Friday, November 11, 2016

As One stories: Breanna Anderson

Breanna Anderson. Photo by Lou Daprile

LGBTQ activist Breanna Anderson shares her story 

Seattle Opera's latest production, As One, centers around a single transgender protagonist whose journey unfolds through two voices: baritone and mezzo-soprano. The company is proud to be partnering with members of the transgender and LGBTQ communities in its presentation of this bold, beautiful work. In fact, two individuals will be sharing their personal stories at the top of each show.

One of these community participants is 59-year-old Breanna Anderson who identifies as a transgender, queer woman. Anderson came out in 1990 at the age of 32 after 10 years of marriage and with three young children. By early 1992 she had transitioned to living her authentic identity with loving support of her family and with help from what was then a small-but-active transgender community in Seattle. In her professional life as a software engineer and entrepreneur, she has worked to promote improved corporate diversity policies and greater visibility for transgender employees. She is co-developer of Ingersoll Gender Center's “Seattle Trans Economic Empowerment Project” (STEEP) providing direct support and employment counseling for transgender and gender-diverse people. 

Over the years, Breanna has been in leadership roles of a range of LGBTQ organizations including the Seattle Pride March, LGBTQ Community Center and Ingersoll Gender Center. She speaks regularly on transgender identity and rights at colleges and community organizations. She lives in the Seattle suburbs with her partners Ryan and Maggie. 

You've worked hard for social justice, including gender justice, in your many years as an activist. Is there an accomplishment that you’re especially proud of? 
I’m particularly gratified to have helped Ingersoll Gender Center come through a tough patch around 2004, when it looked like it was going to expire. We weren't sure if changes in community attitudes and identities (not to mention, the Internet) had made the traditional role of education and peer support passé. We made some substantial changes and reorganized, and I’m thrilled at what an amazing resource it has become since then. Ingersoll is now entering its 40th year of service and every single week without fail for those 40 years, we have come together to be a vital community for those coming out or for the many who come here because it’s a relatively safe place. Every week, 50 or so people gather for mutual support. Ingersoll’s professional consult group helps to cultivate and educate healthcare and mental-health professionals across the region; it also provides fast referrals, and collaborative troubleshooting of a wide range of healthcare and insurance-related issues.

Tell me the story (or parts of it) that you will be sharing during As One. 
I call this story “Be Discrete.” When I was 12, my father caught me doing what I call “manifesting” my feminine identity, what some call “cross-dressing.” In the community, we just call it “dressing” en femme. I thought I was going to get the thrashing of my life or public humiliation or both. But instead he just told me to “be discrete” and left me to sweat. As a child, I totally didn’t get the subtext, but I got the message in spades. 

The story is about how we are implicitly and explicitly taught shame and secrecy about being different; that’s a universal message if there ever was one. I think we all have ways that we are suppressed and marginalized and told to hide. Sometimes, what we're told to hide is a part of ourselves that might be really essential to who we are. But to please others or to get along in socity, we have to push it down. Hopefully in time we can break through that shell and let ourselves shine through.

In regards to social justice for transgender people, what's one thing that makes you feel hopeful for the future?
I think that we are winning the battle for hearts and minds with cultural visibility that we could have only dreamed of 10 years ago. Legal protections and policy advances have been amazing in the last few years and healthcare parity is almost there. The idea that our healthcare concerns and needs are respected as legitimate and essential is kind of mind-blowing for folks of my generation.

And of course, the success of education and awareness is allowing young gender-diverse people, children, to be seen. Their expression is recognized as authentic; not dismissed as just a phase or a shameful thing to be hidden, eradicated or "repaired." For a child to be given safety and space to express their authentic identity is amazing and a challenge for parents, educators, and medical professionals. While support for gender-diverse is quickly growing, inevitably this support is also at the forefront of cultural and legal conflict. I think that a lot of us are waiting with baited breath to see how this new generation grows up, what their attitudes will be, and how they will change our culture and how we look at ourselves.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I’m extremely impressed with the care, attention, and investment that Seattle Opera has put into the production of As One. I was initially wary about another instance of trans stories being presented by people who are not transgender. It’s become a touchy point of late within the transgender community. Opera is a very technically demanding art-form and this is a very demanding piece. I wish we had transgender mezzo-sopranos to bring forward but I don’t think that’s the case right now. The story, written in collaboration with a transgender woman, rings true to me as authentic. The director and performers are really doing their homework to understand what lies beneath, and have that inform the performances. That transgender people are involved before, during, and after the opera to contextualize the piece helps a lot. In the end, I’m happy the story is being told in a new medium and, I trust, to an audience who is ready and interested to hear it and understand this human message. 

As One plays at Washington Hall Nov. 11-19. 
Tickets are $25 & $40 


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