Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye to 2007

The Ups and Downs of the past year

Like any year, this past year had its good parts and its not so good parts. And yet another year passes....just as the next will pass in due time. For me, upon recollection and reflection, it has been a mostly positive time.

I lost my father to a very lengthy illness in July. It was amazing he'd survived this long, but I am thankful he did. It gave us time to reconnect and heal our broken relationship. I truly admired him, and so did the many people he touched through PTA, Little League, DeMolay, AFSCME and the Masons. Transgenders frequently are alienated or cutoff from family.

One major disappointment was the experience surrounding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the fall. The notion of a trans-exclusive bill opened some secreted gaps in the LGB and T "community". While it was difficult to see us get essentially blamed for holding the LGB's back, it was much harder so see what many said about us. Don't buy into the Stick and Stones thing....yes, Words DO hurt. It was even sadder to see the Matthew Shepard Act - approved by both the Senate and the House - get derailed with political worries. Hopefully 2008 will shine brighter on both desperately needed pieces of legislation.

A mixed blessing has been the many opportunities I've had to offer better understanding of transgenders to many here in the Kansas City area - service groups, universities and community colleges, high schools and faith groups. It is quite flattering to be asked so frequently. But it is also a bit frustrating to be cast into the role of the Town Tranny. Shortly after I arrived in Kansas City, I met a terrific transman, who had become well known locally. He said to me, "Looks like its your turn to be the Face of Transgenderism." I have a better appreciation for that comment. I am not ashamed of who I am. I will always acknowledge my past. But sometimes I'd just like to be known as Donna ^person^ and not Donna ^transwoman^ .

One major highlight - which actually is two highlights - was a trip to the Bay Area for my youngest daughter's wedding. It was a joyous time and one in which I was warmly and richly included. The bonus was meeting the guiding light, Rev. Lawrence Reh, of First Light, a Yahoo group for LGB and T people of Faith. First Light has proved to be an enlightening and supportive resource. And I enjoyed our hug.

Another highlight was the Father's Day weekend trip in June. Yes, I did get to have dinner with my Dad - closing a circle that started on Father's Day of 2004. But most wonderfully, I witnessed the graduation of my eldest daughter from Rogue Valley Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon that same weekend. She is now doing well at Portland State.

A common theme for me is the blessing of my daughters - two truly outstanding young women.

On the faith front, I was honored to be the first transgender to provide the Children's Sermon at my church. Twice! And I had a moving experience providing the Trans 101 talk to the Academy of Welcome in November. It is hoped this effort by the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries will become an annual affair. I also enjoyed an encore invitation to the annual GALA retreat, this time just outside of Lawrence, Kansas. The fellowship shared with these extraordinary members of Community of Christ is a genuine gift for me. Lastly, our church called a new permanent pastor. I have been impressed. Perhaps now I'll seek that Baptism I never received as a child.

On to 2008.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Right People, Right Time

Today is for Lynne
It dawned on me well before I found faith, that as my transition
progressed, the Right Person came into my life at the Right Time.

My first therapist, Julie, selected because she actually answered her
phone (I was so scared to even leave a voice mail that morning!), was,
unbeknownst to me, one of the best regarded therapists. She had
developed an opening in her practice just that week. I engaged her.
She was full again.

My "big" sister, Teri (now Michelle), who I met at that very first
support group dinner. She guided me through my first fulltime
experience at a gathering in Port Angeles, Washington called Esprit
Gala. She was so much my role model. Odd then, that I became her
inspiration a couple of years later. Her transition had been
uncertain for many years. Teri hadn't attended one of those dinner
for about a year.

It was Teri who suggested I see Patti, an electrologist. Patti would
become friend, surrogate therapist, sister and yes zap those pesky
facial hairs. She had served the trans community for more than a
decade and knew as much or more than anyone. It was Patti who
recommended my surgeon. Patti no longer does much electrolysis
...deferring to arthritic hands. She remains a dear friend.

Heather, my second therapist, got both the worst and the best of
that process. I'd known her for just a couple of months - getting
the resolve to face my parents - when my world collapsed. She
patiently, but persistently pushed me to more in-depth assistance
after That Night.

One other special woman - isn't it interesting they are all women
- was Lynne. Four years ago on this date, I entered the doors to the
suicide recovery program. It had been recommended twice that I be
hospitalized 24/7. It was something, that for me, meant utter defeat
and thus I resisted, even though I knew I needed the help.

So following Heather's encouragement - and her promise to keep up
with me - I went to the center where I met Lynne, one of the principal
therapists on staff. For two hours, I cried, I explained, I related,
I surrendered. At the end Lynne said "I don't think you need
hospitalization." I had actually timed my visit so that I could be
admitted and not miss much work (I'd done a lot of stuff ahead of
time in anticipation) or hockey games (my one remaining shred of
personal value) even if I did mean that I might miss Christmas with
my family. I was confused, but glad by her decision.

I would enroll in daytime classes for six hours a day. Believe it
or not, but I actually would go into work early, go to therapy,
then return to work for another hour or so during this time - which
turned into nearly six weeks. Lynne would teach a couple of the
classes along with daily "check-in" twice a week. There were others
as well. Diana, with the quirky sense of humor but incredibly
patient heart. Tom, a bit of an odd duck that had an air of
optimism about him. Ken, the teddy bear and uncle. And Loree,
the quiet, probing, yet exceptionally insightful art therapist.

Lynne had enrolled me in Art Therapy. I groaned. "I can't draw
stick figures!" I'm as artistic as a dirt clod. And it was in Loree's
class that much of my situation became more clear. I don't dismiss
art therapy any more. And I still have those art projects.

While the program itself didn't provide my ultimate resolution
- that would come only after breaking down and finally telling my
parents - it did provide me with the needed time, and a better
understanding of how I had gotten so incredibly desperate.
And Lynne's guidance proved pivotal in all of that.

I've mentioned the night - the eve before Thanksgiving 2003
- that I hurt myself. Believe it or not, that was NOT - at least
in my mind - my most dire moment. That actually came the morning
of Christmas Eve day. Things had really gotten tense and the only
thing that kept me safe was repeating "Not Today...Not Today".
I just couldn't exit on this day and forever stain the Season
for my daughters. Not Today, please Not Today. When I
acknowledged my feelings at check in, I figured that was it.
When Lynne came in - she didn't do check in that day - and pulled
me into her class, which was not on my schedule, I figured it was
to keep an eye on me until......until a bed was ready.

Lynne admitted later that it was total coincidence that day,
though she was worried about my state of mind. As I exited the
program - now having unburdened my secret with my parents - I was
very thankful for Lynne's care. What she does - what Loree and
Diana and Ken and Tom, all of whom are still there - is incredibly
challenging. Success is measured frequently in keeping someone
alive just one more day, getting them one more therapy session
covered by insurance. As a nation, we do a horrible job in
caring for those with emotional struggles.

I've kept in touch with Lynne ever since, today I sent an email.
I have great admiration for the work that she does. My time at
he clinic wasn't "depressing" as it was "disheartening".
Disheartening to see so many people in such difficult places.
I sometimes wonder what happened to them. Lynne once mentioned
that all were still with us, but that's all she could acknowledge.
For six weeks they were my friends, my classmates, my support system.

