Thursday, February 28, 2008

RIP Steve Dain - FTM Pioneer

So, I found out recently, that Steve Dain died of cancer at the age of 68. Steve Dain was an FTM who transitioned in the late 70's and lost his teaching job, he was a gym teacher in Union City. This was a big scandal and made the San Francisco papers, including the gay paper that was then -- "Coming Up" instead of "The Bay Times". I remember being 24, in late 1981, and reading about Steve in the local gay paper "Coming Up" and feeling an odd mixture of shock, excitement and queasy fascination. I remember accounts of him changing his ID, and speculation by the lesbian and gay press as to his motivations for changing his sex from female to male. Of course, I had heard of sex change, even female to male sex change. but what I had heard was vague. Later, I saw a picture of Steve, it was scratchy and dark in the San Francisco Chronicle. I had never, ever seen a photo of an FTM before in my life. I found it disturbing and unspeakably magnetic.

Those two articles were about Steve Dain and his fighting for his job as a teacher, a battle that he lost. Although the court would eventually decide in his favor, and allow him to go back to teaching, he was not able to find a school that would hire him.

After hearing about Steve, I did not hear of female to male sex change for another 7 years. The next time I saw anything about transsexual men would be in "On Our Backs", the lesbian sex magazine in 1988. There I spied the tiny ad that Lou Sullivan placed in the back pages for a support group for "Female to Male Transsexuals and Cross Dressers". He also offered information with a newsletter and handbook. I wrote to the address he listed in time, and began my own transition.

Later, I would meet Steve Dain. Steve had been Lou's hero. In those days, most trans men in the Bay Area went off on a pilgrimage to meet him as we entered medical transition. Lou had met with Steve years before when he began his transition, and Jamison Green would meet him a short time before I did. It was nearly a ritual, a rite of passage to meet with Steve. There were no trans men that we knew of who had come before him, Mario Martino was on the east coat, living in a safe obscurity, although some were in communication with him, and Rupert Raj was in Canada. Steve was nearby and our most visible example, and someone who each one of us hoped would confer wisdom, and a kind of blessing or validation. I think we all were a bit awestruck. And, Steve didn't let us down. I know he didn't let me down. I still remember meeting him in Union City, he picked me up from BART and I was taken with his easy and total masculinity. He was hirsute, and handsome, confident and kind. He was sensitive to each question I asked and his answers would influence me for the entirety of my transition.

I am so sorry that he is gone; time goes by quickly. He was about my age now when I met him, and now, was 68 when he died -- of cancer recently on Oct. 10, 2007.

Here is a clip of Steve Dain from a film he was in called, "What Sex Am I?"

"What Sex am I?" was ground-breaking in its time, even with its confusion of "female transsexuals" and "male transsexuals" -- and when I saw it in 1988 at an FTM support group meeting, I found it informative and enthralling. However, I remember that the film also had what a friend described as "hospital music" and the narrator was omniscient and oppressive with a tone of medical pathos; I wanted the documentaries I was in later to be dramatically different, and they were, starting with "Max" filmed in 1991. However, this film was not made by Steve, and its faults are not his. He was one of two FTMs in the film, and his presence was calm and confident -- he even had a bit of a swagger and a palpable pride in his masculinity. I owe him a great deal as does every trans man who came after him.

Rest in Peace Steve- and thank you, thank you so very much for being yourself and being brave enough to share that, with me, with other FTMS, and the world.


Marcus Vittitow said...

So Sorry To hear about Steven Dain's passing. He was certainly an inspiration to all of us. I never got fortunate enough to meet him. He gave me hope evertime I saww him on television. May his journey begin anew in the spirit realm. I hope Steven found in this life everything he needed for his soul's growth.

vrm27 said...

Sorry to hear of Steve Dain's passing. I have 1 correction to your post - Steve Dain did NOT teach in Union City, Ca. He was a teacher at Emery High School in Emeryville, Ca. I grew up in Emeryville and I was about 10 or 11yrs old when his transition made big news. Mr. Dain would have been my 7th grade gym teacher the following school year.