New musical celebrates the nation's first openly transgender mayor

‘Stu for Silverton’ debuted this summer in Seattle.

  • Stu for Silverton, The stage production that depicts Rasmussen's transgender transition.

    Intiman Theatre
 

On July 20, Stuart Rasmussen, the mayor of Silverton, Ore., population 9,222, sat in the third row of Seattle's Intiman Theatre, surrounded by a sold-out crowd. His partner of more than 30 years, Victoria Sage, sat on his left, occasionally squeezing his arm. Andrew Russell, the director of the night's performance, sat on his right. As the house lights dimmed, the three intently watched the stage: Stu for Silverton, a musical about Rasmussen's life, was about to begin its world premiere, and neither Rasmussen nor Sage had any idea what to expect.

"It was the most surreal experience of my life," Rasmussen said afterwards. "And I'm talking about a life that's had more than its share of surreal experiences."

Stu for Silverton tells the story of Rasmussen, a Silverton native who, in his mid-40s, began to dress publicly as a woman. Rasmussen had always been deeply involved with his community, a former timber-mill town near the state capitol of Salem: He ran the local movie theatre, was active in local politics, and had a knack for fixing computers and cars. Though he'd long recognized his desire to dress as a woman, he kept it private, afraid of his hometown's reaction. Finally, with the fierce, steadfast support of Sage, he began his metamorphosis.

First, he simply manicured his nails. He followed with acrylic tips, then red acrylic tips, and then the occasional skirt and padded bra. In 2000, Rasmussen traveled to Portland for breast-implant surgery. (He remains biologically male.) Today, at age 64, he wears a cascade of bright red curls and favors miniskirts, three-inch heels and revealing necklines.

Most of his neighbors were shocked and scandalized, just as he had feared. But their initial consternation faded with time and familiarity, and in 2008, Rasmussen became the country's first openly transgender mayor. By that time, even his political opponents were more likely to complain about his cautious approach to community growth than his unusual silhouette. ("I'd basically blackmail-proofed myself," Rasmussen comments.) And when members of the Westboro Baptist Church came to town to protest Rasmussen's election, some 200 Silvertonians of all political convictions organized a noisy counter-demonstration. A dozen or so men attended in dresses. Rasmussen still chokes up when he talks about the show of support.

When Russell approached Rasmussen about creating a musical based on his life story, Rasmussen granted him full creative control, requesting only that Silverton and its citizens be portrayed positively. Russell agreed, and made good on his promise. While Rasmussen and Sage are clearly the play's heroes, one of the most poignant lines is spoken by Rasmussen's estranged best friend, a composite character who struggles with Rasmussen's transformation. "You see the rest of us making do with the cards we're dealt," he says angrily. "What makes you think you can go fishing for the cards you want?" Rasmussen's radical leap of faith created not only confusion and fear but also a kind of envy. With strong performances, catchy lyrics, and what The Seattle Times called "vivaciously clever" staging, Stu for Silverton is rich in emotional subtleties.

The play takes some liberties with the facts, rearranging timelines and simplifying events for dramatic effect, and is in some ways a fairytale of small-town generosity and acceptance. In reality, Rasmussen has his detractors like any other politician, and his wardrobe isn't always applauded: In 2009, for example, he was censured by his city council for wearing an especially short miniskirt to an elementary school function. But the essentials of the play are true. Mayor Stu, a model of fiscal if not sartorial restraint, remains personally and politically popular, and he was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2012.

In the theatre's courtyard after the opening performance, Russell raised a toast to Rasmussen, thanking him for his trust in the project. Rasmussen, who wore a black V-neck dress and black patent-leather heels, surveyed the cast, crew and audience -- which included about a dozen Silvertonians -- with a dazed expression. The crowd cheered wildly.

Since opening night, many more Silvertonians have made the trek to Seattle to see their mayor portrayed on stage, and both Rasmussen and Sage say the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. "No one in Silverton would be unhappy if I'd never come out as transgender," Rasmussen acknowledges. "But I'm happier now than I've ever been."

"Can I second that?" says Sage. "Because I see it, too. He is somewhat easier to live with."

Rasmussen laughs. "Somewhat. Only somewhat."

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • SOCIETY FOR WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP BOARD MEMBER
    Join the SWS board and help us broaden, diversify, and engage the wilderness community.