Coleman, Paulose and Susan Kimberly

Eric Black has again pushed the story of recently resigned and previously embattled Rachel Paulose a bit further. His hard-won interview with Sen. Norm Coleman about his role in "the rise and fall" of Paulose is a good read. But that's not what I'm here for. In Black's piece, Coleman re-visits, ever-so-briefly, a remarkable piece of history: Coleman, when he was mayor of St. Paul, appointed the first transgender deputy mayor in America: Susan Kimberly, a Republican.

In the interview article, Coleman defended his early enthusiasm for the Paulose appointment like this:

[Coleman] described Paulose as “a woman of extraordinary intellect… an immigrant background… attracting strong bipartisan support… The kind of woman you’d want to support.” Coleman said that during his public career, he has a history of appointing young women who broke glass ceilings (he mentioned several names, and added that he appointed Susan Kimberly, the first transgender deputy mayor in America).

In 2002, City Pages writer Leyla Kokmen profiled Kimberly in Body Vs. Soul:

Susan Kimberly has smooth, soft skin, a blond pageboy haircut, and curves even a prim blazer and slacks don't disguise. Her chronological age is 59, but she looks at least a decade younger. She looks like a woman. But once she was a man.

Kimberly, as she puts it, was once the "world's most famous transsexual." At least in St. Paul, where, in 1983, she very publicly cast off her male identity--that of Bob Sylvester, a former city council member--and became Susan Kimberly. The attention faded somewhat while Kimberly went through lean, difficult times, without a job, without any money. But her story popped up again in December 1998 when former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman appointed her deputy mayor.

Despite the publicity around her transition--the barrage of questions, so prying, so often inappropriate--Kimberly's journey has been a personal one. Nearly two decades ago, when she was in her early 40s, Kimberly began the process of going from male to female. And that, she stresses, was precisely the goal at the time--both hers and the prevailing attitude of the doctors and therapists who treated gender dysphoria. The idea was to end up looking good enough to pass as a woman in society.

Even then she wasn't thrilled with the notion. She boycotted the then-mandatory makeup and modeling class. But she still believed that she would lie down on an operating table (in Trinidad, Colorado, in 1984) and simply switch from man to woman. She'd be done with it, and go on with her life in her new body.

"I never started out to be a transsexual," she says. "That wasn't my goal, it wasn't my fantasy. I thought I'd go through the transition, and no one would figure it out."

But more and more she realized that it wasn't that clear-cut. Finally, the identity of her mind and the anatomy of her body matched. Finally, there was peace. But, even after all that, she was still different.

"I realized I have no pretext anymore about being a woman. I'm a transsexual. There's no longer this magical twist and turn," she says. "We don't go from anything to anything. We come to terms with what we are.

"People are starting to get this sense, that if there's A and B, there's something in between," she suggests. "Although that's deeply unsettling for us--and the rest of the world--it's a powerful attack on the idea that there are men in the world and women in the world, and that's it.

"I don't know how many genders there are," she muses. "But there are more than two."

These days Susan Kimberly lobbies on behalf of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. And it appears Coleman has drafted her once more--if unwittingly--this time to serve him in his ongoing effort to defend unpopular decisions.


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