependents and retirees.
[01:22:00] And what was shown after a number of years is that it’s an affordable benefit, that it doesn’t break the bank, that it costs less to insure than things like heart care or fertility treatments or even substance abuse care. Really, it’s not the big bug boo that the actuarials were afraid of. Immediately, insurance companies across the country started being challenged by other institutions such as educational institutions back east such as the California … the university system here in California. One by one, these institutions also instituted transgender health benefits. Now, things like Medicare and Medi-Cal in California actually cover transition related services that they’re seeing as medically necessary so one little bit of activism at the Human Rights Commission in San Francisco created a great cascading effect across the nation in terms of coverage by insurance companies. So now they’re hard pressed to deny it under the law.
Mason Funk : [01:23:00] Right. That’s a great story not only for the immediate issue at hand but one of the things that I certainly hope, one of my visions for Outwords is that it can be used by people trying to create other kinds of change. You summed it up in a way, that is the moral of the story but I wonder if you could expound on that a little bit. In terms of how you make change, that was an example of how one piece of advocacy mushroomed. It can now be taken as almost like a little bit like a how to or a play book for at least some situations where people are trying to create change around a given issue.
Marcus Arana: How do we make change, how do we …
Mason Funk : Start over again, I coughed, sorry.
Marcus Arana: [01:24:00] How do we make change, how do we affect social change and policy change? I think it comes primarily through education, that’s where it started. For transgender health benefits, we had to educate our own commissioners and then we had to educate the health service board and then we had to educate the board of supervisors and then we had to go on national television and educate the American public. For a while I was a dog and pony show, I was a lightning rod and a poster child for transgender health benefits. So social change begins with educating about why it’s necessary. The more that stories come out about unfair denials, about an F to M who dies of cervical cancer because there’s no insurance to cover it. Then you can start...When you can start changing hearts and minds through education then you can start changing policies and start changing laws and that’s really what’s most effective.
Mason Funk : [01:25:00] And when you talk about education, you say you have to start educating … The first rung you mentioned was like, “I think the city, the Human Rights Commission,” you said. When you walk into a room to educate people who know nothing, on a given thing that is far outside their realm of experience, what is the most effective way to educate people about something that they need to be educated on and they might not want to be educated on but they’ve agreed to come into this room with you and potentially be educated. What type of education works best in situations like that?
Marcus Arana: [01:26:00] In terms of educating people to create change, I spent a decade in the Human Rights Commission working on that kind of curriculum. And the first thing you have to do is get everybody on the same page of we all hold thoughts, we all hold stereotypes, we all process information the same way, we all get caught into loops. I do a lot of exercises that get people in touch with how we get caught into loops, how we leave certain information out, how we make assumptions. Then we move into talking about stereotypes and specifically in this case, stereotypes around LGBT people. And what we inevitably find when we look at the stereotypes is they’re usually gender based. It’s really about gender transgression more than anything that heterosexism and transphobia are built upon. So you know, this idea of boys and girls not doing what boys and girls are supposed to do, that’s why this whole bathroom debate in North Carolina is freaking everybody out when really transgender people like everybody else just want to use a bathroom in peace.
[01:27:00] So this idea about acting outside of these carefully prescribed gender roles is where the tension begins for transgender people and for LGB people as well. So you have to get people in touch with where those assumptions are coming from and get them to understand sexism kind of being the root of all of this. And once you can get people to that part then you can start talking about, “What is the law, what are the policies, what do we need to change to make this happen?” Is there any law that separates people according to their genitalia in terms of using bathrooms? No, none whatsoever. Are there laws that protect people in bathrooms already from being preyed upon and peeped on? Yeah, already. This idea that we need to create new legislation is based upon nothing factual at all. But this idea ….
Mason Funk : Okay, but this idea.
Marcus Arana: So this idea that we have to create new bathroom legislation is not built upon any information at all. But this idea that we need to provide transgender health benefits is built upon a lot of information about unnecessary discrimination for medical necessary treatments.
