One year. Just one year. One entire year. All of one year. One circle of the Earth around the Sun.
A year ago today I left behind one existence and began a new life. The caterpillar and butterfly metaphor is apt. The Phoenix is somewhat analogous. But what is it really? What really happened? I stopped living as a guy and started living as a gal. That's all, nothing much. I just stopped being a man and started being a woman. Everywhere and all the time. No more back and forth, no more hiding anything or fearing discovery. Just getting up and throwing on a blouse and slacks and going to work.
OK, well, I'll admit that there was a lot more to it than that. I was blessed to have a picture perfect transition at work. Well presented, fully supported by management, fully supported by my wonderful co-workers. Plenty of hugs, love and tissues for all. I was closer to my 115 co-workers than ever before because I was now an authentic me. After a short couple of months I was chatting with a friend at work. She looked me in the eye and said, "You know, I can't even remember you as a guy anymore?!" And just like that we all moved on.
I had been out to my social circle for months before my work transition. A ridiculously common thing in trans circles where you are you everywhere except the office. It can be awkward and uncomfortable and sometimes humorous. Once I was out at work, there were odd occurrences also. I was at lunch with an office friend getting a bento bowl and a past coworker came up to us. "Oh Hi D." she says to my friend, "How have you been?" We three chat and she asks if I worked with D. "Oh, yes, I'm in the IT department." "Have you been there long?" the long lost mutual co-worker asks. "Uh, yes, quite a while." As she left we laughed a bit. This person had started well into my time there, and I had worked with her often enough, and she left a year or so ago. So even as she cast about and tried to figure out why she might just almost recognize me, suggesting mutual friends and such, she never thought that I had been that dumpy guy in khakis and plaid shirts in IT. This happened often enough to become commonplace.
And the flip side happens often also. After the introduction to a new person they might say, "Now, don't I know you from somewhere? Were you here last year? Did you used to work with the Migrant Ed campaign, or public television???" I know that the new acquaintance can't possibly recognize me from those places, or anyplace, because I "wasn't" back then. I'm new.
Non recognition can also be a bit daunting though. I recently made an appointment with our investment broker. A change in employment meant that I needed to roll over a 401K account to our personal accounts. I waited in the lobby for the gentleman for just a moment and he brought me back to his office. As he came out I could tell he didn't recognize me so I supplied, "Ron, nice to see you, I'm Dianne P." I have a distinctive last name so that is often enough to jog a memory, but not this time. "Dianne P and Val M. We have accounts together here with you." Still no sparks so as we sit down and he closed the door I said. "I used to be [old guy name] and now I'm Dianne." At this the respectable blue blazer and tan slacks gentleman comes around the corner of the desk and grabs my hand and says, "Wonderful! Congratulations! Excellent!!" We chatted a little bit as I brought him up to date with the changes and that we were still married and that I'd moved on from my job of 14 years and here were all sorts of legal papers with a name change and such.
Our offices were close by and we would sometimes bump into each other getting coffee or lunch, but he hadn't seen me for many months, but I had seen him several times. At one point he looked up from his keyboard and said, "You know, you are just so obviously happy and confident now. Before, something was just not right." Well we both had a laugh at that!
As part of our discussion I told him that I was not going to be getting employed anywhere else for quite a while because I was going back to college to complete a bachelors and get a masters. Honestly, I think he was more impressed by this than by my more obvious, but less effort filled, changes. So yes leaving a career of 30 years in an "in demand" field to go back to school. Why would I do that at fifty something years of age? If I can make this change, living my life in a sometimes problematic way that is rejected by many people, that implicitly marginalizes me and condemns me to a life of... something or other, then why in the Hell can't I go back to school and get a masters and set up shop as a counselor? I certainly know a thing or two about change, about self-realization, about hard decisions! And I know about pain, and about coming to terms and coming out, and doing what needs to be done even when it hurts.
