Filisa Vistima was a 22-year-old pre-operative transsexual woman from Seattle. She volunteered at the Lesbian Resource Center (LRC). On March 6, 1993 Filisa took her own life. What you’re about to read are her own words from her own journal…
November 3, 1992:
Sometimes when I am walking outside on a clear night I will look up and try to find my home among the stars. I must try to do something out of my bedroom. I am becoming depressed, suicidal even. I spent the entire day inside. Um, yes, I did say suicidal. I have a steady stream of thoughts about utter hopelessness, thoughts about where to kill myself and how, that won’t just go away.
Maybe if I did get a job it would only make me suffer longer. I don’t like to see living things suffer. I wanted to do so many things. I wanted to help people. I had recently thought I could become a role model for girls who want to become a mathematician or a scientist.
I wanted to experience so many more things; I wanted to accomplish so many more things. It is so hard to accept the fact that i have no place in this world.
December 9, 1992:
My sexual orientation: It is a subject i have been questioning over the last month. I was tempted to submit a posting to 28 Barbary Lane [queer computer network] stating that I no longer believe I am a lesbian and that I am better described in relation to my affectional desires.
I found a term to describe me while reading through a newspaper I got at Evergreen. The article used the term “affectional orientation.”
My affectional orientation is definitely toward women. My sexual orientation is “theoretically bisexual.” My affectional drive, if there is such a thing, is about 10 times stronger than my sex drive. I really don’t know where affection ends and sex begins, what is sex?
Also, I believe it to be overly simplistic to identify oneself based solely on with whom they sleep.
December 21, 1992:
I was volunteering at the LRC today.
Even under casual conversation I felt uncomfortable and unstable. I cower under scrutiny.
My affectional and sexual desires have become blurred; I have them both, I believe. I don’t usually have them when in public. Sometimes I would feel attracted to someone if i could gather something from their body language. A woman somewhat like me, perhaps: shy, scared, vulnerable, alone. I want to touch her and fall asleep in her arms. I can’t imagine ever getting enough affection. My own insecurities close me in when in public; in private all my unfulfilled desires are pulling me in all different directions. There is nothing amazing about my dysfunctionalities; it is an all too logical result from my problems.
I am much too likely to do something irrational and impulsive someday soon.
December 20, 1992:
I went with [name withheld] to the other Chicken Soup Brigade thrift store…. On the way back, I met a dog. When I first saw her, she was barking at me, then I saw her wag her tail. She was a golden retriever and locked behind a fence. When I got very close to her, she put her body against the fence so her fur would stick through the gate: she wanted to be petted!
I did pet her. She seemed to be starved for affection, just like myself. As I was petting her, I saw a lock of my hair fall into view, her fur on her back was the same color as my hair. Her fur became lighter down the sides of her body. I wanted to let her go, to keep her. We would be two lonely animals, content with each other.
When I stopped petting her and took my hand out from the cage, she barked and turned around so I would stay and pet the opposite side of her. I eventually did need to leave my new friend, even when she barked for me to stay.
January 5, 1993:
I am encountering many old desires of mine, e.g. swimming. By the comments [name withheld] has mentioned to me (“Your hands are large,” “You’re shaped like a boy” and so forth), I have been self-conscious of myself. I wish I was anatomically “normal” so I could go swimming.
If i was “normal” I would no longer have any reason to hide behind my clothes other than to hide my modesty. I could go swimming without clothes… I would love to do that so much!!
But no, I’m a mutant, Frankenstein’s monster.
Now I am feeling the same feeling I had some days ago but forgot about them, the feeling that I hate myself, the physical self. I remember having these feelings when I was a child, hitting thighs with my hands so I would cry. I’m, crying now…
I am reminded of a sentence in my Masculine/Feminine book stating: “In Freud’s logic, those who struggle to become what they are not must be inferior to that to which they aspire.” It refers to Freud’s theories about women who are really castrated males and who aspire to become phallic, male. In my case, there is a little difference in the logic. At the moment, however, I must say, that I feel inferior to “real women” and I may never be able to resolve the conflict.
