Sunday, July 31, 2011

Looking Strange and Enjoying It: Two Months of HRT

Big Schloss, GWNF
Nearly two months ago, on June 5, I sat atop Big Schloss, a rock outcropping at the top of Mill Mountain in the George Washington National Forest on the Virginia - West Virginia border.  This is one of my favorite places, a place I go to every few years, most often at important moments of decision in my life.  I have cried here, I have viewed the Leonid meteors here, and I have just sat and watched as hawks climb in lazy circles on thermals and dart from one summit to another.  I almost lost my son near sunset when he was not even ten years old, letting him run ahead on the trail with a friend, so sure I was that no one could miss that well-worn path, only to find myself bushwacking through the underbrush as the Sun was setting, crying his name in terror that I had lost my son in the forest.  It was my son and his friend, not me, who saved the day.  They figured out their mistake and stumbled, trembling, into the campground parking lot as the last rays of the Sun were disappearing through the trees.

On the afternoon of June 5, I wrote this note to myself as I sat on Big Schloss: 
Just moments ago I began the process of turning back time.  As surely as the time traveler with his hand on the controls of his time machine, so did I begin to turn back time when I swallowed my first tablets of spironolactone and estradiol.  I am going back to the mid-1960s.   The Beatles are playing on the transistor radio, the Gemini astronauts are orbiting the Earth, and Vietnam is still a vague, distant war.  I am a young girl looking with wonder as her breasts begin to swell.  This time I get to choose the path.  My life is still ahead of me.
I have been on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for nearly two months now, and I thought it was time for a progress report.  So how has it been?  Do I look any different?  Do I feel any different?  The answers are, "Wonderful," "Not really," and "A bit."

Like anyone who starts transition, I expected dramatic overnight changes.  I expected them even though I had talked with others and had read enough of the literature to know better.  "But surely I will be different, won't I?"  Well, it turns out I'm not.

There have been changes, but they are subtle and may exist more in my mind than in reality.  I have, blessedly, been sleeping much better than I have in years, but I can attribute that as much to the end of "my life in law" -- legal battles that ruled my life for four years -- as I can to hormones.  Still, when I drift off to sleep, it is with a smile at the thought that as I sleep, my body is changing.

I was warned to expect a wider range of emotions.  In the first month of HRT I did experience a greater range of highs and lows, usually for no particular reason.  Since then I have come to rest at a nice place where I seem to smell the flowers more than I did and can get teary-eyed over a poetic phrase.  As my therapist likes to remind me, however, I have always been more emotional than the typical male, perhaps because of having only 10% of the testosterone of males my age.  Perhaps HRT is only a mild but pleasing and comforting spice to an already emotional nature that sat just behind the analytical exterior of an attitude analyst.

When I look in the mirror, I can half convince myself that I see my body fat starting to move, but that's probably a mirage.  I took some measurements at the start of HRT and will take more in a few months, but right now I'll just let the comforting mirage remain.  I smile now when I look in the mirror, whereas for most of my nearly 57 years I just ignored my own reflection, not wanting to acknowledge it as mine.  It was something to be endured, not enjoyed.

And now, two months older and wiser, I can add my voice to that of my older MtF sisters and say that looking for dramatic differences two months after the start of HRT is about the same as looking for dramatic differences in an adolescent two months after the start of puberty if, in fact, anyone can identify when puberty begins.  The joy is in knowing that a second puberty is possible even in one's mid-50s.

This is a time of looking strange and enjoying every minute of it.  I am betwixt and between, able to present myself in either gender or just leave everyone guessing.  During the work week I am still in "guy mode" at the Embassy, but I am a "guy" with earrings and long curly hair who gets plenty of sideways glances.  On the weekends I switch 180 degrees, putting on a skirt and doing my hair as best I can.  I still get some looks, but they are fewer than during the "guy mode" week.

The most dramatic physical change has nothing to do with HRT and everything to do with Mirela, the Miraculous Electrologist of Bucharest.  I last put a razor to my face on July 4, not even suspecting that I might never put blade to skin again.  I'm not a pretty face by any means, but never in my most extravagant dreams did I imagine that an electrologist could work as quickly and as well as Mirela does.  She completed the first clearing of my face two weeks ago, and this week she started on the second pass.  She told me to put the razor away, and it now sits unused on the top shelf of my medicine cabinet.   My face tends towards lumpy and bumpy after each electrolysis session, but scarcely the slightest hint of a beard shadow remains.

