Dennis Croft, Big Man In A Small Town
By Andrew Belonsky
Dennis Croft chooses his words carefully. Or, rather, he's a man of few words. He's rigid and terse when needed and more elaborate only when asked directly, perhaps a habit from his upbringing in a military family and, later, his stint in the Air Force.
"I grew up military family, and I trained as a cadet for very many years. There were certain protocols that I lived by, and it was military rules, regulations, and stuff like that," explains Croft, a trans man and one of the core characters on Small Town Security, AMC's reality show about the day-to-day activities of JJK Security in the small town of Ringgold, Georgia. The show, season two of which premieres May 9, often and aptly often described as the Twin Peaks of reality shows.
Croft possesses a certain calmness, a centeredness that perhaps comes from his time working as a farmer in South Dakota, just 20 miles outside of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one the nation's poorest, most crime-ridden and alcohol-soaked counties. It was to that inauspicious place that Croft and his then-partner, a man, moved after leaving the Air Force, an institution Croft found to be fraught with hypocrisy. Pine Ridge was no more inspiring. Not on the surface, at least.
"There was a killing at least every day there on the res, and it was usually Indian-on-Indian and it was usually because they were drinking and they would fight," he explains. But there was also tremendous spirituality among the Lakota people. "I tried to learn from the old people, their rituals, their spirituality, and I carry that to this day," he explains. "I'm not a very good practitioner of their rituals or anything, but that's where my spirit is."
Croft describes the people he knew in Pine Ridge as his "family in spirit," and his colleagues at JJK Security are his family, too. So what of his biological family, his parents and three children. Though he admits it sounds cruel, Croft replies: "I'm pretty much a hermit-type person and really just close-knit with people I'm dealing with on a daily basis, not that they don't love me or I don't love them, but they're out of sight, out of mind for me."
But do his parents support him? Yes and no. "They love me and they accept me for the most part as me as their daughter. They love me but they don't really accept the transition," he admits. "They're not saying anything negative, they're not fighting it, it's just who I am and they're just letting it be. They say that as long as I'm happy, they're happy."
Croft doesn't like to speak about his first 40 years on this planet, the time when he was biologically a woman—"That person has been laid to rest"—but when asked later via email about having children and whether it was a difficult experience, knowing inside that he was a man, to wield the woman's most unique power, Croft answered in the negative. "As a man, I wanted to, since I was made to produce children, to go through the real raw challenge—meaning I wanted to do it naturally. I wanted the whole experience from beginning to end; I wanted to see what it was all about for a woman." For his first two births, Croft did it all natural style, in a teepee. Both were painful but successful. A third, unfortunately, ended in a stillbirth, and for the fourth pregnancy, and approaching 40 years old, Croft opted for a hospital.
Taken together, the experiences only made his appreciation for women grow. "What I found is women go through a tremendous trial," he says. "It is like nothing else—in pain, awkwardness, physiological, and psychological—than like a dream; she returns to normalcy, but with a small being now in her arms to be responsible for. Women are very strong beings like no other I honor and respect them."
Croft has so much respect for women that he thinks they truly make the man. Asked what makes a good man, he replied, "It's someone that lets the woman lead. They're the smart ones. Honestly, they're the strongest of the sexes." So what about us gay guys? Does that leave us in a lurch? "Well, you get into your feminine side, then more power to you. You'll be smarter than us other guys."
As Croft and company head into season two, I wondered about the reaction to the show. Croft and his team have certainly been embraced by the LGBT community (GLAAD nominated them for "outstanding reality program" during their media awards), but then there's been the predictable backlash, especially in their own backyard. It's this tension that provides fodder for the second season's premier episode. But the majority of the criticism isn't about Croft and his transgender status, as one might expect, but about JJK's crude, crass, and flatulent ways. More hypocrisy, says Croft.
"Critics are embarrassed for themselves because we're showing ourselves and showing that it's OK to be that way," he says. "These folks that name call and spew hate, they all fart and burp; they just never show it in public. They're all just ignorant about something, more than others really, because they are scared of experiencing and afraid of enjoying their lives as humans and they resent those who do." And you can't hate a man for being himself.
Season 2 of 'Small Town Security' premieres May 9 on AMC
Watch a sneak peek video below: