Miranda Foslien: Out as a trans woman

Miranda Foslien, 57, is a military veteran with experience as a helicopter mechanic. She has worked as a paralegal, a real estate agent, a commercial truck driver and was the stay-at-home dad to two kids who are now adults. Currently she works as a charter bus driver. She grew up as a boy and came out to herself as transgender and then to others in 2006.

Foslien spoke with the Minnesota Women’s Press about her life, including being out as a transgender person.

Minnesota Women’s Press: What was your gender identity journey?

Miranda Foslien: When I was younger I felt I should have been born a girl. Many of my friends were girls. But it was the 1960s and 70s – and I was attracted to girls.

I got married. We moved from Minnesota to California, where I went to Cal State and my wife was a pediatrician in her residency program. I was in the Army Reserve and she was in the Air Force. After our second child was born, we needed to make choices about what would happen if both of us were deployed. So I left the Reserve.

We came back to Minnesota in 1994 and I worked as a paralegal, but it was too much. I became a stay-at-home dad with my kids.

My gender identity journey started with the realization that I needed to express myself. It was a struggle for me. I first came out to myself and, soon after, to my spouse. It was really difficult for a few years. It was hard for her, too. She married a guy, a quirky guy, but a guy, and she didn’t want to be married to a woman.

We are still family and we still co-parent together even though our kids are adults. We still love each other, but for her it was not a marriage that would work. We separated in 2006. I had a gender change. In 2008, we divorced.

I was always a feminist and someone who said it didn’t matter if you were male or female. It doesn’t define who you are. I have two boys I raised that way. When I came out they asked why I needed to transition from male to female if it didn’t really matter. And I realized that it does matter to me.

I was a 50-year-old trans person, in [an economic] recession trying to figure out how to survive.

MWP: How has being transgender affected you professionally?
 When I first got my commercial drivers license there were issues coming out as trans. [Being a truck driver] can be a very gendered field and there was some difficulty with that.

When they do background checks and my past name comes up, I hear doors close. They don’t even have to say anything.

Or, they are excited when I apply and then they do the background check and I never hear back. When I call them they say they don’t need any drivers now. Well, what do you think that means?

Sometimes it’s hard to know why people are being really weird to you. Is it because you are a woman? Is it because you are trans? Because that’s just the way they are? You don’t really know.

The biggest problem is when people hear me on the phone and don’t see me. They think I sound male. If people see me and hear my low voice they think, “oh, whatever, some women have lower voices.” I can’t change my voice. Well, I could try, but I don’t care to.

MWP: What are some of the everyday issues you experience?
 The hardest part about living my life out, which I feel like I do, is that I have a big past, with kids and an ex-wife. People get confused when they find out I was married.

When I’m in a room with mostly straight people I am just seen as a middle-aged, straight, white woman. If I’m in a more gay space, I’m read more as a trans person. There isn’t a lot of visibility unless people are looking for it. Trans men blend in more easily, especially once they grow facial hair.

One of the biggest problems for trans women is relationships. Men can have a problem with that. They either feel like they are being fooled or that it makes them gay. Part of the hardness is that a lot of men will have sex with trans women but being in a relationship is a whole different thing. When there are more men who say it doesn’t matter, that will be a marker.

MWP: Have you experienced losing male privilege and if so, how was that?
 I’ve been a helicopter mechanic and a truck driver. A lot of times when I have to get something fixed they just assume I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Part of it is historical. I was raised as a boy. I was not raised thinking that people have preconceived notions about being sexualized and that I have to think about violence in the same way that girls do. Because of that I’m not as fearful as my sister, even though we grew up in the same era and family but she was raised as a girl.

People say you are just a “normal woman,” just like any other woman, right? Yes, that’s true, but I was never a girl. I think there is a difference, but then there’s a difference between lots of [ways that] people grow up.

As a woman, people tend to think about how you look as opposed to who you are. I have [women] friends who are younger and prettier than me. They are more concerned about how people perceive them and I understand that. I’m not an ugly person, but beauty is not what I really care about.

I probably have not lost all of my [male] privilege. A lot of times when women are making a point it gets stepped on. And maybe if you have been stepped on a lot [growing up] you tend to change the way you look at things. I think I am less likely to back down. A lot of my women friends look at the world as how they are perceived by men. I just don’t get that.

I grew up with a lot of privilege – with two parents who stayed together, loved each other and their children. It was a working-class family and a stable household. I grew up white and went to a mixed-race church. Life was not perfect, but good. That is all part of my privilege.

MWP: What do you think it IS to be a woman?
 There isn’t one way to be a woman. Just as there isn’t one way to be a man. When I first transitioned it was easy to say that I thought more like a woman than a man. That’s probably true, but I know a lot of women and I wouldn’t say that any of them are the same.

MWP: You said that sometimes the students on your school bus route asked if you are a boy or a girl. How do you answer that?
 I tell them that, actually, I’m neither. I’m a woman but I never was a girl. I say that it’s more complicated than you think it is and I’m your bus driver so it really doesn’t matter if I’m a man or a woman. I like that question. It shows an honesty that adults don’t show. Adults might want to ask me that question but they’re not going to.

MWP: What would you want our readers to understand about your trans experience?
 The farther away I get from my transition the less likely I am to think there is a right and wrong way to transition, to be in the world. I could tell my story. Somebody else can tell theirs. That is only their story. It’s just one individual. Trying to tell my story is difficult. It’s hard to get the full story. It’s complicated.