Last night I spent a wonderful, cool Bucharest evening sipping Margaritas with friends on their terrace, accepted fully as Robyn and feeling more natural than I have felt in over forty years.  An official announcement of my life change is scheduled for October.

"Looking strange and enjoying it."  That is my Bucharest summer of 2011.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Where Were You on July 22, 1972? --or-- So How Far Back Does This Go, Part 2

The answer to the first question is Cap Chat on the Gaspe Peninsula in French Canada.  If that answer means something to you, then you will already be ready to ask me whether I was under the break in the clouds.  If not, you will just have to read on . . . or skip everything and scroll to the end.

A controversy has raged for decades in the T community over who is a "true transsexual."  Who has earned his or her stripes, so to speak, to be accepted into a program of hormone therapy, real life test, and eventual sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) or, as we prefer to call it today, gender confirmation surgery (GCS).  For years, the litmus test has been that a "true transsexual" is one who can't go on living with his/her gender dysphoria, someone who is likely to commit suicide if not allowed to transition.  Given that psychologists, psychiatrists, endocrinologists, and surgeons work closely with transsexuals and write the "letters of passage" at each key step in the transition process, many do all they can to prove they are "true transsexuals" in order to get the coveted letters.  They will jump through whatever hoops are necessary to prove to the world that they should be allowed to move forward into their new lives.  They would stand on their heads at the top of a flagpole for days if that would help.

I do not pass this litmus test.  I am 56 years old, and although confusion over gender identity goes back to deepest childhood, I functioned at a high level for decades in academic pursuits and two careers.  At work I would smile, perform well, get awards, raises, and promotions . . . and be secretly miserable in my personal life.  Coming out vocally now is a choice, just as keeping my gender identity hidden was a choice at earlier key points in my life when I could have come out but for various reasons did not.

My personal theory is that there is a spectrum of T-ism.  Some must transition and must do so early in life just to stay alive.  The rate of suicide **is** high.  In my case, I usually was able to channel my anguish and confusion into other passions that were acceptable in U.S. society.  In that sense, I was lucky.  For my entire life, however, I was haunted by the thought of what would happen to all those awards, promotions, and other honors if anyone knew what engine lay behind them.

"What about talk therapy?" you ask.  "Surely psychiatrists and psychologists have figured out how to cure this, haven't they?"  I met my first psychiatrist in 1990, who told me I was just depressed and prescribed anti-depressants.  Later I worked secretly with an RN just a few blocks from my office in Laurel, MD, who had experience with gender conflicts, and talking things through really did ease some of the angst.  But no one has ever figured out how to make it go away.  Something such as gender conflict that has been with a person from earliest childhood and perhaps even back to the womb is not something that can be "talked away" or "medicated away" decades later.  At best, it can be grudgingly endured.

Lower School (8th grade) Graduation, 1968
I speak as someone who did want it to go away.  By the time I was a teenager, I was both pulled strongly in the direction of transition even as I would argue with myself that I had to make this go away.  I didn't even know what transition was in those years.  My first realization that there was such a possibility came, of all places, from Gore Vidal's "Myra Breckinridge."  I discovered it on my Mom's bedside table when I was about 14-15 and began reading it when I was home alone.  Then there was the movie biography of Christine Jorgensen in 1970.  I never saw the movie.  I would have been too afraid to buy a ticket.  But oh how I remember the advertisements.

By 1970 my youngest sister with her developing show business career was frequently on the road.  When she was, I got to sleep in her bedroom . . . where I experimented with everything.  My  Mom and Dad never let on that they knew, even after Mom caught me once red-handed.   I was also a budding amateur photographer and was doing everything I could in the darkroom to see what I would look like if I could superimpose my head on the body of one or another of my female relatives.  (How much easier that would be today with Photoshop or GIMP!)

Did I ever date in the normal sense?  Well, my sister set me up on a blind date to take a friend's younger sister to the school dance.  Visiting my cousins in Michigan, I also tried a "first date" that went nowhere.  That was it until I was in my 20s.  I just wasn't interested, even as I tried to force myself to believe that if I could just force myself to date like "normal guys," I, too, would become normal.