I know now that Lynne and all the others were brought into my life
at the right time for a reason and with a guided purpose. To quote
the lyrics of a song sung by Transcendence Gospel Choir, "I'm alive
today because God kept me." I am thankful.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Favorite Christmas

A Christmas Past Remembered

If I were to ever be granted my Christmas dream, it would be to gather family and friends at a snowbound cabin or lodge for the Yuletide. There would be a large room with comfortable chairs and overstuffed sofas. A persistent crackling from a warming fire would echo throughout. We would eat the meals collectively prepared. We would play in the snow, on the slopes. We would sing. We would share stories. We would laugh, maybe shed a tear or two. But no presents would be exchanged.

I'm no Scrooge. I love this time of year. And I won't go off on some tirade against the commercialism of the Birth of Jesus. I'm as much of a consumer as the rest. But not on this day, not for this one glorious day. Today is a time to reflect, to rejoice and to be with those whom I most cherish. If we were blessed with any little ones around, then we would certainly honor our family tradition - a personal visit from Santa to present the starry-eyed Believers with their wished-for presents. I love to watch the wonderment expressed in the faces of children as they learn, experience and explore.

This dreamt of Christmas kinda happened one accident of course. It's funny that I can remember so much detail...yet the specific year is beyond recollection. My daughters were 7 and 4? 8 and 5? 9 and 6? I'm not certain. Somewhere in the years 1985, 1986 or 1987. Or not. It really doesn't matter much, I guess.

As per my family's custom, we had gathered at my parent's house on Christmas Eve. The host usually rotated between my parents and my two aunts. Thanksgiving and Mother's Day were similarly shared. This year it was at "my" house. We'd moved there while I was still in high school. It was all of five blocks from the house in which I "grew up" - from age 2 to 15. This was still very much my childhood neighborhood.

As so this Christmas Eve would be like nearly all the others. A wonderful dinner (my mother was an outstanding cook), followed by Santa's visit, followed by the exchanging of all the other gifts between the family members. My Mom and Dad were there. Both of my brothers, too, joined by my only sister-in-law at the time. My wife and my two daughters. My aunts and some of my cousins. We all have Christmas memories, and this one would have been pretty much like all the others except for a "gift" from

After we had gathered, a small, but sufficient amount of sleet, freezing rain and snow began to fall. It was just enough to glaze the streets and sidewalks. Being Christmas Eve, there was no chance for the city's work crews to adequately being sanding the streets. By the time we had concluded our traditional holiday expression - dinner, Santa, presents, family - it was going to be a bit of a challenge for us to get home. The solution? We would all spend the night at my parent's house!! My wife and I would use my old bedroom in the front of the house. All the bedrooms were full, I think one brother slept on the couch in the den. My wife and I and our daughters. My two brothers, my sister-in-law. And of course, Mom and Dad.

While the preparations were being made to bed the horde for the night, my brothers and I all hit upon the same notion. Mom never threw anything out. She wasn't a pack-rat or a hoarder, but she did keep much from our the garage! the garage! Could it be?????

Yes!!!! Our old sleds were still hanging off of nails pounded into the beams along the back wall. We pulled them down, dusted them off and off we went! This was our old neighborhood so we knew where the good hills were. The best was about four blocks away. And so my brothers and I, as we did so many times so many years ago, trudged off to "The Hill", a fairly steep two block run that didn't pose a threat of any cross traffic at the bottom, which flattened out for another two blocks. On a good, icy run, you could almost make it the entire length!

But this time, it was extra special. My daughters came along as well. Imagine that, being able to share your exact childhood experience with your own children! A few other people soon gathered as well. In Portland, the snow and ice isn't always a yearly event and it usually doesn't stay for long. It doesn't matter that it is now so late into the night...the time is now!

Reluctantly, yet wearily - it's a long walk back up the hill - we finally had our fill of a childhood revisited and, for me, a childhood shared. We headed back to Mom and Dad's for the night. By noon, the ice was gone and we all returned home safely.

I'll keep the dream of the snow-blanketed cabin filled with nothing more than family, friends, food and a festive atmosphere - no gifts allowed. I'll always have the memory of that ice-bound home and sledding down "The Hill", even though I'll never be able to remember the gifts shared that year.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Pretty Birds and Pretty Boys

Thoughts on the Gender Spectrum

As I sat eating lunch today, I looked out our dining room’s French doors and watched the many different birds pay a visit to our locust tree. It serves as a staging area for many of them to access the bird feeders below the deck. And several scour it’s nooks, cracks and crannies for various bugs.

Some of the birds have distinctive gender differences, some have nearly none. The male cardinal is still a very vibrant red, but the female is a more muted olive green with hints of “cardinal” on the wings and tail. The male junco is slightly darker than the female. The goldfinches have gone drab for the winter. In the summer, the male turns an electric yellow with a patch of black atop his head, while the female presents a hint more yellow on her mostly greenish body. I’ve yet to figure out if there is any gender difference for the chickadee, the Carolina wren, the downy woodpecker, the red-breasted woodpecker, the brown creeper, the mourning dove or the red-breasted nuthatch. All were visitors today during my fifteen minute lunch. We’ve enjoyed over 30 different birds in our backyard.

But the view gave me thought about human gender presentation. The first thought was Why Does It Matter? Make no mistake about it….gender presentation DOES matter and I’m not really referring to the biological requirements for many species for procreation. We utilize terms commonly ascribed to one gender to demean the other. “Sissy”. “Butch”. “Effeminate”. “Masculine”. I don’t even need to add the noun to the adjective. You know what they are.

People get horribly conflicted and frustrated when they cannot determine another person’s gender. I’m old enough to remember all the hubbub about guys with long hair in the 60’s and 70’s. I also remember there were those so angry that there were, essentially, hair bashings – gang attacking someone in order to cut their hair. Recall the character “Pat” created by Julia Sweeney on Saturday Night Live. The awkwardness and intense curiosity expressed by the other characters in the skits were more real than most people realize.

The other thought is our use of the complimentary words “handsome” and “pretty”. Men are “handsome”. Women are “pretty”. Yet we refer to the “pretty” bird – which in most cases is the male. The male cardinal is a pretty, bright crimson. The male peacock spreads his pretty, beautiful tail. Ever think of a bright blue budgie as “handsome”? Why the need to be so uniquely distinguishing for the male and female of the Human species…it doesn’t seem to be an issue for the birds?

I am certainly not advocating for a genderless society. But I do think it would be healthier for everyone - and a much safer situation for transgenders - if we became more understanding and accepting of variations than of strict binary constraints.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Such a Simple Word, right?

