Trans 101: A Conversation with Michelle Wolf of Spectrum

by / Jun. 3, 2015 3am EST

Since 2002, Spectrum has existed to provide support for the transgender community of Western New York. This week we talked to Michelle Wolf, co-chair at Spectrum, about how Spectrum provides resources to transgender individuals and the community, and some of the main issues facing transgender people today.

What is Spectrum’s mission?
Our main missions are devoted to supporting transgender people, particularly people who are first starting off in their transitions or struggling with their identity. We also deal a lot in education. A couple of us, myself included, teach Trans 101 classes to businesses, universities, or anyone who asks in order to increase advocacy. We do some lobbying, working for the passage of our agenda, which is basically to give transgender people equal protection under the law.

What kind of protection do you mean?
Basically, it’s to ensure that we have equal protection in the areas of employment discrimination, housing, medical care, and items such as that. Most people don’t realize this, but right now it’s perfectly legal to take a well-performing transgender employee and fire them specifically for being transgender. This actually happens all of the time and it’s why we consider this to be important. Employment is a huge issue in our community—those of us who have jobs hope we keep them because it’s hellishly difficult to try and find another one once you transition.

Tell me more about your Trans 101 classes.
They’re mainly for local businesses, educational institutions. We’re doing a couple for the state. One for the department of labor. Everybody has their own way of teaching it, but the way I do it is I give an overview of what transgender means. I explain the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, I go through the transition process, and I tell a lot of my own personal story just to kind of make it more real for people. It’s a lot of dialogue and question and answer. Generally speaking, when people bring me in it’s because they have a transgender person who suddenly appeared and they realize that they’re not educated in it and need to be. 

How would you describe the atmosphere in Buffalo for a transgendered person?
Overall, surprisingly good. I get asked this question a lot and people are always surprised by the answer. My personal experience and the experiences of most of the people I interact with has been very positive. I personally have not faced any significant discrimination myself, although others have. But overall, I am very proud of my city.

Tell me about some support groups for transgendered individuals.
There are a few groups. Spectrum is a main group. There is also a group affiliated with the pride center called Transgeneration, and then for cross dressing individuals there is a group called Buffalo Belles. Cross dressers are people who identify as men but like to dress as women, as opposed to transgender, where we feel that we must go through a gender transition in order to feel at home in our bodies. 

Are there any health resources you’d like to recommend for transgendered people in Buffalo?
In terms of medical care, there are a few options. For mental health care, the two best options out there are Dr. Thomas Mazur and Dr. Lisa Anllo. For physical health, there are a lot of options. Most of the medical community are here is at least somewhat up to speed on transgender issues, but the Evergreen center, which is right next to the Pride Center, is a good resource. Evergreen was set up to specifically meet the healthcare needs of LGBT people. They are a little behind when it comes to transgender, but they’re getting there.

What are some other resources that people might overlook, such as beauty salons or other non-essential services?
That’s a good question. I’ll be honest, there is a term bandied around a lot in the transgender community, that a business is or isn’t “trans-friendly.” In my personal experience I haven’t encountered a trans-unfriendly business in a really long time. Honestly, my recommendation to people is be yourself and go anywhere. If you have a problem, let me know, but so far I haven’t gotten any reports back that any particular place has been discriminatory.

Spectrum meetings are held on the second Friday of each month,
7-9:30pm, at The Unitarian Universalist Church 
695 Elmwood Avenue