As Yvette, a matronly blond, post-op transsexual explains, "Sex is between your legs; gender is between your ears."
"Yeah, sister," shouts a brunette cross-dresser from the corner of the room.
"Exactly!" agrees Dan, a female-to-male pre-op transsexual. Dan, who plans to get sexual reassignment surgery to become a full-fledged male, is looking for a nice woman to marry. But there's a problem. "People think I'm a butch lesbian and try to fix me up with lipstick lesbians. So I have to explain that I consider myself a straight man, not a gay woman," he says, picking at a plate of donut holes. Mild-mannered and dateless since 1988, Dan is holding out for Ms. Right. "I need to get things corrected before I can start dating," he laments.
And there are other, less obvious concerns. Take the use of public restrooms, for example. "If you're a man dressed as a woman or in transition to becoming a woman, you're not going to walk into the men's restroom," Sandra says. "And since it's probably obvious that you are a man dressed as a woman, you can't walk into the ladies room. People will look at you like you're crazy."
As the evening draws to a close, Wittman describes the blatant hate many transgender folk experience, especially from strangers. One evening after she lectured at the University of Miami, two college guys followed her to the car. "They said, 'We ought to kick your butt, you goddamned fag you!'" Wittman says. "I said to them, 'If I had Down syndrome, would you kick my butt?' They said, 'No.' I asked, 'If I had cerebral palsy, would you kick my butt?' Again, they sort of looked at each other and said, 'Well, no.' I told them I have a physical condition that causes me to do what I do. 'So do you still want to kick my butt?' I asked. They said 'No' and walked away. That was scary."
That conversation was a small bit of progress, Wittman says. There will be more. "Years ago, we would never have been able to have a meeting like this. So we're becoming accepted little by little," she avers. "We just want to promote understanding and let people know we want the same rights as everyone else. We want to shop in department stores without people pointing fingers and laughing at us. And," she adds with a laugh, "if anyone knows about any good deals on large-size ladies' shoes, let us know."