On the Science of Changing Sex

Ruth Barrett, Or When An Old Friend Becomes An Enemy

Posted in Autobiographical, Editorial by Kay Brown on June 16, 2021

When J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame came out as a major transphobe, many LGB & especially T people felt as though it was a personal betrayal. They had read her books, viewed her movies, responding to the tropes of love and inclusion triumphing over hatefulness… only to learn that Rowling was herself a Death Eater. I was one of those transsexuals who felt betrayed. I had taken my daughter to each of the movies as they came out. She was the same age as the child actors portraying the lead characters. She had all the books. Now, those memories are bitter ashes, tainted by the vile transphobia Rowling has vomited over them.

But there has been an even more bitter betrayal by one that I had admired and emulated, Ruth Barrett.

Ruth Barrett is a musician and Wiccan. She and her musical partner, Cyntia Smith, recorded songs and dulcimer instrumentals. Another Wiccan singer & dulcimer player I admired was Holly Tannen. I was in love with their music, bought all of their recordings.

Note the dulcimer on the wall

I purchased a dulcimer from Folk Roots, the same type that Ruth & Cyntia had learned to play and perform using, taking lessons from Holly. But I struggled to play it. I had studied Individual Voice and Small Group Harmony in high school, but had never learned to play an instrument. I was a klutz. My fingers just didn’t seem to know what to do.

Then, by chance, in the mid’ 80s, I was invited by Z Budapest, feminist author and Wiccan Sage, to help her set up and run the sound system for a conference and concert in Berkeley, as I had learned that skill helping with concerts at the Billy De Frank Gay and Lesbian Community Center in San Jose. It would have been quite churlish of me to have refused. One of the women to perform that day was Holly Tannen, another was Ruth Barrett. Thus, I met and got to know two of my musical idols on the same day.

I engaged Holly as an instructor. I still struggled. My fingers still didn’t seem to know what to do.

By luck, at a pagan event, I met Ruth and Cyntia. They both gave me quick lessons and pointers. Ruth gave me photocopies of her chord charts and tab sheets for several of their songs. Ruth and I talked about how to find one’s own singing and playing style, one’s own authentic voice. I was to see them at several other events over the next few years and was on very friendly terms with both of them. I met Cyntia’s husband, Dale, who was a master luthier, a maker of the finest classical guitars. As a means of courting Cyntia, he had copied the basic design of the Folk Roots dulcimer to make Ruth and Cyntia new dulcimers in the tradition of the finest guitars, with a sound and playability unmatched by any other in the world.

As my playing had vastly improved, thanks to Cyntia and Ruth’s tips, and that I had come into unexpected money from having been granted a patent, which was rewarded by my employer with a cash bonus, I commissioned Dale to make me a custom dulcimer in the same style as Ruth’s and Cyntia’s. As it happened, Cyntia and Ruth were scheduled to perform at the Billy De Frank Center, so it was natural that they stay at my place. Cyntia and I, in the comfort of my condo, spent our time discussing the custom inlay that she herself would design and carve for my dulcimer.

That dulcimer was a wonder. In just a few hours practice, my playing vastly improved. Having a fine instrument is worth everything, both to the performer and their audience. No wonder the greatest musicians pay thousands for them. I began to play the dulcimer, modern full chording/fingerpicking style, mostly British Isles folk tunes, at pagan events to the great appreciation of my audience.  You may listen or download free, should you be interested, to my indie produced cassette tape album of mostly folk music, but a couple Early Music, and even a few of my own composition, on dulcimer, guitar, and flute, I recorded back in ’89.  (Tap on “Side One” or “Side Two” to listen to the MP3 version.)  Please keep in mind, this is my hobby… I don’t pretend to be a professional.

On one of the occassions I was to see and converse with Ruth, at a Wiccan gathering / camping event, she strongly encouraged me to attend The Michigan Wymym’s Music Festival. The irony is not lost on me, as she was to rail loudly against allowing transwomen to attend in the years that followed. She has become a vociferous voice for TERF / GC / Transphobic propaganda, using Wicca / Goddess worship as her authority for her hatred. She edited a book entitled “Female Erasure” whose central theme was that transfolk are a serious threat to women’s existence. She has even led spiritual events for “detrans” female bodied people to “sever” their past “trans” experience.

If learning that the author of Harry Potter is transphobic feels like a betrayal, imagine how I feel about Ruth Barrett spewing the most vile transphobic propaganda after having been a personal musical mentor and friend, a guest in my house, a hero that I emulated.

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