Mason Funk : Great. Okay, topic number 2, the intersex report.
Marcus Arana: [01:28:00] The intersex report. In 2003 when I was working at the human rights commission as a discrimination investigator, we had been approached many times by intersex activists who wanted us to look at the medical normalization of intersex people. And what we found when we held focus groups and we held public hearings and we really did some deep searching is that people who are born with bodies that don’t readily fit into what we think are male or female are medically assigned a gender. And that’s determined by a doctor and that’s determined by the appearance of their genitalia.
[01:29:00] Even babies who have micro penises, undescended testes and XY chromosomes by intents and purposes are male babies. If the penis is too small, they will cut it off and they will surgically build a vagina in that baby. So they’re putting infants and toddlers and small children through non-consensual surgeries to alter their genitalia just because everybody else is freaked out. So it’s a social emergency that got turned into this medical emergency. We found that parents were not being given information about how to make informed consents and doctors were saying things like, “Your child is broken but it’s okay, we can fix it.” And so I talked to the head of urology at UCSF and I said, “So help understand this, why don’t you wait until these children are older so you don’t have to keep doing multiple surgeries because as we grow and our bodies grow, you have to do revisions on these surgeries. Really, building a new vagina in an infant baby is a pretty unnecessary procedure.”
[01:30:00] But this idea was, “If you do it early in life and you assign a gender, they’ll never know that they were born in any other gender. You rush in and you do this as quickly as possible.” So I said to the head of urology, “Why don’t you just wait until they’re older, until their bodies are bigger, until they can participate in this informed consent?” He said, “No, you couldn’t put a diaper on a baby.” I said, “You can’t diaper a baby with ambiguous genitalia?” “No, the parents would be horrified, you’d never be able to find a babysitter, really, it’s better for everyone else.” So this idea that it was better for everyone else, they were removing clitorises, they were cutting off penises, they were assigning medical genders to babies. And so these children of the ‘50s and ‘60s grew up to be adults who couldn’t have intimate relationships because they didn’t know an orgasm felt like, they didn’t know what sexual response felt like, they had no fertility because it was cut away from them, they had no chance to make decisions about their own bodies.
[01:31:00] It was horrifying every single day to open my emails and read story after story from all across the world about intersex people and how they were treated. And so we went to UCSF, we held a big public hearing and we got …
Mason Funk : ... just … Just somebody walk in. Okay, you went to UCSF.
Marcus Arana: [01:32:00] We held a public hearing and we invited all sorts of intersex people, we invited parents, we invited every stakeholder there was and we asked doctors to show up. And UCSF sent one doctor, Larry Baskin who proceeded to never answer the question about why don’t you wait and seemed thoroughly convinced that we were going down the wrong path and that really we needed to get out of the doctors’ ways because they knew what was better for intersex patients. And really, he challenged the report and said that these were just a handful of disaffected people who were angry, that this wasn’t … Everybody else was really happy. We could not find one single intersex person to come forward and say that they were happy with what had been done. We had people who didn’t have things done to them who came forward and said, “I’m so happy my parents didn’t put me through surgery, I’m so happy I got to choose my gender.”
[01:33:00] It was incredible the amount of resistance we got and UCSF said, “No, we only do maybe 1 or 2, maybe 3 a year, maybe 4.” He went from 1 to 4. 317 surgeries in a 3 year period in children as young as 3 months, most of them under age 2. The Human Rights Commission declared that medical normalization of intersex people is and always will be a human rights violation and that it should never be done in the absence of informed consent of the patient, not the parents, not the doctors, the patient. So what has come from this report? It’s being used internationally, it’s being used in all sorts of different places and slowly but surely, institutions that used to pass intersex people off as being unhappy, disaffected are actually listening to the activists, are actually working with groups like Advocates for Informed Consent to create models about how to deal with intersex children as they’re born and how best to offer the treatment for conditions that do need medical interventions and how to not offer treatments in places where it’s absolutely unnecessary. So yeah, it’s changing lives all across the world.
