“Balancing work, activism, and family life is tricky,” shared Willy Wilkinson in a recent interview with Transgender Law Center. According to our community and his family, though – he’s really, really good at it.
That’s why Transgender Law Center is taking this moment, on Father’s Day, to celebrate Willy Wilkinson, writer and public health consultant, and proudly announce Willy as our 2014 Claire Skiffington Vanguard Awardee. Willy has agreed to receive this recognition at SPARK! – Transgender Law Center’s 12th Anniversary Celebration hosted Thursday, October 2, 2014 at the Sir Francis Drake, a Kimpton Hotel in San Francisco.
From drawing desperately needed attention and funds to transgender communities suffering from the AIDS epidemic to founding the first support group for FTM people of color to changing hearts and minds through his trainings –Willy has been an essential voice and leader in our community. His forthcoming book Born on the Edge of Race and Gender: A Voice for Cultural Competency educates about cultural competency, public health, and policy advocacy issues through memoir about his intersectional identities. “I feel so honored to be receiving recognition from Transgender Law Center, especially at a time when TLC has achieved so many incredible victories for our community,” Willy stated.
An outpouring of nominations flooded in to Transgender Law Center this year supporting Willy’s selection as our Vanguard Awardee. Among 23 nominators, Judy Appel – Our Family Coalition Executive Director – said, “Willy has been a leader in making sure that the voices of trans parents of color are seen, heard, and valued.”
We wanted to know more about that from Willy in his own words. You can also read what Susan Stryker, Jamison Green, Paisley Currah, and others had to say about Willy.
Named after San Francisco transgender pioneer Claire Leigh Skiffington (who died June 11, 2007 at age 62 after over a decade of tireless advocacy for transgender rights), the Vanguard Award celebrates those who came first. Willy has been selected for this recognition as an individual who has consistently identified the edges of the envelope as well as someone who has pushed them for more than 10 years.
Below are quotes from the many community members who nominated Willy for the 2014 Claire Skiffington Vanguard Award.
“Willy has always been far ahead of the curve in identifying issues of pressing concern to trans communities, especially transgender men and trans people of color…He not only identifies a problem that others have overlooked, he also does the labor that’s necessary to fix it…Willy’s longstanding commitment to the health and wellbeing of transgender communities is exactly the kind of leadership we need.” — Paisley Currah
“Willy’s work on getting recognition for the extent of the HIV epidemic among trans people in San Francisco was truly path-breaking.” — Susan Stryker
“Willy stepped up in response to the AIDS crisis and the hidden sexuality of trans men to help obtain data to prove to ‘authorities’ that this population needed help, and then worked on projects to deliver that help. His steadfast pursuit of equitable healthcare, and his conscientious work at the intersection of race and gender has been both exemplary and bridge-building.” — Jamison Green
“Willy has radiated calm, positive energy in times of crisis affecting our community, for example, speaking eloquently and healingly at the community memorial for a transgender activist whose life was tragically ended a few years ago. This is quiet and strong leadership, helping in knitting people together.” — Joyce Ycasas
“He continually fights to make visible those of us who are “invisibilized” in our society — and thus, go unnoticed, unserved, and ultimately disregarded. I am hopeful because of people like Willy Wilkinson that our world has and will continue to change, toward a deeply respectful and embracing society of all people — and particularly transgender people of color.” — Lance Toma
An Interview with Willy…
Tell us about your children…
My oldest is 8 years old. I have another who’ll be 5 in August and a third who’ll be 2 in July.
My oldest son is articulate, creative, and inquisitive about the world. He’s an incredible builder, whether with Legos or computer programs. My daughter is almost 5, and will start kindergarten in the Fall, and is an incredible artist. Our youngest was born in the year of the dragon and he is a fiery, determined, and funny little person. He’s starting to talk and is very proud of himself.
What has made parenthood unique from your perspective?
Parenthood is viewed by larger society in this binary, pink and blue way. Going into parenthood as a trans guy who had not accessed medical intervention was hard. In the Bay Area, there are many people who say, “Two moms – I get that.” But, my son never had two moms. Parenthood influenced my journey with my gender identity. Ultimately, I decided to medically transition in part because I needed to be perceived as the father that I am. And I’m really glad I did.
I want to hear more about that pink and blue binary, Willy.
When you’re perceived as female there is an expectation that you have an inherent ability to care for children in every way – from changing poopy diapers to managing tantrums, and dealing with the landslide of drudgery involved with raising small children.
Now that I’m consistently perceived as male, I’m considered an awesome dad just for taking my kids to the park. “Isn’t that so nice that he’s helping out,” people think. The bar is lower for men and there’s an idea that men are not as skilled at parenting.
But obviously your children totally adore you…
They do tell me that I’m an amazing father. I love those moments when they say, “You’re the best dad ever.” They understand me as a father and as a transgender person.
I think that there’s a certain pride in who we are as a family. They recognize that we are unique – there are not a lot of people like us and not a lot of transgender people. It is part of the natural fabric of who we are as a family, just like we’re mixed race and multicultural. And if anyone ever misgenders me, my son is livid and insistent that they understand who I am.
It makes me feel really good. He has a strong understanding of me as his father and he understands how important it is that people show me respect for my gender. In fact, at sixteen months, he began calling me “Dada.” It was a really special moment the first time I heard that.
Aside from your experiences with the binary, did you have other challenges as a trans father?
When my kids were younger I worried that my trans status would be used against me or that my children would see me as not good enough. And that hasn’t been the case at all.
When I transitioned my first child was in kindergarten. The principal demonstrated incredible leadership in creating systemic support in the school setting for my son, ensuring that there’d be no negativity in association with my transition. I write about this experience in my book, and how to provide systemic support for students with transitioning family members. And I am really happy to say, for the most part, that the parents in our school community have been supportive without a hitch and have consistently referred to me as my kids’ father – they see and recognize and refer to me that way.
What else would you want to say regarding parenthood?
It is definitely a lot of work and a time commitment, but there are immeasurable good times and learning experiences, and of course, a high cuteness quotient.
A lot of times people who are not part of the LGBT community have an assumption that none of us are parents. It is something I see in my work when training people on these issues.
I see a growing number of community members – female-bodied individuals with non-binary gender identities, as well as other trans and gender nonconforming folks, who are prospective parents. By me talking about my life as a parent, I hope people feel inspired by their options. Not just people who have become parents and come out as transgender later in life, but also people who are pursuing parenthood as transgender-identified people.
Final thoughts for people?
Yes – I want to say that my wife Georgia Kolias and I have been together for 19.5 years. We have journeyed together in many ways including creating our family and managing all of the challenges and joys of parenting three small children.
You know, I just think it is important to have visibility for transgender people who have long-term love. I’m grateful to be involved with an amazing woman who makes me laugh every day and with whom I have created a family. Transgender people deserve to have love and hope for a future wherein they are loved.