Allow me to begin with one assertion. I am blessed. I am very blessed. I am a 64-year-old woman and still in relatively good health — no health issues beyond what is to be expected of someone sixty-four years of age. Thanks to Bruce and Debbie I have a home and I am re-building a life that a few years ago found me unemployed and homeless in Dallas. Most importantly, each of my four siblings are also still alive and relatively healthy. We have had our share of health issues over the years and most of us have struggled with addictions. However I suspect there are relatively few families of five siblings that have had the longevity that we have had. Keith will soon be turning sixty and God willing when he does all four of his siblings will be able to send him birthday greetings. I love my brothers Mike, Bruce and Keith and my sister Cheri. Each of them have known the pain of having me first as a brother and hopefully not so much now as a sister. I have not made it easy for them over the years and hopefully it has not been all pain. [Our Mom often spoke of getting together with her brothers one last time before any of them passed. They never did and then we lost our Uncle Darrel and soon thereafter our Uncle John. Like Mom, I yearn for us all to get together for one last reunion while we can. But alas, as with Mom, I somewhat suspect it will never come to pass.]
When I consider all my failings over the years, it is almost remarkable that I can look at where I am today and say that my life is truly blessed. However, as I reflect on my past and the life I have led versus the life I could have had, I must admit I feel somewhat cheated. I feel as though years of my life were taken from me and that all the joy and happiness I could have had in my younger years was simply missing. For years, let’s even go for decades, those who assessed my life and found it wanting knew my problem. It was alcohol. Alcohol destroyed my marriage. Alcohol kept me bouncing from job to job and city to city. Alcohol is the reason I so often called Mom and asked to borrow money and why I so often found myself crashing with Mike and his family or Cheri and her family or Bruce and his family or Keith or Mom and Merle. And while the love of my family often meant I had a place to stay when I rolled back into town from whatever city I had most recently called home, my love of alcohol and my dependence on it always meant they ultimately had to push me away.
I did not drink a drop of alcohol before my eighteenth birthday. I went to work in Yellowstone National Park that summer and complained because my assigned roommate kept beer in our room in an ice chest. Three weeks later I was invited to a party. I knew it was one of those parties that would see everyone getting drunk so I had absolutely no interest in it. However on this night there was a dance at Lake Hotel which I had even less interest in attending — yes less than no interest. I knew she would be there with her boyfriend and the thought of seeing them together was something I could not stomach. So i went to the party and was persuaded to try some cheap wine and ended up puking in the bathroom a few hours later. Within a month, I was generally regarded as the biggest drinker working at Fishing Bridge that summer. All because of a woman. Or was it?
In June of 1974, six days after I had turned 21, I married Ann. At the time I was one year short of getting my teaching certificate. It was also however two years after I turned nineteen. My weekends over the last couple of years had been spent quite often across the Idaho border. Alcohol was an issue I would have to address it I wanted to be a good husband to Ann and a good father to our children. However, it was not my biggest challenge to those goals. In the weeks and months leading up to our wedding day, I continue to take advantage of every opportunity that arose to dress up, including doing so on the long drive home from Ann’s house after I dropped her off on evenings we went out. I was also beginning to have serious reservations about teaching. I could not see as likely that any school district would hire me to teach after my ‘sex change.’ Even as Ann and I planned our wedding, I was re-thinking my career goals based on a life I felt was both hopelessly unlikely and yet at the same time the inevitable destination of my life. Ann knew about my drinking. However the crossdressing was the secret, the lie about who I was, that I had kept from her.
I cannot say that my life changed forever the day that I first visited Cheri’s bedroom and tried on some of her dresses. The decisions and choices I made on that day and throughout my adolescent years were not the outgrowth of one singular act of an ten year old boy. They were expressions of the child I had become in my formative pre-school years, finally revealing themselves in ways that were confusing and scary for a young boy of ten. Finding myself often lured into acts that I saw as both immoral and self-defining, while at the same time impossible to suppress, I turned to lies and secrets to protect myself from ridicule and punishment. While these deceptions protected me, at the same time, they required me to build massive walls around myself that even to this day I find still linger, crumbling but still a barrier. My life became a two-prong life — one path would have taken me into the teaching profession and maybe still have me happily married to Ann with several grandchildren. The other life was unbeknownst to my parents or my siblings or my friends. It was a life I desperately wanted for myself while at the same time recognized as impossible within the confines of every other ambition and aspiration I had for myself.
While I cannot say that my life changed that day, I knew that my life would never be the same again. I did not give up on the life of my dreams. I struggled with my urges. Often time I purged whatever wardrobe I had acquired and felt I was winning the struggle, only to ultimately realize it was a struggle I would never win. In the end I could never make a true commitment to Ann or to my career goals because they were pointless commitments for me to make. I think I finally gave up thinking it was possible to have a regular life with the birth of Sara. I finally accepted I would never have a career, a wife, a family. Nothing I was doing was working so I quit my job at KMart and moved first to Denver and then to Dallas, beginning a three-decade long period in my life that can best be described as alcoholic and homeless. And it did not get much better over the next ten years.
How might my life have been different if I were not transgender? That question is as difficult to answer as it would be for any man to ask ‘How might my life had been different if I had been born a woman?” There are simply too many variables. However, there was a time in my school days when I was seen as someone with ‘potential.’ I would not say the bulk of my life has been one of potential realized. Yet.