Saturday, December 6, 2008

NOTES: Krysallis Hembrough

Stills are taken from raw footage for the documentary Gen Silent

Krysallis (KrysAnne) Hembrough
Age: 59
M/F Transgender woman living with a terminal illness

I had the priviledge of staying with KrysAnne for about three days last week to capture her day-to-day life for our documentary Gen Silent. The film is capturing how much harder life is for LGBT seniors than the rest of us- so much harder that some people go back into the closet rather than face discrimination from people they now depend on to care for them.

I'm still getting comfortable with calling KrysAnne a "senior" because she is only 59-years-old even though the AARP now lets you join when you are 50! I'm not sure why I don't like it. Probably because I'm 43 and it hits too close to home. My mind wants to push off the words senior and elder as far away from me as I can. Somewhere out there after 70+ maybe?

Director Stu Maddux with Krysallis Hembrough during shooting for Gen Silent

But when I set aside my personal feelings, I strongly believe that her story shows how transgender folks deal with aging alone, in her case, with a terminal illness.

When doctors diagnosed her with lung cancer a year ago they gave her a year and a half to live.

But only in the past month has KrysAnne begun developing a support group after years of being alone.

She worked for days preparing a thank-you dinner for them.

No one at this table was a relative.

Being abandoned by family is common for LGBT people and apparently KrysAnne is no exception.
KrysAnne was Kevin in this photo from the late 1970's

Since she became a woman five years ago her family has shunned her completely. Even with a terminal illness, no family members call or visits her.
When she has reached out in the past, they return her cards with comments like this one:
The most stunning part of our time together was the moment KrysAnne showed me several returned cards like this one from different relatives. And yet she remained in good spirits telling me about them.

There are many other problems that transgender seniors face that I was unaware of. Primarily they revolve around making sure that you are treated as the sex you have chosen: making sure the hospital places you in a room with women or the caregivers aren't shocked by your body (your genitalia). It's tough. Right down to making sure your chosen name is on your grave marker. Krys Anne is a Vietnam veteran who plans to be buried at the Massachusetts National Cemetery.

Director Stu Maddux shows KrysAnne Hembrough raw footage from their first shoot together

Aside from all the big discussions, I must say that her company and hospitality were wonderful and we have become very close in such a short time. I did indeed get to shoot her ride (see entry below).


  1. I'm eagerly awaiting His miracle cure...maybe this evening at a candlelight service but just to be on the safe side I'm still reaching out to the LGBT community for help. I have been snowbound and under house arrest since Friday evening....butterflies like me need to be free :- )
    Blessed Holidays and a Healthy New Year.

  2. Hang in there kid were rooting for you.

  3. Has been quite a while since I posted anything as things have begun to go down hill at a more accelerated pace.
    Unfortunately there was no miracle on Xmas Eve...actually wound up in MassGenHosp ER.
    Have endured yet another collapsed left lung and 3 more weeks of radiation.....I may start to set off Geiger counters on of these days.
    Spirits are positive yet cautious....would be a gift from above if a miracle or volunteer caregiver dropped in from the heavens.

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  5. KrysAnne's younger brother, Patrick, took the time to email me with his family's concern about how they were being portrayed.
    His very insightful response is unedited below and I'm grateful to be in communication with him- to gain more understanding:

    My Contribution to KrysAnne's Story

    Growing up in a family of 11 children is challenging enough. Add to that an authoritarian, unapproachable, and psychologically abusive father and a mother who everyone calls a 'living saint'. Catholics will understand that all saints must suffer in silence. Our mother excelled at this. But our mother is a nurturing woman - not strong, not powerful - but full of love and empathy for all beings. Her love more than compensated for what we did not get from our father. Not exactly The Brady Bunch but not a family deserving of pity either.

    As the eldest son, Kevin followed the only role model he had. As a teenager, man, husband and father he assumed this outwardly authoritarian and unapproachable role. But this was a conflicted role and one that never quite fit. His heart, and often his words, reached out for a more nurturing, harmonious, more 'family' environment but he had neither the tools nor the skills to fulfill this role. Frustrated in this role, Kevin chose alcohol, drugs and, finally, he chose complete abandonment of his family...choices made many years before this transformation.

    Having lived abroad now for 7 years, I knew Kevin. I did not know KrysAnne except through emails and phone conversations. In these emails and conversations with me over the past few years, the tone remained bitter and resentful for a life ruined by circumstances with blame and animosity for all family members.

    Our brothers and sisters have all grown and matured more or less successfully despite the same demons. Each accepts responsibility for his/her fate. I'm afraid I never heard a word from Kevin/KrysAnne accepting responsibility for his/her fate. I received one of those letters. I did not return mine. I opened it and read words of contempt, anger and bitterness. Given the child-like writing, I suspect his own son sent the letter posted in your blog. I can not speak for all of my siblings, however, had KrysAnne made any heartfelt attempt to reach out to her family, as she did to me in the last few years, far more of us would have provided support and made a sincere effort to understand and help.

    In her final days, we spoke on the telephone and she still expressed her contempt for our mother's inability to stand up to the tyrant and 'protect' us. That was more than 40 years ago. KrysAnne said she intended to confront our mother yet again about this subject before dying. A sad way to live and a sadder way to die. I will never know the full story of why and what drove Kevin to pursue this remedy for his troubled life. Perhaps this was a new and more comfortable role. However, this new role was still tainted. A bit of the the victim and the martyr came through.

    Throughout his life, Kevin threw out the terms 'sissy' and 'fag' with ease, often directed at me. However, if this new role brought some comfort and peace...even joy, to this tortured soul, I am truly happy.

  6. Good Evening Stu,

    My name is Bill Hembrough, I'm Krysalis's younger brother by seven years. I need to let you know that neither of Krys's parents, none of her siblings, children or family at large ever abandoned her.

    For quite a few years we looked at her as more or less a recluse. When she did re-connect, much to our shock, it was as a woman. I congratulate you for your efforts. When I became aware of Krys's issues, I did my best to understand and to learn. She just doesn't seem to fit the profile. Her family knew her better than most. As an older brother she took that position with honor. Generous, warm and protective. Although, it was always obvious to everyone, that she craved and needed extra attention. An easy enough thing to forgive and to overlook.

    I hope, in fact, that her story doesn't detract from those,who are in my mind, in more legitimate need. Let me explain it this way. If Krys could have changed the color of her skin, she would have done that, in a heartbeat. Simply to cry out "Please look at me"! The note that you displayed on your web page, my guess was sent by who we call "Little Kevin". He had every right to send it.
    He is basically penniless, mentally ill, a recovering drug addict/alcoholic and a child abuse survivor. He is to be congratulated for his efforts and sympathized with for his past. Stu, the story has a myriad of chapters. None of which, could in any fashion, suggest abandonment of Krys by her family.

    If we had been sought out prior to Krys's transformation, we would have been there to love, help and assist. Whether or not we agreed or approved, we loved this person. Thank you again Stu for your efforts.

    Bill Hembrough

  7. Bill:
    Thank-you very much for taking the time to write. I am very glad to be in contact with you.
    We are still in production on this film and I am still trying to gain greater insight into KrysAnne's relationship with her family; so, your information (as well as from other family members) helps immensely. It is important for me to interpret her story correctly or I am doing a disservice to everyone involved- most of all those who will see the film. It has been an evolving process. If my work has taught me one thing it's that there are many sides to a story.

    Clearly, KrysAnne's relationship with family members was very complicated; and, she speaks to what an awful person Kevin was during her interview. After caregiving for her in her home for several weeks in February it was quite obvious to me that she was a person who dealt with rage, abandonment and (you are very right), craved attention. She was also dying (this time for real) and was in more fear than any of us have ever faced. What I think many people who didn't see her in these final months don't realize is that she was also a person who had found happiness and was trying very hard to overcome some very big mistakes from her past by working on her issues. A person's capacity for change is immense. What she wanted more than anything else was more time to work on herself and repair the damage. I say all this because it puts me in a difficult spot: she was a very warm, thoughtful, spiritual woman by the time I met her last year and yet her family says she was just the opposite until finally she was estranged from them.
    Correct me if I'm wrong but the truth seems that she was both. We will do our best to show what a complicated person she was in the limited amount of time allotted to her story.

