Christynne Lilly Wood: Trans women are a threat to no one

The March 21 Santee School Board meeting was my first time seeing Christynne Lilly Wood in action. Wood — mother, grandmother, auntie, retired health care worker, and community activist — was on the list to speak to the Santee school board members along with many others, including parents, students, teachers, and community activists. The subject centered on adding a children’s book, “I Am Jazz” — number 2 on the list of banned books in all Santee public schools and libraries.

As the room filled, Wood greeted and directed people to sit and went to the staff, asking for more chairs, reminding people who wanted to speak to sign in to get on the list. She seemed to know most of the people, which was comforting knowing that this meeting was not filled with haters. Banned Books was going to be first on the agenda.

Christynne Wood, pronounced Kris-tin, is the African American trans woman who was the most recent target of the racist, anti-trans panic that continues to sweep through the country. I am sure most people have heard about this incident or rather some version of it because it made national news.

Showered with lies

On December 29, last year, Wood showered after her weekly water aerobics class at a Santee YMCA, where she has been a member for quite some time. But this day, a 17-year-old white girl reported to the YMCA staff that she was traumatized when she saw a naked man in the women’s changing area. The staff explained that the person she saw was a trans woman and she had every right to use the women’s bathroom and dressing area.

The 17-year-old did not like that answer. She repeated her made-up, well-rehearsed, descriptive, and emotionally dramatic story to the Santee City Council and news broadcasters like Tucker Carlson. Carlson and other fascist mouthpieces rebroadcast the lie until the truth came out.

Wood initially did not know about the incident until a friend from her aqua class called her, expressing how sorry she was about what had happened in the dressing room, and sent a video of the 17-year-old on Instagram. After viewing the video, Christynne started crying and shaking.

The YMCA was forced to close when a hate rally was staged outside the facility. Wood listened to the lies as she stood with the counter-protesters and supporters. Many were patrons of the Santee YMCA.

At the Santee City School Board meeting. SLL photo: Maggie Vascassenno

‘We Love Chrissy’

After weeks of being demonized by right-wing media and listening to repeated lies, Wood spoke at the January 25 Santee City Council meeting, where she explained what happened. She showered and dressed in a private stall after her water aerobics class. Wood said, “I am a mom and Grandma. I am a threat to no one.” Her supporters filled the Council chambers, many holding signs with a heart that read, “We Love Chrissy.” Her statement was recorded and posted on YouTube. 

The 17-year-old girl then slightly changed her story, saying she saw the backside of a man and hid in a nearby shower stall until he left.

Christynne and I met for breakfast at her favorite restaurant in Santee a week before the school board meeting. When I arrived, I walked in and told the woman at the counter that I was there to meet up with someone, and instantly she pointed me in the direction of the table where Christynne sat, waving me over. She commented how much she appreciated people who pay attention to time. Then, she told me to look over the menu, order what you want, “everything is good,” and insisted on paying the bill.

She knew most of the waitresses by first name and ordered her “usual” breakfast. After breakfast, she was scheduled for a photo shoot at the San Diego Union-Tribune, so we were on the clock. I introduced myself and told her that I and a few friends from Los Angeles came to the Santee City Council to show our support earlier this month. I thanked her for making time in her busy schedule to speak with me.

She said you and your group must attend the Santee School Board meeting next week. “We are going to demand that ‘I Am Jazz,’ a book on the list of Banned Books, is added to all Santee public schools and libraries.”

John Parker, Christynne Lilly Wood, and Gloria Verdieu. SLL photo: Maggie Vascassenno

The story of Jazz Jennings

“I Am Jazz” is the story of a transgender child based on the real-life experience of a transgender activist, Jazz Jennings.

According to PEN America, a national advocacy group for literacy and free expression, this children’s book is one of several banned picture books in the United States in the school year 2021-2022. 

At breakfast, I spoke about the 17-year-old who reported to the Santee YMCA staff that she was terrified when she saw a naked male in the women’s changing room.

Christynne said she was shocked by the teen’s complaint and that the most graphic part of the story could not be true because she has had gender reassignment surgery. The whole incident was a manufactured lie.

I asked if she could talk about her childhood and journey to become a community activist and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

Wood, a Black woman born in 1956, grew up in Ohio during the ’60s and ’70s and originally moved to California in 1975 during her first Navy enlistment. She returned to San Diego County to stay in 1980, which Woods said “was the best decision I ever made.”

SLL: When did you realize that “I have a girl brain but a boy body,” a quote from the book “I Am Jazz”?

CLW: Oh, I knew when I was four years old. My kindergarten teacher told my Grand Auntie, who raised me, that I identified with the girls. She would let me lie down with the girls for nap time.

My Auntie told me not to share this with everybody; People can be cruel, and it could be dangerous. We would play “dress-up” inside the house; it was our secret.

In the 8th grade, I checked out “Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography” from the library. I would keep it and just renew it over and over. Jorgensen, a celebrity, entertainer, and memoirist, was the first internationally known transexual personality of the 20th century to become widely known in the United States for having sex reassignment surgery in the early 1950s and provided an unprecedented example for thousands of gender dysphoric individuals who followed in her footsteps.

SLL: You had some support from your auntie; what about your parents and other relatives?

CLW: My mother didn’t raise me. She was rarely around, visiting on rare occasions. I am a self-reliant woman. I’ve been on my own for over 36 years. I began medical transition in July of 2016 when I started estradiol and HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy).  I legally changed my name and gender in San Diego Superior Court in February 2017. My first surgery, breast augmentation, was in May of 2019 at Sharp Grossmont Hospital. My final surgery was at Sutter Mills-Peninsula Hospital in San Francisco with Dr. Marci Bowers on Wednesday, January 29, 2020.

I visited my mother with my daughter, granddaughter, and niece. I hadn’t seen her for over 30 years. My mother did not recognize me at first. When she did, her response was, “You finally became the person you wished to be.” She never got it. It was not a choice. It is all about who I am. My daughter and granddaughter are happy that I am fully transitioned.

After my mother died, I had no reason to go to the state of Ohio, and I don’t plan to go there ever again.

SLL: Do you have times when you think back on who you were before?

CLW: Everything from my life in Ohio is dead, including the person I was. I have moved on. It’s dead and buried. I feel liberated — free to be who I am.

SLL: Were you working when you transitioned? If so, how did your job react when you completed the surgery and changed your name?

CLW: I was employed by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Association (HHSA) for 29 years, retiring on June 30, 2018. 

I chose to actively report to my supervisor, who was supportive. When it came to using the bathroom, there was resistance from some of my co-workers as to which bathroom I was to use. My supervisor told me that it is company policy that it is my right to use the female bathroom, but she did offer a suggestion. She could arrange for me to speak to all my co-workers about my gender identity and name change if I chose to do so. I agreed to talk to my co-workers, and even though there was still some resistance, I gained a lot of support.

SLL: What about the cost of your transition? Was it difficult getting a doctor using your health insurance plan?

CLW: My PCP doctor referred me to have a psychological examination, which confirmed that there is no doubt that I was a candidate for and should get the hormone medications, and I was cleared to prepare for full transition surgery if that was my choice.

Not every transgender person wants to get bottom surgery. It is up to the individual. In my case, I knew I had to have a full-depth vaginoplasty, and it had to be with Dr. Bowers.

Everything was covered through my insurance, and my co-pay was within my budget.

When it was time for my name change, a lawyer at the San Diego LGBT center took my case pro-bono, and I got my name changed along with all my papers. So, I am fully transitioned and ready to move forward with my life.

SLL: I’ve seen the word women with an X or Y replacing the E. What do you think about that spelling when it comes to trans or gender-neutral women?

CLW: I can understand this generation’s usage of the spelling as a means of expanding the word “women” to be more inclusive, but as for me, I don’t want to be characterized or given a category. I am a woman.

Christynne Wood praises the compassion, courage, and love of the Cameron Family YMCA in Santee, her Aqua Sisters, and the faith leaders who openly support her.

Wood was named Transperson of the Year at the Transgender Empowerment Day at the SD LGBTQ Center in San Diego – April 7, 2023.

She received the Bayard Rustin Award in February 2023.

She is actively speaking out against banning books, especially those that teach about love, acceptance, and understanding.

Outside Santee City Council showing our support for Christynne Lilly Wood. SLL photo

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