Trans Awareness Week: Marsha Botzer Discusses the Past and Present of Gender Activism

For Trans Awareness Week, the Emerald is publishing interviews by the Ingersoll Gender Center with important trans community members and the work they are doing for gender equity. This content is produced by Ingersoll Gender Center and provided to the Emerald for publication. To read the other interviews in this series, click here.

by Karter Booher

Marsha Botzer is the founder of Ingersoll Gender Center and LGBTQ movement pioneer. Karter Booher of Ingersoll Gender Center interviewed Botzer on Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Marsha #3

Who are you and why are you doing this work?

I do this work because it means we’re able to live. And able to live in society in a safe and healthy way — it’s that simple really. Getting to those goals — that’s the challenge! I founded Ingersoll Gender Center because of these needs at a time when desperation and loneliness was excessive among us. And our every step and every move in all these years since 1977 has been fulfilling those goals — doing whatever we can to help make life safer, healthier, and frankly more wonderful for anyone facing gender identity issues.

What did that look like in 1977?

It looked as if you were standing on the edge of a vast desert, on the surface not much going on. But the magnitude of that challenge was also a source of energy for me amid the pain. This was the reason I was able to do what it took to get our original therapists, doctors, other caregivers, and our original board of directors together. I want to thank all those thousands of people from that early time on that made Ingersoll work. Their efforts — especially our support group facilitators who have done the most direct of our direct service work — made it happen, and did it with grace and integrity. Today we have a fine staff that carries on the original mission and original hope in new and powerful ways. I’m very proud.

What did those early conversations around trans inclusion look like?

Like so many other human needs, when there was finally enough organizing around this, there was the beginning of a home for the discussion of gender identity issues. But only the beginning. It took the minds and hearts of a great many individuals from the LGB community and from the community that gradually grew around Ingersoll to begin a set of conversations about gender and identity that led to the first glimmers of larger acceptance. The way that looked was no access no help, no trained professionals, no services in the beginning. And that was the work of the first decade or more. After that, as I see it, I learned enough to enter in to the political and social change world with emerging progressive organizations in the L, G, B and slightly T world. Which led to either myself or Ingersoll participating in every legal, political and social change effort that included trans issues from the 80s on.

What were some of those first conversations like?

Sitting most of the night in one or more of the small offices (like the Lesbian Resource Center or Seattle Counseling Services) in conversation about being trans — what it was, what it wasn’t, why it should be part of the larger LGB community. Many thought that perhaps it shouldn’t. The result of all those conversations — hundreds and hundreds of conversations — was a core of allies emerged to join in that early work of making access to care possible. I’m forever grateful to Seattle Counseling Services because they were truly one of the leaders in this. Since then, all of the LGBT organizations have joined in one way or another with us. I was a board member of many of those organization over many years, and now it is simply a part of life that gender identity is recognized on our various boards and organizations. In those early years it was not recognized.

One example I remember was when the organization Hands Off Washington spent a day debating whether transgender should be included in a statewide initiative, and when the vote came it was yes. It was the first time I ever encountered a unanimous yes for transgender inclusion in a major LGBT organization. The conversation began with our consultants telling us if transgender was included in the initiative that we’d lose by over 90 percent. It was truly an act of unity to stand together for inclusion. I was very proud of being a part of that day and that decision. Since then I’ve been able to be a part of many of those conversations — even at the national level at organizations like the LGBTQ Task Force

What is the most important thing the community should know about your issue?

The most important thing to know is when we speak of transgender, gender nonconforming or gender diversity of any kind, we speak of humanity. We speak of diversity, not any kind of pathology. Know that and you know there’s nothing ever to fear from these issues of gender and gender identity. That’s how we win the hearts and minds that become our allies and move us all forward — and I mean all — because to support this core element of humanity is to say yes to the whole human project.

What’s been the biggest disappointment  for you or your work in the last five years?

My biggest concern, not disappointment, is that like all other movements for equality and justice the growing pains of new organizations and new forms of collaboration can’t be avoided.  They are part of doing the work. That puts an extra burden on all of us who are passionate about the specifics of gender and identity. But it also ultimately will grant us the same strength that other powerful movements have won through the same process.

What’s been the biggest victory for you or your work in the last five years?

The essential overcoming of fear. I mean the fear that difference in gender identity has aroused in the past – and of course I know still does in some — but because of all the people who have worked so hard over all of these decades that conversation is now accessible and new generations can use those tools to craft the world I spoke about earlier — one of safety, one of health and access and opportunity for transgender people, and for all of us.

So I say this, if your heart and mind are inclined to doing this work, join us! Let us change the world together. Remember the words of Robert Green Ingersoll: “The time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, and the way to be happy is to help make others so.”