By Staff, November 2017 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2017 here.
When Geoffrey Dorsey moved from Nashville to Phoenix in 2009, it marked the beginning of several new chapters in his life.
First, he had never attended a PFLAG meeting until arriving in the Valley of the Sun. Today, he serves as the president of the nonprofit’s Phoenix Chapter.
“PFLAG started many years ago for parents and families to get support when they had a child who was gay or lesbian,” he said. “It has evolved over time into much more. Many thought it was just for parents and families but LGBTI+ individuals are also welcome. We offer support to all. Some people just need a place to feel safe before they even tell anyone or they are questioning their sexuality. We provide that.”
Second, Dorsey had never met a transgender individual before moving to Phoenix. This was key to his journey because he found out about the PFLAG’s leadership vacancy at a Trans Spectrum of Arizona (TSAZ) meeting.
“I decided to run for president last year. I had no idea at the time what it involved,” Dorsey said. “After a year of being president I love it and all of the opportunities it has brought me. For the most part it involves the community and connecting people with the support they need.”
Making valuable community connections isn’t something that’s new to Dorsey either.
“My journey has been a long one with many twist and turns,” he said. “I have always identified with the LGBTQ community. Even as I child I knew I was attracted to women … I came out as a lesbian in 1995 after I moved to Nashville. I had tried earlier but my family shoved me back into the closet before I could barely get the door open.”
Since childhood, Dorsey has memories of not quite fitting in as a female, having unanswered questions, having to prove his identity and trying to pass as a female (which he was assigned at birth).
In 2003, he and a woman he was dating began looking for answers online when they came across the word transgender.
“I thought this must be it, I am a trans man. So, I started that part of my journey,” he said. “When I got to know some of the trans men here and heard their stories, I realized I never transitioned, I just evolved over my lifetime …
The other new chapter that Dorsey’s move to Phoenix prompted was his search to find a new doctor. Upon learning of Dorsey’s story, his new doctor asked if he’d ever been tested. For what? was Dorsey’s reply.
“He said, ‘it sounds to me like you are intersex,” Dorsey recalled. “This was the first time I had heard this word … I made an appointment with an endocrinologist and told her my story. She looked at me and said, ‘you have Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. I am going to do some test but I am 99.9 percent sure that will be the results.’ I just started crying. I was 44 years old and this was the first person who ever had any real answers to all of my questions as to why I was always so different.”
All of Dorsey’s new chapters came together about a year ago, as he was on a quest for purpose. Following his move to Phoenix, he also found a reconciling church that accepted him: Dayspring United Methodist Church in Tempe.
“I have always felt a need to make the world a better place,” he said. “About a year ago I was really struggling with this purpose thing. I finally said, OK I am ready. You open the doors and I will walk through.”
Two weeks later he learned that if PFLAG didn’t find a new president, the Phoenix the Chapter would have to close.
“I stepped up and said I will do it, and from there other doors opened,” he recalled.
Web-Exclusive Q&A with Geoffrey Dorsey
Echo: Let’s take it back to where it all began, sort of. Where are you from originally? Where were you raised?
Dorsey: I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. Although most people who know me will tell you I am from West Virginia. The reason for this is both of my parents are from deep in the Appalachian Mountains of Southern West Virginia. When you have that culture in your family, no matter where you end up growing up it is still very much a part of you. I did spend many of my childhood summers in W.V. with my grandparents in what we call a holler which is basically about three or four miles back a dirt road into the heart of the mountains. I also lived in W.V. for several years as an adult and both of my children were born there.
Echo: Do you have any family you’d like to introduce our readers to?
Dorsey: I have two grown sons and three grandchildren. They have all lived here in Arizona with me during different times over the past few years. But they have since opted to move back to the mountains of West Virginia.
Echo: You moved to Phoenix from West Virginia; what was it that brought you here? And what year was that?
Dorsey: I actually moved to Phoenix from Nashville, Tenn. I lived there for 15 years before moving to Phoenix in 2009. What brought me to Arizona? I think as a child the idea was planted in my head. I was named after my grandfather’s cousin. She left W.V. and worked for the State Department in foreign countries and ended up settling in Arizona. She passed away in Tucson in 2002. I thought of her as a person with great strength and adventure to do what she did although I never actually met her. I just heard stories about her as a child. Many people born in W.V. do not venture far away from it.
When my children moved out of the house I decided it was time. Many thought I made an abrupt decision but I generally think long and hard on things before I do them. I just don’t share that thought process with people. Then once I decide I jump so to many it seems sudden. I pack what would fit in my car and headed to Phoenix with no job. I did know two people that I had met in Nashville at ITT that told me if I ever wanted to come I could stay with them. So that’s where I landed. I have now been here eight years.
Education I have quite a bit of that. I quit high school because of bullying; my grades were good but I could not take it anymore. I did make up for it though. I got my first bachelor’s in accounting from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, then an Associate’s in Computer Aided Drafting and Design from ITT Tech in Nashville. Since moving to Phoenix, I have received bachelor’s in both psychology and criminal justice from South University Online and I am currently working on a Master’s in public administration at South University online.
Echo: Why do you do what you do? Was there a definitive moment when you realized this was your calling/purpose?
Dorsey: I have always felt a need to make the world a better place. For most of my life I felt a need to do more and to find what it was I was supposed to do with this life I had been given. “Life’s Purpose” it seems we spend a great deal of time trying to figure out our purpose. There are many books written on the subject and I was looking for mine. I had an idea but did not know how to go about it. I had struggled with this for a long time. I tried doing many different things but they all felt wrong in some way. I guess not wrong because they were worthy things just not what I was supposed to do. I was raised in church and believe in God. Even though the church had turned me away because of whom I was. I held onto my faith and it has seen me through some dark times. When I moved to Phoenix I found a church that accepted me DaySprings United Methodist Church in Tempe, it is a reconciling church.
