It is with great loss that I need to announce the passing of an amazing trailblazer and activist, and on a personal note, the great love of my life for the past 10 years. Holly Boswell — you are missed!
Holly T. Boswell was born on Nov. 19, 1950, and studied English literature and music composition at Oberlin College in Ohio. Boswell graduated as a senior scholar in 1972 and later became ordained to perform nature-based ceremonies. Holly acknowledged the importance of the spiritual aspect of transformation and transcendence within the journeys of transgender people.
[As reported in a 2016 Asheville Citizen-Times article] “Holly came to Buncombe County in 1976 as a flower child with the intention to survive off the land and ignore the establishment. Then a young man, she settled in Sandy Mush and planned a simple life of gardening.”
That worked for a while, but after a split with her partner in the 1980s, “She moved to Montford and started going to clubs dressed as a woman. She met people from all across the spectrum. … But there was no word for someone like her, someone in the middle.”
Holly co-created the first support group in the country here in Asheville that was all inclusive, meaning [cross-dresser], transsexual, trans men and gender fluid would all be welcomed. The Phoenix Transgender Support Group was about 20 years ahead of its time and is still offering support 25-plus years later.
Holly also [helped to] form the Asheville Repertory Theatre, where she would sometimes take part in local theater and play female roles onstage. “’That was palpable to people; people could handle that,'” she [told the Citizen-Times]. “‘The secret was to be a good liar.’
“In the 1990s, Holly submitted an essay called the ‘Transgender Alternative’ to the Boston magazine Tapestry, [the article continued]. “The piece, which was the first to use the label ‘transgender,’ gave a word to the way Holly was feeling. And the word” — her use of the word transgender — “became a label used by thousands struggling to find the right pronoun and their space between the he and she binary.
“’It was a relief,'” Holly said. “‘People could speak about themselves in a more transcendent way.
“‘I spent 30 years as a man, 25 as a woman, and now gender bores me,'” she told the newspaper. “‘No one is 100 percent comfortable with the gender roles put on them.'”
“Her rallying cry today is as simple as it was when she drafted her landmark essay decades ago: live your truth,” the article continued.
“‘We need to recognize that each of us, in our own small way, are makers of our culture,'” Boswell wrote then. “‘We can exercise that function best by expressing our true selves, not by simply fulfilling our culture’s expectations. We are all in transition …'”
Holly passed away from a sudden heart failure; she was almost 67. She was one of the greatest people I have ever known. I am grateful for our 10 years of committed love but am truly lost without her.
Holly T. Boswell was an activist, educator, author and trailblazer. She touched several aspects of Asheville, beginning in the late 1970s until the present day. Her love of Asheville was always a moving force in her life. She is survived by her son, Evan Ross Boswell, and her life partner, Jennifer M. Barge. And loved by thousands of other people across the globe.
A celebration of life ceremony will be happening on Aug. 26 at 2 p.m. and will be held at Eyes of Blue Farm in Weaverville.
For more information, contact Jennifer Barge at email@example.com.
— Jennifer M. Barge
Editor’s note: Boswell penned an essay, “Reflections of an Asheville Counter-culture Explorer,” for Xpress in October 2014, which sketched a picture of her own evolution and that of Asheville in its renaissance (http://avl.mx/40q). She wrote in part: “My message has evolved to one of gender transcendence — not simply opting between two gender identities, but rather exploring free gender expression for all people, which arguably may further our human evolution. Animals and plants have been manifesting this since life began on Earth. So thank you, Asheville, for honoring the greater diversity of all beings in nature.”
4 thoughts on “Letter: Celebrating local trailblazer Holly Boswell”
Thank you for publishing this piece on Holly’s life and her trailblazing for transgender people. I was unaware of her existence but that has now been corrected if rather late in the day. It is sad that she had to leave us so soon.
Please accept my condolences Jennifer and all those who loved her.
Holly’s death is a shock, I first met her in the early 60s; Susan & I spent a weekend with her at the Bodi Tree House. I’m now 88 and was treated as a “little sister” at age 2; I’m still paralleling Holly’s efforts. I think we both felt the transgender phenomena had positive aspects for society. Her death hurts.
Jamie Elizabeth Burgess
Addendum – I recall meeting Holly several times She seemed focused on spirituality and would hold meetings on the “Balds” (Mountain tops). I just read the Tapestry article and was surprised to see that she was advocating a spectrum of Transgender roles. I suspect these roles change as the individuals evolve psychically. In Jungian terms, wholeness appears when the Ego is willing to defend the Shadow. I spent years as the TG rep to Dayton PFLAG . It was a way of facing my Shadow just as Holly faced her Shadow. Her death still hurts.
I met Holly over a year ago,
She made herself available to tell me about her life. I loved her sharing her stories, Holly was real with depth and wisdom.
Most memorable was her sense of humor and we shared a few belly laughs. Most noteworthy was how evolved she was.
I was so great full witnessing someone with so much heart, soul, love and grace. She was a “light runner” waking up people to live
their truth. Holly was filled with splendor and grace and I feel Holly will always be remembered, with such joy. My heart goes out
to her partner, friends and family. She will be missed dearly.