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09 March 2009

Margaret Deirdre O’Hartigan (195? - ) activist.

Margaret O’Hartigan transitioned in Minnesota in 1979. She was on public assistance and successfully sued the State to pay for her surgery.

She moved to Everett, Washington, where she worked as a typist. She applied for a job with the State Police and discovered that only police forces and a few others may require a polygraph test asking questions to prospective employees about private matters. With the ACLU she sued the Police in 1987 on this matter. In 1989 they won, but in 1992 the Washington State Supreme Court reversed the ruling.

In the early 1990s Margaret obtained a ruling against a Seattle bisexual women’s group that excluded her because she is transsexual.

In the mid 1990s she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she persuaded the Phoenix Rising Counseling Center to include trans persons. She publicized the role the Unitarian Universalist Church had had in publishing Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire. She established the Filisa Vestima Foundation in order to collect funds to aid indigent transsexuals gain access to health care.

In 1993 she wrote:
"Every application of the term transgender to me is an attempt to mask what I've done and as such co-opts my life, denies my experience, violates my very soul. I changed my sex. Like the hijra of India and the gallae of Rome I took cold steel to myself and proved that anatomy is not destiny. Like the Siberian Chukchee shaman I have died and been taken apart, reassembled, changed sex, and come back with new powers. Like the inkte of the Mdewakanton Siouxs I grew up amongst, I have had my visions.
I am not transgender."
She helped Dean Kotula, herself and others file complaints in Oregon on the basis that they were covered under disabilities anti-discrimination laws. A newly qualified lawyer, trans woman JoAnna McNamara, successfully presented a brief with supporting theory and case law to much the same effect. This led to a squabble over the credit. Margaret put down McNamara and her client as ‘men’ who had enjoyed ‘adult white male privilege’ because they had not become women until their 40s.

In 1994 she wrote an article “The Joy of Fat” about being overweight in Dimension Magazine that was reprinted in Harper’s Magazine.

In 1996 Margaret controversially accused Jessica Xavier of racism. In the same year she received Pride NorthWest’s “Spirit of Pride Award” for her “tireless advocacy for the trans community and for trans consciousness raising with both the Les/bi/gay and general straight cultures”. She has opposed the removal of Gender Identity Disorder from the DSM in that the associated HBIGDA Standard of Care is non-abusive unlike what she was exposed to as a child, and attacked Phyllis Burke's Gender Shock which documents abusive attempts to 'cure' gender variant children as a 'transphobic' book.

In 1999 she opposed the Portland Lesbian Community Project extending its services to trans women whom Margaret referred to as ‘men’, and cited Janice Raymond as part of her argument. This article was later reprinted by the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter during the dispute that arouse when they rejected Kimberly Nixon as a counsellor.

Margaret contributed a chapter on Alan Hart to Dean Kotula’s 2002 book, The Phallus Palace.

One must take whatever civil rights are available wherever you live. However I do feel uneasy about trans persons being covered under laws relating to disabilities.

Why is this woman not being saluted by the HBS people as the pioneer that she is for their cause? Partly I think in that none of the HBS websites have any historical component. They do not seem to have any interest in what persons like themselves did in earlier decades.

O’Hartigan is just as contentious as Goiar in wishing to deprive other transgender persons of civil rights; but unlike Goiar she has actually achieved something useful as well.

Willow Arune, here, says: "Now, bearing in mind that Blanchard found two distinct types, he wanted to avoid the primary-secondary terminology. It had been abused in the system, with status and bias (such as Margaret Deirdre O’Hartigan in Minnesota and then Oregon)." I have previously raised the question: does HSTS=HBS? An observer might consider O’Hartigan to be both. However I wonder what Margaret herself thinks about such jargon?


  1. Anonymous10/3/09 12:30

    Zagria, it's funny that just as you posted this entry, I had been reading Patrick Califia's excellent book Sex Changes, which quotes O'Hartigan a fair amount in certain passages (albeit some of her less contentious statements).

  2. Thank you, Gina_sf. I have just reread the section in Califia, and added the quote from O'Hartigan.

  3. Anonymous1/6/09 16:49

    Margaret O'Hartigan gets quite a bit of mention in Vivian Nameste's Invisible Lives, funny how that book has been almost totally ignored by transies.

    I am well aware of the debt I owe her for her early work in separation of classic transsexuality from transgender and transvestitic fetishism as well as the fact she was one of the first women of trans history to write much of anything about the Gallae of Cybele. I also feel a sisterhood with her in her erasure of her works and the slander and libel she has been subjected to over the years by transgenderists.

    I doubt she would appreciate being included on this website.

  4. Anonymous16/7/09 09:22

    I hate to post anonymously, but O'Hartigan is such an attack dog that I don't feel comfortable doing otherwise.

    O'Hartigan is of the I'm-a-real-girl-and-you're-not school of transsexualism. Thankfully, it's almost extinct. She's not happy unless she's in a fight, and she fights dirty when she is. She's one of the few people that make me happy the human lifespan is as short as it is.

  5. Anonymous9/9/13 21:28

    "In the early 1990s Margaret obtained a ruling against a Seattle bisexual women’s group that excluded her because she is transsexual."

    Citation please.

    1. When I originally wrote this piece, there was an extra reference: Emi Koyama. “Stay Away, Log Cabin Transsexuals: A Response to ‘Postmodern Marches on’ in Off Our Backs, Aug/Sept 1999”

      While this item was online far all to read, Emi took umbrage that people were actually reading it, and wrote to me demanding that she not be credited. So I simply deleted the credit, but left in what I had taken from it.

      I suggest that you contact Emi for a copy.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. In obtaining her own surgery, Goiar eased the path for other Spanish trans women.

    2. Why has Margaret been so quiet this last decade?

    3. I do wonder what she is doing. I'd love to hear from her.

  7. Margaret has been married to Rachel Koteles for 19 years. Source:


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