January 14, 1993:
I received a letter from Evergreen today. It stated that they did not receive the transcripts from the previous colleges at which I studied before their deadline…
The next term I will be able to apply is fall 1993.
I somewhat expected this conclusion, but I did not plan for what I should do if I did not get accepted at Evergreen. I still wish to move, to be in a much less urbanized environment. My public assistance will terminate shortly. My apocalyptic visions are currently dreamy, less than real.
I will again be forced to make feeble attempts to save myself. Can I wait until fall to go to school? My hope for a potential niche has been obliterated. I’m confused. I do not know what i should do.
January 15, 1993
I now only have an infinitesimal chance to find my niche. Before, I did have a hope. If certainty of finding my niche were to be granted to me, and if I was convinced of this certainty, I would be ecstatic, completely ecstatic.
Maybe I will be able to wait eight more months for that opportunity to be again afforded me… [Pendra] has been feeling upset today… she told me that she may need to leave Seattle and move back to Canada. She really likes it here. She also said that she may need to marry someone so she can legally live in the USA. After a few moments, I thought she could marry me. Why not? My birth record has not changed. I would be very interested to see if this could be accomplished. I find the idea of marrying a woman amusing because same sex marriages are still not legally recognized in the United States…
February 5, 1993
I need a plan, otherwise I will go mad. If I no longer receive public assistance we could just remain here until we get evicted. This isolation is making me frustrated. Outside is boring. Grey concrete, grey asphalt roads, grey buildings… it is a visually deficient landscape….
I would like to volunteer at an organization which helps the emotional needs of children with AIDS or children of HIV+ parents. I must be able to dedicate my time to a child for at least one year. I do not know if I will be in Seattle for a year. I do not know anything.
I no longer feel a part of any community. I have no home. Maybe in this life I was not destined to live long. I am too different. I cannot adapt. I have no future.
What is keeping me from killing myself?
My relations with people have grown so distant. No one who I care about will miss me; no one loves me. How can I continue to live based on the assumption that I will someday contribute to this society.
I should have the right to be selfish.
My grief and unhappiness have been too great. I probably was supposed to kill myself when I was 16. Do I not have the right to decide when my suffering is too great?
From what I can ascertain, prior to her Filisa’s death, she was made responsible for entering data from a Lesbian Resource Center (LRC) survey asking their service population if they felt that the LRC should continue to provide services to MTF transsexuals. RadFems had taken a hard line against providing services to transsexuals and Filisa was the one who had to record each venomous RadFem objection just prior to her death.
The stigmatization fostered by this sort of pejorative labelling is not without consequence. Such words have the power to destroy transsexual lives. On January 5, 1993, a 22-year-old pre-operative transsexual woman from Seattle, Filisa Vistima, wrote in her journal, “I wish I was anatomically ‘normal’so I could go swimming…. But no, I’m a mutant. Frankensteins monster.’ Two months later Filisa Vistima committed suicide. What drove her to such despair was the exclusion she experienced in Seattle’s queer community, some members of which opposed Filisa’s participation because of her transsexuality—even though she identified as and lived as a bisexual woman. The Lesbian Resource Center where she served as a volunteer conducted a survey of its constituency to determine whether it should stop ofering services to male-to-female transsexuals. Filisa did the data entry for tabulating the survey results; she didn’t have to imagine how people felt about her kind. The Seattle Bisexual Women’s Network announced that if it admitted transsexuals the SBWN would no longer be a women’s organization. “I’m sure,” one member said in reference to the inclusion of bisexual transsexual women, “the boys can take care of themselves.” Filisa Vistima was not a boy, and she found it impossible to take care of herself. Even in death she found no support from the community in which she claimed membership. “Why didn’t Filisa commit herself for psychiatric care?” asked a columnist in the Seattle Gay News. “Why didn’t Filisa demand her civil rights?” In this case, not only did the angry villagers hound their monster to the edge of town, they reproached her for being vulnerable to the torches. Did Filisa Vistima commit suicide, or did the queer community of Seattle kill her?