All. One of the shortest words in the entire English language. And yet it seems we spend so much time and effort to determine just what it means? Merriam-Webster Online offers several definitions depending on grammatical usage - noun, adverb, pronoun, etc. - but it boils down to essentially this:

1 a: the whole amount, quantity, or extent of all the courage they had
b: as much as possible
: every member or individual component of
: the whole number or sum of
: every

With news that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will be introduced into the Senate, the issue of "all" will once again be raised. The House passed a version that was not "all" - it added Sexual Orientation to the job protections laws of the federal government, but not Gender Identity. Now, I will first firmly state why did we need to add Sexual Orientation in the first place? Don't our laws apply equally to "all"? Nope. We need to keep defining what "all" means, I guess. In fact, its a rather bizarre twist that the Fourteenth Amendment begins with the word "all"! But in the course of our societal and governmental development we have needed to add gender and race and marital status and religion and creed to the protections of "all" that are suggested in all our laws by this portion of the Constitution.

And the same thing happens within our Christian faiths. The oft-cited John 3:16 - essentially the invitation, the promise of becoming Christian - says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (KJV).

"Whosoever" is just a longer version of the word "All". It doesn't hold any additional conditions, codicils, amendments or qualifications. Whosoever.

But there are so many people of faith who then spend so much of their ecclesiastical efforts defining just "who" of "Whosoever" they will allow to participate within their house. Some limit the participation of women. Some have a past of excluding people of color. Some prioritize which "sins" eliminate someone, and which apparently don't (aren't we all "sinners"????). And, of course, there a some who condemn and denounce people like me and those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The promise of God's salvation and grace is not based upon our being, or trying to be, perfect. It is offered knowing that we cannot be perfect.

All. Pretty simple word, if you only let it be what it truly means.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Rainbow Connection

A Daughter's Song, A Daughter's Love

Perhaps it was because we missed sharing our birth date by a mere four hours. But it was clear very quickly that my oldest daughter was closer to me than her mother. The youngest one identified more with Mom than me. There was at least balance in the house.

I recall one special night (gosh, with a child's life there are so many!) when she was barely more than a month old. We had moved from McMinnville to Eugene and my work hours had changed dramatically from the morning news shift (5am to 2pm) to the evening talk show (4pm to midnight). Somehow this tiny bundle sensed the change. She struggled mightily, according to her mother, to stay awake until I got home, but would be sound asleep by the time I got there.

Then, on about the fourth night she made it. Her mother, a bit frazzled, handed me the baby who would not sleep and once in my arms she looked up and started to laugh so hard and so loud! She'd stayed awake long enough....Dad was home! I never knew a baby that young could laugh. Some doctors will tell you that's not possible. After that night, I can tell you those doctors are wrong.

That would almost become her nickname....the Baby Who Would Not Sleep. Night after night, her mother and I would take turns rocking her in the rocking chair. And singing "Rainbow Connection" to her. We had seen "The Muppet Movie" a few months after she was born and simply adored the film and the music. Jeni would slip into some not asleep, not awake stupor. Just as we would stop, she'd awaken. And we'd rock and sing the song all over again. So many times each night, so many nights. Is it any wonder that before she could effectively put two sentences together after learning to talk, that she could sing the entire song, on key? She wasn't even two years old yet!

It was Thanksgiving weekend in 2001, that Saturday, that I told my daughters my truth. I wrote earlier that one was in puddles, the other bravely feigning wanting to learn but asking "who will walk me down the aisle." Jeni was the one in puddles. It was the scariest moment in my life. These two precious daughters - I'd spent hours with my therapists wondering if either, neither or both would keep with me. One week I was certain I would lose one but not the other. The next week it was that I would lose the other, keep the first. Both scenarios crushed my heart. The idea of losing both was something I just didn't want to contemplate. (Incidentally, knowledgeable therapists will counsel their trans clients that they will lose people from their lives - friends and family. It's only a matter of who and how many. I've been very, very fortunate).

I know that both my daughters had difficulty with the disclosure. In no way will I ever compare whether it was more difficult for one than the other...I know it was hard on both. And I may never know the depths of their challenges. I will forever remember the words Jeni shared in a television story that had chronicled my transition, "Dad, as Dad, is gone." It broke my heart to hear that, but I also understood it was her way of rationalizing the situation, her way of making sense of it all. I needed to give her, and her sister, their space to figure this out.

Now, back to that song. As everybody knows, the rainbow has become a sign of acceptance for and pride by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender peoples. The lyrics begin...

" Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side? Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide."

The initial suggestion in these words from Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher suggest that there really isn't anything "over" the rainbow. And yet, each stanza of the song ends with the hope that perhaps, through some yet to be discovered Rainbow Connection, that we will, indeed find the other side...

"Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers and me."

My daughter attended the candlelight vigil for the 2007 Transgender Day of Remembrance at her university. They read the entire list of transgender murder victims...nearly 400 chronicled since TDoR began in 1999. On the morning of the fourth "anniversary" of the night I took a knife to my wrist, I awoke to this email titled simply "Love You" from her:

With cold nose and hands, candle wax dripping on my fingers, and names being read with faltering voices, I realized more and more how thankful I am that your name is not on that 17 page list. I am among the fortunate. I am among those who can still pick up the phone and say I love you.

And I do.

You have a strength inside you that most can't even touch. You have faced your friends, your family, and your community and said, "This is who I am." You put yourself out there to be mocked, loved, ridiculed, but above all, you've put
yourself out there. You stepped out of the shadows and have stood basking in the sun as your self--not the self so many others would have you be. I am thankful for you. You have taught me so much about my own life and my own strengths.

I see you now for who you truly are, and I love you so much for it. You are a strong and beautiful woman, and I am proud to have you as a parent.
Keep up the good fight. Hopefully one day it will no longer need fighting.

I love you.

Those years seemingly so long ago...and yet not so long ago...singing those words to the Baby Who Would Not Sleep, I think she has now found The Rainbow Connection. At least the connection between her and me, stronger now than that late night when I cradled in my arms the Baby Who Would Not Sleep and heard her laugh so heartily.

And if you think I didn't cry reading her note......I am truly blessed by my daughters.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Incredible Voices of Praise

Yes, we can Sing....and these brothers and sisters do just that!

Shortly after I joined my church, I learned there were some members who sang with the Heartland Mens Chorus here in Kansas City. I attended their Christmas concert in 2005 and was instantly hooked. They are an outstanding collection of over 120 voices who sing with talent, with joy and with pride.

And I remember one of them mentioning a transgender choir that had performed at the 2004 GALA choruses convention in Montreal. I was intrigued and went home to find them on the web.

The group is the Transcendence Gospel Choir, whose home is at City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco. Through their website I was able to listen to glimpses of their award winning CD “Whosoever Believes” and was deeply moved by their skill and by the messages of their songs. I don’t know why I didn’t order the CD right then and there. I have since purchase a copy and I highly recommend it.

Earlier this year, through one of my email groups, I saw a flyer for a movie called “The Believers” – an award winning documentary that chronicled the beginning three years of Transcendence. Once again, I hit the web pronto. I found out that Frameline in San Francisco was handling the distribution of the video. I contacted them and arranged for three screenings here in Kansas City. The last of which was just a few days ago.

At each showing, it was amazing to witness that nearly everyone stayed in their seats through the credits. Attend a movie in a theater and as soon as the credits roll, seats begin to empty, rapidly.