My passions were my salvation, the instrument that did allow me to survive.  The first real passion of my life was space, the space program, and astronomy.  (In even earlier childhood, I had a passion for making "inventions," including a secret one probably familiar to most Ts in which I was going to use a vacuum cleaner and funnels to make my breasts grow.)  I followed every Mercury and Gemini flight, recording the launches on our 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorder.  I loved to lie out on the lawn and look at the stars, and I remember reading Tony Simon's 1962 book for children, "The Search for Planet X."  I fell in love with the romance of the starry sky.  We moved to New York City when I was 12 years old, and I began to hang out at the Hayden Planetarium.  I joined the Amateur Astronomers' Association of NYC, even becoming the youngest "meteor recorder" the club had ever had.  I built my own telescope in the planetarium basement, and I would spend many a night on the roof of our apartment building doing as much "serious" observing as was possible from mid-town Manhattan.  At school, when it became increasingly clear that I had a head on my shoulders and an unusual passion for the sky, the taunting terror of the locker room ceased.  (Taunts such as "Your knockers are bigger than my sister's!" had a double edge for me.)  I was left alone, more of my classmates began to associate with me, and in the end I received the school's award for best physics student.

But yes, I did have friends!  Not many, true, but I formed one friendship that has remained to this day.  For the most part, we were the ones who were on the fringe of the mainstream school groups, going our own strange way as others were looking for dates, dreaming of motorcycles, and smoking pot whenever they could get it.

Hopefully Arriving in Cap Chat
So why was I in Cap Chat on Canada's Gaspe Peninsula on July 21, 1972?  I was there for the total solar eclipse, of course!  Our amateur astronomy club rented a bus, and we loaded aboard with telescopes, cameras, and backpacks.  We set up in the morning, watched as the Moon took its first bite out of the Sun, . . . and then watched further with sinking hearts as thick clouds slowly made their way up from the horizon, finally covering the Sun.  Totality was approaching, and then a break in the clouds appeared.  For maybe 30 seconds we were able to see a razor-thin crescent, all that was left of the Sun, before the clouds again obscured it from sight.  Seconds later we were immersed in darkness, and we knew the total phase had begun.  We never got to see the corona, and an hour later we were packing up for the long ride back to New York.

Setting Up
Others at Cap Chat were luckier.  Only a kilometer or so away, the break in the clouds passed over the Sun after the start of totality.  A lucky few at least got to glimpse the corona.  That is why, to this day, any eclipse chaser who meets another who also was in Cap Chat that day immediately asks, "Where were you relative to that break in the clouds?"

After the Eclipse:  The Clouds Break
My passion for the sky became my hope, my career, and my survival.  Today, as attitudes towards T-ism change in the United States, there are many others my age who, after long and successful careers, are coming out and saying, "I, too, am transsexual and always have been."  Perhaps none of us pass the time-honored litmus test, but here we are anyway.  Although we may have been successful, being transgender was almost always a major stumbling block in intimate relationships.  We could be as outwardly successful as all get out while inwardly we were just as equally miserable behind closed doors.

But today, 39 years after Cap Chat, I say thank you to NASA, to old brass telescopes, to 19th century astronomers in their knit observing caps on frigid nights, and to the stars themselves.  Thank you for giving me a passion that let me make it through when many others did not.  Peace to all eclipse chasers and those who love the romance of the Milky Way on a clear, dark night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thank You, Madam Secretary

Secretary Clinton Addresses GLIFAA
One year ago I would not have dreamed of maintaining notes such as this in a public forum.   That I am able to do so today without risk to my career and livelihood is testament to the leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton, and I want to take this opportunity to say, "Thank you, Madam Secretary."

The Department of State historically has had a reputation of being a bunch of men in striped pants, a hierarchical "old boys' network" that was tradition bound and slow to change.  That has not been true for quite some time, if indeed it was ever true, but compared with private industry (my personal observation), any government agency is slow to respond to change.   It's the difference between piloting a sleek schooner and a heavy, cargo-laden vessel built for the long haul.  Real changes began under Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose diplomatic hiring initiative greatly expanded the ranks of the Foreign Service with new officers coming from diverse backgrounds and different stages of their careers.  (It was thanks to this initiative that yours truly left private industry and joined State.)  The question being asked in the early 2000s was, "Will the State Department culture change these new officers, or will the new officers change the culture at the State Department?" 

