Good Christian belle

Gay ally Kristin Chenoweth talks about her new country music CD (she adores Dolly!), queers … and the right way to be a Christian

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO KRISTIN | The performer has conquered stage, recording, TV … and uniting gay rights with her faith.

Kristin Chenoweth doesn’t get miffed very easily. But when she does, watch out. Last year, after Newsweek published a commentary on the inability of gay actors to play straight roles, she wrote an extensive letter to the magazine, calling the article “horrendously homophobic.”

But Chenoweth’s allegiance to the gay community goes back to growing up in Oklahoma — a place she returned to for her latest album, Some Lessons Learned, the first of four where the opera-trainer singer fully embraces her country roots.

We had lots to talk about when we caught up with Chenoweth, on a dinner break from shooting her upcoming series, Good Christian Belles. She discussed her history of dating gay men, her opinion on Michele Bachmann’s support of gay conversion clinics … and being a little bit wicked.

— Chris Azzopardi


Dallas Voice: Your character’s name on Good Christian Belles is Cockburn — Carlene Cockburn. Chenoweth: I can’t wait for my family to hear that one. Are you kidding? I was like, “Wait a minute…!” But I just think the most important thing for me as an actress, because of the lines that come out of my mouth, is to just have to speak them and keep going, because they’re so funny and her name is so funny and the whole thing is just so great. I love it.

Does your character have anything in common with April Rhodes, who you play on Glee? Probably not on paper, but they’re both pretty outlandish people. Carlene, though, is the antithesis of April.

You grew up in Oklahoma, so country music is your roots. How is your new album a reflection of that? It’s so funny, because I get asked, “Why a country album now?” But that’s how it all began for me. Of course, why would anyone know that? It’s not something I’ve been talking about a lot, but it’s the music I grew up listening to. One of my biggest influences is Dolly Parton, and when you look at the history of songs in musical theater and in country, they’re both usually great storytellers.

I know just how lucky I am to do this kind of music. Getting to go to Nashville and sing this music that feels like home to me was a real gift, and one that I don’t take lightly.

The song “What Would Dolly Do?” reminds me a lot of Dolly herself. I co-wrote that. [Producer] Bob Ezrin asked, “Who’s had the biggest influence on you country music-wise?” I said, “Dolly, without question.” And he said, “How would she approach it? Let’s think: What would Dolly do?” I said, “Bob, why aren’t we writing that song?”

There’s something about her that I feel very attuned to. There’s only one Dolly. I’m not comparing myself, but I’m just saying her spirit and the way she looks at life is pretty similar to me. And the cover I did of hers [“Change”] is actually a very emotional thing and it reminded me — of course, how could I ever forget? — what an amazing songwriter she is. You know, I didn’t do a lot of covers. I did two covers, one of Carrie [Underwood] and one of Dolly’s, and I just love both of them. I love their music, I love their spirit — everything they stand for.

It makes total sense, because, to me, both you and Dolly epitomize happiness. Oh my god, thank you. That’s the biggest compliment you could give me.

So, being so happy… what pisses you off? Oh, gosh! I don’t really get mad that often. But I’m not going to lie: When I do, there’s a quiet that comes over me that is a little like whoa, and that happens when I don’t feel other people are prepared or doing their job or pulling their weight. I come from a family where my dad came from nothing and worked hard to get where he is, and he said, “Work hard, play hard, Kris,” and I guess that’s kind of been my motto in life. So when I see people squandering opportunities or having a sense of entitlement, that really makes me crazy. Because I don’t understand it. It’s not a world I get.

One thing that does make you upset is homophobic people. I don’t like that, you’re right.

Your letter in response to that Newsweek column said it all. Why was it important to address your feelings on that issue? To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to happen. I was on Broadway doing Promises, Promises, and I read the article and I actually thought it was pretty irresponsible. I’m not even talking about whether a person agrees with being gay or not, I’m talking about artistry and gay

actors trying to play straight. It just made me mad, because I thought, “Well, I’ve played a prostitute, does that mean I am one? No.” I just thought it was a little bit of a bullying thing, and I honestly prayed about it — no kidding, I prayed about it.

And by the way, I’m a big fan of the magazine, which is why I was so bummed. But I think that they felt bad and hopefully there’s been some discussion about it and some learning, because that’s what we’re here to do on this Earth, to learn our purpose. Well, one of my purposes in this life — since I’m a believer and a Christian — is to help people realize that not every Christian thinks that being gay is a sin.

To reinforce your point, you made out with your Promises, Promises co-star Sean Hayes at the Tonys last year. It might’ve been a little jibe. It might’ve been a little one! Ha!