Mason Funk : All right, that’s fantastic, it’s amazing.
Marcus Arana: [01:34:00] Of anything that I have ever done in my life, that’s arguably the best thing I have ever done in my life.
Mason Funk : Do me a favor, tell me, as a stand alone thought, of all the things I’ve done in my life, the ____ is.
Marcus Arana: Of all of the things I’ve ever done in my life, of all of the education, of all of the policies I’ve created, writing the intersex report was the greatest single thing I’ve ever done. Yeah, I can’t tell you the horrors of hearing these stories.
Mason Funk : All right, topic number 3, Two-Spirits.
Marcus Arana: So who are the Two-Spirits?
Mason Funk : Well maybe you can couch it in the context of your own story. When did you begin to revisit that part of your identity? You get where I’m coming from kind of?
Mason Funk : ...Hold for that jet? Okay.
Marcus Arana: [01:35:00] Being Native American is something that I’ve always carried with me and had never known quite where its purpose was or what I was going to do with it. I really had no entrée into the native world so I sorta sat on the outside. In 2004, I went to do a transgender education training for a group called the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits. And I met Two-Spirit people, these are … We might say right off and say our LGBT Indians, that’s really a bad way of describing Two-Spirit people. Two-Spirit people are indigenous people who don’t fit inside the heteronormative boxes of male and female, that’s the best way to describe us, we’re outside the box. And so I train this group and after the training, I said in passing or incidentally I had Blackfeet heritage and they got very excited and they said, “Oh you need to come to the meetings and come hang out with us and be a part of this.”
[01:37:00] I said, “Well, I don’t know anything about my people, I know nothing about my traditions, I’m a person of mixed heritage.” And my friend Christopher looked at me and he said, “Oh that’s the excuse you’re using for ignoring your ancestors.” I thought, “Wow, he is right. I have been so white washed in my own world and so conditioned to check that white box that I completely forgot about all of these thousands of ancestors in my life.” And that was a life changing moment for me absolutely. I started going to the meetings and I started hanging out and I started going to different gatherings that were held throughout the country. They were held in Tulsa, and Montana at that point. They were just a handful, 3 or 4 Two-Spirit organizations in different places. Two-Spirit is a term that was coined in 1990 in Minnesota by an Ojibwe woman who had had a dream.
[01:38:00] And in the dream, this word was given to her to … An English word to describe those of us who are indigenous queers. And in our own languages, there have always been words to describe us. In the Navajo people the word is “nadleeh”, one who changes. The Lakota people, the word is “wintke”, he thinks he’s a woman. And among the Blackfeet people, there was somebody who was female bodied, born a woman but lived as a man their entire life. Was a war chief, had many wives, was one of the more prosperous and important members of the community. They were so beloved by the Blackfeet people that they named the greatest waterfall “Running Eagle” after this individual, Running Eagle who for all intents and purposes was female to male. And so In the Blackfeet language, a way to describe me would be her name, that person’s name. There’s all sorts of different ways that we were talked about.
[01:39:00] But when the Europeans came with Christianity that said that homosexuality was an abomination and they came and they met with the ambassadors who were all the Two-Spirit people because that was our job, they quickly started deciding that Indian people were savages and we weren’t meant to be reasoned with and we weren’t meant to be made treaties with and so they just started killing us because we were all godless queers. And so unfortunately, Indian people had to make great sacrifices and they had to let go of their Two-Spirit people and distance themselves from their Two-Spirit people. And in doing so after generation and generation, they forgot that the Two-Spirit people had been a part of the big Indian fabric. And so what the Two-Spirit communities now are working on in the organizations and now there are dozens of these organizations across Canada and the US is …
Marcus Arana: What these organizations are doing all across the US and Canada are re-integrating Two-Spirit people back into regular native life. So groups are very active on the reservations, groups are very active in the cities, in the Indian community groups. The local San Francisco group, BAAITS actually holds a powwow every year, they’ve done it for 5 years now. And they were really worried when they first did this powwow that the regular powwow folk weren’t going to come because it was a Two-Spirit powwow because it was going to be queer people. And we were so delightfully surprised that not only did the powwow people came out but they came out so much that we outgrew the venue 5 years in a row.