I would encourage you to see this wonderful documentary. It’s been on LOGO a couple of times, you can contact Frameline to arrange your own showing.

And while I’ve seen it several times, I still cry at the same moments each time. I won’t spoil the film…but there are four or five points when the tears begin to well. I will acknowledge two of their songs – “I Almost Let Go” and “Bless Me”. The lyrics of “I Almost Let Go” resonated deeply within my soul and my experience. Yes, I truly believe now that “I’m alive today, because God kept me”. “Bless Me” is remarkable not so much for the message, but for the amazing solo performance by one of the members named Prado. What a truly awesome voice he has! Bobbie Jean is also a talented voice as soloist on a couple of other songs.

The CD has a couple of selections not included in the movie and also has a couple of excerpted homilies from Bishop Yvette Flunder, the energetic and powerfully moving minister of City of Refuge. I can only imagine someday visiting San Francisco and attend worship with these lovely children of God.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Changed Heart

Just one is still one More

There is a group here in Kansas City called the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries and I am blessed to take part, though I’m not as active in planning and leadership as I would like. KCCWM began just two years ago following a grassroots, LGBT Faith training weekend. The group’s vision is “That all faith communities in the metropolitan Kansas City area will respect and welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” I came in contact with these wonderful people of faith as they organized their first event called “TRANSforming our Community”. And this was actually my very first transgender understanding presentation – which I have now offered dozens of times to various groups since then.

Recently, KCCWM organized another event called the Academy of Welcome. The plenary session was headed by Dr. Robert Minor, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas and author, who is very active in talking about Scriptures and a more caring reading regarding LGBT peoples. The evening “Service of Healing” featured, among other things, a keynote from Harry Knox, the director for the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign. The four workshops offered were violence in the LGBT community, how to become more or officially “welcoming”, a “check-up” for those already declared as welcoming and understanding transgender. I got to reprise – although greatly revised (and hopefully improved, too!) – the presentation started nearly two years ago.

I was busy getting the projector and screen set up during most of Bob Minor’s talk, making sure the computer and everything was working properly. It’s an old occupational hazard from my years in radio broadcasting – I don’t like technical malfunctions that a little preparation can avoid. So I got set up more than an hour before my talk.

After the plenary – and I got to hear the last half hour or so – we broke for refreshments. I saw some good friends, chatted briefly, grabbed some water and cookies (incidentally…you can always feed me cookies!) and headed to my room at the end of the downstairs hallway. I wanted to be there as my guests arrived. To my surprise, a woman was already there!

We engaged in a little chit chat, this was not someone I recognized, and I asked which church she attended. She seemed rather ashamed. “I attend (a local Baptist congregation). Needless to say, I am here for myself and not for my church.” As others began to file into the room, I had time to simply thank her for her heart and left it at that.

After the workshops, we were able to share a wonderful meal and I would hear her then and as we began to gather for the evening service explain with some embarrassment “We’re not American Alliance or anything like that…we’re SBC”, she lamented. The Southern Baptist Convention is well known for its rigidity regarding LGBT acceptance.

At the Service of Healing, I was honored to read an essay from expatriate Vietnamese Buddhist pacifist Thich Nhat Hahn about a pebble sinking slowly, effortlessly to the bottom of the creek bed. The essay was intended as a meditation and relaxation. Pebbles or Stones were the theme of the service.

The evening now complete, I am face to face with my new friend in the aisle of the sanctuary. She has tears in her eyes and we shared a warm hug. Why she attended, I never asked. How she left, I will always treasure.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

We are not....

....who you think we are!

In recognition of transgender veterans.

I am honored to frequently lecture at colleges and universities, to social service providers and faith groups, about transgender understanding. As I do so, I ask that they remember, at the very least, just two things about us. One, that this is not about our sex lives. And two, that we are not who they may think we are. These are the two most prevalent myths and misconceptions about our existence. I’ve already written about the issue of sexual orientation, this essay is inspired by this time of the year when we honor our Veterans.

Eyebrows usually get raised when I talk about transgender women, in particular, who were wrestling champions and football linebackers, who were or still are police officers and firefighters. Most people have the impression that we were all shy little boys dangling off of mom’s apron strings, playing with flowers and dolls. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the larger support and advocacy groups in the transgender community is TAVA, the Transgender American Veterans Association. Yes, we have served our country in all the service branches, in all the battles and wars. (At this point, I’ll acknowledge that I was fortunate enough to not be forced into military service – the All Volunteer military was implemented the very year I became eligible for the draft. This was at a time when Vietnam was still very active. Given the choice of military service, I did not enroll.)

I once met a retired vice-admiral who spent the bulk of her career as a submariner. I was at the lounge when two friends found out that both had served not only in the same field, but also the same base in California – just a couple of years apart. At a dinner, I witnessed another conversation between two transgender women who had served in the Mediterranean during the tense days around Beirut, with one, serving in military intelligence, confirming the other’s inquiry about the missile that had been fired at her ship. Would you believe two transgenders who served in Vietnam, in Special Forces, who had been paired together for a time as a search and destroy unit – who later found each other as women? Despite the severe psychological stressing and deep profiling one must endure to become an Army Ranger, Green Beret or Navy Seal, there are many transgenders who have been a member of the Special Forces.

There are a myriad reasons and theories behind what I term “ultra masculinity” within the gender conflicted soul. One, we live in such mortal fear that someone will discover our “secret” – who then would ever dare to suggest that Rambo needs to wear a dress? It’s a good place to hide. For some, it is part of their own personal exploration. They’ve been given a male body, so they seek out very “male” activities. Of course, as each one doesn’t work to resolve the internal conflict, they move on to ever more dangerous, risky or “macho” endeavors. Which don’t work either. And, sadly, for some, there is a bit of a death wish. This not only would resolve their internal conflict – and that’s the number one cause of transgender suicide…resolving the conflict – but also forever keeps their secret.

I offer my thanks and admiration to my transgender sisters and brothers who have given themselves to military service. I wish the country that you served - perhaps are currently serving - treated you with more respect, understanding and support. And to all, please know now, that we are not who you may think we are!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

To what end(a)?

ENDA passes the House

Forgive me Mr. Thayer....

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy for Trannies, mighty Barney left us out.

After debate, discussion, periodic diatribe and drivel, a few
parliamentary pranks, the consideration of three amendments
(but votes on only two) that lasted nearly 5 1/2 hours, the
US House passed the "historic" Employment Non-Discrimination
Act today on a vote of 235-184.

Truly historic in that the bill's passage is the first and
only time that employment protections have been approved at
the Federal level for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Historic also in that the bill was approved without the support
of dozens upon dozens of LGB and T organizations. Historic
also in that a bill designed to achieve success in a minority
population has served to drive a deep wedge into that very

There is no companion bill being considered in the Senate
at this point. The best anyone can guess is that maybe...MAYBE...
the Senate might have something to consider in the spring or
summer. Fat chance. With Hillary and Barack as the main
Democratic candidates for the Presidency, there is no way
this will see the Senate floor prior to the election.

And even then, President Bush will veto it and today's vote
is a good 50 or so short of an override.

