Eden Lane was one of many local journalists waiting to conduct quick interviews with famously tan star George Hamilton, who was in Denver last month to perform in a touring production of "La Cage Aux Folles."
Lane is the host of "In Focus with Eden Lane," now in its fifth season spotlighting local arts and culture every Friday on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. Something about her warm and disarming demeanor made Hamilton open up in a way he did not with anyone else that
Unprompted, Hamilton brought up his late brother, Bill Potter, who had suffered many unhappy years as a closeted gay man. "He never had a chance to be himself," Hamilton softly told Lane. On his deathbed, at age 53, Bill told his younger brother that if he had to do it all over again ... "I'd love more."
Those are the kinds of tender moments Lane elicits naturally, said Denver Center Attractions public relations manager Heidi Bosk. "She is warm, she is classy, she is well-researched and she is good," Bosk said. "Actors just gravitate toward her."
Lane can identify. Though she has been the victim of violence and prejudice in her life, she exudes a fierce happiness. She is believed to be the first transgender journalist on mainstream television anywhere in the United States. "But I don't think of being transgender as any part of my identity, any more than I do that I am left-handed," she said.
Identity — gender or otherwise — is a complicated subject for Lane, who was born believing her anatomy simply did not match the woman she felt herself to be inside. Yes, she is a transsexual — a person born of one sex who has had surgery to become the other. And yes, she is transgender — the larger umbrella term for anyone whose behavior, thoughts or traits differ from societal expectations for their gender.
But she doesn't put any of that on her business card.
"Eden is also blonde and 6 feet tell, but she's not out there making a statement on who 6-foot blondes are," said her friend and fellow local TV producer Tom Biddle.
Neither has she been making a statement on transgender people as she cranked out more than 125 episodes of Colorado's only weekly TV program dedicated to the creative community.
That's what she does. Ask Lane who she is, and she will say, "I'm a wife, suburban homemaker, neighborhood volunteer and mother of a high-school teenager."
Lane had a mostly pleasant childhood in southeast Michigan, an only child in a modest, working-class home with her parents and generations of extended family. "It was a blue-collar version of 'The Waltons,' " she said.
She was given a boy's name at birth, "but even my classmates fully accepted me as one of the girls," she said. She was studious, social and curious, which is why her family — part Catholic and part Jewish — allowed her to become a Jehovah's Witness at 13. Years later, when Lane began the long process that culminated in her gender-reassignment surgery, she was "disfellowshipped" by the church, the equivalent of an excommunication.
There were incidents of gender confusion growing up — for others, she emphasizes, not for Lane. In grammar school, her father forced her to cut her long hair so it wouldn't be confusing to the other children. "I didn't know what I had done wrong to be punished," she said. A former Air Force officer, he was "a bull of a man," she said, who took off on his motorcycle one day, never to return. "But there were always many strong, responsible and honorable men in my life," she said.
In high school, Lane wore androgynous clothing while trying to simply move through the world like any other kid. Until the day some boys were gathered in the back of the science lab talking about which girls they found attractive. The new boy at school named Eden. When the other boys told him she wasn't exactly a girl, the
"Later in life, I have had occasion to feel the steel toe of a boot in my ribs or a fist in my face," Lane said. "But I don't live my life in fear, and I don't live my life as a victim."
Lane graduated from high school early and went to New York to perform on Broadway and attend college. When she completed her surgery, a process she finds as interesting as the details of the average hip-replacement procedure, she took on her new name. "Eden Lane," she said, "honors both my grandmother, and the name that I was given at birth."
She never tells that birth name, she said, "because it feeds into that idea that the identity I have now is somehow false."
More than a decade ago, she moved to Colorado and began her career as a community-affairs journalist contributing to the longtime PBS gay-issues news program "Colorado Outspoken" and the Logo channel. Lane reported from the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, and offered PBS viewers long-form interviews with many local candidates leading up to the 2008 and 2010 elections.
In 2009, her interview with then-gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper praising the Matthew Shepard Foundation for choosing Denver as its headquarters was treated as a bombshell by Hickenlooper's opponents because he told Lane he believed there was some "backwards thinking" in certain rural Western areas, including Colorado.
Ironically, the report brought more attention to Lane, including overtures from a national magazine for her own story. She declined, weary of a media she says relegates most stories on transgender people to simplistic tales of "before and after."
Since launching "In Focus with Eden Lane" in 2009, she has introduced viewers to hundreds of local and national actors, singers, artists, writers and dancers. Part of that is necessity: "Television is a hungry machine," Lane said, "and I have to fill that (half hour) every Friday. The station is trusting me to do that."
She has not missed airing an original weekly episode in more than a year. Her program is filling a void in local arts coverage, the Denver Center's Bosk said, by offering in-depth interviews with movers and shakers like dance pioneer Cleo Parker Robinson and Garrett Ammon of Ballet Nouveau Colorado.
Her program is entirely self-produced and shot on location at a cost of about $750 an episode (compared to as much as $6,000 for other PBS programs). Her crew is just two — Lane and her husband, with help in a pinch from other volunteers. For hours before every interview, you will find the two schlepping cameras, tripods, lights, audio equipment and cables into place.
She gets no financial support from Colorado Public Television, and she has just one sponsor, a local Go Chevrolet dealership. And what little funding she has ensures only the next few episodes.
Lane has greater professional ambitions, but finding a job at a TV station has proven problematic. She says she has made it through to more than 50 face-to-face interviews with news directors, never to be offered a job.
Private life private
Lane has been legally married in Colorado for more than 10 years to a man who cannot talk openly about his love for his wife. The reason, Lane said, has nothing to do with shame or embarrassment. "It has to do with a safety concern for our daughter in high school," she said.
"I decided a long time ago there would always have to be a certain sense of guardedness," said her husband, who shares only his first name, Don. "I am protective to the point of overbearing."
The two met at a 2000 charity benefit for Children's Hospital that Lane was covering. She was cynical at first, and Don knows why. "Her cynicism has protected her," he said, "and kept her safe."
Lane never knows whether people look at her and instantly know she's different. She's an evidently tall, buxom blonde who quotes Lenora Claire by saying: "I am more ample-size than sample-size."
But do people know when they see her? Some do. Her husband did not.
Fellow entertainment reporter Kirk Montgomery from KUSA Channel 9 did not know until someone mentioned it, "and I spit out my coffee," he said. "I had no idea, and frankly it didn't matter at all — I just felt like the last one to the party."
Lane has never made her medical history a secret. "To me, secrets are poison," she said. But she had to carefully choose how best to tell Don, then a divorced father with joint custody of a toddler.
"Not every man," she greatly understated, "can handle that sort of thing."
She found a safe place to tell him — a Taco Bell drive-through. Why there? "Because you can get out of the car and get away if you need to," she said.
She didn't need to.
"I was always looking more at the person, and I liked what I saw," Don said. "In the end, people are people, and love is love."
They have lost some friends. "But we've made many more," Lane says.
Lane hardly feels like a role model. "I'm far too flawed for that," she said. "But I would say my experience is evidence that no matter who you are, or how you began — when you embrace yourself, and you put in the work, and you give yourself the space to be authentic ... you can do it."
"IN FOCUS WITH EDEN LANE"
Fridays at 7 p.m., Colorado Public Television Channel 12. infocustv.org/infocustv