I was born a woman, albeit with the wrong chromosomes and a birth certificate that said “boy.” At three, I told my mother I was a girl. In 1950, there wasn’t a name for transgender and she was frightened and angry. We spent the next several years with me pretending to be a boy and straight, and my parents made sure it was enforced with clothing and toy choices.
There is powerlessness in being who others think you need to be. It’s terribly lonely when your life is make-believe. Goodness I tried! But I was so alone and isolated, and there was nowhere to turn. Growing up transgender and, in my case, gay in East Texas was a perilous endeavor. I was bullied and developed the skill to be invisible. Writing journals, which I later burned, was the only thing that kept me alive.
I led a double life. I tried being a straight man. I married a lesbian woman making a similar journey, and we had a child. We separated in the mid-seventies, living in solitude, interspersed with one-night stands and little more. I dressed in drag on occasion, but it was singularly unfulfilling, playing a role once again, not being myself. I was living in Houston at the time, found a community, and gradually I began to see others like myself, struggling with orientation and gender. By 1990, I’d met my husband Skip. He taught me love and to be true to self. In a difficult conversation, I shared my need to transition to female, feeling pretty certain this gay man would flee. He didn’t. “Love is like that,” he quietly said, as he held me and promised never to leave.
Transition is never easy. I lost my family, including the daughter I loved dearly. Some friends could no longer stick around. There are complexities that go with hormones and renewed puberty, psychologists, electrolysis (passing as the opposite sex in Texas was essential to your safety). Following hormones, I found myself attracted to women for the first time in my life. Skip and I talked about it. I assured him my love had not gone away. “Love is like that,” I said.
Over time I came to know that woman who had always been inside. Being true to self, I discovered new friends, a family of choice, and — most importantly — the power in knowing who I really am.
Skip passed away in 1997, but a few years later I met my wife Robin. Together we moved to Minnesota, finding new community and a place of acceptance. I’ve found inner peace, love, and, in community, the power that comes when we work together affirming the dignity and power of each of us — as well as the power that comes with age, experience and knowing my true self.