    In our documentary, KrysAnne's story will show the effects of isolation that transgender folks face. Estrangement from family is very common (often for many of these reasons that go on for years before the actual operation). But lack of family is only part of the problem. Often there are few friends and a great distrust of agencies/institutions (hospitals, etc.). This is true of many transgender folks not just KrysAnne. She was lucky enough to have a case worker who helped her build a network of friends and professionals for her from scratch in those last six months of her life: something that takes a lifetime. During that time Adam began to take part in that to some degree. All this we hope show in the film.

    I would like to understand better why Little Kevin had every right to send those letters. No judgements from me I just could really benefit from your perspective. My other question is about how she doesn't fit the profile. Could you explain?
    I also would like very much to post what you wrote on the blog so that it is more balanced. I won't do so unless you give the ok. Your brother Patrick wrote a very enlightening comment that he allowed me to post there as well.

    Warmest regards,

    Stu Maddux, Director Editor

  8. Hello Stu, Thank you for your response. I should have, perhaps, explained why "Little Kevin" had the right to his note. When Krys was younger, she was a true homophobe and to some extent actually, a bigot. Little Kevin is of short stature, diminutive and not a "strong, manly man"! Krys at that time placed a great deal of worth on just these things. Little Kevin was belittled, no pun, by his father for these and other reasons. Of all the people that Kris has left behind, I would imagine that her son Kevin is the angriest. As I have mentioned, "Little Kevin" has far more than his fair share of troubles. What I did mean, was that he is entitled to his anger. As far as fitting the profile goes, Krys grew up as just that, a manly man. Paper route, little league, cub scouts, boy scouts, adult softball league, fishing boat, married a pretty girl, sired beautiful children, played basketball, the Air Force, drinking contests, all the while a total stud, a full beard, grown as soon as he was able and so on. Now, some might explain these things as methods to help him with his sexual identification. I grew up with Krys and there was never the slightest hint of femininity. He grew up in a time when it was far from fashionable to have so much as a gay acquaintance. Quite the reverse. It was more acceptable and simpler to be, just simply, anti-gay. I have a few thoughts about what may have led Kevin to become Krys. Just thoughts, mind you. Having grown up in this time period, how better to justify homosexuality? One would be able to say, "I'm not gay, I'm truly a female. No guilt about one's desires, no hypocrisy regarding past remarks, abuses and opinions.I'm not even convinced that she was gay. The other thought is how this could excuse past life failures. Failed relationships, fatherhood, career and so on. Well small wonder I've not succeeded! I'm not really a man. It would explain away a multitude of things. Now, I'm simply trying to understand. At the same time let it be known that Krys was never, ever abandoned. I have no objection to you sharing my thoughts with anyone. If any one of us were able to find a reason for our miseries and failures, we would all seize upon just that. It would not only serve to explain them, it would certainly offer a great conscience and guilt cleansing device. Krys had her wonderful side and like us all, her darker side. While you were filming, interviewing and caring for Krys, you were privy to her more positive traits. One of the darker ones, you are now seeing, blaming others. Her family is in no way guilty of anything that might have ever harmed Krys. Looking forward to further communication. Thank You Stu. Bill Hembrough

  9. Hello Again, Stu, I think that what you are working on is an extremely important project. Since learning about Krys's transformation, I have done whatever I can do to learn and to understand. From Dr. Phil to the many learning/teaching television channels. I may be wrong, but,I see how certain persons might actually slip through the cracks and be seen as legitimately deserving of re-assignment. For the wrong reasons. This does nothing to better serve understanding or aid in medical and psychological advances. It occurs to me that an angel or a demon may both develop cancer. Illness, whether physical or psychiatric, makes no distinction. I cannot help but worry, that the efforts made on Krys's behalf may have been more deserved elsewhere. If ever you'd care to chat by phone, let me know. If I can help or learn, I'd be happy to do so. Thank You Stu,,, Bill Hembrough