Diversity Activist Switches Genders
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Michele Culver is a 1-year old female. So pay no attention to the 49-year-old male body she is walking around in.
That body has always been the biggest obstacle to her happiness. But as of June 1 last year, Culver dropped all pretensions about altering it. She had been injecting estrogen into the body for years, chemically calming an internal gender war raging within her since her childhood.
Culver, a Scottsdale resident and ambassador to the city’s minorities, says she is now free of her struggle for identity. She has “transitioned,” dropping the male name — Kenneth — that she has answered to and hated her whole life.
It was under that name that Culver was named to the Scottsdale Human Relations Commission in 2002, a politically appointed group responsible for reaching out to the city’s minorities.
By switching genders, Culver has herself become a minority, a position she argues makes her well-equipped to relate to Scottsdale’s cultural spectrum.
Masculinity was just one of the things Culver has lost.
After 20 years of marriage, Culver is getting divorced. She had to sell her Scottsdale bike shop, the Bike Emporium, in early 2004 when she began phasing women’s clothes into her wardrobe. The customers, particularly children, stopped coming in. Culver said she is on speaking terms with only one family member aside from her two teenage children.
In becoming Michele, Culver has been stripped of nearly everything that Kenneth acquired, short of his children and commission seat.
Though U.S. Census data shows the city remains predominantly white and wealthy, the city has pockets of poor, gay, Yaqui Indian, black and Hispanic residents, just to name a few of its minority groups. Some are growing rapidly.
Now Culver is a minority within a minority, living alone in a one-bedroom apartment.
However, Velicia McMillan, a Scottsdale diversity specialist, said Culver has worked on a wide range of issues, from day laborers to police hiring practices.
McMillan, a Baptist, is an unlikely ally. Yet she is one of several supporters Culver said she has found in Scottsdale since transitioning.
Culver is a rare example, McMillan said, of a minority working to find themselves without forgetting about other people.
McMillan said the Bible teaches her to disapprove of Culver. “But it’s my understanding that the precept of the Bible is to love one another,” she said. “And Michele is a wonderful person.”
(Posted on June 13, 2005)