What was it like to make out with a gay man? Was that your first time? Well, let’s face it, my high school boyfriend is gay, so I don’t think it’s my first time making out with gay men! I bet a lot of women don’t even know they’ve done it! And Sean Hayes is just a darn good kisser, what can I say?

Wait, so you dated a gay man in high school? Yeah, and I’m like, “Well, that’s why we were such a great couple!” He didn’t pleasure me in any way but he helped me pick out my prom dress!

Was he one of the first gay people you knew in Oklahoma? Yeah. I want to tell you something I know about myself: When I was in the second or third grade, I first heard the word “dyke,” and it was in reference to a girl in our school who was very, very tomboyish. I didn’t really understand what the word was, but I knew I didn’t like the way it was said. And for some reason I’ve always been drawn to the person that was alone, and I don’t mean to make me sound like I’m Mother Teresa, because I’m not. But I’ve always been drawn to people who felt left out or different, and maybe it’s because, I too, felt different and unique. People would not think this of me, because there’s this perception of me that, “Oh, life’s been perfect and things have come so easily.”

But let’s face it: My speaking voice is very interesting. Yes, I was a cheerleader but I also wanted to do all the plays, I was in renaissance choir, and, I too, felt a little bit like an outsider. I was always drawn to people who felt that way, too. And sure, some of them were gay and I never did understand — I guess the word is fear.

God made us all equal. He made me short, he made someone gay, he made someone tall — whatever it is, it’s not a sin; it’s how we’re made. And that’s the way I feel about it. It flies in the face of a lot of what Christians believe, but as I’m finding out there’s a lot of Christian people who think the same as me. So that’s my deal, and I think we should not be careful of the unknown but rather accepting and loving of it.

As someone who’s Christian and supports the gay community, how do you feel about the pray-away-the-gay program that Michele Bachmann supports? [Long pause] You know what, you can have your opinion. One of the great things about being in this country is we get to freely say what we believe. I just don’t happen to agree with that. Though I like the “pray” part!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

One’s Gender Identity Isn’t Societal Perception Of It; Marriage Equality Isn’t Just A GLB Issue

Once again, I hear transgender people all over speaking for me. Here is Autumn once again telling me what’s good for me and to add insult to injury…whether I like it or not:

“That’s why trans people’s marriages are part of the concept of marriage equality, whether some transsexuals like that idea or not.”

Now that’s a lot of nerve…an unmarried, admittedly asexual, bisexual GLB and homosexual T activist telling me, a heterosexual, married female…what is best for me…and, to boot…whether I like that idea or not. Autumn has appropriated my place in life and told me absolutely why she knows better than I do…about my life.

And, make absolutely no mistake, Autumn and other GLB type are not – repeat NOT – going to cease telling women of operative history what is right for us whether we like it or not. As far as the GLB and homosexual T activists/rank and file are concerned, heterosexual women of operative history are 1) in same-sex marriages…whether we like it or not…reducing us to something less than-other than simply female, 2) are in the marriage equality movement which is simply another way of telling us we are in the same-sex marriage movement…whether we like it or not, and 3) will continue appropriating our positions…whether we like it or not, telling us that they know better than us what is best in our marriage and association…whether we like it or not.

~SA-ET (EnoughNonSense) in the blog post at Enough Non-Sense entitled Whether We Like it or Not

Sometimes, the misunderstanding regarding the difference between self-identification and external perceptions of identity — well, these find me in me sighing and shaking my head is some frustration. In my own experience I see the religious right, as well as what I would call the online, transsexual separatist community, conflate the connection of self-identity to the external perceptions of others — external perceptions that can result in harassment and discrimination.

So going to specifics, in the paragraphs I quoted above from the Enough Non-Sense piece — where SA-ET quoted my August 4th This & That diary — she drew a conclusion based on hers and her peers’ self-identification as women of operative history being a separate identity from transgender identity. They rightfully contend that their women of operative history identification isn’t very often found to be a transgender self-identity. Certainly I see the difference — a separation — between between the two identities.

SA-ET incorrectly indicated that I was telling her and her peer women of operative history that their self-identification isn’t valid; that I was telling them they are transgender, like it or not; that I was telling them that they must embrace the concept of the transgender umbrella for themselves, like it or not.

Thumbnail Link To Harry Benjamin's 'The Surgical Phenomenon'And too, I was using same-sex marriage to force them to become members of what they call “Homosexual T” . This concept of the “Homosexual T” is from Dr. Harry Benjamin’s The Transsexual Phenomenon (Copyright, 1967) in the segment entitled Relationship To Homosexuality:

There are homosexuals who get an emotional satisfaction from cross-dressing. It would be a matter of semantics to consider them “homosexual transvestites” or “transvestitic homosexuals.” They simply desire, for their sexual gratification, both cross-dressing and a partner of the same sex.

