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Sunday, November 6, 2011

She Gave Me Hope a Long Time Ago

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.


  1. I for one, feel neither shame nor guilt for being a transwoman, nor does it embarrass me to admit it. There was a time, a year or so back, that I was, but I've come to accept myself for who and what I am and will face whatever may come my way. The guilt that I hold is the same as yours. My wife never deserved not being told prior to our marriage and I don't think that I can ever let go of that one.

    I'm not sure that I feel we need all of these laws, etc., for our protection and yes, even with the restroom issue. My feeling has always been, if we present well, draw no undue attention, and act accordingly, we go unnoticed. Why then do I need laws allowing me to use the restroom? I've worked way to hard to get where I am today to be expecting the state or federal government to hand it to me.

    What I totally agree with you on is that we need proper health care! We aren't freaks that should be put away and hidden for life! I have experienced a doctor in the VA that had never dealt with a trans patient and I too had to educate him, but all and all, my care has been good and health care professionals have been wonderfully accepting. I just had the misfortune of breaking a tooth. I had told my dentist a year ago when having a tooth pulled that I was transgendered and on hormones, because I wanted to be sure there would be no drug interactions. My dentist was very okay with it. My recent visit, was the first time to go to the office since I went full time. They were wonderful. Proper name, pronouns, you name it, they were super. My dentist came in and the first thing that she said was, "Valerie, I'm so proud of you for having the courage to be who you are." Of course I told her that it was more like fear of never knowing my true self, but anyway, I was more than impressed! When I was part time and now full time, I never have experienced one bit of negativity from anyone other than my wife since I went full time. My neighbors know, my son, my brother, the office where I live, yadda, yadda. No negative responses. I totally attribute that to blending in with 99% of the women and acting accordingly. No one pays any attention to me and that is exactly what I want and like!

    WPATH? I like the concept and it definitely helps healthcare professionals that are unaware. Myself, I am a sane, 60 year old adult and I certainly think that I am totally capable of making the decision to have GRS without approval. It is my body....

  2. I totally understand your knowing that transition is right for you and I agree, however, if you consider that there needs to be a protocol to approach treatmentto PROTECT us from health care providers either well meaning but uninformed ( lacks professional competencies to practice in this area of health care), or the unscrupulous preditors that do exist in the guise of helping, but actually exploiting us, then it makes sense to have a standard of care. Really though, would you have open heart surgery without a standard of care? It's a set of guidelines to get it right. It isn't chipped in stone like the 10 commandments. For the professional who is beginning to practice with trans people, it is a safeguard for us so they may safely learn how to work with us and we have a safe path getting to where we need to be. It is important to recognize that we are so few in numbers compared to the general populations that many health care professionals may never knowingly experience the opportunity to work with a transgendered person as most of us live very secretive and compartmentalized lives. Because of that it becomes more critical that a standard of care exists.

    It appears that you focus on "gatekeeping". That has historically been a problem, but not to the degree it existed even within the last ten years. No doubt, it continues to exist and will always be a factor, but again, if you take the time to read the standards of care they explicitly state they are not to be used as written and that professionals must use them as a guide, but not as a substitution for clinical judgement. The standards exist to facilitate transitioning.

    Really, you should take the time to read the survey results of the study the National Center For Transgender Equality conducted as a partner with the National Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination. You can find it at While you have not had any negative experiences since you have transitioned to full time, you may find that you will experience an incident at some point in your journey. It is more likely than not, especially prior to having your gender marker changed. I consider myself much more fortunate than most trans women because I have had only two negative experiences in the 15 or so years that I have been living publically. I do hope that you never experience any negative public interactions. It may be a sign of a society becoming more tolerant.

    The experience you have had is not reflective of most transgender people.

    As in any stigmatized group, it is easy to parse yourself out and "otherize" those who are not interested in transitioning or unable to, yet they are part of the community that we belong to and in a way, it is another example of institutionalized transphobia and internalized transphobia.

  3. I'm a genderqueer cismale trans-friend, and I attended my first SCCATL this year. I've lived in Atlanta for four years, and I've always wanted to go. I used this year to celebrate a return to financial solvency (the NEW "coming out" for many of us these days!). I'm sorry I didn't meet you.

  4. You wrote this so long ago, well it seems long ago when I think of how quickly time passes and how our circumstances change. Your last paragraph touched me deeply, I have always worn my emotions on my sleeve so a tear is nothing new. But what is new is to write this comment regardless of who sees it. In my life there have only been a few people who knew my inner self, you are one of them. I can't find the words to thank you for the contact between us. I am not sure where my life will be 5 years from now, but 5 years ago when you wrote this I was lost and feared I'd never find my way out of the hole I had dug. Fortunately I did and now there is a bright light ahead and knowing you for this short time gives me courage to move forward. Thank you Lauren for being a caring open person and allowing me to be your friend.