A quarter century

One quarter of a century. Twenty-five years ago today. That's when I began my transition.

It also would have been my father's 68th birthday, had he not died a third of a year before his 60th and about a year after my mother. Them dying, as well as their parents, was intimately involved with me waiting until I was 44. Wouldn't want to embarrass the family.

I also waited until I had earned tenure. It seemed prudent.

I've dug out this old portion of a manuscript to share in honor of this event. Maybe it will provide some understanding.

The days fly by, the waves roll in, but freedom has not come
I fear my faith will soon give out, my senses come undone
My role is played, the demon dogs come stealin' o'er land
And foolish I would climb once more a tree too weak to stand
Coming Way Out
   

In the spring of 1992 I reached an impass in my life. I could not survive as I was. For all intents and purposes, there was no path forward for my life path to follow. At times like these one can think dark thoughts. It was good that I had visited with Death before, so I could stop and at least consider how my beliefs should inform my choices. There was a saying we have that applied: Go with the flow. It's determining which way the flow is going that is the hard part. If you fall into a fast-flowing river, trying to swim back to where you fell in can be deadly. Better to conserve your strength while you let the river current carry you downstream to a safer exit point. But you can only use this to save yourself if you know the direction of the current.

The way to survive was to jump into the river. Schism. Same place. Same time. Different point of view. Different me. One problem. I had no doubt I was transsexual. I knew what I was. But I had no clue what that meant. I had no idea how to proceed. I had no hand to guide me.

Come down off your throne
And leave your body alone
Somebody must change
You are the reason
I've been waiting so long
Somebody holds the key
Well, I'm near the end and I just ain't got the time
Well, I'm wasted and I can't find my way home

My first thought was just to run. Get out on the road and stick out my thumb. I had only a vague idea of where I might go. With no money to speak of, I probably would have chosen Los Angeles, if only because it would be warmer weather to be homeless in. Homeless was nothing new as a concept. I had been homeless in the Haight. But I didn't want to spoil any chance I had of ever working again in academia, so I went to speak to the assistant dean first. My intention was to resign, effective with the end of the semester. All I told him is that I was having personal problems. He talked me out of resigning. I imagine after I came out, he may have regretted doing that.

I started by telling a few people, slowly and hesitantly. My wife and her boyfriend. The colleague I was most friends with (and through him his wife, a feminist with an anit-trans viewpoint). Another colleague new to the campus who I thought would be sympathetic. Some students: a social fringe couple who had been my students and with whom I had become friendly, the brother and sister who were officers in the Lesbian and Gay Student Association on campus of which my daughter had been a founding member. One of my daughter's lesbian friends from when she was a student at UCA, from whom I obtained invaluable assistance in finding a therapist and a doctor who would treat me. Actually, the therapist she put me in contact with gave me the information about another therapist. Both of them figure prominently in my narrative. Build a support network, a person at a time. Discard the former friends who are clearly not going to be a part of that network.

It's getting near dawn,
When lights close their tired eyes.

Physically, I had lost about 70 pounds in over a year, almost reaching the weight that I had been unable to get beneath when I rowed lightweight crew. I shaved off my beard for the first time in decades. I had my hair trimmed for the first time since I was interviewing for a position in grad school. I started electrolysis. I dressed androgynously. I'm sure that more than a few people on campus suspected I was gay.

I hung out with some of my friends at the concert room of Juanita's in Little Rock with my new friends, where I met and came to appreciate the music of John Kilzer and two members of Rush. I admit that I got stoned. A lot. Sometimes it was needed to get through the nights. In the daytime I had school. The classroom had always been my safe space.

It's cold on the shoulder
And you know we get a little older
every day

The time passed way to slowly. I had told my wife that out of respect for her status as a student at the college, I would try to wait a year. I tried to find amusements that would help the time pass. I moved my office from the first to the second floors, ostensibly to have a smoking office, but mostly because I wanted some degree of separation. But I couldn't do a year. I barely made it past one month into the semester.

