Kate Birdsall to speak in Milwaukie on Sept. 22
Kate Birdsall never wanted to be a famous author, nor did she expect to be in a movie about her life, but she has written a memoir, "In Between," and starred in "Strictly for the Birds," based on the book.
Birdsall, who transitioned from male to female at age 65, said she just wanted to get her story out and tell a hopeful tale. And she will share that story on Sept. 22 at Milwaukie's Ledding Library.
An Oak Grove resident, Birdsall said she will read some selections from the book and then save time for questions from the audience.
"Each of our stories is unique, whether we are transgender or not, but there are common threads, too. We all go through a process of discovering who we are and who we need to be," Birdsall said.
"My perspective is from someone who was born transgender 20 years before the word existed. It took me a long time to figure it out. I am one of the lucky ones — I had established a life and had a lot of support through my transition," she added.
Birdsall noted that so many stories of transgender people end in disaster, loss, anguish, violence and even death, so she wanted to tell a story that was different.
"If a child tells their parents they are transgender, I don't want the parents to think their child's life is over. It can be wonderful to understand and be yourself," she said.
Her biggest fear as she was transitioning, was that she would be ostracized or physically attacked, but the best part "was that after all those years of confusion and hiding, I could relax and be myself. I became more open, more settled and far happier."
Birdsall said she was also afraid that she would lose all her friends during the transition, but has in fact gained friends.
"It's remarkable," she said.
Moving to Portland
Birdsall transitioned from male to female in 2009 and moved to Portland in 2011 to be closer to her daughter in Olympia, Washington. She is a lifelong Unitarian Universalist, so when she moved to Portland, she began attending the First Unitarian Church.
There Birdsall met Andrea Drury; they became close friends, and then their relationship turned serious; they married in 2014.
She noted that her wife, daughter and first wife have all been supportive during the transition.
Birdsall said she wrote the memoir for her daughter, "so she could see what my life was like when I was young and she was young."
During the process of writing the book, Birdsall took a writing workshop. The workshop instructor encouraged her to publish it.
"She was a straight woman, and the book gave her insight into something she didn't know much about," Birdsall said.
"The book is my life, from early childhood to the present, from the aspect of being transgender," she said.
"In it I try to help the reader understand what it is to be transgender and how that is just one aspect of the variety of being human," Birdsall added.
"In Between" is available on Amazon in both softcover and Kindle versions. It is also available in the Clackamas and Multnomah county libraries, among others.
'Strictly for the Birds'
As Birdsall was writing the book, she showed drafts to friends to get constructive criticism, and one friend showed the manuscript to a Portland filmmaker.
"Strictly for the Birds," partly a play on Birdsall's last name, was filmed in the Portland area by the independent filmmaker Jon Garcia.
Birdsall and Garcia wrote the screenplay; it was filmed in 2019, and postproduction took place during the pandemic.
"Andrea and I play our own parts, with trained actors playing my friend and me as children, my wife and me in middle age, and other characters," she said.
Much of the filming was done at Rose Villa, where Birdsall and Drury live, with residents playing various roles as extras.
"The movie is more about Andrea and my love story, with flashbacks to when I was a child and when I was middle-aged," Birdsall said.
Like the book, it helps show a little of what it is to be transgender, and how that is a human experience, she added.
"Strictly for the Birds" was shown at two film festivals in 2021, one in Philadelphia and one in Durango, Colorado. The movie is available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Vudu.
There were times during the filming, when Birdsall was struggling with the movie.
But a friend told her, "If it saves one life, it's worth it."
She firmly believes, she said, that "being born transgender is just another way we come into the world."
It's a natural process, like skin color and hair color, she said.
When people hear her story, Birdsall said, "it is a way of building understanding. They will see I'm just another normal person.
Conversation with Kate Birdsall
When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22
Where: The Community Room at the Ledding Library, 10660 S.E. 21st Ave., Milwaukie
Details: The event is free, but seating is limited to 50 people
More: To learn more, visit literaryportland.org/event/a-conversation-with-kate-birdsall
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