As I had mentioned previously, When I was 12, I went to the library and started reading about people like me. That started a life long search in the literature to learn more about myself. I'd go to the library quite often and read the books about Transsexualism. I'd re-read the books that I had read before and read the new ones when they came in. I was too afraid to check them out so I could only read them for an hour or so at a time. This went on all through junior high and then high school. I was very fortunate that the Charlottesville Public Library had these books. In high school, I worked at U.Va. Hospital and then had access to the medical school library. Jackpot!! That gave me access to medical and other allied health care journals as well. The thing that struck me most (aside from THIS IS WHO I AM!!) was that there were so few of us that I felt so alone and so different in the world. I also thought that this is such a shameful thing that no matter what, I must let NO ONE know the truth about who I was. It continued into college, after college and then through grad school at the University of Alabama. Every time I went to the library, I'd almost inevitably get side tracked and go read the books about people like me. Even today, if I go to Barnes & Noble or online to look at books I still get sidetracked by looking for books on transgender themes and I have quite an extensive library that even includes all those old books long out of print that I read at the beginning when I was 12 and up.
A year after I graduated from the School of Social Work, I got married for the first time. The only thing I will always hold myself accountable for in the failure of my marriage was I didn't tell her the truth about myself before we married. No matter what her transgressions were, that is something that I was totally responsible for. She didn't deserve that. In my defense, I, like many of us who marry, thought it would go away. It didn't take long, maybe 6 months or so, to figure out that being transsexual wasn't nor will it ever go away. It wasn't until after my ex left that I came to the conclusion that I better make friends with this or it was going to kill me. Literally.
About a year after I was married, I made a decision that seemed inconsequential, but really gave me that first hope, just a glimmer of hope, that maybe there was a way for me to become the person I truly as I continue in the process of self-actualization today.
I had been working at the state hospital as director of the forensic unit, a unit whose mission is to care for those who were adjudicated Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity, or had not been able to be restored to competency to stand trial. This is a particularly political position for a mental health professional, and my assessments potentially had a controversial impact on communities and courts across the state of Alabama, as well as United States Federal Court in some instances as Bryce Hospital was still under Federal receivership due to the Wyatt vs Stickney landmark legal decision. That case resulted in nationally set standards for the care of institutionalized mentally ill people and is considered the "Bill of Rights" for institutionalized mentally ill people. While it was a very good job with the potential for rapid professional growth, it was also very stressful, and here is where I made a decision that changed the course of my life a bit. I decided that I needed to have a mental health day ( I called in sick). I really didn't do much of anything, I just really wanted to have a day to myself alone.
Early in the afternoon, after playing Ms Pacman for the 100th time or some of the other computer game I had (we're talking 1989 and the IBM XT. I was 32 years old), and talking to people on Compuserve, I decided to watch some TV. During those years, Geraldo Rivera had a day time talk show. That particular day, Geraldo has a guest whose name was Marsha Botzer. I didn't know who she was, but it turned out that she was a transsexual woman who had founded the Ingersoll Center in Seattle, Washington in 1977 (To put it into historical perspective, in 1977 I was finishing up my Freshman year at Bridgewater College).
I was rivited; never before had I ever seen or heard another person who was like me. I remember how nice and respectful he was in that interview towards her. I wanted to talk to her badly, but I knew I couldn't call her from home because my wife would question the phone call. I had no idea how to tell her about my most carefully guarded secret. Until this television show, I never talked to or heard another person like myself. I had thought that people like me were so rare that it would be nearly impossible to find or even to talk to someone like myself who could understand the depth of the emotional pain with that I lived.
The next day, back at work, I knew I had to take a risk. I used the work phone to call directory assistance in Seattle, got the number for the Ingersoll Center and after a few minutes of anxiety, called the Ingersoll Center and asked to speak to Marsha. I remember being really shy and telling her how I had seen her on TV the day before the day before. I told her about myself and that I had never known anyone else like me and it meant a lot to me that she would take a few minutes to spend on the phone talking with me. I told her that I was a clinical social worker and about my life growing up. She asked me if I would like some information about the Ingersoll Center and sent me a couple of brochures that I still have to this day. I've always remembered this experience and from time to time have shared that story with others.
As some of you know, this past September, I attended the Southern Comfort Conference where for the past three years I have presented my workshop and The World Professional Association of Transgender Health International Symposium. What a once in a lifetime experience that was for me! I met so many wonderful people, many I have only read about and never dreamed I would have the opportunity to meet.
After the morning workshop on Saturday, I was walking around feeling a bit alone and shy as I often do in new situations and found myself within speaking distance with Marsha. She now sits on the WPATH Board of Directors. Now, this was one of this OMG!! experiences for me! I just had to meet her and tell her what that experience so many years ago meant to me and thank her for that!
In talking to her, I became emotional and I could see that what I had said had touched her as well, just as I had been touched by her generosity with a few minutes of her time so long time ago. Then, the highlight of the conference for me and one of the highlights of my life was that she invited me to have lunch with her! WOW! That was such a wonderful experience. I'll never forget that.
You know, life is pretty short. We never know what little act of kindness, something we wouldn't think twice about doing, will have a profound impact on someone else's life. I think it's really important to let those people who touched your life in a meaningful way know what they have meant to you when that opportunity comes. You never know if you might ever have that opportunity again. It's always gratifying to be able to make someone else aware that they are appreciated for the things they do that makes things just a little bit better for others when the opportunity presents itself.