I made an appointment with the therapist, Kurt Wilhelm, in Little Rock for September 30, which in a grand bit of irony happened to be my father's birthday. On that day I went to school and taught my classes. I told the students in my Abstract Algebra class that class was cancelled for the afternoon but that they could stay if they wanted to hear something personal from me. It was a Wednesday. They had their first exam scheduled for the following Monday. I had already distributed a study guide to them. And now I told them that I was transsexual and would be starting transition right after class and that I didn't know if they would see me again on Friday. I told them whatever happened, what they needed to do was study for the test, because that was the part that was about their lives. I apologized to them for any interference with their lives the next few days was going to cause. Then I walked to the Math Office, discovered that the Chair was not in his office at the time, left a coming out letter on his desk, and went to visit with Kurt.

See what a fool I've been
See what a fool I've been
I haven't lived my dream

The first thing I told Kurt was that I was transsexual (actually, "a transsexual"...at the time transsexual was a noon to me, . There was no doubt about that. What it meant was that I would need to see two therapists for a time before I could have surgery. I told him that since I had to be there, we might as well put the time to good use working on my other problems. Mostly he was the guy who was paid to listen to how my week went. Kurt was a good listener. Kurt was a Buddhist. He was dying of AIDS. After the session I returned home and waited for the other shoe to drop.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free
I wish I could break all the chains holding me
I wish I could say all the things that I should say
say 'em loud, say 'em clear
for the whole round world to hear.

The shoe tumbled in slow motion. Nothing happened for over a day. I later learned that there had been a meeting about me. Everyone on campus of importance who could possibly be involved in the situation was invited. Except me, of course. The shoe made a noise on Friday. The Chair visited me in my office. I'll never forget the first words out of his mouth: "For the good of the team...". Really. A sports metaphor. Great timing. I went off on him:

  • For the good of the team we didn't hire blacks in the 60s because some of the whites who worked here might have been white supremist. .
    For the good of the team we didn't hire women in the 70s because men thought it was an invasion of their space.
    For the good of the team we still don't hire gays in the 80s...and still don't...because it offends some people's religious beliefs.
    For the good of the damn team, it's time to start getting rid of the people who tell you that they won't or can't work for us. It is their damn problem, not ours.

As you can tell, I was more than a little angry. I was told that I would be responsible for informing all of my colleagues. I took the cop out way: I wrote and made copies of a general letter, informing everyone what they could expect, what name I would like to be called, etc. I put them in mail boxes on Saturday. I am given to understand I was a major topic of discussion at some of the churches in town. By Monday there were copies at the desk of the editor of the local newspaper, The Log Cabin Democrat (irnonic, don't you think?). By later that day there were copies in newsrooms all over the state. By that afternoon I could have heard about myself on drive-time radio, if I had wanted to listen. By later in the week I heard from people in almost all the states contiguous to Arkansas (all but Mississippi, I believe). By the end of the month, I later discovered, one could read about it in the alternative newspapers in California and Washington, DC.

Right to privacy? What is that exactly?

I was offered the "opportunity" to take the semester off. I didn't accept it, because I was afraid that I might be accuse of not performing my duties. I did accept having someone teach one of my classes, since I was owed that from the previous Spring, when I covered for another faculty member, who had episodic problems with John Barleycorn. I dumped my largest class, one that was in a different building on campus. I told them it was normally the case that I would have to wait two or three months before I started taking hormones. The Chair (aka "Them") responded that in exchange they would like me to be evaluated by a psychiatrist. Ever optimistic, I was persuaded that this would be necessary so that I could take a medical leave, with pay, when the time came to have surgery, sooner if necessary. I said that I would find one to meet with, but was given a name and told that they would pay for him.

When I arrived to meet with the psychiatrist, I was asked to take a couple of computerized tests, one of which was the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Index. I don't recall the other. What would I rather do, play basketball or arrange flowers. Stereotype much? I met with the doctor and he looked at the test results. Then he looked at me and then the results again. He asked me a few questions. He looked at the results again and then took out a letter he had received from my employers. I had told him why I thought I was seeing him. He informed me that from the way that the letter was written, it was apparent that they believed that they had hired him to give medical justification for my termination. But as far as he could see, I was sane. He promised me that he would try to help them see the light. Am I mentally capable of performing my duties, indeed?

During my next visit with Kurt, he gave me the name of a doctor who would be willing to monitor my hormone replacement therapy and general health concerns. I was in business, as they say. I was taking estrogen (Estrace) and a testosterone blocker (Aldactone) by the end of October.

Well the good old days may not return
And the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn
I'm learning to fly but I ain't got wings
Comin' down is the hardest thing.

 

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