Friday, November 9, 2012

My First Anniversary

Tomorrow, November 10, marks one year since the workplace announcement of my full-time transition to living as a woman.  Like many who have had a similar life experience, I now think of November 10 as more of a birthday than my real birthday.

I've written through the year of how my life has changed.  What had seemed impossible has become reality, so much so that I can scarcely remember how it felt to be me before November 10, 2011. When I look at old photos, I know intellectually that the person in them was me, but I can hardly believe it.  What is normal is who I am today.  The reflection that greets me each morning is my own.  Could there ever have been a different one?

The mechanics certainly have become easier.  The morning quick change after riding my bicycle to work takes only slightly longer than it did back then.  Applying makeup is now as much a ritual as my use of a razor must once have been.

Along with this one year anniversary comes a sadness, as with it comes the realization that my time in Romania will come to an end in little more than six months.  Surprisingly, it was good news earlier this week that brought this home to me.  On Monday I learned of my onward, post-Washington assignment that will begin in the fall of 2014.  It will be in Astana, Kazakhstan, and carries responsibilities that will have me traveling throughout Central Asia.  It is a position that has long been of interest to me.

The sadness came over me when I saw Oana that evening.  Suddenly the tears started to flow, and they kept flowing.  "I can't believe I am going to leave you," is what I sobbed through the tears.  As I thought of others to whom I have become very close in Romania, the tears came ever faster.  As any reader of this web journal knows, I found it difficult to leave my previous posts in Moscow and in Tashkent, but here I already have a much deeper sense of impending loss.  The reasoning side of my brain has switched off; now I am all feeling.  Many of the friends I will be leaving are far more than that.  Some have become family.  How can it be that I will leave?  Yet I know that I will.  My eyes become moist again as I write these lines.

But tomorrow I celebrate!  Indeed, I started celebrating earlier this week at the Embassy's election night event.  Through a long evening and into the morning hours we talked and waited for the results to start coming in.  When they did, I knew that the policies that allow my very existence would continue.  What an amazing time to be alive!

I can think of no better way to mark this one year anniversary than to repeat below the letter that I wrote to my sister Mary one year ago.  Am I still as excited each day as I was when I wrote that letter?  I have the answer to that in one simple word:  absolutely.  

* * * * * * * * * *

Hi Mary,

Your good thoughts and energy got me through a long sleepless night from Wednesday to Thursday, so worried I was that after all these years, the biggest day of my life might not happen.  After three strikes -- college in the 1970s, 1990, and again in 2000-02 -- could this all be just a dream from which I would wake to find it was all a mirage?

It was only when I parked my bicycle in the Embassy parking lot on Thursday morning that the fog and worries vanished.  I turned on my cell phone and saw the one word that I still needed from one key person to let the day's events unfold.  That word was the simplest, shortest, happiest word I have ever seen:  YES.

Mary, it was the happiest day of my life.  The manager of the section I work in handled the announcement so beautifully at the special staff meeting he had called for 10am.  He opened by saying that today's meeting wasn't really to talk about work but to discuss the new management policy that had come out last week in which gender identity had been added to the anti-discrimination statement.  He asked if anyone had any idea what gender identity meant, what it meant to be transgender.  Our local staff just shrugged their shoulders, and he proceeded to give a short but good explanation.  He continued that all eyes were on Embassy Bucharest this day, as ours is the first U.S. Embassy we know of at which an American staff member had declared himself or herself to be transgender.  Then he paused and added, "She is sitting in this room.  I would like to introduce you all to Robyn."

I spoke for a good half hour.  Jaws dropped, and there were looks of incredulity on many faces when I began.  By the time I had finished, the expressions had changed to compassion, and I could see a tear or two.  People from whom I had never expected it told me how brave I was, and there were many handshakes and hugs.

I had set my e-mail announcement to all Embassy staff to be sent automatically at 10:30am, and thus by the time we walked out of our staff meeting at 11am, everyone knew.  We have a weekly Embassy newsletter, and it appeared at 2pm.  Whenever someone arrives or departs from our Bucharest family, there is a "welcome" or a "farewell."  This week it said, "Farewell Robert," and right next to it were the words "Welcome Robyn."

I did no work for the rest of the day as I was deluged by congratulatory e-mails.  I couldn't walk the halls without someone stopping me and expressing support.  I received personal e-mails from the highest levels that I could not have imagined the day before.  All day long the words were, "Welcome Robyn!"

I continued to walk and dance on air all Friday and Saturday.  I had the first professional pedicure and manicure of my life, somewhat amusingly having to invent a tale to explain why my feet have so many callouses.

Next I went to the hairdresser.  Andrea and I have been working towards this day for nearly six months.  I was with her for three hours as she colored, highlighted, and styled.  I put on my glasses and looked at myself in the mirror when she was done.  My own reflection took my breath away.  For the first time in my life I felt and looked beautiful!

The big celebration, the event at which I came out into society, was the annual Marine Ball on Saturday night.  The same handsome, brave marines who day in, day out, had greeted me with the words "Good Morning, Sir!" now stood in a receiving line in their dress uniforms and greeted me, "Good Evening, Ma'am!" as they presented me a with rose.

At the Ball
Mary, I drank champagne and danced like I had never danced before.  I felt like Natasha Rostova in War in Peace who goes to her first ball.  At age 57 my dreams -- the dreams of any 13-year-old girl -- were coming true.  I danced and twirled and floated in my gown and high heels.  How I want to learn to dance for real now!

Oh, Mary, how good it is to be alive!  After all the years, the decades of hiding and pain, I'm me.  I'm no longer an artificial construct living for others.  I've been a Foreign Service Officer for seven years now, serving and representing my country to the best of my ability, but never have I been so proud to represent the United States as I am this day.  I am living proof of how far we have come as a diverse, accepting society in my lifetime.

Now it's a quiet Sunday.  I look at the rose from last night's ball and know it's not a dream.  Tonight there is no need to frizz up my hair and take off the polish.  I don't need go back to looking like the "mad scientist."  Tomorrow it is I, Robyn, who goes to work.

What a wonderful, magical time to be alive!



You can find my announcement letter to Embassy staff as well as the "farewell/welcome" notice in our Embassy newsletter at the following links --

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