It is becoming clear that it is the State Department's culture that is changing.  This is true nowhere more than in LGBT policy in general and transgender issues in particular.  Secretary Clinton's declaration that "LGBT rights are human rights" has become a rallying cry both in U.S. foreign policy and in internal personnel policy.   It was only one year ago that gender identity was added to the State Department's EEO and anti-discrimination statements.  Up until that time, I could have been subject to curtailment from my assignment and other disciplinary action simply for being transgender, let alone openly pursuing transition.  At the same time, the State Department liberalized and simplified policies for changing name and gender in U.S. passports.  It is now sometimes easier for a person in transition to change a passport than it is to change a state driver's license.

This past week in July has brought other profound changes.  By official cable to all embassies, consulates, and other posts, the State Department has affirmed its adherence to guidance from the Office of Personnel Management ( on the employment of transgender individuals in the federal workplace. This guidance includes provisions for transition while employed.

Our State Department culture continues to change even in the day-to-day minutiae of filling out official forms.  Just last week, when I went to the central server to retrieve a form, I found the form had changed since the last time I had filled it out three months ago.  Under gender, there are now three choices: female, male, and transgender.  I proudly checked the last box.  It is President Obama, his administration, and the personal leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton that have made these changes possible at the Department of State.

Thank you, Madam Secretary.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Early Years -- or -- So How Far Back Does This Go? (Part 1)

I have spent most of my life trying to blend as seamlessly as possible into mainstream society.  I think I have done that well enough that most friends and colleagues saw me as a happy, successful engineer, Russian linguist, Soviet/Russian affairs analyst, and researcher.  That is also what I have tried to convince myself of most of my life, even sometimes succeeding for months or a few years.  I may have done it so well that many are still incredulous that I could make an open declaration of being transgender, in fact transsexual, at age 56.  "How did you come to this overnight?" is what I imagine many are asking.

Before leaving the U.S., I rescued some old handwritten diaries from a box that otherwise would have gone to the trash.  I am re-reading those old diaries for the first time.  The following is an entry from my first year in college, nearly 40 years ago --

Yours truly in September 1972
Saturday, November 25, 1972 -- I  now have the nerve to write something which I have known to be true but have tried to deny for over seven years.  I am, mentally, a girl.  It seems strange to see that written before my eyes, as though it has now become irrefutable.  My strongest realization of this fact came tonight when I saw "How to Succeed in Business" with Robert Morse and Michelle Lee.  During the movie it occurred to me that I was identifying much more strongly with the latter than with the former.  I could actually feel the part.

Moving into the UVa Dorm in 1972
What will happen now I do not know with any great certainty.  I would not be surprised and in fact almost expect to find myself tearing out these two pages at some time in the future.  I do know, however, that my condition exists, and I must therefore do my best to remedy it.  I must at least consider the possibility of physically becoming a girl.  My thoughts are varying from repulsion . . . to relief.

With "Fluffy" in 1965
Seven years before that entry was 1965.  I well remember that summer between 5th and 6th grades when I had the freedom of the house and was frequently at home alone.  I spent much of that time playing dress-up with my sisters' clothing, already knowing that this was not something any of my classmates would be doing.  It wasn't the first time, and it wasn't the first year.  It was, however, the first time that I was aware that it was not something anyone else would consider normal.  For whatever reason, puberty began for me with the development of breasts, and I hoped against hope that they would continue to grow.  I have been a 36A/B ever since, but male puberty caught up a few years later.

Floating and Dreaming in 1959
My true earliest memories go back to when I was 5.  For some reason I came to idealize our neighbor, Mrs. K, and hoped that I would grow up to be like her.  I know my age because I remember where we were living.  Around that time I also had a very powerful dream of being lost in the woods and coming to a brightly lit, warm house.  Only girls were allowed inside, however, and so I continued to wander.  Again and again I came upon the same house.  Finally, exhausted and crying, I knocked at the door.  The girl who opened the door looked at me, and I begged to be let in.  "Of course!" she said.  "You're one of us."  I immediately woke up, elated and happy but upset to find it was only a dream.