SA-ET apparently perceives me to be a “Homosexual T” . But just as SA-ET doesn’t identify as transgender, I don’t identify as “Homosexual T” .

For the record, I identify as a transsexual. If one uses Harry Benjamin’s Gender Disorientation Scale (related his book The Transsexual Phenomenon), I fairly closely align with Type Five: True Transsexual (Moderate Intensity):

Gender Feeling: Feminine (trapped in male body)

Dressing Habits and Social Life: Lives and works as woman if possible. Insufficient relief from dressing.

Sex Object Choice and Sex Life: Libido low. Asexual auto-erotic, or passive homosexual activity. May have been married and have children.

Kinsey Scale: 4-6

Conversion Operation: Requested and usually indicated.

Estrogen Medication: Needed as substitute for or preliminary to operation.

Psychotherapy: Rejected. Useless as to cure. Permissive psychological guidance.

Remarks: Operation hoped for and worked for. Often attained.

If only I didn’t sociopolitically identify as transgender, transsexual separatists might — per the relevant, historic documentation — consider me a “true transsexual.” But, of course, only after I had genital reconstruction surgery (the kind of surgery Dr. Benjamin referred to as the “conversion operation”).

But I digress.

I was mentioning this conflation on this past Monday when I had lunch with my friend Cecilia Chung. She helped clarify for me something that I already knew intuitively, but hadn’t recently articulated as a cogent thought. And that thought is this: being discriminated against because one is perceived to be a member of a minority group isn’t the same as identifying as a member of that minority group.

So, there are three components I’m discussing here: 1.) how one self-identifies; 2.) what others perceive one’s identity is, as well as those others’ preconceived ideas about how those others perceive one’s identity, and 3.) the perceptions of those who harass and discriminate against those whom they believe emulate or embrace behavior associated with a particular identity.

So let’s use the difference between the concepts of points 1.) and 2.) to show that others on the religious right don’t see genital reconstruction surgery as doing anything for the those who identify with Harry Benjamin Syndrome, or who identify as true transsexuals, classic transsexuals, women of operative history, etc.:

[Below the fold: Comments by second wave feminists and conservative “Christians” regarding genital reconstruction surgery, as well as statements by conservative “Christians” and courts as to why marriage equality even applies to those who have had genital reconstruction surgery.]

“Their regular response was to show me their patients. Thumbnail Link To First Thing's 'Surgical Sex' By Paul McHughMen (and until recently they were all men) with whom I spoke before their surgery would tell me that their bodies and sexual identities were at variance. Those I met after surgery would tell me that the surgery and hormone treatments that had made them “women” had also made them happy and contented. None of these encounters were persuasive, however. The post-surgical subjects struck me as caricatures of women. They wore high heels, copious makeup, and flamboyant clothing; they spoke about how they found themselves able to give vent to their natural inclinations for peace, domesticity, and gentleness – but their large hands, prominent Adam’s apples, and thick facial features were incongruous (and would become more so as they aged). Women psychiatrists whom I sent to talk with them would intuitively see through the disguise and the exaggerated postures. ‘Gals know gals,’ one said to me, ‘and that’s a guy.’

“The subjects before the surgery struck me as even more strange, as they struggled to convince anyone who might influence the decision for their surgery. First, they spent an unusual amount of time thinking and talking about sex and their sexual experiences; their sexual hungers and adventures seemed to preoccupy them. Second, discussion of babies or children provoked little interest from them; indeed, they seemed indifferent to children. But third, and most remarkable, many of these men-who-claimed-to-be-women reported that they found women sexually attractive and that they saw themselves as “lesbians.” When I noted to their champions that their psychological leanings seemed more like those of men than of women, I would get various replies, mostly to the effect that in making such judgments I was drawing on sexual stereotypes.

…”We saw the results as demonstrating that just as these men enjoyed cross-dressing as women before the operation so they enjoyed cross-living after it. But they were no better in their psychological integration or any easier to live with. With these facts in hand I concluded that Hopkins was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness. We psychiatrists, I thought, would do better to concentrate on trying to fix their minds and not their genitalia.”

~Paul McHugh‘s Surgical Sex

“Sexual “Reassignment” Surgery and various hormonal therapies represent the physical alteration/mutilation of the body to match a perceived — and self-defined — social role.”