It was painful to watch Florida Congresswoman Kathy Campos (D),
who helped shepherd the early part of the process, persistently
use the word "all" when describing the bill's "inclusiveness".
Sadder still in that Ms. Campos's district is directly adjacent
to Largo, Florida, the city that summarily dismissed its
respected city manager, Susan (nee Steven) Stanton upon
her transition.

It was painful to watch Washington Congressman Doc Hastings (R)
disingenuously argue for holding a vote on the Baldwin Amendment
- the salve tossed to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin who was most
insistent on transgender inclusion. In a piece of parliamentary
pablum, she was allowed to offer the amendment, then withdraw it,
with no vote ever taken. Ol' Doc, as perhaps he's known in
Kennewick or Yakima or Moses Lake, came to the floor pushing
for a vote on the amendment. Now, not even a politically
averse loon like me figured him as my Knight in Shining Armor.
Nah...Ol' Doc just wanted to cause the reportedly nervous-kneed
freshman Democrats in the house - those more concerned with
keeping their jobs than helping transgenders keep theirs -
dyspepsia by putting their votes to the public eye.

It was painful to watch Congressman Frank speak of the
political realities of including transgenders, when he must
know...he MUST know...the overall political reality of his
bill - inclusive or not - is Dead on Arrival. At least until
a supportive President is elected (and please don't dare ask
me who that might be!).

It was painful to watch so-called "Christian" members argue
FOR discrimination, argue FOR hate, argue FOR exclusion.
Where in the ministry of Jesus did they learn that?

I am overdrawn with Political Reality.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Transgender Holiday

It's Halloween Time!

You may think that Halloween is all about ghosts and goblins and scary things in the night. (And please, let's spare the ultra-conservative rhetoric about this day). You may think that Halloween is all about tricks or treats. And you may think that Halloween is all about donning a costume and having a good time. And you would be right.

Except for the transgender though. For us, Halloween is a time when it becomes acceptable for us to openly, yet still very secretively, be who we really are.

I'm not talking about those who have transitioned. This is a most special day for those still very much living solely in their hearts, their thoughts and their dreams.

I wrote in an earlier essay about my trip to the Esprit Gala in Port Angeles, Washington in 2001 as the "second time" I had ever been myself in public. The first being a support group dinner with the Northwest Gender Alliance the month earlier - and that's a story for another time! In truth, my first time in public was at a Halloween party outside of McMinnville, Oregon in 1977.

My then wife had discovered some makeup under the driver's seat of my car one weekend while I was out of town. She knew it wasn't hers. And she was pretty certain I didn't have a mistress. The ensuing discussion was most 'interesting', but the end result was that I would occasionally get made up for some bedroom fun. And at the time, this was quite enjoyable - beyond the sex, which was fun as well. So it was that we came upon the chance to join my radio station co-workers for a Halloween party at the Flying M Ranch outside of the nearby small community of Yamhill.

The decision was that I would go as "her" and she would go as "me". I hated shaving, in fact I had trouble with ingrown hairs frequently, so I sported my usual scraggly beard. The plan was that I would carefully crop the whiskers, then we could affix them to my wife's face with spirit gum. We were about the same size, so wearing my suit and slacks and tie was not a problem. She actually looked pretty good! Most of my co-workers, and it was a small station so we knew all the spouses, partners and children, didn't recognize her.

I, of course, got to dress up! I already had a rather lengthy wig, but needed some quick breasts. I found some styrofoam balls at a local store, cut them in half and Voila! Not terribly realistic, but certainly rounder than what I had. I donned a long dress, did my makeup and away we went!

As it was night and my preparation took a little longer than anticipated - those damned fake nails - we barely got there through the twisty rural roads in time to join our friends. Most humorously, another of my co-workers had also come as a woman! Paul, however, still sported his beard and was built a bit like a linebacker. And his skill with makeup certainly wasn't as adept as mine - after all, I had been practicing for quite some time. I was 5'7" and weighed a svelte 125 pounds. I'm still 5'7". Paired next to Paul, I looked stunning! Well, maybe not quite that stunning. My makeup skills, truthfully, were rather rudimentary.

Yet, lo and behold, I got asked to dance by a guy I did not know that was with another group also enjoying the festivities. Wow...what fun! Eventually the evening ended and we faced the trip home. I hope none of the pictures of that night survive today. I really don't want to know the "truth" of my appearance. But in my memory, I was the Princess and I soaked in every minute.

Halloween offers a safe chance for the hidden transgender to be "real" for just one night. While none of my co-workers had a clue about my true feelings, they all let me be Me for that one night. No guilt. No recrimination. No condemnation. No unwanted questions.

Lest you get the idea that every guy who attends a Halloween party in a dress, or woman who wears a tie is secretly a "T", then remember my co-worker Paul. He remains in radio broadcasting today at a station not all that far away from where I live now. He is decidedly Paul, though I don't know if he's ever donned another dress for Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Ugly Truth

Trans Community? What Community?

It's tough enough to out oneself, but to out your "community" is a bit more challenging. Yet, that is what this commentary is about. You probably learned to "put your best foot forward", to "put on a Happy Face", to hide your "dirty linen". But that hides the truth...and for the transgender community an Ugly Truth.

I'm often amused by that phrase anyway "community". When I transitioned, it's not like I got a card welcoming me to this "community" and explaining its rules. And all "communities" have rules. No one gave me the "agenda" that is so often derisively mentioned by naysayers. There is no monolith called Transgenders.

There are actually two Ugly Truths. The first is a self imposed hierarchy of acceptance within the trans community (I'll be polite and drop the quotation marks for awhile). This hierarchy is based upon where one falls on the gender identity spectrum. At the top of the charts is the Post-Op transgender. This is the highest of all trans life forms. Post-Ops are admired for their determination, their courage and their status. There is actually a subset to the Post-Ops caste which is based on who did your surgery...or where, since many travel to Thailand or other places outside North America.

The next rung on the Trans Hierarchy comes the Non-Op. These are people who have not had, and do not plan to have, genital surgery though they live fulltime in their needed gender role. And again there are two subsets. Those who cannot have the surgery due to economic or health reasons. It is easy to sympathize with a "Post-Op" who can't. The undergroup here are those who do not have the surgery by choice. They are happy with who they are regardless of genital appearances. Still, those on the higher rung look at this as a cop-out. After all, why would someone go this far and not "complete" the process? Answer: because it's not our journey, it is theirs.

This brings us to the Crossdresser. When I first started to locate chat rooms in which to find friends - and, yes, flirt a bit - I was frustrated when someone would mention that they were "just a crossdresser". Just? You ARE a crossdresser, nothing wrong with that. Yet, the higher ups view crossdressers as "wannabes" or pretenders or really trans but don't want to admit it. And since crossdressers have no need or impetus for body congruity, its suggested they are only "playing", whereas the Post-Op is Real. Hogwash. Crossdressers have found their peace on the Gender Journey by expressing themselves in this manner. The whole notion of Gender Identity issues is finding one's inner peace - not a peace prescribed or defined by others.

