The title delivers on its promise, and so much more: “Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man,” by Brian Belovitch, chronicles the highs and lows of a “gender outlier and his dramatic journey through the jungle of gender identity.” Born into a working class, first-generation family in Fall River, MA, Belovitch writes with heart, honesty, and grit, about life as a queer teenager, a transgender woman named Tish (and, later, Natalia Gervais), an HIV-positive gay man, and an addict transformed by sobriety. The Blade recently spoke with him, in advance of two area appearances, on Jan. 15 and 17.
Why did you decide to write this book now?
I started it way back when, in the ’80s, and had shopped it around, and no one was interested in anything trans back then. In fact, there was not a good reception at all. It was very negative. So it tells you a little bit about how the times have changed. And I wanted to write it because, it’s a message of — I know it has a lot to do with gender and identity, but it’s also a message of survival and hope. I also wanted to make sure it was my version of the story, and not someone else’s.
What did you discover, during the writing process?
I was very surprised at how much more respect I have for myself, as someone who struggled through difficult circumstances. It gave me a renewed sense of confidence. It was cathartic in many ways, but painful, obviously, to revisit some of the things.
Did the book change your perception of yourself, past or present?
When you’re a young person trying to find your way in the world, the way people perceive you is how you form your own ideas about yourself. The idea is, you’re going to grow up, be successful, fall in love, and make money. I really believed that becoming another gender, and living the American dream of being married to a handsome man, was going to solve all my problems. I had such high expectations of fitting in, like everyone else. But it didn’t work out that way.
At this stage of my life, it doesn’t really matter to me as much. But perception, back then, meant everything to me… Validation, I guess, is a better word than perception. We live in a culture that validates external achievements. It validates beauty, education, intelligence, and conformity. I mean, look at the state of the world. Don’t get me started on that… I can only be the best person I can be, and try to effect change.
Why did you transition, back to Brian?
By making myself this beautiful, exotic creature, there was a certain sense of excitement that came from that. I had gone as far as I could possibly go in creating this identity that I thought was going to bring me all the happiness in the world — and what actually happened was the exact opposite. It didn’t bring me love, success, calm, peace, and satisfaction. What it did bring me was a lot of rejection, a lot of ridicule, a lot of obstacles. I didn’t fit into the straight world, I didn’t fit into the gay world… I was objectified. I felt like I was a sex object… and it was the beginning of the AIDS crisis, and I had tested HIV positive.
What did you get from being high, and what did you replace it with when you got sober?
The high gave me a false sense of confidence. It made me feel powerful, invincible. It made me feel like I could do anything I wanted, and I didn’t have to think about consequences. When I was using crack and freebasing cocaine, my whole life became about chasing that all day. Giving that up, in a way, is like transitioning.
As a sober person, I started to really understand, or find my own truth, about things I really liked to do. I’ve been sober now for over 32 years… Slowly, you start to fill it [intoxicants] with things that are more meaningful to you. I started writing, and went back to acting in plays. I was lucky enough to get some work with the Ridiculous Theatrical Company. But it’s not just one thing you can replace that with. You have to take a look at yourself and find out, what are the things you want to do with your life.
As an HIV survivor, I had to work very hard in my sobriety to keep my health insurance because I had to keep a roof over my head, to keep my doctor’s appointments, my head above water in the area of employment. When you’re taking care of yourself in that way, it builds confidence…. The [contemporary] high for me is calm and peace and stability. I love stability. I treasure stability and sanity more than anything. That’s what replaced the high — and, also, being of service and helping others has been a huge, huge gift.
How do you identify now?
People keep forcing me to come up with one. But for convenience, I would probably be a cisgender gay male of trans experience. I’m never going to not be trans. I’m not trying to erase my trans history. It was a great thing. I had a blast. There were some aspects of it that were really fantastic. But as with anything else, you gotta take the good and the bad, and come up with some sort of decision.
A documentary (“i’m going to make you love me”) by Karen Bernstein is expected to be released later this year. There’s also talk of a narrative feature film. “Imagine,” Belovitch speculated, “the brouhaha over who’s going to play a transgender character who becomes cisgender.”
“Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man,” by Brian Belovitch, is available at skyhorsepublishing.com. Belovitch will do a reading, sign books, and conduct a Q&A, at LA’s Book Soup (8818 Sunset Blvd) on Tues., Jan. 15, and at Dog Eared Books, in San Francisco (489 Castro St.), on Thurs., Jan. 17. Author info at brianbelovitch.com.