Una, Kansas City, Missouri
“I am the technology lead for fuels, combustion, and reliability at Black & Veatch Corporation. I am adjunct professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Missouri, Kansas City campus. I teach two classes a year; just enough I can still call myself a professor. I am the president of 90.1 FM KKFI, Kansas City Community Radio, and I produce, excuse me, I’m assistant producing two shows on there. I need to mention I assist, because there are many people who volunteer a lot of time. One of them is The Tenth Voice, where I do the TransTalk radio show once a month, which, as far as I know, is the only trans focused radio show on 100 thousand-watt FM station, and I co-produce Every Woman along with my wife, Fiona, which is our one-hour weekly feminist show. I’ve been a tech writer for the Chicago Sun and Sun Times Media for 12 years. I’m a tech writer for a couple of other magazines. I’m the director of studies at the Transgender Institute of Kansas City, which means I go around and do some lectures and presentations throughout the year on science, history, sociology, intersectional issue of transgender. And I run, and do most of the research behind, the website TransasCity.org, mostly focused on historic research, trying to preserve the history of our people because I firmly believe that at a certain point in any civil rights movement, whether that’s the movement for African Americans, for Latinos, for every person, every community that has been marginalized and discriminated against, there comes a point at which there is a turning point where they start to ask themselves “What are my roots?” “Where did we come from?” “What is our common heritage?” “What is our history and our culture?” And that is one reason I focus so much on the history and culture of transgender persons. And I’ve had some pretty major coups on my side. I published the...I have the only publicly available autobiography of Tamera Reese, who was the third Atomic Age transgender woman to come out in 1953, also a Kansas City, Kansas native.
Transilient: So, you have a wide array of things that you like to do. It seems like a lot of it is history, tech, science based. Have you always been that way since you were a kid?
Una: I was, but I was much less courageous about it, much less driven about it because I was so trapped inside myself. I was so scared. I was struggling with my gender identity. Not only am I transgender, but I am an intersex individual. So, I had serious doubts about what I was, not only mentally by physically, my entire life, and it caused me to become very trapped within myself. One of the downsides that I had being me was that, and a lot of people give me a funny look when I say this, but the first time I had a friend was when I was 42 years old. I never had a friend growing up or in junior high or high school. I had people that were somewhat friendly with me, but I had no idea what it meant to have a friend. And I was so trapped inside, I didn’t know how to relate to other people.
Transilient: How did you know it was a friend?
Una: I guess because things were different. Growing up, no one ever called me on the phone to say “Hey! How are you?” “You want to go to a movie?” “You want to go out to get something to eat?” My phone was silent for decades, except for telemarketers of course. No one ever asked me how my day was unless it was usual office pleasantries. People talked about “Yeah, I went out drinking with my girlfriends at Tequila Harry’s.” And I’m like “Yeah, I stayed home and worked,” and that was a lot of...my work kept me alive. My work gave me something to focus on, research, history, research of science, research of everything; gave me something to keep myself alive and going in lieu of having human contact. That’s why, when at the age of 50, I’m still so so socially awkward. Some people sort of think that I am sort of Asperger-ish. I don’t mean to be insulting or marginalizing towards people that have Asperger’s, but that’s how people describe me because I have difficulty communicating with people. I have difficulty talking with them. I say the wrong thing. I do the wrong thing. Part of that is because I’m like the equivalent of a teenager when it comes to friends. I don’t know how to talk to people. I talk at them. I preach at them. I teach at them, but I don’t...I have a lot of trouble heart to heart talking with them. I’m best when I’m in the classroom or giving a lecture, I guess. I don’t know.
Transilient: So, you do a lot! What do you do, you’ve also been through a lot, what do you do for self-care? How have you grounded yourself and gotten to where you are at?
Una: My life is really really good now. I have so much love in my life. I rely very heavily on the kindness of my friends. My friends give me tremendous support, and my spouse, my wife, Fiona, is...I can’t actually think of the right adjectives to describe her because any adjective I come up with seems to pale by comparison. My wife is a cis gender lesbian who originally met me online in 2000, back in the old internet, you know? Back when…
Transilient: Dial up!
Una: … and chat rooms!! (both laugh) She’s a military advocate for trans rights in every aspect and order. She co-hosts the TransTalk radio show with me. She participates in activism events and public speaking all around the region. Right now, at this minute, she is at a major LGBTQIA activism summit in Seattle her company just sent her to because of her strident work with their employee resource group to protect the rights of trans people. And she also worked six years, five years excuse me, has run the Kansas City SOFFA group which is the support group for significant others, friends, family, and allies of transgender persons. In other words, she councils the families, the friends, and everyone else that has a transgender person in their life to try to help them not just accept but support and be a cheerleader for that person.”