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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
— 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.”