Sometimes it takes just one person, a few words, and a hug to change a life. For me, that person was Kyna, and the hug and words were hers.
It was October 2010, and I was newly arrived in Romania, a country I knew nothing about and whose language I do not speak. Everything was strange, and here there were no ready-made friends such as I had in Moscow and Tashkent. I hardly had enough money for food after being on leave without pay for most of September. It was going to be a long, hard winter, a fact brought brutally home to me as letters from my ex-spouse's attorneys followed me to Bucharest within days of my arrival. A new battle over support was beginning, and it was to take over my life. In comparison, the divorce had been easy.
Fortunately, my new work life in the IT section at Embassy Bucharest was refreshingly calm and laid back, a fact for which I was very grateful as I again started spending evenings and weekends doing nothing other than responding to requests for documents and writing answers to interrogatories. My legal bill, already well over $20,000, started to go higher and higher. My new co-workers were all sympathetic and would pay for my meal if we went out at lunchtime, but none of them compared with Kyna.
Kyna was my upstairs neighbor, and she was also our nurse at the Embassy. In the first days after my arrival, she showed me around the neighborhood and had her housekeeper cook and clean for me. As she came to realize how badly off I was financially, she did this again and again. There was a softness and a sense of humor about her that, I came to understand with time, comes from having lived a hard personal life. Everything about her said, "You can trust me."
So there I was in Bucharest, wondering where the bra and shaved legs were going to take me. I was surreptitiously cross dressing at work, and quite openly dressing as something approximating female at home using the few blouses and slacks I had bought in Lincoln before leaving Maine. I was also very worried. I had not cross dressed this much in years, and although it was wonderfully liberating, I was fearful. "What will happen to me if they find out about this at the Embassy?" At one point in late October I put everything in a bag and started for the dumpster. Ready to throw the bag in, I stopped myself. "Not this time," I whispered quietly. "Not this time." I turned and walked back home.
"Kyna, I need to talk with you about something." It was a late November day, and I had come to see her in the Embassy's MED unit. I was nervous, and I'm sure Kyna sensed it. She closed the door, sat me down, . . . and listened as no one had ever listened to me before. It all came pouring out: my childhood dream, the story of my growing up, everything I had kept inside in 1975, my marriage, my trying to come out in 1990 and landing in a psychiatric ward instead, the story of 2000-02. When I was done, Kyna's words were, "You need the biggest hug I can give you." She wasn't appalled. There was no talk of sending me back to the US. Rather, it was, "Let me find some resources that will help you." The only promise that Kyna made me give was that I not cross dress in public. "I don't know what the attitudes are in Romania, and I don't want you to get hurt." Some months later it would be Kyna herself who pushed me out into Bucharest as Robyn.
Kyna was true to her word. She became my confidante, and in time she became my protector and promoter. We started walking to work together in the mornings, continuing the conversation. Kyna patiently tolerated my early attempts at changing my voice with a falsetto that scares even me to think about in retrospect. She encouraged me to follow my own way, and she was always there for me in the months to come.
I will have more to say about Kyna, but for now it's that first hug and those first words that stand out as one of the key events of my life. What might have happened if someone had hugged me and said those simple words in 1975? In 1990? In 2002? For any transgender person, so much depends on that first conversation, the reaction of the first person one opens up to. It just took 56 years for Kyna to become that first person in my transgender life.
Kyna is long gone from Bucharest. She was off to her next post in the spring, and I miss her dearly. For reasons that will become clear later, I was not even able to say goodbye, to return the hug. Someday I will repay that debt.
I never asked Kyna the meaning of her name during the long winter of 2010-11. Only later did I discover that Kyna has a special meaning. It is an Irish name. In Gaelic, Kyna means wise.
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Follow these links for more of the retrospective story:
Following entry -- The Education of a Transgender Rip Van Winkle -- or -- A Nine Month Story (October 2010 - June 2011), Part 2