July 7, 2000 -- Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition
Double Bind: Why a Woman in Missouri Is a Man in Kansas, and Why It Matters
By DEVON SPURGEON -- Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- Eleven months after marrying J'Noel Ball, Marshall Gardiner died last year of a heart attack, leaving an estate worth $2.5 million and no will.
Typically, Kansas law would divide the estate evenly between a widow and any offspring. But in this case, Marshall Gardiner's only child, Joe Gardiner, hired a private investigator to check out his stepmother. The outcome was startling: Her Social Security number had been issued to a man. J'Noel Ball Gardiner had had a sex change.
Joe Gardiner sued, contesting the legality of his father's marriage, and the case could well establish a precedent for determining the validity of such unions. The issue is certain to come up again because sex-change operations in the U.S. are growing at a rate of about 10% annually, to about 5,000 last year, according to Nancy Cain, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education, in Boston.
On Jan. 20, a state court judge here sided with Joe Gardiner, issuing, in essence, a once-a-man-always-a-man ruling. But J'Noel Gardiner is appealing. Noting that Wisconsin, where she was born, had reissued her birth certificate to say she is female, she says it wouldn't make sense for her to be barred by law from marrying a man in Kansas and from marrying a woman in Wisconsin.
"Would the state of Kansas want me to marry another woman?" says Ms. Gardiner.
Only in Vermont and only since last week are same-sex marriages legal. But while most states will issue and recognize new birth certificates reflecting a sex change, Kansas won't. So, Ms. Gardiner is legally a woman in Missouri, where she lives, but a man in Kansas, where she got married. Solving this interstate anomaly might take federal legislation, says Andrew Koppelman, a constitutional-law specialist at Northwestern University Law School, in Chicago.
Over a period of decades, Mr. Gardiner had become well-known here as a two-term member of the Kansas House of Representatives, a friend of President Truman, and a successful stockbroker. For years, he and his first wife, Molly, wrote for the Leavenworth Times. It was her death, in 1984, that left Marshall vulnerable, says his son.
Until Mr. Gardiner died, nobody seems to have known that J'Noel Gardiner had ever been a man. Those in the dark included her colleagues and students at Park University in Parkville, Mo., near Kansas City, where she teaches finance in an M.B.A. program. So Ms. Gardiner felt exposed, anxious and publicity-shy when the Kansas court issued its ruling that she still is a man. When a Kansas City Star reporter called her, according to the newspaper's account, she said: "Why don't you go join 'The Jerry Springer Show.' "
But once the news got out, Ms. Gardiner says, her colleagues at Park University were totally supportive, and that bolstered her determination to appeal the ruling. Now, she says, she won't give up until she and others in similar circumstances can travel the nation without being stopped at state lines.
This isn't how the man she once was aspired to make his mark. When he got his doctorate in finance from the University of Georgia in 1987, Jay Ball dreamed of academic glory. After winning a professorship at Northeastern University in Boston, he published such articles as "Using the Analytic Hierarchy Process in House Selection" in the Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics.
During her first five years as a woman, she says, she was a cautious dater, afraid to have a relationship with a man lest he learn about her past. Then, in 1998, she met Marshall Gardiner. He was 85 years old, she was 40. After their first date, she says, she knew "he was my soul mate."
She says a vital measure of the trust between them was that
he was the first person outside her family whom she trusted to
know about her past. She says she made the disclosure during a
Scrabble game three months after they started dating. His reaction:
He told her "I love you to the
core." A month after that, he married her in a civil ceremony in Oskaloosa, Kan.
During the 11 months they lived together as husband and wife, Ms. Gardiner says, her life was "almost perfect." But that was shattered when he had a heart attack and died on a flight to Baltimore.
When word of his dad's death reached the Georgia home of Joe Gardiner, he was a bit suspicious. He had never met his father's bride, but he knew that she was young -- 13 years younger than he himself -- and he thought the relationship was odd. After all, J'Noel Ball knew from the outset that Marshall Gardiner was relatively well-to-do. And after the marriage, Marshall Gardiner had bought a house for her on three acres near campus in Parkville and a Nissan sports car to match his.
To watch closely the settlement of his father's estate, Joe Gardiner, a Web-page designer whose business is portable, packed it up and returned with his wife here to Leavenworth. His first meetings with Ms. Gardiner, at the funeral and otherwise, raised no suspicions, he says. He thought she was nice. Still, he didn't believe she deserved half his father's estate, so he hired an attorney, and the attorney hired a private eye. "I wasn't sure whether to believe it," says Joe of the news. "We had no idea that she had been a he." When confronted by his attorney, John F. Thompson, she made no effort to deny it, all agree.
Just as J'Noel Gardiner denies that money influenced her decision to marry Marshall Gardiner, Joe Gardiner says it had little to do with his effort to nullify the marriage. He says he doesn't believe his father ever knew he had married a former man. "He was a religious person," the son says -- and conservative. "He was born in 1912 and was concerned about his stature in the community." Of Ms. Gardiner, he says: "She took advantage of my father."
