Monday, July 4, 2011

My coming-out letter to my friends at NASA

Although I have been coming out to family and closest friends about being transgender for almost a year, only in June 2011 did I start to tell friends and colleagues from my previous 25-year career at Computer Sciences Corporation, Goddard Space Flight Center, and Space Telescope Science Institute.  The following letter is what I sent to them.  It also sets the theme for what I will be talking about in this blog.

Dear folks,
A funny thing happened on my way to Moscow last summer:  I ended up in Bucharest instead.  Since that time I have not written much, although I did enjoy getting up to STScI and seeing a few of you when I was in the U.S. in February.   I thought it was now time to give you an update on a few things.
First, my divorce and subsequent litigation on support issues finally ended on June 1.  Glory hallelujah!  It only took four years and an overall tab to my attorney on the order of $40,000.  That, more than anything else, is why I have not written much over the past year.  This was the dark winter of scraping financially, and for that reason, unlike my years in Moscow and Tashkent, I did not see much of anything in Romania other than my route back and forth to work.  I got to the mountain town of Brasov for a weekend in March and took a few bike rides that got me outside the Bucharest "beltway," but that was about it. 
Fortunately, my job at Embassy Bucharest is the least stressful I have had since entering the Foreign Service (FS).   I've taken a break from POL/ECON work to do a technical IM tour.   That was good in that I needed a low stress job in order to handle the high stress divorce and support litigation :).
You might wonder what adventures I have in mind now to experience amazing and different cultures, and I hasten to inform you that I am indeed beginning a new and very exciting time.  I am in the process of becoming the first commissioned FS officer to transition in place from male to female gender.
OK, I know a few jaws just dropped, some coffee was spilled, and some code was erroneously entered that could lead to an improper gyro calibration.   I will pause momentarily so that you can reset jaws, mop up the mess, and check those numbers.
Are you with me again?  In addition to jaws dropping, I'm sure a few of you were saying to yourselves, "I knew it."  Although anyone with a transgender issue -- well, at least those of us born in the 1950s -- makes a lifetime career of covering up really well, over the course of 50+ years some signs do make their way to plain view. 
I look at this as the greatest intercultural adventure possible for a human.  It's a journey that I've wanted to make since I was, oh, about five years old.  And just as in the 1950s it wouldn't have been wise to talk about going to the Soviet Union to experience life and culture there, neither would it have been wise to talk of this adventure.  Not, at least, if one wanted a career, income, and everything that comes with that.
But times have changed.  I have experienced the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation, and all sorts of other former Soviet republics including Uzbekistan.   Now I am embarking on an even more exciting journey.  I have become active in Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), even authoring a reasonably important paper on gender identity in the context of the Foreign Service, reported on the First Romanian Transgender Congress, and have been working with folks from the State Department, the Office of Personnel Management, USAID, and even NASA/GSFC on policy issues.
Oh, by the way, that vaguely familiar looking woman in Building 8 at GSFC a few weeks ago for a meeting with the GSFC GLBT committee was none other than yours truly.  I am on hormone therapy, and we are working at Embassy Bucharest on a "transition plan" that will have me full-time in the office as Robyn before the end of the year.  It is truly the most exciting time of my life.
When you signed up for -- or found yourself signed up for -- the "Friends of Bob" occasional jottings when I left CSC back in 2004, you probably were expecting all sorts of travel log and cultural adventures.  Let me know if you are interested in receiving mailings as part of "Friends of Robyn."  You can also go to my new Facebook page, Robyn Alice McCutcheon.  Just imagine the possibilities of what it is like for a one-time attitude analyst to navigate gender issues in the land of Dracula.  There have been some pretty amusing moments.  Just imagine trying to find a qualified electrologist in Bucharest!
Many still look on gender transition as a very serious issue.  I don't want to belittle that aspect, and I hasten to add that I have talked and am continuing to talk this through with my son, my sisters, and my closest friends.  I come at this with every bit as much preparation and planned execution as I would the design of a new algorithm.  It's just that in this case I'm the algorithm.
I prefer, however, to look on this as the greatest of adventures and the fulfillment of a life dream.  And there is much humor to be found.  On that note, I conclude by recommending to you the letter written to NASA by Jennifer Finney Boylan in which she asks to become the first transsexual astronaut.   Boylan is co-chair of the English Department at Colby College in Maine -- my new adopted state -- and has written the best memoir on gender transition available today.  It's called "She's Not There," and I highly recommend it.  I think you will enjoy her letter.
Blowing my explosive bolts but keeping, as always, a positive attitude,

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