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26 August 2018

Dean Kotula (1958–) photographer, antiques dealer

Kotula was born in the US Midwest in a family of six girls and one boy, both parents school teachers. Kotula was refusing dresses by the age of six. Fortunately, unlike his elder siblings, Kotula did not have to attend parochial school with its gendered uniforms. On the other hand father often took the one son on hunting trips, but Kotula, despite heartfelt pleas to go, was left at home.

Father was the local mayor for several years. He then retrained and took the family to live for six months in Hawai’i and two years in Bangkok.

Being uncomfortable with the body changes that come with teenage, Kotula did drugs, was in a drug treatment center for eight months, and went to an alternate high school.

Kotula started a relationship with a woman, and became much calmer. He visited the University of Minnesota gender identity program in his early twenties, but after they had stopped giving free treatment in 1979.
“They could have helped me and a far greater percentage of transsexuals if they hadn’t charged exorbitant fees for their services. They had a long, drawn-out evaluation process, and I couldn’t afford their services. I moved, and finally, fifteen years later, connected with a psychiatrist in Portland, Oregon, who had a lot of experience evaluating transsexuals. I was a classic female-to-male (FTM) transsexual. He recognized the signs and wrote out a prescription for hormones during my second, one-hour session with him.” (In Cronn-Mills: 31)
Kotula engaged in a variety of vocations: taxidermy, chimney sweeping, house renovations, commercial fishing – and especially photography. He also travelled around the US, and to India and South America.

After 1975, every foreign vessel fishing in US waters had to have an American on board during fishing operations to document catches and collect biological data. From 1985 to 1990 Kotula worked aboard these factory ships as an observer, and also used his camera to record the experience.

He applied to volunteer with the US Peace Corps, and went through the eight month evaluation process. He had checked several times that there was no dress code and that he would be working as an aquaculturalist in rice fields in Thailand for 27 months. He quit his job, gave up his apartment, and replaced the photographic equipment stolen by a burglar. However at the orientation session in San Francisco, there was suddenly a dress code requiring women to wear a skirt, and as a result Kotula was ejected from the program.

He took the name Beryl, as a unisex name, and later the name Dean. In the mid-1990s, Kotula was working in the Portland shipyards and had found the right psychiatrist:
“I was hired on as one of two female shipyard machinists just prior to receiving my long-awaited prescription for testosterone. I said nothing to my employer regarding my transsexual status or intention to transition. But a short time after introducing testosterone to my system, the physical changes were apparent. Around that time, I was featured prominently in a national pop-culture magazine. The son of one of the shipyard electricians saw the article and gave it to his dad, who passed it around among the two-thousand-plus employees working in the yard. So, the company saw the changes in me and read the explanation—the whys and wherefores—in the magazine, but no way did they accept it (there were a few exceptions). I began to be harassed in both subtle and obvious ways. [During work slowdowns], I was usually one of the first to be laid off and one of the last to be called back to work. During one layoff, I called the company and asked the secretary to send me a copy of my work record. Handwritten in the record were the words “was F, now M. When?” along with a notation stating that I should not be called back. Since I was a union employee, they had to begin to falsify a record of poor performance on my part, or some such thing, in order to justify a dismissal. When I saw the layoff notation linked to their knowledge of my transition (was F, now M) I felt that was proof positive of their decision to discriminate, so I filed a lawsuit against them. The Bureau of Labor and Industry in Portland, Oregon, investigated and found a positive finding of discrimination against me. I was the first transsexual in the state of Oregon to have a case with a positive finding of discrimination, and my case was instrumental towards gaining statewide protection for transsexuals in the state of Oregon.”
(In Cronn-Mills: 31-2)
He obtained a ruling from the Bureau of Labor and Industry (BoLI) that he was protected under the Oregon Disability Law. This was around the same time that a similar ruling was obtained, also from BoLI, for Lori Buckwalter who had been fired from Consolidated Freightways for starting transition.
In 1997 the Oregon Legislature responded to the Buckwalter and Kotula decisions by amending the state law to say that "an employer may not be found to have engaged in an unlawful employment practice solely because the employer fails to provide reasonable accommodation to a person with a disability arising out of transsexualism”. This was better than the original proposals.

Kotula was able to continue working in the shipyards despite harassment from both workers and management. Enough money was saved to pay for surgery.

It was also in Portland that Dean met the Cheris Hiser (1940 - ) when they were both offering support to Kenny after his mastectomy. Cheris was a ‘photoevangelist’ who was known for her photographs of unknown subcultures. She had meant to do a project on trans men, but after meeting Dean realized that he should do it. He submitted a photographic essay to Transgender Tapestry and it was published in 1997.

Later Hiser introduced Dean to painter/ photographer William E Parker (1932 - 2009) whose experience broadened the book. He became consulting editor and persuaded Dean to include essays by others. The book, The Phallus Palace, came out in 2002, with a preface by Hiser, and contributions from Milton Diamond, Toby Meltzer, Rachel Pollack, Ken Morris, Margaret O’Hartigan (on Alan Hart) and Dean’s sister, Sharon.  The center of the book being 19 photographs of trans men with an essay from each (some of whom were included in the 1997 photo essay).

Post-transition Dean Kotula established himself as a photographer, and antiques dealer and lives in Massachusetts. In May-June 2014 there was an exhibition of Kotula’s photography in Searsport, Maine.
  • Dean Kotula. “Building a Male Body”. Transgender Tapestry, 79, Summer 1997. An early version of the photographic section of The Phallus Palace, 2002. Online.
  • Dean Kotula & William R Parker (eds). The Phallus Palace: Female to Male Transsexuals. Alyson Publications. 2002.
  • Dean Kotula. “Perceptions and Plights”. In The Phallus Palace: 208-228.
  • Sharon E Kotula. “Metamorphosis of a Sibling: When History Changes”. In The Phallus Palace: 230-4.
  • Max Wolf Valerio. “Peering Inside the Phallus Palace”. Transgender Tapestry, 100, Winter 2002: 48-9. Online.
  • “Maritime Muse – Inspired By the Sea: Dean Kotula Photography Exhibit”. Bangor Daily News, May 20, 2014. Online.
  • “Dean Kotula” in Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Transgender Lives: Complex Stories, Complex voices. Twenty-First Century Books, 2015: Chp 5: 28-33.

Is Beryl a unisex name?  Apparently only in the US.  Discussion.

Kotula's own account, in his own book and in Cronn-Mills is shy of dates.  I may have mis-assumed once or twice.

For whatever reason, the Buckwalter and Kotula cases with BoLI are never discussed together.


  1. There are so many. inaccuracies in this bio since the author obviously brought a bias into the framing of it. If you want the truth contact Dean, this author Did Not!

  2. Would you care to expand on this? All authors have a bias. Mine is to be trans-positive. What other do you perceive? What I wrote is mainly based on what you wrote in Cronn-Mills, and what you and your sister wrote in The Phallus Palace. Are you saying that these are inaccurate and should not be used?


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