“Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised by the acceptance you weren’t expecting.”
– Angela Gardner, Transgender Forum (TGForum.com)
TGForum.com is a weekly online magazine with news and features for the trans* community featuring a resource library, regularly published articles, and a safe space for connection, creativity and raising trans* consciousness.
Editor Angela Gardner took some time to connect with us via email to answer some questions about the one-of-a-kind online forum.
Jaye: Hi, Angela: your business is so robust. TGForum.com is extremely comprehensive–equal parts community website, news website, secure/private shopping stop, and much more. There’s a lot of introductory/Trans* 101 available too. That’s alongside resources for trans* persons of experience and the community.
So from 1996 to now, can you share with us how the site’s evolved over time?
Angela: The site was founded by JoAnn Roberts, Cindy Martin and Jamie Fenton. In 1996, there was no pre-built social networking site software like there is today, so Jamie Fenton built it from scratch. The first iteration of TGF was all HTML code done by the writers who contributed. Cindy Martin was the editor and she would get everyone’s HTML file by email and put the new content together for publication every Monday.
Content wise, the site was always meant as a forum where people could discuss and learn about all transgender issues. There was input from the significant others of TGs, humor in the form of cartoons, TG history in the form of articles and photos of drag through history and medical info; the list goes on.
At the time it was started,TGF was a subscription based site. You had to pay a yearly fee and when you became a subscriber, you could see all the content and use all the features such as the bulletin board, the chat room and create your own profile and post your photos. Non-subscribers could read the articles but couldn’t see the photos or graphics. That was the Free TGForum version.
As the Web got more and more free spots where TGs could interact, TGF subscription began to go down. The two other partners left and JoAnn Roberts hired me to be the editor. At my urging, she went to a free publication plan and solicited more ads to support the site, as well as asking for donations from users. The loyal users did step up with contributions and the site made it through the first decade of this century. Software for Web publication had caught up and surpassed TGF, so JoAnn changed over to a WordPress based site.
That was tweaked and modified into the TGF you see today. Two things occurred when we moved to the WP format: we started accumulating more registered users (registering unlocks certain features) and our page views began to increase. The old TGF archives going back to 1996 were taken down. So there is a wealth of information that is now not available, but I try to add back the more important and still relevant things every year.
Jaye: Ever-expansive. That’s so great. I know your your publication and forum addresses drag entertainers as well–do you think we’re coming to a place where trans* persons and drag performers are more mutually welcoming and inclusive?
Angela: I’ve always felt, and TGF’s stance has been, that drag artists are attracted to the whole idea in the first place because there’s some bit of “transness” in the personality. Most gay queens just think it’s because they’re gay but how many gay men take the time, effort and expense to dress flawlessly in drag? Some may do it for Halloween now and then but most have no more interest in wearing women’s clothing and makeup than the majority of straight men. So we feel that drag queens and female impersonators are our sisters on the transgender spectrum. There is still a lot of education to be done, but you’re going to see content about RuPaul’s Drag Race and other prominent queens on TGF.
Jaye: Fighting for the right to exist/fit in/have a “normal life…” it feels like such an irony. Societally, it feels like trans* living is still very much a battlefield. Achieving normalcy seems to be a right so many aggressively seek to deny. Have you seen a shift in-culture in terms of trans* persons around the idea of being stealth?
Angela: Stealth still goes on. It takes courage to declare openly that you were born a different sex than the one you’re presenting to the world. In some places that can still get you killed or beaten up. Not just in rural areas, but areas of some of our big cities TGs are often in danger. Stealth may actually increase that danger as a transwoman interacts with people in her sphere as a woman. Men are a threat since she doesn’t know how they will react if they learn that her genitals are not matched to her presentation or have been reshaped by surgery. Transphobia is homophobia and again, the world needs more education.
Jaye: What about feeling pressured to declare a gender (and opting out of doing so)?
Angela: Pick a gender! Start playing! Seriously, people should just be who they are. If a person doesn’t feel particularly one gender or another they should be free to experiment with any spot on the gender spectrum. Gender identity should be left up to the individual and once chosen should be honored by everyone. But being different will always be a challenge to some people. Again — education!
Jaye: On that note, do you hold any official TGForum events, or is your website more of a conduit and connection space?
Angela: No events other than our new content addition on Monday. It had been discussed from time to time, but we decided that our place was to bring information and a safe space to transgendered people on the Web. So no conventions or rave parties.