- The Transgender studies Reader by Susan Stryker, Stephen Whittle, 2006, p 246
You can read a back-and-forth email exchange between Filisa Vistima and others HERE. It’s a (very) small glimpse into her personality.
On the “Filisa Vistima Foundation”
And on October 9 the movement scored a signigicant victory when Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries announced that the agency’s civil rights division would allow complaints regarding discrimination against transsexuals. The ruling makes Oregon the third state, after Minnesota and Eashington, to offer such protections, according to Margaret Deirdre O’Hartigan, acting director of the Filisa Vistima Foundation, a nonprofit group that obtains legal and medical assistance for transsexuals in need.
- The Advocate “The Transgender, A newly determined, in-you-face transgender rights movement sends ripples throught the gay and lesbian establishment“, Dec 10, 1996, p 49
Changing genders is immoral and goes against the Scriptures, Mr. Mabon said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and a Portland-based transsexual rights alliance are fighting the initiative, which they call the “Anti-Family Act.”
“We think it’s unconstitutional for the government to establish one model of what is a family at a time when there are clearly many types of families that don’t fit that definition,” said David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon ACLU.
“It’s going to be an enforcement nightmare,” said Margaret Deirdre O’Hartigan, who heads the Filisa Vistima Foundation for transsexual rights. “Every time I cross the Columbia River into Washington [state], I’ll become legally female, and then when I come back into Portland, where I live, I’ll be legally male.”
Both sides of the issue agree that Oregon’s problem will surely spread to other states.
“The rest of the nation can look at the battle we’re having in Oregon as being the first skirmishes on these issues,” Mr. Mabon said. “Unless they’re stopped, they will eventually emerge in every community.”
- The Dallas Morning News, “Transsexuals seeking use of Medicaid spark debate in Oregon Funding gender-changing surgery, recognition of results at issue” by Charles Ornstein, April 16, 1998
During testimony, the witnesses said sex-change procedures are far more than elective cosmetic surgery.
Margaret O’Hartigan, acting director of the Filisa Vistima Foundation, a transsexual advocacy organization, said that for her, surgery was a life- saving medical procedure. O’Hartigan, who was born a man, underwent surgery more than 20 years ago in Wisconsin, which provides the treatment for low- income people at taxpayer expense.
“Before surgery, I was surviving through prostitution and welfare and made repeated suicide attempts,” she said. “Since obtaining surgery, I’ve supported myself as a typist and secretary and have never attempted suicide again.”
- The Oregonian, “Transsexuals Speak at Oregon Health Plan Meeting“, 1998
But Dr. Eric Walsh, who headed the panel, said the outcome of such surgeries is uncertain. “The underlying problem is the tremendous lack of follow up,” he said. “That’s problematic in terms of judging scientific evidence.”
Only a handful of people attended the meeting at University Hospital, including Margaret Deirdre O’Hartigan, a Portland transsexual who leads the group Filisa Vistima Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to obtain medical and legal assistance for transsexuals.
She said after the meeting that transsexuals are caught in a Catch-22: The reason there’s not a lot of research is because researchers are biased against them. “I know prejudice when I see it,” she said. “It’s easy to hide prejudice behind critiques of the failing of medical studies.”
Transsexualism is No. 688 on the state’s list of 745 treatments and ailments. Only the top 574 are available to the 270,000 low-income residents enrolled in the plan. Oregon, which last year became the first to approve coverage for assisted suicide, would not be the first to fund sex changes.
- The Associated Press, “State panel says outcome of sex changes uncertain“, January 28, 1999
At 5:50 PM during a 2000 Portland Pride event, Margaret O’Hartigan of the Filisa Vistima Foundation is listed as a speaker. This is the last activity I can find for this organization.