~Caleb Price of CitizenLink, an activism arm of Focus On The Family

For someone born with male kit, the decision to ditch it is long, painful and often very expensive. Powerful female hormones will help you sprout pubescent breasts, have a waspish waist, and add a few inches to your hips, but they won’t alter the pitch of your voice or dispense with the need to buy Bics. Only hours of electrolysis will remove your beard and years of speech therapy lessons teach you how to talk like a lady. Massive surgery is essential. The penis is cut off, a cavity is created and, with skin taken from the redundant dick and testicles, a vagina and “natural looking labia” are constructed. Surgeons claim that they can create a fully functioning clitoris, and orgasm is possible – although not at all probable.

It’s important that these details are spelt out. Because gender reassignment is not simply about men in frocks; it’s about removing bits of a fully functioning body to be replaced by parts which, however they may approximate to the real thing, simply do not work. In any other case, this would be considered as nothing other than genital mutilation.

~Dea Birkett for The Guardian, via Press For Change

“Thanks to feminism and gay liberation, that situation has altered radically. What a disgrace, therefore, that our legacy amounts to this: if you are unhappy with the constraints of your gender, don’t challenge them. If you are tired of being stared at for snogging your same-sex partner in the street, have a sex change. Where are those who go berserk about the ethics of genetic engineering yet seem not to worry about major, irreversible surgery on healthy bodies? Also, those who “transition” seem to become stereotypical in their appearance – fuck-me shoes and birds’-nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls. Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease.

…I don’t have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man.”

~Julie Bindel for The Guardian

“There’s a gulf of difference between what Obama and liberals in Congress, and the American people deem ‘medically appropriate;’ especially when it’s ‘we the people’ footing the bill. To force Americans, against their conscience, to fund abortion on demand and to facilitate gender confusion by subsidizing the elective practice of genital ‘sex-change’ mutilation is unconscionable.”

~Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel

“Perhaps the state here might consider helping these severely disturbed individuals to get the spiritual and psychological help they need to align their falsely, self-perceived gender identity with their God-given gender reality.”

~Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel for OneNewsNow

And of course, marriages of people who have had genital reconstruction surgery are already considered same-sex marriages by conservative “Christians.” For example, Matt Barber in American Family Associations “news” arm of OneNewsNow, in the article Irish plan promotes same-sex ‘marriage’:

Ireland’s government is planning to permit transsexuals to marry partners of the same gender.

Ireland’s minister for social protection has confirmed that the government is committed to providing “legal recognition of the acquired gender of transsexuals.” Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel tells OneNewsNow that means a man who has been surgically altered to become a female could marry a man.

“It’s a shame that Ireland, a nation with such a rich [history of] family values…would be engaging in essentially legalizing the oxymoronic notion of same-sex ‘marriage,’ and that’s exactly what this is,” Barber laments.

The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) wrote in Transgender Marriage Is Coming:

Somers and Gast are suffering from a serious mental problem called a Gender Identity Disorder (GID). However, instead of a counselor helping each of them to overcome their bizarre feelings of being members of the opposite sex, these men found a surgeon who was willing to mutilate their bodies so they can become fake women.

And quoting the Supreme Court Of The State Of Kansas, TVC wrote:

“The words ‘sex,’ ‘marriage,’ ‘male,’ and ‘female’ in everyday understanding do not encompass transsexuals.

…A postoperative male-to-female transsexual does not fit the common definition of a female.”

And, the Supreme Court Of The State Of Kansas added :

“[T]hrough surgery and hormones, a transsexual male can be made to look like a woman, including female genitalia and breasts. Transsexual medical treatment, however, does not create the internal sexual organs of a woman, except for the vaginal canal. There is no womb, cervix or ovaries in the post-operative transsexual female.

“[T]he male chromosomes do not change with either hormonal treatment or sex reassignment surgery. Biologically, a post-operative female transsexual is still a male…

…”There are some things we cannot will into being. They just are.”

The Supreme Court Of The State Of Kansas decision, was heavily rooted in the Judgment of the Texas Appeals Court in the Case of Littleton v. Prange, which stated:

Christie was created and born a male. Her original birth certificate, an official document of Texas, clearly so states. During the pendency of this suit, Christie amended the original birth certificate to change the sex and name. Under section 191.029 of the Texas Health and Safety Code she was entitled to seek such an amendment if the record was “incomplete or proved by satisfactory evidence to be inaccurate.” Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. 191.029 (Vernon 1992). The trial court that granted the petition to amend the birth certificate necessarily construed the term “inaccurate” to relate to the present, and having been presented with the uncontroverted affidavit of an expert stating that Christie is a female, the trial court deemed this satisfactory to prove an inaccuracy. However, the trial courts role in considering the petition was a ministerial one. It involved no fact-finding or consideration of the deeper public policy concerns presented. No one claims the information contained in Christies original birth certificate was based on fraud or error. We believe the legislature intended the term “inaccurate” in section 191.028 to mean inaccurate as of the time the certificate was recorded; that is, at the time of birth. At the time of birth, Christie was a male, both anatomically and genetically. The facts contained in the original birth certificate were true and accurate, and the words contained in the amended certificate are not binding on this court. There are some things we cannot will into being. They just are.


