Transgendered Oregon Mayor Stu Rasmussen May Soon Get Shot at Reality TV

Transgendered Oregon Mayor Stu Rasmussen may soon star in reality TV show.

April 13, 2009— -- Sure, Stu Rasmussen is the first openly transgendered mayor in the country. And he considers anything less than 3-inch heels to be flats.

But Rasmussen says his life with his long-term girlfriend and seven cats in the quiet little town of Silverton, Ore., is actually "relatively boring." The outside world, however, seems to disagree.

Rasmussen, 60, now in his second stint as mayor but the first spent dressing like a woman, has recently finished filming footage for what could be a new reality television show about small-town life with a transgendered mayor.

While he has some trepidation about the maelstrom a hit television show could bring to his small town -- concerns shared by his fellow town officials -- Rasmussen told that he agreed to put his life on display in the hopes of helping others who are struggling with their own gender identity but don't believe they can live outside the closet.

"It's almost my responsibility to the rest of the transgender community to help others understand that we are not freaks and weirdos," he said.

"It took me 50 years to get comfortable in the body I am," he said, adding that, for some, that day never comes -- which can cause distress. "And why? It's just clothes?"

RDF USA, the production company behind such hits as ABC's "Wife Swap" and Fox's "Don't Forget the Lyrics," confirmed the company had filmed Rasmussen in Silverton last week but declined further comment on what made him an attractive subject for reality television or where they're shopping a potential show.

Rasmussen said he prefers the terms "documentary show" or "serial documentary" to the phrase "reality TV," which he says carries a negative connotation.

"They are talking with a network, but they would not say which network," he said.

Rasmussen made headlines last year when he unseated the incumbent mayor after serving in that capacity from 1988 to 1992, along with terms as a member of the city council in the 1980s and '90s.

But when he ran this time, he did it in heels and short skirts and proved that his dressing as a woman would not interfere with his passion for town politics.

Learning His Limits

While Rasmussen had outwardly served his previous mayoral term as a typical man, he began taking what he called "baby steps" toward outing himself starting in the '90s, including getting manicures and dressing in women's clothing outside the house.

Then, in 2000, figuring his political career was over, he got breast implants, or what he calls "adopting the twins."

He began to show off his now-signature style of high heels and low-cut tops, or what girlfriend Victoria Sage has described as his "va-va-voom" style, he said.

But as he watched Silverton's population rise rapidly (now about 9,500), he felt a call back to office and was elected on a platform of controlled growth to prevent strain on the town's resources. While he may be big news in other parts of the country, he's just "Stu" to his constituents.

"Silverton is so over this," he said.

Unlike many transgendered people, Rasmussen has not made a full commitment to either gender. Instead, his commitment is to what makes him comfortable. He wears women's clothing and has grown his hair long, but he is not considering further surgery and has kept his male name.

"I am not 100 percent male, but I am not nearly 100 percent female," he said, adding that the gender spectrum runs as wide as the difference between short and tall.

And he's not taking hormones because they would kill his sex drive and, "at 60, there's not a lot left," he joked.

But just like there were some raised eyebrows to his election, his possible move to TV hasn't been met with completely open arms by his colleagues.

Silverton City Manager Bryan Cosgrove told that he and Rasmussen have been in touch with the state's ethics commission after some council members raised concerns about his profiting from his mayoral post, an unpaid volunteer position.

Cosgrove stressed that there is no ethics investigation for now, but he and the mayor are researching possible conflicts of interest should the program get picked up and put on the air.

"He needs to know up-front what his limits are," Cosgrove said, adding that as long as the show isn't a distraction for the town, he has no problem with it. "This is just a very unique situation."

Rasmussen said he has not been paid for the time he spent filming but would expect that if the show got picked up he would be compensated.

He, too, doesn't want to see Silverton's way of life compromised by a television show but noted that, like so many communities suffering in the economy, Silverton could benefit from the tourism boost a show could bring.

"I want to be absolutely certain this is not detrimental to our community," he said.

Making Americans Comfortable With Transgendered People

Rasmussen said that he initially turned down many offers, instead hiring an agency to represent him and sift through the proposals. The offer for this particular show was agreed upon, he said, in January.

Five-year councilman Kyle Palmer told that, like Cosgrove, he's fine with the idea of a reality TV show as long as it doesn't interfere with the running of the town's government.

"The only feedback I really heard is they were sort of in the way," he said of the filming that took place at last Monday's council meeting. "Not in our way, but our audience's way."

Some of the more conservative members of the council, he said, were concerned not only about the interruption to the meetings but how a show centered on Rasmussen would portray the town to the outside world.

"Reaction was sort of mixed," he said. "It doesn't trouble me."

Denise Leclair, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education in Waltham Mass., said she had heard that Rasmussen had been approached about a show and said exposing his lifestyle could be a good thing for the community.

"People aren't that familiar with us," she said, adding that unfamiliarity can breed misconceptions. "Most of us are pretty average people."

Rasmussen said, "We are almost where gay people were 30 years ago."

Leclair pointed to a handful of transgendered people on television, including Candis Cayne's role on ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" and Calpernia Addams on LOGO's "American Love Story."

But with about 3 million transgendered people in the United States, or about 1 percent of the population, the community isn't accordingly represented in most places, including politics and Hollywood. A reality show would help portray transgendered people as they are -- normal and average -- Leclair said, even if it doesn't help Rasmussen's career.

"Being able to execute his office as mayor," she said. "I'm not sure it's going to help that."