Barbara Minney on poetry, marriage and transition December 9th, 2019
by Noor Hindi
As a teenage boy, some of Barbara Minney’s happiest moments included dressing in her mother’s clothes. She remembers sneaking into her mother’s closet when no one was home and putting on her mother’s slip, which she recalls as “silky and smooth” against her skin. In her mother’s room, Barbara would pose in front of the mirror, feeling more outgoing and independent than ever before.
It would take Barbara, 66, more than 40 years to understand why these moments were so liberating. Today, Barbara is a proud transgender woman. “I never, ever dared to dream that I would have the happiness and the joy and the magic in my life that I have now,” she says.
Barbara spent most of her life feeling depressed and unhappy to the point of feeling suicidal, but she never realized why. Growing up, she says her family was a typical ’50s and ’60s family. Her father worked as a superintendent in the local school district in West Virginia, and her mother worked as a teacher.
As a kid, Barbara resembled a typical boy. She played Little League baseball, participated in outdoor games with other kids in the neighborhood, and collected baseball cards. She describes herself as academically successful because of the pressure her dad put on her. “He was highly intellectual and very demanding in terms of our academic standards and behavior,” she says. “He was a perfectionist. Being good was not good enough. It had to be perfect.”
Barbara carried her father’s ideals with her as an adult, later pursuing a degree in law from the University of Dayton School of Law. She describes her adult life as all-consumed with work, often using work to bury the depression that she battled. During vacations with her wife, Marilyn Minney, she was “not really there.” “[Work] was stressful,” she says. “I was very depressed. At one point in my life, I was on three antidepressants at the same time. My wife actually called the police on two occasions because she thought I was going to commit suicide.”
Today, Barbara realizes her unhappiness stemmed from “living a life as a person that I really wasn’t.” In and out of therapy for most of her adult life, Barbara finally found a counselor who helped her link her depression to her lack of freedom to express herself in the gender that feels truest to her.
After retiring at 60, Barbara attended a support group to try to figure out whether she was transgender. A pivotal moment for her was when the leader of the group approached her after a meeting and validated her experience, which Barbara says was “scary at the time” because it meant contending with her identity.
What followed the meeting is Barbara’s difficult journey to becoming the woman she is now. Though she had no desire to have gender reassignment surgery, Barbara did get her breasts done, and continues to take hormones.
“There were big swings in my hormone levels which meant big swings in my emotions, my moods, my mental state,” Barbara says.
Additionally, Barbara dealt with a lot of self-doubts while transitioning, which her wife supported her through. In order to help each other, Barbara says they had to acknowledge that they “were transitioning as a couple.” In order to be as open and honest as possible, Barbara and her wife kept a journal that they’d both share and discuss with each other. The journal continues to be one way the two ensure the lines of communication are open. Marilyn says finding a community of other trans people helped her understand Barbara more. “I was very scared,” Marilyn says. “I couldn’t even envision that there was even a community out there. I thought both of us would be out on an iceberg floating.” On Oct. 7, 2018, Barbara and her wife renewed their wedding vows as two women for the first time. It was also Barbara’s 65th birthday.
Today, Barbara feels like the Akron community has accepted her for who she is, though she regularly has to call event organizers before entering spaces to ensure she’ll be welcomed. As a transwoman, she says she’s not always accepted by feminist organizations who “do not always welcome transgender women.” And as a translesbian, she also faces backlash from lesbians who think trans people “cannot be lesbians because we were born male.” Despite her identity, Barbara says she has never been attacked or called out, which she attributes to the fact that she can pass as a woman in most situations.
“I realize that’s a privilege, one I don’t take lightly,” she says. “You’re obviously not as much a target. I can walk in any restroom and not really be challenged and questioned, whereas some of my peers cannot.”
Within the Akron community, Barbara is known for her poetry, which she often performs at Latitudes Open Mic on the third Wednesday of each month at Compass Coffee. She also attends Chicklits Book Club, which she feels is a safe space for her. Aside from this, she works as a volunteer for PechaKucha, a speaker series.
Though Barbara has always been an avid reader, she has rediscovered her love of poetry since retiring and uses it as one way to combat transphobia. In her poem “Happiness,” Barbaras writes, “When did it happen / I can’t be sure, / years of repression, denial and sadness, / years of not being me…”
She says the response to her poetry has been “incredible” so far. “A lot of people have come up to me and said, ‘Your poems have really touched me. They’ve really spoken to me and they’ve given me an insight that I didn’t have.’ And that is very rewarding,’” she says. The poetry community has been important to Barbara, who has not always felt accepted by the larger LGBTQ+ community. As a member of the Log Cabin Republicans and a Christian, Barbara says her beliefs are “not necessarily aligned with the community” and she often feels “rejected” by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I tend to be conservative in my views,” she says. “Probably more towards the libertarian side than the conservative side. But still, I’ve been a lifelong Republican. I was a Young Republican since college and I’ve stuck with that all these years, and stuck with those beliefs, [which are] not popular in the community.” Barbara reconciles her identity as a transwoman and her political affiliations as a lifelong Republican by believing she can make change from the inside.
“What I do is I look at the big picture, not just individual issues,” Barbara says. “And as the big picture goes, I’m more aligned with what Republicans believe than what Democrats or progressives believe. I also am of the belief that trans people such as myself can work to change things from the inside instead of battering on the door from the outside.”
Currently, Barbara serves on the board of directors for CANAPI, which provides education and outreach to the HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ+ community. She continues to tell her story through her poetry and live her life as an open transwoman.
“I am a woman. I may have balls, but I am a woman. I want to be feminine. I want to be accepted as a woman. Period.”
Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Senior Reporter. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.