WE SPENT TIME WITH PERSEPHONE WEBB TO DISCUSS ACTIVISM AND WOMANHOOD.
Electric guitarist, Director of PFLAG Maryville, wife, software engineer, transgender woman, rescue dog owner, activist. These are just a few words that could be used to describe Persephone Webb. According to Persephone, she writes software by day and tries to make the world better by night. This modern-day superhero approach is one of many reasons we decided to chat with Persephone for our second community spotlight of #WomensHistoryMonth.
Since coming out about a year ago, Persephone has become increasingly active in the LGBTQ+ community and stays busy spreading awareness, educating others, and advocating for trans rights, especially on behalf of transgender youth. Just last week she attended the meet and greet for Knox County School Board Superintendent candidates where she asked tough questions about how they planned to treat trans students. Although Webb was dissatisfied with their answers, she “wants to make sure our youngest and most vulnerable are protected.”
Persephone currently serves as the Vice President for both the Foothills LGBT Center and the Trans Empowerment Project (TEP). Webb highly recommends both of those resources as well as Knoxville’s Planned Parenthood to other trans people in our community. All three are warm, welcoming environments where trans people can find the support they need in addition to getting to “sit down face to face with other folks in the community to share experiences or just generally talk through what is going on in our lives.”
“We’re in this together. I’m trans, I’m also a lesbian…I don’t like to call [being transgender] an identity per se. I am just a woman. I don’t ‘identify’ as a woman; I am one.”
In the spirit of strong women and activism, Persephone considers Zinnia Jones to be the person who has influenced her most. As a blogger with a heavy online following, Jones writes about in-depth trans research and creates videos to explore the unique struggle trans folks face, including legislation specifically targeted at their community. Persephone credits Jones and other trans women visible on social media for giving her the confidence to come out last year.
Two local (s)heroes Persephone admires are Dr. Leticia Flores of the Tennessee Equality Project (see previous blog) and Maggie Farley of Planned Parenthood. “I hope that someday I can contribute half as much as these two amazing women.” Dr. Flores is a tireless advocate and voice for the trans community, especially through her work at the Tennessee Equality Project; Maggie Farley’s work at Planned Parenthood provides for the health and wellbeing of local trans folks.
Persephone is passionate about learning the stories of transgender women who have paved the way many years ago. During Women’s History Month she has realized how important it is to study the history of transgender women. “So much of our life is spent focused on the present that we forget to reflect on the past. Taking some time to learn about the lives of those that paved the way for us is crucial to shaping a better future,” says Webb. Persephone wants to specifically spend some time reading about and exploring the lives of Christine Jorgensen and Lili Elbe, two of the first women to ever undergo gender confirmation surgery.
As present day transgender women are pursuing equal rights, Persephone notes that it is important to remember womanism. “Womanism is needed to fill the gaps often left by feminism. If we ever want to have true equality we have to think about intersectionality.” Trans women of color as so overlooked in conversations about pursuing rights for trans women. Therefore, it is necessary to remember “the most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities” [regarding trans advocacy]. According to the Human Rights Campaign, eight trans women of color have been murdered in less than three months this year.
Persephone believes the best way to define womanhood is by allowing women to define it through their everyday lived experiences, and we at AOK couldn’t put it in better words if we tried.
“Womanhood is whatever you say it is. If you’re a woman, there’s your womanhood…and that’s the end of the story. It shouldn’t be defined by anyone.”