Larry “Sissy” Goodwin said he doesn’t own a tutu, but the 70-year-old Douglas retiree and Vietnam veteran said he does wear petticoats.
“I guess people mistake that for a tutu,” said Goodwin, perhaps Wyoming’s most well-known cross-dresser, who prefers the term gender-enhanced male, or GEM.
Goodwin and the gay community believe U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi was referring to Sissy on Tuesday at Greybull High School when he said, “I know a guy that wears a tutu and goes to the bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it a little bit. That’s the way he winds up with that kind of problem.”
Enzi later apologized for the statement, after the story went national and LGBT groups and the Wyoming Democratic Party criticized the Republican senator. Enzi said he was trying to argue that federal law can’t solve every problem and people need to be more civil.
The senator’s spokesman, Max D’Onofrio, said Enzi was not talking about Goodwin.
“Though he knew of Mr. Goodwin, he did not know that he wore tutus,” D’Onofrio said. “Senator Enzi actually wasn’t talking about any one individual. His example of a man wearing a tutu was not intended to represent any specific person.”
Enzi, in his comments to the students, did not say he was offering a hypothetical. His statements to them indicated he knew a specific man who visited bars in a tutu.
Goodwin first heard about Enzi’s remarks Wednesday morning. His wife printed out articles from the Star-Tribune, the Huffington Post and Wyoming Public Media. He had received a number of messages from well-wishers Wednesday, he said.
Goodwin said he’s never met Enzi. He said that he was not surprised by the comments, which he said reflect a culture in a state that continues to reject adopting a hate crimes law, some 19 years after University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard was beaten to death.
“One thing I would like to say to Sen. Enzi, is he was in the National Guard. I was in the Air Force,” Goodwin said. “We served to protect our rights. We served so we could be free for people out there such as myself. We were serving to protect our freedom.”
‘Not looking for a fight’
Goodwin challenged some of Enzi’s assumptions about men who wear women’s clothing. He said he wears women’s dresses when he goes out for a drink, which is only on occasion.
Goodwin described himself as a pacifist and member of Veterans for Peace.
“I’m not looking for a fight,” he said. “I think we should all be respected for who we are and what we are. I was really put off by him.”
Goodwin, however, has been beat up.
About 25 years ago, someone broke beer bottles in his driveway. When Goodwin and his son were cleaning them up, a man drove by and made some comments, jumped out of his car and grabbed him, Goodwin said.
The man threw Goodwin to the ground and kicked his kidney first, Goodwin said. Then he kicked him in the mouth.
“The last time I was physically assaulted was four or five years ago,” he said.
Goodwin is married to a woman but enjoys dressing in women’s clothes. He said the reasons people cross-dress are complicated. There are numerous psychological theories about why. One is that it relieves stress, he said.
“I’m not so concerned about the causation anymore, in that people are different and it should be OK to be yourself as long as you’re not hurting someone else,” he said.
Someone called him “Sissy” for the first time in the early 1970s when he was a student at the University of Wyoming.
“I was kind of offended by it, but then I got to thinking about it, and I thought, ‘Maybe that’s who I am,’” he said.
He began to embrace Sissy as a name.
“I took it as a way of being up-front with myself and to deflect some of the hate associated with that term,” he said. “You can’t hurt me by calling me that.”
Over the years, he said he’s been featured on NBC News’ “Dateline,” and NPR’s “Storycorps” and in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
Goodwin said he never sought the media attention, but reporters were fascinated with a man named Sissy living in the Cowboy State.
That’s why he assumes Enzi was referring to him.
“Like it or not, I’ve become the Wyoming spokesperson on this issue,” he said. “Because of all the publicity, I assumed it was about me.”
While Enzi doesn’t believe government can mandate decency, Goodwin says there are a host of laws that could do more to protect members of minority groups.
“Regulations made our society as great as it is,” he said.
Thanks to labor laws, children no longer work in mines and people are guaranteed a minimum wage, he said, and thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency, rivers no longer catch on fire.
“There’s reasons we have regulations,” he said. “We don’t regulate just to regulate. We regulate because there’s problems out there.”
Goodwin hopes something positive comes from Enzi’s comments and the fallout.
“I owe him a little bit of gratitude for bringing this up,” he said. “It illuminates the fact that there is a lot of hate and intolerance and bigotry in Wyoming. By ignoring it or not talking about it, it gives a tacit approval for that type of thinking and behavior. By illuminating the subject and discussing it, I think we can work together to make things better for everyone.”