[01:40:00] It was too small to hold all the people who came out. What we came to realize is that the community saw it as just another community pow wow that was hosted by the Two-Spirits. So, in that sense here in San Francisco, that’s one example about how the reintegration of Two-Spirit people back into the Indian community, back into Indian traditions has been very very successful.
Mason Funk : What would you say it has meant or means to you too … In other words I guess to a certain degree, separate from being an advocate but maybe just, how has it affected your sense of your identity, has it made you feel closer to your ancestors for example?
Marcus Arana: [01:41:00] How has being Two-Spirit affected me? It’s affected me in so many ways. I’d say probably the most profound thing is this idea that I am an absolute embodiment of masculine and feminine and that I don’t have to disavow either one. Because when you transition, somehow there’s this idea that you’re expected to throw away the gender that you once were and for some people that’s really important and I honor that but for me, that always felt awkward. When I changed my name for example, I chose the middle name Demaria which is from Mary because I wanted to carry Mary with me wherever I went in my name. So being Two-Spirit and coming in to the Two-Spirit community actually allowed me to reclaim a certain amount of my femininity and to find it to be an appropriate part of the balance of who I am. And that in turn affects my spiritual life. I think that …
Mason Funk : [01:42:00] Hold on one second, just hold that thought... Okay, that affects your spiritual life.
Marcus Arana: And that affects my spiritual life because it provides a great balance. I think that for myself a a Two-Spirit person who is also transgender, I’m a great ambassador. I’m an ambassador from the Indian world to the non-Indian world. I’m an ambassador between men and women. As a bisexual person, I’m an ambassador between lesbian and gay people. So in many ways I think that Two-Spirit people are the balancing point. And that we’re a very important part of the foundation to keep everything in spiritual balance.
Mason Funk : How does it feel to be a balancing point? With you being an ambassador, does that feel like a heavy responsibility, is that a joy, is it both, is it other things?
Marcus Arana: [01:43:00] How does it feel to have the responsibility of being Two-Spirit, I think that Two-Spirit people will tell you that it’s a gift from creator, that very few people are called to be both male and female at the same time. To be able to bring a lifetime of experience, 37 years as a woman over 20 years as a man, to be able to bring all of that, to explain to people what different genders are like, I think it’s a gift. I think it’s a burden only in that it’s something that’s meant to be used, that I could hold my story to myself or I could sit here and be out and share that story. I can reassure everybody whether they’re Two-Spirit of transgender that we’re all male and female, that all of us hold these aspects, that nature really loves diversity and it’s only human beings that have a really hard time of it. Bless you.
Mason Funk : I was stifling a cough, at the same time.
Marcus Arana: I saw that. I wasn’t sure if it was hay fever or …
Mason Funk : No, I love that idea. That’s … Somehow coming from a very conventional background I sprung and I started loving diversity. I love the idea of people being able to enjoy diversity, difference as opposed to being threatened by it.
Marcus Arana: [01:45:00] We have animals, there are butterflies that are half male and half female, there are fish that change genders and birds that change genders. There’s all sorts of stuff that goes on in the world but we as human beings have such a limited perspective of what we allow ourselves to be. Being Two-Spirited and being transgender has allowed me to step out of these tiny, little boxes that had been prescribed. And the liberation in that is personal and if you can’t share that liberation with other people. I think an important part of what I do is not just talking to transgender people and other Two-Spirit people but talking to people who aren’t to say, “You have a gender identity too, I’m not the only one with a gender identity. You have masculine and you have feminine so don’t be so uptight about it and really just be free to explore yourself. If you want to wear a tutu, wear a tutu and dance around.”