Jaye: Curious to hear your thoughts on this. Mister Cee’s public revelation about his connections with trans* persons has opened up some great discussions about love–why cis men and others are shamed for loving trans* women and what this says about our culture.
Janet Mock, Laverne Cox and others continue to address the idea and open the floor to a more inclusive and affirming discussion. Do you have any thoughts to share with our readers in light of these latest events?
Angela: I think this is part of the education that needs to be done. Mister Cee by coming out and being supported, even though he was outed against his wishes, lets other men who enjoy sex with transwomen know that their life might not be totally ruined if they stopped living on the down low and let their circle of friends and family know that TG ladies turned them on. Every TG admirer isn’t going to suddenly declare himself right away but it will get them thinking and maybe the hiding and skulking around TG nightspots to have brief encounters will diminish and they can start having honest relationships. That would be better for everyone.
From a personal perspective, I have a boyfriend and we go out to dinner a couple times a week. Often we are in the suburbs and now and then we do fine dining in Philadelphia. The number of times we have been treated with disrespect (presumably because I am TG) can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Or less. Most of the places we go, from diners to fine restaurants, people all treat us with the same degree of respect that they give the other patrons. So I think, at least around Philadelphia, the idea that TGs and their partners are as normal as any other couple is beginning to sink in. Again, with the caveat that there are some places it’s best not to go just because they may not be that enlightened. But sometimes you are pleasantly surprised by the acceptance you weren’t expecting.
Jaye: What is your opinion on the CIS cookies/CIS tears meme, and similar? [e.g. http://chaseross.tumblr.com/post/30953527685/recipe-for-cis-cookies]
Angela: I was unaware of the page. It seems an attempt at ironic humor but seems a bit bitter. TGs need to be aware that “CIS” people have never stopped to think about what gender they are. They may have experienced attractions to same sex people and had to wrestle with “am I gay” but the majority of them wake up in the morning and don’t even think “it’s great to be a man” or “I love being a woman.” That’s just the way they have felt all their lives. It’s only TGs who feel like a gender that doesn’t match their genitals, whether they feel that way all the time or part of the time.
So TGs might just want to give the other people a break. Go ahead and answer their stupid questions. Point them at websites where they can learn more. Yes, it’s annoying but if you bite their nose off they’re going to just spread the word that “boy those TGs are cranky.”
Jaye: TGForum proactively shares triumphs and successes that trans* people experience along with breaking news and calls to action. Is the LGBTQ community trending more towards this focus? Can you recommend similar sites, art or media that articulates the entire spectrum?
Angela: It’s hard to say. I am so focused on making TGForum the best source for information that I haven’t spent much time looking around. I suppose I should but….
Jaye: I understand you’re an artist as well, and expert at graphic design along with your editorial work. Do you have your own consultancy as well, and is that affiliated with TGForum?
Angela: I wouldn’t call myself an expert and I haven’t marketed myself as such. I look at TGF and see something that needs done (like the new content slider graphics each week) and I just do them. I learn the technique I need and apply it. Shortly thereafter, I may forget how I did it. So I don’t feel I’m an expert, just a person with some of the tools needed and a search engine to find out how I make this or that appear on the screen. If people want some graphics I’d give it a shot, but other than my weekly TGF deadline I don’t work well with deadlines.
Jaye: How can folks get involved with TGForum.com (article submissions, joining the site, advertising, volunteering—are subscriptions required for membership)?
Angela: There’s a link right on the home page under my picture that lets people submit an article or article idea. I’m happy to hear from anyone who wants to contribute and recently, we have added some folks who used the link. As I said, you don’t have to subscribe anymore, but if you become a registered user I can give you contributor or author status and your posts will be credited to you and your profile info will appear at the bottom of the post.
Jaye: Do you accept financial donations?
Angela: We stopped soliciting donations when JoAnn Roberts sold the site to a new publisher. What people in the community can do to add their support is to tell vendors who have products the community wants/needs to contact us about advertising.
Jaye: Excellent—thanks again for connecting with us and our readers, Angela.
Angela: Thanks Jaye! Let me know if you need clarification or have more questions.
As you can see, Angela is very accessible—if you want more information, you’re seeking resources or would like to contribute to TGForum in any way, she welcomes you to connect with her at www.TGForum.com.