Of course, you can't have a hierarchy without the lowest of the low - the Transvestite, the one who wears frilly stuff for sex. See...even in the Trans Community, we can get all wiggy about someone else's sexual pursuits just like anyone else.

This High/Low status comes in a group that is, perhaps, one of the most marginalized groups in the world. Sad isn't it, that we then marginalize others within our group? And this hierarchy of Transgender has often caused rifts in various support groups, occasionally leading to their demise.

And there's a more recent schism within the "community" (thought I'd put the quotation marks back in for emphasis) - the issue of being Out or being Stealth. Stealth is the term applied to transgenders who try to live in their needed gender without telling anyone. "Passing" in the needed gender is critical to living stealth. Many transpeople struggle with passing. There are those who are Out - or who cannot live Stealth - who feel those living their lives quietly, below the radar, only serve to help foster the myths about transgenders. Afterall, if we are not "seen", how can we combat those misconceptions?

Thus, those who are Out deride those who are Stealth. Those who are Stealth chastise those who are Out - and who advocate for legal and social changes to benefit transgenders - fearing a backlash against all. I was personally amazed when I identified a situation in my home state that I felt should be changed. The change would help especially those in the Real Life Experience (that very vulnerable period in which we must live fulltime in our needed gender without the benefit of surgeries. I had engaged an ally in government who might be able to help facilitate the change. When I mentioned this to the local community, there was more than one who felt doing so might cause undue attention, and thus unwanted removal of the few "rights" we have.

Living stealth is increasingly difficult. Most current day background checks will yield former names used by an individual. Kinda hard to explain how "Ron" came up on "Donna's" background check. And the pending implementation of the Real ID act may actually out some who have been stealth for many years. It may also make life difficult for those who are Out, but still need to align all their personal documentation.

I don't know why we have this need to segregate, to marginalize those within our "community"...we have plenty of those who are from outside the group to do that for us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Songs of a Second Life

Lyrics Heard Through A New Heart

Early in my awakening, in the spring of 2001, I was able to attend a wonderful gathering of transgenders and crossdressers called Esprit Gala which is held annually in the unlikeliest of places, Port Angeles, Washington located at the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. It was only the second time I'd been in the "real world" as Donna...and a life altering experience as well. It was truly where I was able to finally see myself, meet myself, experience who I truly was.

There are many activities that go along with the week's schedule. I'd scanned the program and had a pretty good idea of some classes I was planning to attend. Then I ran into my "Big Sister", Teri, whom I had met the month earlier at the support group dinner in Portland. "Have you signed up for Blue Monday?", she asked. "No, I was wondering what that was....", I said. "Honey, we all have to go back!". The conference would end on Sunday. Many sisters had experienced a difficult time on the Monday in which we would return to our other lives. Depressed. Sad. Blue.

I managed to avoid a Blue Monday. I hit the wall heading home that Sunday afternoon instead. I was listening to the radio when a song started up. I'd heard it plenty of times before, but frankly had never really listened to the lyrics. As the song continued, I heard the words. I felt the words. I cried. The song is "I Knew I Loved You" by Savage Garden. Now the song is clearly intended as a paean to "love at first sight", when a guy first spots a girl and is deeply smitten. Imagine, though, how these lyrics would impact the transgender woman who had just experienced her "first sight" of herself.....

"I Knew I Loved You"

Maybe it's intuition
But some things you just don't question
Like in your eyes
I see my future in an instant
and there it goes
I think I've found my best friend
I know that it might sound more than
a little crazy but I believe


I knew I loved you before I met you
I think I dreamed you into life
I knew I loved you before I met you
I have been waiting all my life

There's just no rhyme or reason
only this sense of completion
and in your eyes
I see the missing pieces
I'm searching for
I think I found my way home
I know that it might sound more than
a little crazy but I believe

[repeat chorus]

A thousand angels dance around you
I am complete now that I found you

[repeat chorus to fade]

Yes, I knew I loved me before I met me...but until I saw me, how would I would I feel? And yes, it does feel as though I was dreamed into life. For it was years upon years of dreams in which I had existed. Now I had become real. I was complete now that I'd found me.

The trip was nearly four hours, so there was yet another song that caused me to pull over and cry. It's "Don't Know Much" sung in a loving duet by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville. Once again, a moving storysong about two people in love who have nothing much except their love for one another as their foundation. In the context of the transgender, one who has finally seen herself, breathed on her own for the first time, the reflections, the implied struggles, the hoped for future expressed in the lyrics are extremely meaningful.

"Don't Know Much"

Look at this face
I know the years are showin'
Look at this life
I still don't know where its goin'

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know

Look at these eyes
They've never seen what mattered
Look at these dreams
So beaten and so battered

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know

So many questions
Still left unanswered
So much I've never broken through

And when I feel you near me
Sometimes I see so clearly
The only truth I've ever known
Is me and you

Look at this man
So blessed with inspiration
Look at this soul
Still searching for salvation

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know

I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be
All I need to know I don't know much
But I know I love you
And that may be All I need to know

I was nearly 48 by the time I went to Esprit Gala. The years were showing on my face. And at this point as I looked at this life, I still didn't know where it was going. These eyes had never seen what mattered. There were still many questions unanswered. I was still a soul seeking salvation. I didn't know much, and yet I knew one thing. That I knew I loved (the new!) me. And that was All I Need to Know.

By the time I had returned to Portland, I knew that transitioning was where I wanted to do, needed to do. It would now only be a matter of how and when....not the lifelong dream of If.

The two songs are played much less frequently now. But when I do hear them, I pull the car over, stop surfing on the internet, stop whatever I'm doing. And cry. It's a good cry, a cry I hope I never lose.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Family Joy

It was the Thanksgiving weekend of 2001. I had asked my daughters to my house. This would be The Talk, the time had come for me to tell them who I am, who I would become. I was scared. I had gone over what might happen with my therapist a dozen times - both would continue to be with would reject me, the other wouldn't....the other would reject me, the first wouldn't (I used to call them the Salt and Pepper sisters to describe their frequent differences)....both would leave. I love my daughters dearly, so the thought of losing either or both was terrifying. And I had come out to just one other person so far.

Both knew something was up...but neither had a clue about what would come next. "I'm transgender", I said. And then proceeded to tell them what that meant, what I needed to do. It was no longer a question of What...but a decision as to When.

My oldest daughter was a puddle of tears. The younger daughter tried her best to be resolute, to try to understand, but I could see she was a puddle of tears inside her shell as well. And it was she who declaimed "but who will walk me down the aisle?", a reference to a traditional role for the Father. And I would no longer be their "father". As my oldest daughter would say later, "Dad, as Dad, is gone".

While both of them struggled to understand, both have continued to be in my life and for that I'm very thankful. that question. The answer is, it wasn't me. This past week, my youngest daughter got married to the wonderful man with whom she's been together for the past few years. And yes, I was invited to attend. I met the in-laws, a terrific family. We shared stories at the rehearsal dinner. I joined my daughter in her preparations along with the other bridesmaids and flower girls. The box containing my wrist corsage read "Bride's Other Mother". And we all cried. She was absolutely gorgeous.

