Looking back at my life, I am struck by how it is often the inconsequential that brings about the greatest upheavels. The minor thing to which we pay no attention at the moment turns out to be a tipping point. Just as the men of genius in Arthur Koestler's The Sleepwalkers stumble upon their greatest discoveries not knowing it, so we too, the common people, change our life paths not knowing we have done so.
I had gotten through the 1990s by devoting myself to family and work. In 1990 I had been told I was depressed and overworked and that transgender people and transsexuality do not exist. I took it literally, hoping it was true. If a transgender story appeared in the newspaper, I did not read it. If there was a report on the TV news, I changed the channel. "I need to accept myself as I am," I thought, "and to find the joys that are to be had in that self-acceptance." I even briefly tried the different addiction groups such as Sex Addicts Anonymous, wondering if I would find others in the same situation who were looking for their higher power. I didn't find them. I would leave those rooms scratching my head. Whatever was going on in me had never had anything to do with sex, and it surely didn't feel like an addiction. Instead, I found my peace on two wheels and, increasingly, in long hikes and backpacking trips with my son's scout groups and with friends. In the mountains of West Virginia I felt accepted for what I was, whatever that was.
When the white noise of my life returned, it did so at startling volume and without warning. It was the summer of 2000. My spouse, her two aunts and sister, our son, and I were vacationing on Chincoteague Island. I had a science fiction fantasy novel with me that I had picked up at the library near my office simply because it was on the new books received shelf. I was fifty pages into it before the plot suddenly took a transgender turn. This time I continued reading. "It's just a novel," I thought, "and this is no longer an issue for me." I returned the book after our vacation, and I no longer remember the title or the author.
I was wrong. The old thoughts began to return, particularly in dreams, and I felt unable and ultimately unwilling to stop them. Within six months my spouse realized from my increasing silences that something was wrong. I had to tell her . . . and it was 1990 all over again.
But not quite. Some things had changed. I was loving my job and work, and as the volume of conversations and arguments increased at home, I was delving ever more deeply into developing and applying a new Poisson series method to the creation of ephemerides (predictions of positions) for the major planets and principal minor planets for use on Hubble. It led to a journal article and a paper that I delivered at an important international conference. "I'm not crazy and I'm not depressed." This is what I would tell myself as I rode my bicycle home each evening to continue the discussion from where it left off the previous night.
|International Space Flight Dynamics Symposium|
Near my office I found a personal counselor, an RN who was known to have some experience with gender issues. I would go to see her during the lunch hour, but we never got around to talking much about gender. Our conversations centered around my marriage and the lack of communication in it. It was not a path I wanted to go down, but I soon found myself on it.
"You married the wrong woman," my best Russian emigre friend LM told me again and again. He already knew of my transgender secret, having been told directly by my spouse. "This is nothing," he said, "and if I had known you when you were 20, I would have cured you within weeks."
Could he be right? It's not depression but just the wrong choice in marital partner? Indeed, as good as the 1990s had been, over the final three years of the decade we were living ever more distant lives. My in-laws had been marooned with us by illness, and all of my spouse's attention was focused on them. I was devoting myself to work. We came together only for our son, and even there we disagreed on most of the details. We rarely talked, and all outings had to be with the full extended family.
Another change since 1990 was the Internet. I found a discussion group called NoTransition on Yahoo and became a member. This was a group of mainly married transgender people who were trying to find a middle path without transition that would allow them to preserve marriages without absolutely denying their transgender side. It felt like the right place to be.
When I optimistically brought up the existence of this group and my participation in it, the result was the opposite of what I had hoped for. The volume of arguments at home increased. I spent many a night in long insomniac walks through Silver Spring and Takoma Park. On one particularly emotional evening, our 13-year-old son walked into the middle of our argument and, from my own lips, found out what it was we were fighting about. He was devastated.
I moved out in early 2002. I moved in with my sister, made a down payment on a trailer, and thought seriously about divorce for the first time. I talked with a divorce attorney. At work, seeing no reason not to, I began surreptitiously cross dressing for the first time since college. (I'm told that looking back, my co-workers remember some odd dressing habits on my part, but nothing was ever said.)
My dash to freedom lasted about three months. It might have continued, but I could not bear my son's anger and my own sense of guilt for taking the steps that would destroy us as a family. My son did not want to see me and would call me at night to tell me how angry he was with me. When I told him I intended to come to a swim meet he would be participating in in March 2002, he told me not to come.
I went anyway. I could not not go. My sister went with me for the first part but could not stay. After that I was on my own, watching my son swim and seeing my spouse at a distance. I couldn't take it. I wrote a short note. "I'm wrong; you're right. Let's talk." Within a week I was home again, and my spouse personally went through my office at work to dispose of the few pieces of female clothing I had acquired in my brief run to freedom. As a family we returned to quieter older patterns and a brief period of honeymoon.
I resigned from NoTransition. I could not come out in college, I nearly crashed for good in 1990, and I crumbled again in 2002. "Three strikes and you're out," as they say in American baseball. There is no middle path. I will take this with me to the grave, and I am doing this of my own heartsick free will. My tombstone will read, "Kept the Secret to the End. Thank you. Good show and Goodbye." I shed some tears, avoided looking at myself in the mirror, and thought of T. S. Elliot's lines from The Hollow Men:
This is the way the world endsThis is the way the world endsThis is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Of course, this is not the end of the story, although as little as two years ago I would have affirmed that it was.
So what happened after March 2002? Again, it was something entirely inconsequential that turned my universe upside down and, after many struggles, brought me to where I am today. As time permits, I will fill in the years 2002 to 2011 with a new retrospective, "The Day My Universe Changed (2002-11)."
But tonight, November 6, 2011, I stand less than 90 hours away from the official announcement of my transition at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest. I feel I am 57 going on 27 and as giddy as a teenager, particularly after a weekend shopping trip with an Embassy friend in search of and finding a lovely ball gown. From this point forward the real story is what is happening today. I am poised to begin my Real Life Experience as a woman. What a wonderful, exciting time it is to be alive!