So yes, two rebirths in one year! A new student is born. A "freshman" who started college the first time when Jimmy Carter was in the White House. To most of the campus I look like some adjunct professor who is returning to campus to teach a bit now that the kids are grown up. Fine with me, I think of it as the Cloak of Middle Aged Invisibility. No one looks at me as a potential mate, or threat. They look at me and see Mom, or Aunt Jan , or Nanna. Non-threatening with an air of well-earned eccentricity. Lovely! Of course, while that respectably wise and entertaining factor helps at school, it also helped me move on from an IT career. That's a place for young focused bright people with new ideas. Also often a, uhm, “geeky sausage fest”. I could feel the tech world shift its camaraderie when I shifted my place in the world. Tech guys don't want to think that Granny may be able to hold her own in Halo. An amazingly small price to pay!
What else have I paid? I had to turn in my Male Privilege card. And I was one punch away from a free prostate exam, drat! For a while I had to forfeit a half an hour from shower to out the door, but I've earned that back. At least to head off to campus on my scooter in jeans and a coordinated top and sweatshirt. And I forfeited a relationship with my son and his family, my two grandchildren. One was born while I have been in exile and I’ve never seen her. People graciously tell me, "It's their loss" or "They'll come around." But I kind of doubt it. I didn't raise a bigot, or a fundamentalist, but they are convinced that my presence would be the ruination of the children. I would confuse them to no end and they would be warped for life. I'm not sure if they are teaching intolerance, because that is how it is transmitted, it is taught, but I’m pretty confident they aren't teaching tolerance and acceptance. Blessedly I was taught tolerance, so I only had to spend 50 years trying to figure out who I was and to learn how to overcome guilt and fear. Yay! I was lucky!
I was lucky, fortunate, blessed to have accepting wise people in my life. People who said, "Well, you are still the same person." People who didn't see me as evil or wrong, just "interesting and unique." I've seen the situation as "inconvenient and humorous" so we all get along. My relationship with my friends has a different dimension now. Not because they have changed but because I have changed. I am now the authentic me that doesn’t feel shame or guilt or worry about a secret. Now I engage my friends with love and open honesty, it is a much fuller experience! A "false start" of mine took me to Seattle 17 years ago where I tried to transition. But I wasn't ready and the world wasn't ready and I was too damaged to make it work. I ran back to Idaho to just shut up and be a guy and lick my wounds. And to try to learn the lesson that I just wasn't "trans enough" or "not a real transsexual." And to get my son through high school while working at an interesting and challenging job.
While I was in Seattle fate brought me to work at a small high school where there was a marvelously eccentric English teacher named Karen. She and her husband Donnie had a nice old house on some acreage nearby with a pack of beloved dogs and a constantly changing pack of beloved family and house guests. The first summer I was in Seattle they needed a house sitter. Since I was going crazy living in an urban 3rd floor apartment with no dirt and no pets, I leapt at the chance. In essence, I stayed the summer. When they would come back from a trip there would be a family gathering coming up and it would be, "Why don't you stay? We could use the help and Sister Soozie and Karl will be coming and you enjoy them!" Karen and Donnie knew I was trans, and they knew that I lived as a gal when they were out of town. Heck, the neighbor once commented on how sometimes there was a guy over at their house and sometimes there was a woman housesitting and using the hot tub! I guess he didn't notice the same car in the driveway all the time. They knew that I was trans, but they never once saw me when I was presenting as a woman. Not once.
Over the years I would go be with them on Thanksgiving or come visit them on trips, once with my son, once with my new wife. It wasn't until this last summer that my wife and I went through Seattle and went to visit, and they met the Dianne me. Karen and Suzie came out to the driveway and saw me and we squealed and hugged and cried. I felt like I was coming home to my sisters. Yes, blessed and fortunate. I have beaten the harsh odds. But I have not beaten them alone. I have beaten them with the help of my wife, and my friends, and the many trans people who have been brothers and sisters to me. Trans siblings who have become family because of our shared experiences. People that have gone before me and who have widened the path, kicked aside the stones and left a mark to show the way. They have given me confidence to move forward. They began to educate the public and introduce us to the world and now I am doing the same for those behind me. What will the next years bring? I don’t know, but I am eager to find out!