Wyoming’s Sissy Goodwin Remembered With Museum Exhibit | Wyoming News


By MARY STEURER, Casper Star-Tribune

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) – Vickie Goodwin was supposed to meet her husband at the Smithsonian Museum, and he was very, very late.

The Wyoming natives were visiting Washington for her work, and while attending a meeting, Sissy was out on a sightseeing trip. Now he was nowhere to be found. And what could she do? It was 1997, and they didn’t have a cell phone.

She was beside herself. Back then, a man could have a lot of problems if he walked around DC in a skirt and blouse.

After a few hours, Sissy arrived, Vickie recalls. He had been to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where he had met a Washington Post photographer, he told him. The Post was wowed by her attire and wanted to write about her.

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A few days later, Dateline and Good Morning America called. They wanted to talk too.

“Do you even want to do all that?” Vickie remembers asking him. He said he did.

“He always encouraged me to go above and beyond,” she said Tuesday at their Douglas home. She laughed and rolled her eyes as she spoke, as if to say, “It’s Sissy.”

Larry “Sissy” Goodwin’s clothes tended to turn heads – a self-proclaimed transvestite, he mostly felt in peasant sleeved tops, skirts and knots in his hair.

The Air Force veteran, former power plant technician, and Casper’s retired educator challenge to mainstream gender roles had made him something of a Wyoming celebrity. But it was his outspokenness and advocacy that cemented him as part of the Cowboy State shared experience. Those who knew him said he touched lives everywhere he went.

Sissy passed away in March 2020 after battling brain cancer. He was 73 years old.

For the past year, Vickie has been trying to preserve the memory of her husband. Sissy opened his life to others because he wanted to help people like him, she said. It’s his way of honoring that wish.

“I think we are immortal as long as we remember ourselves,” she said.

“The fabric of his life”

With Vickie’s help, Casper’s Nicolaysen Art Museum recently opened a biographical exhibit on Sissy titled “The Fabric of Her Life, Larry Sissy Goodwin,” reports the Casper Star-Tribune.

The exhibit uses a mishmash of artifacts from her life – photos, newspaper clippings, personal effects – to tell her story. Her clothes, of course, take center stage.

Each element captures a snapshot: his time as a rodeo cowboy. His service as an aircraft mechanic during the Vietnam War. His marriage to Vickie. How he found the confidence to start disguising himself in public in the ’70s, while working at the Glenrock Power Plant and raising two children.

A Little Theater runs through Sissy and Vickie’s appearance in NPR’s 2015 storytelling project StoryCorps, and, yes, their interview with Dateline from the ’90s.

Its know-how is also highlighted. Sissy was an avid aviation enthusiast, for her part, but also engaged in fields such as winemaking, gardening and photography.

The exhibit is designed not only to share who Sissy was, but to encourage discussion and self-reflection, said museum art curator Amanda Yonker.

Questions printed on the walls invite visitors to think about how they can learn from him. “Have you ever fought for something that was important to you?” ” we read.

Nicolaysen director Andy Couch said he was inspired to open the exhibit after working with playwright Gregory Hinton, a native of Cody.

They met in 2018 while Hinton was working on his play, “More Sky”, about Cherokee writer Lynn Riggs. Couch was director of a history museum in Riggs’s hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma, so Hinton consulted him for research.

At one point, Hinton raised Sissy.

“I told him about this great character from Wyoming – this wonderful person who had turned Wyoming on his ear,” Hinton said.

It wouldn’t be long before they crossed paths again. Fascinated by her story, Hinton will write a play about Sissy.

Hinton’s piece would give rise to another historic project: Last year, he put Vickie in touch with Leslie Waggener, archivist for the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.

Waggener partnered with Vickie to record an oral history for Out West in the Rockies, a collection dedicated to archiving LGBTQ stories. They recorded over 22 hours together, Vickie said.

Oral history became the basis of Hinton’s play, “A Sissy in Wyoming”.

Meanwhile, Couch moved to Casper to take over the Nic. The museum started the exhibition soon after.

As part of the exhibit, Hinton will visit the Nic on October 24 for a full reading of his play.

