In 1989, newspapers splashed unexpected headlines about the death of beloved jazz musician Billy Tipton. “One False Note in a Musician’s Life; Billy Tipton Is Remembered With Love, Even by Those Who Were Deceived,” The New York Times’ obituary read.
Tipton tricked no one. The luminary 74-year-old was a transgender man in a time when transgender men simply weren’t out. His death sparked a nationwide conversation about gender identity. For trans people who were living stealth, quietly existing alongside their cisgender peers, the moment stung.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The Billy Tipton Trio (Billy in center) poses for a publicity shot circa 1960 in Spokane, Washington.
The loss particularly struck a young Jamison Green, who was just months into his own medical transition. Like others who came before him, Green assumed that after transition he would simply live as a man, silently blending into society. Tipton’s death, however, made him wonder.
“What’s going to happen when we’re old and vulnerable, and can’t speak for ourselves and need medical care?” he tells NewNowNext, recalling his line of thinking. “[I thought], I’ve got to do something here. And I figured the only way is education.”
Green knew that access to health care would be dependent on insurance coverage. Because the biggest insurance customers are employers, he began lobbying companies to provide trans-inclusive insurance benefits. His work has since cemented his legacy as one of the most prolific advocates for transgender health and employment. Still, few people have heard of him. It’s a deep irony in that he was one of America’s first highly visible transgender men.
Green is currently updating his game-changing book Becoming a Visible Man—first released in 2004—for republication next year under Vanderbilt University Press. The re-release presents an opportunity for Green to claim his place in transgender history, where he remains largely uncredited.
For decades now, Green has been at the forefront of writing transgender health policy. He helped establish HRC’s trans-inclusive Corporate Equality Index in 2002, and his writing has been used to lay the groundwork for transgender anti-discrimination practices and insurance coverage across the nation. He has been deeply involved in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, serving as president from 2014-16.
Perhaps most importantly, he was a publicly out trans man when few existed.
Courtesy of Green
Green at age 22 in 1970.
Rocco Kayiatos, whose quarterly print magazine Original Plumbing was long hailed as one of the only outlets to regularly represent trans men, credits Green as trailblazer of healthy masculinity.
“His generation and the generations before were all assimilating,” Kayiatos tells NewNowNext. “He was visible before it was safe or okay. He took on so much volunteer work in the early days [that is] that is the foundation we now stand on.”
You won’t find Green widely cited and easily searchable online. His writing, advocacy, and education have largely been overshadowed by the splashier court cases and legislative victories. To get a sense of his early activism, one has to scan the pages of Becoming a Visible Man, still canonical in transgender literature. Part autobiography, part gender theory, the book not only embraces transgender people in their first steps of living openly if they so desire; it challenges cisgender readers to interrogate their own identities.
Courtesy of Green
Passport photos of Green before and after transition: left is age 32 (1980), right is age 41 (1989) after one year of testosterone.
In the opening scene of the book, Green asks a group of students if they know what sex they are. “Most of the students look blankly at their papers or at the empty chalkboard behind me, but a few stare quizzically at me,” he writes. “Some look at me and look away.”
Becoming a Visible Man puts the onus on cisgender readers to grapple with sex and gender. It also walks readers through Green’s own agonizing decision not to live stealth in the late 1980s. Instead, Green writes, he chose to identify himself openly as trans because he thought doing so would help other trans people.
The book has aged awkwardly in some ways. The word “transgendered”—once acceptable but now considered grammatically incorrect, if not offensive—peppers its pages. In the re-release, he’ll be amending such language, as well as sections on transgender youth.
“Basically, all I had 15 years ago was that some parents are now starting to be able to hear their trans children [when they say they are trans],” Green says, adding that the first edition had just a mention of puberty blockers.
In some ways, it’s easy to marvel at the progress of transgender health care access in the last decade. Doctors, for instance, used to require “passage letters” from therapists before performing gender confirmation surgeries. Green notes that, for the most part, it’s insurance companies—not doctors—that require the letters, and they’re done as a formality these days, instead of a proof that a transgender person is, in fact, transgender.
Still, Green worries that, as doctors hasten to treat trans patients, they skip over explaining the actual medicine that helps patients make informed health decisions.
“I think a lot of times when a person who is nervous about accessing care is in front of a doctor and the doctor doesn’t have all day to spend with you there, they’re going through stuff at a fairly brisk clip,” he says. “They’re telling you, ‘Here are the risks of hormones. Are you sure you want to do this?’ You go, ‘Well… yeah.’”
Green MCing a press conference in San Francisco at the dedication of a plaque commemorating the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.
Ultimately, Green wants trans patients have all of the information they need before undergoing major surgery, and that includes access to mental health services. “What is starting to be emphasized more is to make sure that you take the time to really understand what your body’s going to go through and what the social implications of this may be,” he explains.
That’s an oddly tall order. Transgender-affirming mental health providers are scarce, even in major metropolitan areas, and few accept insurance. Many LGBTQ centers have months-long wait lists.
“Our system of insurance is a problem in itself because it’s profit-based, and it makes it makes its own rules and the insurance companies claim to be able to define medical necessity, not the doctors,” he says.
Green is eager to tackle these remaining challenges. The re-release of Becoming a Visible Man will offer updated information on the hurdles trans people still face. But in truth, Green spends much of his time like many LGBTQ advocates these days: battling against the seemingly endless rollback of transgender protections under the Trump administration.
It’s these kinds of issues that have Green still hard at work, and reluctant to claim his contributions to the push for trans equality in America.
“I can’t say, ‘Here’s my great achievement,’ because it’s still a work in progress,” he says.