Gender Rights Maryland executive director Dr. Dana Beyer will present “Boychick — Treading Water and Breaking Out, A Life in Two Acts,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St.
Beyer, 61, is a retired eye surgeon and former candidate for the Maryland state legislature. She went on to become a founding board member, and later director, of Gender Rights Maryland, which advocates for the transgender community.
Beyer grew up in New York City and first came out when she was 11; however, she noted the coming-out process is never truly finished.
“I have come out multiple times — slowly to my children and ex-wife and fully when I transitioned,” she said. “I went one day from being my old self to someone entirely different. People think coming out is a one-shot deal but it is a process that takes years. It took 40 years from start to finish for myself and there is also the process of coming out to yourself.”
She said she learned of the term “transsexual” at 14, which set her on a challenging journey to self-acceptance.
“When I told my parents that I was a transsexual, they had no ground to stand on. When I was 14, suddenly there was a word, a surgery and possibilities, which created a potential for success but also scared me,” she said. “When you are comfortable in your closet, you can live with that and manage and it limits you but it is you; it is cis-comfortable, warm and protective, and when your realize there is a door, it is frightening.”
She started her transition about a decade ago.
Beyer said she has been fortunate to have a fairly seamless experience.
“I have been blessed but that is not true for everybody,” she said. “It does get better and it is getting better.”
Before transitioning, Beyer earned her medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1978.
“I went into ophthalmology, which is the one specialty that has no distinction between the genders,” she said. “Most of medicine has sexual dimorphism. I found it ironic that I went into the field that is farthest away from sex and gender.”
After Beyer suffered from illness, she retired and decided to focus her energy elsewhere.
“Part of my recovery was engaging in myself,” she said. “I became an advocate and activist and wanted to give back to those who gave me a chance to transition.”
She served as vice president of Equality Maryland, executive vice president of Maryland NOW, a member of the board of governors of the Human Rights Campaign and was a candidate for Maryland State Delegate in both 2006 and 2010.
Beyer’s first campaign came just a few years after her transition.
While she said she didn’t experience blatant transphobia, she does hope the landscape for trans candidates is improving, as she plans to run for the seat again next year.
“I don’t believe there was any particular transphobia in my district. I live in a highly Democratic district. The party and support structure was not comfortable with me and some didn’t endorse me due to that but, come 2014, I think I will come closer,” she said. “I had great media [support] and I helped educate them and they quickly became allies and friends.”
Beyer said she plans to draw the discussion away from her identity in the next race and focus more on her platform.
“This time I will do it differently. Although that kind of identity is relevant and it has a story and the prejudice and bigotry has toned down a bit, I want to engage people on my policy positions.”
After the last race, Beyer helped found Gender Rights Maryland in 2011 to generate support for rights issues impacting more on transgender and gender-variant Marylanders.
Although the state enacted a marriage-equality law earlier this year, it has yet to adopt a transgender-specific nondiscrimination law.
She said Gender Rights Maryland and other trans groups are working to represent segments of the community that can get cast out by mainstream LGBT organizations.
“Independent trans groups have been growing up and Equality Maryland left the trans community behind,” Beyer said. “It is better in general that part of the community should have its own community voice. There are no trans people in the legislature yet so it is important that trans people still have a voice.”
Beyer said she hopes attendees at her upcoming presentation will be motivated to follow her lead and be out and proud in their own lives.
“The most important thing an LGBT person can do is come out proudly, civilly and with a smile. We all have obstacles, challenges and are closeted for one reason or another. We all have issues but it is important to come out.”