Mason Funk : Go crazy.
Marcus Arana: Yeah, absolutely.
Mason Funk : Okay, fantastic. I have 3 follow up questions.
Mason Funk : [01:46:00] One is, to someone who … I sometimes say a young person but I realize this could be a person of any age who is just on the brink of a big coming out experience. What advice or insight or wisdom would you share with that person based on your experiences?
Marcus Arana: [01:47:00] What do you say to somebody who’s on the verge of coming out? God, it makes me want to cry to even talk about it. I would say you have to listen to yourself more than anybody else. Don’t listen to anybody else, listen to yourself because you know who you are, you’ve always known who you are. When you let other people define you then you miss all of the beauty that you can be. You are going to be the flower that you’re going to bloom to be so if you’re a petunia, don’t let people make you into a rose, be the best petunia that you can be. Listen to that inner voice, listen to that spirit that guides you and don’t let detractors tell you anything negative to keep you from that path. Look for people who have gone there before you, look for role models, find older people that you can talk to or if you’re an older person, find younger people you can talk to.
I find great inspiration every year going to the Trans March and talking to 18 to 24 year old, young, queer trans people who remind me how far we’ve come in the decade since I came out. It’s inspirational.
Mason Funk : Great, awesome. Number 2, what is your hope for the future?
Marcus Arana: [01:48:00] What is my hope for the future? My hope for the future is that one day, these stories won’t seem unusual, that one day … I’ve always said I look forward to a time when we look back in history at the times when it was illegal to be homosexual, when there was no marriage equality. And we look back with great amusement and bemusement and think it’s so quizzical that we would hold these strange notions about limiting love in such a funny, unnecessary, unnatural way. So my hope for the future is that all of this is just so normal one day, that nobody feels bad for being different because all of us are different.
Mason Funk : Fantastic. Last question, what is the value to you of a project like Outwords?
Marcus Arana: [01:49:00] What is the value of the project of Outwords? It’s beyond value, it’s invaluable, there couldn’t be enough added value that I could say about a project like this. There’s a number of important things that you’re doing. First of all, you’re getting stories from older people who aren’t going to be around a whole lot longer, I’ve had 2 different cancer diagnoses. So to have my story taken down and to be able to say to people across this film, “The world has changed, it’s gotten better, it’s still not there, we’re still moving towards change.” Trans women of color are dying in horrible numbers and yet the world’s a better place so the more we continue to work, the more we’re going to make a better world. The other value to things like this besides catching stories in oral histories is offering through storytelling education. That you can reach out through all of the medium, through whatever people can see this are going to hear these stories and they’re going to find themselves in their stories.
[01:50:00] And they’re going to find things that they didn’t know about queer people in these stories and they’ll find things about themselves they didn’t know in these stories. So in a way, education as I said in the beginning, education is how we create social change. Without these oral histories, without this look at how things do change and how we’ve created change and how we continue to create change, nothing will happen. There could be no greater value than a project like Outwords.
Marcus Arana: [00:01:00] Well, my legal name is Marcus Arana, M-A-R-C-U-S A-R-A-N-A. Most people call me Tio which is Spanish for uncle so it’s a nickname and an honorific. My native American names are several, my Blackfeet name which is my father’s tribe is “Natoyaniinastumiik” which is, “Holy Old Man Bull” and the old man bull is the buffalo who’s been around for many manydecades and he knows where all the cool water is and the green grass and he protects the herd so I was given that name. I was also given a name when I was adopted by a Chippewa man and that is which means “Creator watches over him”. You can call me Tio.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Goro Toshima
Date: July 26, 2016
Location: Community Room, The Infinity Building, San Francisco, CA