The exhibit follows a summer of anti-LGBTQ fanaticism in Wyoming. A biker bar in Cheyenne sparked outrage in July for selling t-shirts advocating violence against homosexuals. That same month, a transgender woman who was scheduled to put on a magic show at the Campbell County Library was forced to cancel after receiving threats from residents of Gillette. Less than a week later, another transgender woman was severely beaten in Casper.

‘This is how I am’

That Sissy made enough noise to spur a 22-hour oral history, plays and art exhibit was no accident, Hinton said.

“He really had an eye on being remembered,” he said.

A natural teacher, Sissy wanted people to understand that it wasn’t just the clothes he was wearing, Vickie said.

He looked for opportunities to talk about his life, struggles and ideas with others – and he was very good at it, she added. People were captivated by Sissy’s humble charm, his sense of humor, and the intelligent way he spoke about the world.

He spoke candidly about what he had experienced: verbal abuse. Broken windows. The day someone attacked him in his own backyard and kicked him in the teeth. His arrests in Casper and Salt Lake City.

He was also open about his struggle for self-acceptance.

Her decision to go through “Sissy” was part of that trip. “Sissy” is an insult meant to demean anyone who challenges traditional male roles, especially gay and bi men, and transgender women. Adopting it as his name was his way of reclaiming and neutralizing the term, he told people.

Beyond appearances on talk shows and newspapers, he has also worked with local advocacy groups to promote LGBTQ rights. He served on the Wyoming ACLU board of directors, and he and Vickie were both members of Wyoming Equality.

He has lectured on gender diversity at Eastern Wyoming College and Casper College, where he has also taught technology courses for several years.

“He always started by saying, ‘Most of the women I know wear jeans and T-shirts. I’m wondering about some of you here, ”Vickie said.

He could even turn sarcastic remarks into teachable moments, she added.

In 2017, former Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican from Wyoming, sparked an outcry after making offensive remarks about the cross-dressing of men at an event at Greybull High School.

In response to a question about LGBTQ rights in Wyoming, Enzi told students that the state is generally tolerant until they “push it in someone’s face.”

“I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday nights and is always surprised that he fights,” he said.

Many read her words as an indirect reference to Sissy. Although Enzi denied this, he then personally apologized to Sissy over the phone.

“We had a great conversation,” Sissy told the Tribune. “He apologized and I’m convinced it was genuine.”

Nic’s exhibit was met with a wave of support from members of the community.

At the opening reception on October 1, visitors exchanged their favorite Sissy memories, as if they were part of the show themselves.

Seeing so many people come together to keep Sissy’s memory alive has been amazing, Hinton said. The word “bashert” comes to mind, he said – Yiddish for “it’s meant to be”.

Hinton has devoted much of his career to portraying the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in the rural west. He knows how many times stories like Sissy’s are overlooked, forgotten and erased, he said.

The Goodwin House is its own monument to the time Vickie and Sissy spent together. The shelves proudly display photos of their smiling faces, mementos of years gone by, party decorations from their 50th wedding anniversary.

Traces of Sissy’s manual labor are everywhere: he installed the tiles in the kitchen and the cabinets, dug the koi pond in the back.

Vickie’s colorful treasures line the hearth and windowsills: dragon figurines, gems, and an impressive collection of butterfly-themed items.

(She loves butterflies. One of the coffee mugs says, “Love is like a butterfly, it takes you to magical places!”)

In the meantime, she stays busy, she said. She is chair of the Converse County Library Board and active in the county’s Democratic Party. Her free time is spent writing, crafts, and spending time with her grandchildren.

Soon, Vickie plans to stop at the Nic exhibit again. She was there on opening night, but can’t wait to get back to her pace, she said.

It will be a private moment to understand everything and maybe shed a few tears.

Looking back on 51 years with Sissy has been both cathartic and eye-opening, Vickie said.

“As I was doing all of this it came back to me – how much he did,” she said.

Vickie plans to write a memoir about Sissy and herself, she said. There are plenty of other stories to share.

Copyright 2021 The Associated press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


About Carlos V. Mitchell

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