About a year ago I was really struggling with this purpose thing. I felt there was something I was supposed to do but did not know what or how to start. I found a reserve by my house and started going there and walking. The picture of me setting on that rock is a selfie I took there. I found this spot secluded on a small hill. I would go up there and talk to GOD. I finally said okay I am ready, you open the doors and I will walk through. About two weeks into this ritual I went to a TSAZ meeting. They announced that if they did not get a new President for PFLAG Phoenix the chapter would have to close. I steped up and said I will do it, from there other doors opend. At church that Sunday someone approached me from Paradise Valley United Methodist Church. They were having meetings about also becoming a reconciling church and asked me to come there and tell my story. Since then I have gotten more invitations to speak or be on panels. I knew then I had found my purpose and the doors were opening.
People often talk about how many degrees I have. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I finally found it and it only took me a half of a century I will be 50 in January. That is why I started the master’s in public administration it is more in line with nonprofit work.
Echo: In your estimation, why is it important to have a organization that served parents, friends and family of our community still?
Dorsey: The current political atmosphere is not helping. We seem to be taking some big steps backwards currently. But I think many parents in the country are more excepting of their child being Gay in today’s world. Transgender, gender fluid and other non-binary groups are still struggling. This is our biggest group of individuals showing up and parents who seek us out. My hope is at some point there will not be a need for any of these support groups but we are not there yet. So we will keep doing what we do.
Echo: Because of your role with PFLAG, do you see yourself as a spokesperson for the intersex community?
Dorsey: I do consider myself a spokesperson for the intersex community along with the whole LGBTQI+ community. I feel that being the president of PFLAG I am afforded more opportunities to speak and represent the community that I may not have had if I was not president. I feel we all need to be one community and fight together. We are marginalized along with many other marginalized groups. If the marginalized groups band together we have a bigger representation overall. I feel that too many people do not get involved because it does not affect them personally. Injustice is injustice, everyone should have the same rights, and they should not hinge on your sexual orientation, gender identity or the color of your skin. To paraphrase Martin Niemoller, “I did not speak out because, it was not me they came for. Someday they will come for you and there will be no one left to speak for you.”
Echo: In your estimation, why is visibility important to you and other intersex individuals? How do you achieve that, ideally?
Dorsey: To bring awareness that gender is not as simple as people think. We are medical prove of this. We have genetic and biological difference that we were born with. XX and XY chromosomes do not make one male or female, there is so much more to it than that. For to many years they tried to hide us and pretend we did not exist. We as a group are rising up and bringing awareness and we need to stop the unnecessary surgeries.
I find it interesting that they will do these surgeries on infants who cannot give consent but when a transgender adult wants surgery they are denied or have to jump through hoops to have surgery. This is wrong they are our bodies and we should have the rights over them.
Echo: Do you have an advice for intersex folks who might be reading this?
Dorsey: If you are intersex get in touch with the AIS-DSD support group. They have a conference every year. This year it was actually here in Phoenix. I will have to say it was at the top of the best experiences of my lifetime. I finally got to meet and spend time with other intersex persons. I met Hanne a high profile fashion runway model that came out as intersex earlier this year and Pidgeon both whom are activist and for the intersex community and active with a group called InterACT advocates. I met so many wonderful people I could not name them all.
It was an amazing experience. It was as if I knew these people all of my life and I had just met them. It was more like a reunion with old friends than a first meeting experience. I cannot wait until next year’s conference.
Echo: What would you like to tell anyone who is interested in PFLAG but has yet to check out the group or its resources?
Dorsey: Get involved it is a great group of people and what you get is always more than you give. We have 5 meetings around the valley each month. So you are sure to find one close to you or one that will fit your schedule. You can find out where and when by visiting the website.
Echo: What would you consider your greatest feat?
Dorsey: Navigating through my life and coming out on top. If I was not born this way I would not be the person I am today. I would not have had the great experiences I have had or met the people I have met. Life is a journey to be taken. You can sit in one place all your life or see where life will take you if you are willing to go.
Echo: Who are some of your role models/inspirations and why?
Dorsey: My dear friend Peggy who gave me the courage to find out who I was and start this journey even though she did not know the effect she had on my life until I told her a few years ago. Betty White because she is Betty White and she is awesome I would love to meet her someday. She speaks her mind and stands up for what she believes in.
Echo: Do you consider yourself a role model? Why/why not?
Dorsey: I do not think I am a role model per say but if I have helped one person than I have done something worthwhile. My hope is that people who have met me have learned something from knowing me, something that has helped or encouraged them and they will help someone else.
Echo: What advice do you have for anyone looking to dedicate more time to a cause they feel passionately about?
Dorsey: Don’t let fear hold you back. Many people who have done the great things in the world have shared they were afraid but did it anyway. I think the only things we really regret are those we did not even try to do.
Echo: If you could summarize your efforts and experiences in 2017, what would you say?
Dorsey: I had an awesome 2017 had many new experiences and hope the years to come bring even more. I have met many new people; I learned from some and educated others.
Echo: Where do you see yourself five years from now? And where do you see PFLAG Phoenix five years from now?
Dorsey: In five years I see myself more involved with the community expanding my experiences. I would like to take PFLAG Phoenix to bigger and better things. I have some plans for the next year if I am elected president In November to serve another term.
Congratulations to the Class of 2017! Meet the rest of the inductees here.