As I said, I would not walk her down the aisle. That was done by her brother-in-law, who is married to her half sister, the eldest of the three girls. I was escorted by the minister to begin the procession. We were followed by the groom's mother, then my ex-wife (the girl's mother), my daughter's grandmother (ex-wife's mother), and then all the groomsmen and bridesmaids. The three flower girls, who were most darling, preceded the bride.

The ceremony was lovely - though plans to hold it outdoors were dashed by a persistent drizzle. The reception was a lot of fun. I was deeply privileged to take part, to simply witness this glorious day in my daughter's life.

Many transgenders lose family members. I am blessed with two amazing daughters. I cherish their love more than they may know. Now, two families have become one - and I am part of that new union. This is A Family Joy!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What Now?

No Rose for HRC

One of my favorite lines from the movies is at the end of the film "The Candidate". The lead character, Bill McKay (Robert Redford), is an upstart and largely unknown Democratic challenger to the well-heeled and longtime incumbent Senator Jarmon (Don Porter). McKay's campaign catches wind and with the final push from his father, ex-Senator John McKay (Melvyn Douglas), he actually pulls off the upset.

In his hotel room, awaiting the election results, the final word is declared...he is the winner. And after months on the campaign trail, dozens of speeches and policy statements, he looks beseechingly to his campaign manager Lucas (Peter Boyle) and asks "What now?". Having never the initial thought of winning...and not having any time to consider that during the hectic campaign, the newly elected Senator was without a plan.

And that seems to be where things sit with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the recent attempt to remove Gender Identity from the bill's provisions and the waffling response of the Human Rights Campaign to the development outlined by Rep. Barney Frank - one of the bills original authors - and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Two things should be immediately noted: The vast majority of all other LGBT advocacy organizations roundly criticized and opposed the maneuver. And so did one of the bill's other sponsors, Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

News now that HRC's first and only openly transgender member of its board, Donna Rose, has resigned. You can read her detailed, impassioned letter here and a subsequent entry on her personal blog here. I would recommend reading her blog entries from September 29th through October 3rd. Actually, read the entry before the 29th and you get the idea that she was completely blindsided by the action of the HRC leadership.

What Now? At this point, HRC has no transgender presence on its Board of Directors, no transgender presence on the Foundation Board, no transgender presence on the Board of Governors and, to my knowledge, no transgender members on staff. Thus is the example from the "one of the largest and most successful political action committees in the country" (their words, not mine). This must be fixed.

What Now? As it turns out, taking Gender Identity and Expression out of ENDA may actually be more harmful to many gays and lesbians. Oft-times they are targeted not so much for their choice of partners, but there appearance as too "feminine" for gay men, or too "masculine" for lesbian women. And there was also a softening of language around the exception for religions, which may have rendered much of what was left riddled with loopholes and not protections. This must be fixed.

What Now? Unfortunately, transgenders face a challenging situation. If ENDA (trans inclusive) is offered to the House and is shot down, then we will be held "responsible" - that is the position that Rep. Frank and Speaker Pelosi have cast. It couldn't possibly be poor leadership and stewardship of the bill by Rep. Frank and Speaker Pelosi. And if they decide to hold back ENDA entirely, pending a more "willing" House, then transgenders again will be held "responsible" for the delay. And if ENDA (no trannies allowed) is offered and is defeated, then transgenders will be held "responsible" because of all the hoohaw we created. I have no clue as to how to fix this.

LGBT? GLBT? LGB and T? LGB or T? LGB no T? It's your choice.

Monday, October 1, 2007


I began this blog to talk about transgenderism and spirituality, but now I need to include politics. Fresh from the glow of passage of the Matthew Shepard Act in the Senate, comes the news from Rep. Barney Frank and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would be stripped of transgender inclusive language. It is their belief that with Gender Identity in the bill, it will not have enough support to pass the House. This is not the first time that the T has been thrown off the wagon to benefit the LGB. What is galling is that the Human Rights Campaign is supporting this maneuver.

I offer my Thanks to the many "LGB and T" organizations that have loudly decried this idea: PFLAG, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, National Stonewall Democrats, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Pride at Work (AFL-CIO) and others. These organizations understand that "victory" at the expense of others is wrong. And especially since the political reality - the same "reality" leading Frank/Pelosi/HRC to remove Gender Identity - is that it won't work anyway.

Reality: President Bush will veto ENDA whether it includes Gender Identity or not. While there may be enough votes to pass ENDA (No Trannies Allowed), there are not enough to override the veto. There is the same concern about the Matthew Shepard Act - which Bush will have a harder time vetoing since it is buried in a war-machine spending bill. If he does veto this bill, any takers on whether transgenders will be taken out of this bill, too?

So to Speaker Pelosi and to Representative Frank - you've lost me as a loyal Democrat. I'm gone. For ANY Democratic candidate anywhere. I cannot trust you.

To HRC - I will now not support any of the LGB issues that do not pertain to me.

Marriage? I can marry anyone I want! That great bastion of idiocy, the state of Kansas, has a court ruling that says I can only marry a woman. Most other states say I can only marry a man.

Adoption? I've already raised my children, adoption is something that doesn't concern me, so why should I care about you?

Don't Ask, Don't Tell? I'm well past my days of possible military service. Frankly, I do not advocate military service for anyone, why should I care if you want to serve or not?

How can I ever expect HRC's support for issues that are transgender specific??????

I never asked that the T be tied to the LGB. It actually helps foster the prevailing stereotypes and mythologies about who the Transgender are. And isn't it curious that the T is always, always, at the end of the acronym - which is sometimes LGBT and sometimes GLBT? Makes it easier to cut us loose, I imagine....

I have many friends who are lesbian, gay or bi - my commentary is not directed personally at you. I know your hearts, I appreciate your loyalty. But the final reality is that the transgender "community" is too negligible to make a political impact on it's own. That takes People, Power or Money, we are short on all three. Righteousness or Justice has never succeeded in American politics. We need allies from all quarters, so when the leading LGB political organization in the country casts me aside, I get the message.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seeing Signs

Coincidence? Or Fate? Or God's Hand?

I was never one to believe in Fate - though I often was amused by how things seemingly "happened". And as disconnected I was from the notion of Fate, I was even more distanced from the concept of God's Plan. So it was that when "signs" started popping up as I hit absolute rock bottom in my life, that I viewed them with what little "humor" I could muster.

One of the less appealing facts of life for a male-to-female transgender is getting rid of the facial hair. I always hated shaving, and in fact had difficulty shaving on a regular basis. Whiskers on my neck would often grow back in-grown. Then when I would shave over those affected areas, I'd slice open the whiteheads and bleed all over the place. I'd joke that I needed to call the Red Cross before I would shave! Good thing I've donated ten gallons!! As a result, I would shave when absolutely necessary - weddings, funerals, hockey games and job interviews. Most of the time I sported an embarrassingly scraggly beard. I never "grew" a beard. I just didn't shave!! The most reliable, permanent method of beard elimination is electrolysis, a less than enjoyable experience where a tiny needle is inserted into the follicle and then an electric current is applied to effect a galvanic reaction, or cauterize with heat, or both.