We hold, as a matter of law, that Christie Littleton is a male. As a male, Christie cannot be married to another male. Her marriage to Jonathon was invalid, and she cannot bring a cause of action as his surviving spouse.

When I previously wrote that marriage equality is a trans issue, like it or not, I wasn’t saying that those who self-identify as women of operative history are transgender, like it or not. I didn’t say that those who self-identify as women of operative history who see themselves as simply women are in same-sex marriages if their partner is a non-transsexual male – like it or not.

What I’ve said — and clearly meant — is many in society (especially on the religious right) see marriages that include at least one partner that has had genital reconstruction surgery as being same-sex marriages. Like it or not, marriage equality is an issue for transgender people, transsexual people (which include those who identify as classic and true transsexuals), those who identify as both transgender and transsexual, those who identify as women of operative history, and those who identify with Harry Benjamin Syndrome. That’s because some feminists, the religious right, and some courts in some states have declared that people who have had genital reconstruction surgery can’t really change their sex — and that’s especially the case when it comes to determining who a person who has had genital reconstruction surgery has the freedom to marry.

We’re back to my three points I mentioned above:

There are three components I’m discussing here: 1.) how one self-identifies; 2.) what others perceive one’s identity is, as well as those others’ preconceived ideas about how those others perceive one’s identity, and 3.) the perceptions of those who harass and discriminate against those whom they believe emulate or embrace behavior associated with a particular identity.

There are societal and legal consequences for women who’ve had genital reconstruction surgery being perceived by many as being mentally ill, gender confused gay men. Marriage inequalities for those women who have had genital reconstruction surgery is a reason why marriage equality matters — whether one likes or not that marriage equality should matter to, and definitely applies to, those who’ve had genital reconstruction surgery.


Further Reading:

* TS-SI: Marriage Among the Forbidden Class

* First Things: Surgical Sex

* Harry Benjamin: The Transsexual Phenomenon

* Supreme Court Of The State Of Kansas: In The Matter Of The Estate Of Marshall G. Gardiner, Deceased

* Press For Change: Texas: Case of Littleton v. Prange (1999) (Text Of Appeals Court Decision)



* Wednesday This & That: Open Thread

* The “Alleged” Transgender Wife Of A Texas Firefighter And Inheritance

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Letters • 07.30.10

Perception of weakness

In the article “Letter criticizes FBI’s handling of Terlingua attack,” (Dallas Voice, July 23), the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School makes a very profound statement.

He said, regarding the victim of the attack, “I think he was targeted because he was perceived as weak and vulnerable.” He went on to elaborate that what mattered was the “perception” that the victim was “different.”

This is strikingly familiar to the story, several months ago now, of two men attacked in the Oak Lawn area by those wielding baseball bats (“Community outraged over assault,” Dallas Voice, May 21).

It was the “perception” of their vulnerability that more than likely made them the target of those who attacked them. But something made them stand out in the minds of their attackers.

It is the perception of being vulnerable that is really the issue here. It does not matter so much if someone is perceived to be “gay” so much as they are perceived to be “prey.” What was it that made them stand out in the predator’s/predators’ mind(s)?

The more we ask these questions of ourselves, the more we initiate those skill sets that allow us to think like a predator instead of prey.

A person’s gender, age, race, religion or sexual orientation are really superfluous to the issue at hand. What matters is the “perception” of vulnerability — period.

And there isn’t always safety in numbers. As the two men attacked recently will attest, four attackers still outnumber two victims, let alone if they have weapons.

I just spoke to a man in Uptown last week, late 20s and very physically fit, who was attacked by two men while on business in Atlanta. His level of fitness afforded him nothing when faced with two assailants when he was admittedly a bit “tipsy” leaving a nightclub, separated from his two friends and distracted by the new female friend he had just met inside. His two assailants knew he was vulnerable for several reasons.

Until we all ask those internal questions that only the individual can ask and then seek out the advice and training to help us fill in those gaps of vulnerability, the stories involving predator and prey will continue to be a recurring theme in our print and news media.

Jeff McKissack, speaker/instructor


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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas