Archives

Dream Work

The young people who come into the office of Sara Wiener ’03 often have nowhere else to turn for help. They are scared, anxious and sometimes living with families who do not fully understand them.

SaraWeinerPIC2

Sarah Weiner at the UMHS, where she heads the pediatric gender services office.

But they do know one thing: they want to be able to live a fully authentic life. They know the body they were born with does not house their true selves. And even in a day and age when public discussion about transitioning to another gender is more commonplace, the social stigma is still strong, and support systems oftentimes are shaky at best.

“The kids I see have been so distressed,” says Wiener. “Some say they’ve attempted suicide. Some are bullied at school. Others have hurt themselves. The stress on them is often incredible. Trans and gender non-conforming kids have always existed, but often in the shadows.”

Wiener, 34, is extending a much needed helping hand.

Since 2008, she had been working as a clinical outpatient psychologist at a Massachusetts medical center, counseling “medically complex” young people—kids with genetic disorders, poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes, and other medical issues.  The work was satisfying, but she had a yearning to return closer to her native home of Plymouth, Michigan.

“So I approached the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) and said, ‘You don’t have a pediatric gender services office, and I’d like to start that here.’”

The health system listened.

The UMHS, which for 20 years had been attending to the health care needs of transgender adults—one of the first hospitals in the nation to do so—agreed it was a good idea. Wiener got the job and early this year became UMHS’s manager of comprehensive gender services.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “It fits with who I am and my politics.”

The story of how Wiener landed in the growing world of transgender health care is a testament to the self-directed, lifelong style of learning championed so much at K. Wiener, who holds a Master of Social Work degree from Smith College in Massachusetts, had next to no formal training in gender dysphoria or transgender health care. During her graduate studies, she remembers exactly one course that dealt with gender issues, and then only in a cursory way.

“I got a bunch of books and journals and spread them out on a table and thought to myself, ‘How am I going to do this?’” she recalls. “But I knew I had the skills. K gave me the know-how to teach myself on my own. Embracing lifelong learning—that was kind of hammered into you as a K student. I was thinking of the College when I did this. And I did it.”

Research shows that about 80 percent of prepubertal children who identify with a gender other than that assigned at birth do not go on to become transgender adolescents or adults, she says. Instead, they may grow up to become gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The majority of adolescents in puberty who are struggling with their gender during or after puberty will go on to become transgender as adults, Wiener adds.

“It’s this constant voice telling them, ‘This is not me,’” she says. “For many people, it does not go away.”

She does a lengthy clinical assessment before making any recommendation for medical intervention, assessing the young person’s current functioning, family environment, any co-morbid mental health issues (PTSD, depression or chronic anxiety, trauma) and gender histories.

Young people enter her office looking for answers about everything from hormone therapy to surgical procedures. Their families—sometimes conflicted about how to address their child’s gender identity—also are a part of the consultation, receiving support from Wiener’s office as well. Any minor must have the consent of their parent of guardian before going forward with any therapy.

“Some parents have a hard time with what their child is going through,” Wiener says. “Some think it’s a phase the child will move through, or are having trouble accepting what’s going on. These parents need support, too. Here, we have a holistic approach.”

LuxEsto spoke with Wiener just a month after she started her new position. Already, she had seen young people and their families from across the state. In Michigan, there is only one other health care provider willing to prescribe hormone therapy to transgender young people, she says.

“Trans people want and deserve to be integrated. They often want or need specialized medical and any number of other support services. We can do that here.”

Wiener’s work also puts her on the front lines of the of the social justice movement for transgender rights and inclusion.

“It’s different from outpatient psychotherapy. When I did that work, the social justice advocate part of me wasn’t activated. I wasn’t making the kind of changes I wanted to help make. When I do this work, I feel like I am really making a difference—and it feels awesome.”

She’s already been emotionally touched by her work.

She remembers a father who brought his 6-year-old natal male child into her office for feedback regarding how to manage the child’s preferences for clothing typically associated with girls. The child came through the door “all dolled up,” Wiener says, wearing a pink dress, bows in his hair and clutching a magic wand.

“Dad came in looking for direction, wondering what he should do. After a thorough assessment, I was able to assure the father he was doing the right thing by supporting the child in the child’s unique gender expression. The relief I saw on his face was incredible, just that simple bit of advice ended up helping them both.

“I get to be a part of a young person’s life and help them become who they truly are, removing barriers so they can be their authentic selves and connect them with what they need. It’s an honor to see people become themselves. It is so rewarding.”

From Crayon to Key Art

P1090420

Kendra assesses the value of an art piece after initial examination, which includes noting the artwork’s measurements, condition, signatures and inscriptions.

Imagine being in the art scene of New York City—and leaving it to return to be an art appraiser in Kalamazoo.

Sound crazy? Not for Kendra Eberts ’07.

“There are hundreds of art appraisers and thousands of galleries in New York,” said Kendra. “But there are more opportunities here in Kalamazoo and southwest Michigan where there are hardly any other art appraisers.”

After graduation, Kendra went to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York where she obtained a master’s degree in American Fine and Decorative Art (accredited through the University of Manchester in England) and a Certificate in Appraisal Studies in Fine and Decorative Arts from New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

“My first job in an auction house was at the New York location of London’s Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions,” she said. “It was a smaller auction house, which gave me the opportunity to work in most aspects of the business.” That versatility led to new opportunities.

“Last summer, I assisted an appraiser from Florida who was conducting an estate appraisal for her client’s summer home in Northern Michigan. She hired me in part because I could catalogue and research the client’s book collection.”

Working in the arts in New York during the recession was difficult. Many of her grad school classmates moved away and settled for work outside the field.  Not Kendra. She worked as a part-time registrar for the contemporary art gallery of Rick Wester, cataloging artwork for the gallery’s inventory. She also pieced together part-time jobs and internships with private art dealers and the International Center of Photography.

How does she explain her fierce persistence?

“When I was 4 years old, I sat down with an assortment of crayons and carefully designed and created a business plan for an art gallery and café,” she said. “‘Art by Eberts’ would exhibit my own artwork and that of my friends, while ‘Kendra’s Kafé’ would feature my grandmother’s homemade pies and my mother’s strong coffee.”

Soon after that crayoned plan Kendra began taking art classes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA), and her family would visit art museums whenever they traveled. In high school she fell in love with the medium of photography, and came to K knowing she wanted to major in art and art history. She interned at the KIA and at the Water Street Gallery in Douglas, Michigan. Before her study abroad in Clermont-Ferrand in France, she pursued a summer study at Sotheby’s in London in 2005. That experience was important.

“I felt I had found my place that summer in London,” she said. “I learned how the historical significance of art played a role in its economic market, and that people actually did for a living what I wanted to do.  It was through K’s encouragement to go outside my comfort zone that I was able to navigate my major. Professor Billie Fisher helped me a lot.”

The summer study played a role in her Senior Individualized Project, Edward Steichen’s Influence on the Value of Photography.

“In 2006 there was a major sale of photographs through Sotheby’s.  Steichen’s photograph ‘The Pond – Moonlight’ sold for $2.9 million, the highest price paid to date for a vintage photograph.  For my SIP I assessed Steichen’s biographical and artistic background, the complicated process he used to create the photograph, and the reasons collectors considered it to be ‘museum quality.’  I also drew upon my economics minor to calculate Steichen’s recent market performance through statistical regression models.”

Kendra has since learned that appraisal methodology is complex interplay of multiple factors, only one of which is the overall economic climate of the art market. Her aptitude for combining art and business has roots in her family. Kendra’s mother is a professional singer music teacher. Her father is an economist and president at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. Her aunt is an art curator and assistant museum director. She has cousins who are fine artists and performing artists and a grandmother who was an artist and teacher.

In 2012 Kendra took what could be considered an intermediate step in her crayoned business plan. She established Key Art Group. Her duties include establishing the value of fine art, furniture and decorative items for insurance and IRS-related purposes. She also provides collectors market evaluations and collection management services.  And she offers artists business services such as managing inventory, marketing and guidance on gallery relationships.

Kendra plans to fulfill her dream to own a gallery, and she hopes to locate it in Kalamazoo.  “This community prides itself on supporting the arts and that’s why I love living here,” said Kendra. She expresses that love in action. Last year she helped organize a sale of artwork by students and faculty of the KIA art school. She writes about art in Kalamazoo on her blog, Collective Sightings. And she’s a member of the Art Committee for Bronson Methodist Hospital and facilitates the hospital’s annual employee art show.

“It was great to see a variety of works that people created,” she says. “Showcasing employees’ talents promotes workplace engagement, and employees were excited to see what their colleagues created.”

Let’s hope Kalamazoo sees the “Art by Eberts” gallery and “Kendra’s Kafé” sooner rather than later.  Until then, says Kendra: “I’d plan to create more awareness—and more conversation—about the local art scene.”