Tension is high between the two sides. Joe Gardiner offered a settlement Ms. Gardiner turned down.
If she doesn't prevail, she still has a job at Park. In a statement, Park University President Donald Breckon says, "Dr. J'Noel Ball Gardiner was hired by Park University summer 1997. Park faculty and administrative staff that interviewed her were not then aware of the gender issue, and did not become aware of it until it was raised in recent weeks during pending litigation. J'Noel was and is an excellent faculty member. Out of respect to her privacy, we will have no further comment on this matter."
Write to Devon Spurgeon at email@example.com
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Message Number: 4
Date: Sat, 08 Jul 2000 06:53:33 -0500
From: "Carolyn R. Gyger" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [Fwd: J'Noel Ball Gardiner Story]
Coverage of this case was so awful that I decided to take the
being outed, although I did what I could to preserve my privacy by using
another account than the one my site is on. Being outed in the same town
as Fred Phelps would be a disaster.
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: J'Noel Ball Gardiner Story
Date: Sat, 08 Jul 2000 06:38:57 -0500
From: "Carolyn R. Gyger" <email@example.com>
Organization: Angel World
CC: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
I was appalled by your Friday evening coverage of this tragic
story was in very poor taste because you purposely sensationalized Ms.
Gardiner's situation, you referred to her as a man, and you showed
absolutely no sensitivity for her circumstances either before or after
her sex reassignment. Your report was distinctly one-sided and presented
Ms. Gardiner in the worst possible light using subjects who were all
adamantly opposed to her. Of course, they expressed their opposition
only after finding out about her past. Then you had a teaser about a
follow-up story with Joe Gardiner's attorney Saturday night. Are you
going to tell both sides of this story or only the one your biases
This story has been around for a while, and I think that it
is more than
coincidental that you aired the story on the same day as the Wall Street
Journal article. It is very unfortunate that you chose to present your
report with bigotry, prejudice, and inhumanity. The Journal story was
balanced, and I think that asking for balance in reporting is not asking
too much of you on an issue this controversial, especially since it
appears so easy for you to use this woman's plight in a manner which
will further marginalize a group of human beings undeserving of societal
abuse. It is patently unfair to take advantage of people with a
psychiatric or physical disorder. Would you treat a story involving a
person with AIDS or schizophrenia or who was hearing impaired the way
you depicted Ms. Gardiner? If not, why not? Ask your conscience if there
is any real difference.
Since you treated Ms. Gardiner so shabbily, I wonder whether
any knowledge of why someone would be driven to seek sex reassignment.
Do you have any idea of the inner turmoil which transsexual people
experience? Do you know anything about the rejection by family, friends,
and colleagues which they must face because of a condition which they
did not desire and which can be successfully treated only through sex
reassignment? Do you know that Tyra Hunter, a pre-operative transsexual
woman, died in Washington, DC from injuries sustained in an automobile
accident because paramedics refused to treat her once they found that
she had male genitals? Do you know that hate crimes (including murder)
against transsexual and transgendered people are more numerous than
against gay and lesbian people? Do you care?
If you choose to educate yourselves about the realities of
transsexuality instead of continuing to pander to contemptible, prurient
interests, there are local professionals familiar with the inherent
ramifications of transsexuality whom you can consult. Taylor Porter,
M.D. is Director of the CASE Unit at Menninger, and teaches at the Karl
Menninger School of Psychiatry & Mental Health Sciences. Karen
Bellows-Blakely, Ph.D. also teaches at the Karl Menninger School, and
she has recently joined the Department of Social Work at Washburn, as
well as maintaining a private psychotherapy practice. They can
illuminate the nature of the disorder more competently than probably
anyone else in the area. Another source of information is the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, published by
the American Psychiatric Association.
There are also authoritative resources on the Web which you
Here are some useful links.
Two years ago to the day, my best friend, a woman with transsexual
experience, took her own life. She had an impeccable character, and she
never hesitated to do her best to assist people who were being
mistreated. There were a number of issues in her life which led to
suffering so great that her only escape was death, but one of the most
heartbreaking of these was the rejection she experienced from her family
and friends. She also lost a successful career, but the issue which
produced most of her anguish was her belief that no one would ever
really care about her because of her past.
I relate this story about my friend so that you will have some
the tragedies caused by prejudices propounded by lurid and superficial
media coverage of events in the lives of transsexual people. I believe
that journalistic ethics and social justice can be served only through
diligent adherence to unbiased, informative reporting standards. If
reporting continues to exploit those who, through no fault of their own,
must seek sex reassignment in order to have some modicum of peace in
their lives, then the rejection, discrimination, and hate crimes will
never abate. People deserve to be treated with dignity and understanding
instead of being portrayed as objects of scorn and ridicule.
Please consider rethinking your treatment of this story. Expressing
balance and compassion will garner more respect than sensationalizing a
Carolyn R. Gyger firstname.lastname@example.org