As I mentioned, I had stopped visiting my electrologist because of finances...and then later because of my transitional inertia. I'll also say that she is a terrific friend, very knowledgeable in transgender issues and served as a surrogate "therapist" on many occasions. At the time, I was the Operations Director at the radio station and part of my job was to schedule the underwriters (public radio's version of "commercials") on the air. This had been part of my responsibilities for a decade or so.

At this point, I was attending therapy sessions and classes for six hours a day and still trying to get my work done at the radio station. While I was receiving help, I really wasn't getting any better emotionally. Then came one of those Signs. A new underwriter had been signed - the Oregon Association of Licensed Electrologists! We had never had them as a client before - or, to my knowledge, since. And I did miss my friend Patty. I got a chuckle and went about my business.

Another task of mine at the station was to pre-record and then program for later use about four hours of programming that would be aired on Sunday afternoons and evenings. Actually, I did this for the other six days of the week as well. On Sunday evening, we aired a program called "Choral Classics", a program that features choral music. One of the underwriters - or sponsors - of the program was Dr. James Thomas, a laryngologist. I read his copy before and after each weekly program and had for nearly two years.

In addition to electrolysis, some transgender women undergo surgical procedures on their vocal chords to effect a more female sounding voice....hormones are of no help for the male-to-female transgender for this situation. The success of the various procedures is mixed - and as someone who relied on my voice in part for my occupation, I was a little wary of doing this. And yet, I got to diddling around on the internet at work and decided to follow a link from a popular transgender health website that was simply entitled Voice Feminization Surgery...and whose name pops up? Dr. James Thomas...."The Voice Doctor", as he called himself. I learned that he is one of the leading experts in a technique called Crico-Thyroid Approximation. Another chuckle, another sign. (I'll add that when I did transition and my story became public, I received a very nice card from his office!).

In our therapy program, the first session was a daily check-in - how did you sleep, are you eating well, how do you feel today on a scale of 1-10, etc. There were two groups that participated in the check-in, I was in one group and Richard was in the other - which I surmised was a group with additional problems. Richard was an older man, rather tall, even a bit intimidating. We never spoke to one another. He would sit on one side of the room, I sat on the other and then once check-in was completed, we'd go our separate ways until lunch. I recall that during a lot of the check-in sessions, Richard kept thanking "My Lord and Personal Savior, Jesus Christ". Often. Almost as if that was the period to each sentence. Since I didn't have to interact with him during the rest of the day, I basically ignored him.

One morning, I arrived a bit early, so I headed down the hall, past the classrooms to the small lounge area that doubled as the waiting room for the therapists. As I headed east, Richard was headed west in the same hallway. "Do it", he said. "What?", was my surprised response. "You need to Do It...make your change.", referring to my well-known situation of being "stuck" between Ron and Donna. "Thank you, Richard.", was my half-hearted reply. Of course he was right....and I knew it....but I still wasn't ready to face that future. We never spoke again.

When faced with such difficult issues in our lives, we often get into the battle of the Head versus the Heart. The more practical among us listen to the Head. The more emotional listen to the Heart. My problem was I wasn't listening at all. And what better metaphor for not listening than a hearing aid?

My father needed a hearing aid, something he kept fidgeting with as well. At some point he would manage to break the small tube connecting the earpiece to the small amplifier. And since his hearing aid store was on my way to work from his house, I usually got the call to take them in for repair.

I had probably my worst day in therapy on the day of Christmas Eve morning - December 24th. I had been trying desperately to avoid doing any additional harm to myself until after the holidays. I didn't want my daughters or my wife to have to associate that time of year with my departure. But Christmas Day morning was as low as the night before Thanksgiving a month earlier. "Not today....Not today", was my mantra.

My family usually gathered on Christmas Eve and this year we were at my parent's house. No one, save my wife, knew the depths of my situation - though my oldest daughter was aware I was in some type of therapy. We had dinner, Santa paid us a visit, we exchanged presents...just like any other year. And Dad asked if I would take his hearing aid to the shop to get fixed.

Oh this is too easy, isn't it? I returned the hearing aid after it had been repaired a couple of days later. But that wasn't enough. Dad called a few days after that..."Can you take my OTHER hearing aid in now?". Yep...I still wasn't listening, I needed to do this again. And I did.

It was now January 13th, a Tuesday. I had met with Lynne, my lead therapist, that morning who had indicated we would start working on an exit strategy for me from the recovery program. I remember thinking privately "but I'm not ready....I just know I can't keep myself safe". In my determination to avoid the holidays, I'd set January 15th as the day I would no longer fight if I fell apart again. And I knew I would.

I picked up the second hearing aid after stopping in at work for awhile after therapy and headed for my parents house. This time the discussion turned to one of the seemingly too frequent family squabbles. My mother was enlisting me to take sides - something I usually avoided anyway, but truly had no capacity to deal with. I kept deferring, she kept insisting. Then came those fateful words, "I can't imagine a son of mine not backing me up!". Crushed, I cried. She had no idea why I wanted out of this discussion. I got up to leave, still not planning on telling them my truth. My dad begged me to stay, to talk. I resisted, escaping the situation - just like suicide - seemed my best course of action.

To this day, I don't remember what Mom said next, I just recall that Donna - not Ron - finally stood up and blurted: "I'm crying because I've been in a suicide recovery program for the past month and you didn't even know!". Well, that kinda blew the situation wide open. I called my wife to tell her that I was going to have "the talk" with my parents right then and there. And so they found out - I had finally "listened". It was Donna wanting to live.

That weekend I shared with my wife a story I had not told anyone else. When my paternal grandmother passed away - her name was Gretchen, but we called her Nanny - I kept sensing her continued presence. We'd spent many hours together and she was a fascinating woman - that's an essay all its own! I used to "see" her in that little hazy spot between sleep and wake. Nothing was ever said, just the calm of her presence made me feel she was continuing to watch over me. Those "visits" ended after awhile.

In all honesty, I had sensed that a lot of these signs were at her guidance. And I mentioned that to my wife. I then left for the pharmacy to get a refill for, of all things, my estrogen. It was a lovely, blue sky Sunday morning. And as I pulled out of the parking lot to return home, there was a lone, almost lonely, cloud. From that tiny cloud that had no reason to exist that morning spilled the arc of a rainbow. It connected Earth and Sky. It wasn't a complete arch. As I looked a bit more intently, I realized the rainbow's end had to be falling right on my house. I cried. It's Nanny telling me Congratulations, You Finally Listened. And I said Thank You.

It would be another two years before I would learn that the rainbow is the symbol of God's covenant with me (Genesis 9:13). That day I cried again. I know Nanny was the Angel. I know God sent her.

Oh...almost forgot....Richard. I later learned that he would sometimes get delusional and lose touch with reality. There were many at the therapy center battling incredible challenges. When he was delusional, Richard thought he was Jesus Christ.

On August 21, 2005 I went into a church for the first time for my own spiritual needs and heard the sermon, "Paying Attention to the Signs God Puts Before You". Then it all made sense.