Did I do boy things in those early years?  Of course I did.  I even destroyed the family car by playing "gas station attendant," spooning gravel into the gas tank for fuel.  I fell in love with the space program and the romance of the stars.  Up to age 5, however, most of my few friends were girls, and when I started school, I would spend recess with the girls until finally, by 3rd grade, the teachers would pull me away and push me out into the sports field.  I knew I was not wanted there, and I didn't want to be there either.  Instead, I would go to the far end of the field to be by myself.

At homes my sisters would dress me in their clothes from time to time and would redecorate my room as a girl's room.  I would make a big show of hating it, but I loved every second.  By 1965, when no one was going to dress me anymore, I started dressing in secret.

I will continue this story later, but for the moment let me return to the diary I kept in college.  I  never did "find myself tearing out these two pages at some time in the future," but the entire volume I kept in 1975 is missing.  That was the year in which I made my first abortive attempt to come out, dressing in public and corresponding with the gender clinic at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  I know I wrote my heart out that year.  As I approached graduation in 1976, I found I was too afraid of the consequences and decided to force myself to be normal.  I threw away the clothes and all the evidence, purging myself for the first but not the last time.  I believe I destroyed that volume of my diary with my own hands. . . .


Friday, July 8, 2011

Always an Attitude Analyst: Shuttle Musings from Columbia to Atlantis

Launch of Columbia on April 12, 1981
When Columbia lifted off on the first shuttle mission on April 12, 1981, I was still at the start of my career as an attitude analyst.  It is a title that I am proud of to this day.

Many following these notes know exactly what I am talking about, as some of them were working side-by-side with me even then.  Straight out of graduate school in 1978 with an MS in astronomy and a specialization in celestial mechanics and astrometry, I needed a job.  A friend showed me a full-page ad in the Washington Post for a company called Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) in Silver Spring, MD, that was looking for people with physics and astronomy backgrounds who happened to know a bit about programming.

I soon found myself in the Attitude Systems Department, home in those days to the legendary Malcolm Shuster, working on the fine attitude system for a scientific spacecraft called Magsat.  We wrote the entire ground system, which we lovingly called Magfine, on computer cards in Fortran 77 to be run on a big IBM 360-95 mainframe.  We spent many long hours in Bldg. 3/14 at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) preparing for launch and then actual mission operations.  Magsat was launched on October 29, 1979, which, as we liked to point out, was the 50th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash.  Magsat, the first NASA mission I worked on, will always stand out as an early highlight of my career.  It was a resounding success for all who worked on it, both scientists and engineers.

Pitch, Roll, and Yaw
Oh yes, I still haven't explained what I mean by "attitude."  Well, it's simply the orientation of a spacecraft in three dimensional space.  That orientation can be described in many ways.  One common way is to use three angles:  pitch, roll, and yaw that define the spacecraft's orientation relative to reference axes.   Another way is by matrices.  Yet another -- the one that is most frequently used in spacecraft operations -- is via quaternions.  "What in the world is a quaternion," you ask?  Simply put, it's four numbers that define a pointing vector (eigenvector) and a rotation angle about that vector.  A quaternion accomplishes in four numbers what a matrix accomplishes in nine.  It's a nifty formulation that was first developed by Hamilton in the 19th century.  Quaternions fell into disuse, but they were rediscovered in the early days of the space program when, given the limited memory of early computers, a compact form of defining a spacecraft's orientation was needed.

If you still wonder why one would care about attitude, just think of those wonderful photos from Hubble Space Telescope (HST).  Without a way of defining attitude, controlling it, and moving from one orientation to another via attitude slews, there would be no photos.

Working in attitude does have its amusing side.  At GSFC in the late 1970s and early 1980s we had an office called Attitude Operations.  If the phone rang in that office, we picked it up and said, simply, "Attitude."  I often wondered what a caller who reached that number in error would think.  Also, we had a large, sharpened stick mounted to the wall that we said was the fall-back attitude determination method if all computer systems failed.  We would also joke that we "spoke quaternion."

By the time Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off in April 1981, I was on to other missions such as Solar Max and a couple of GOES weather satellites.  We had finally graduated from computer cards to TSO (time sharing) terminals.  I remember setting the alarm for early that April 12 to make sure my spouse-to-be and I would be able to watch it on our little portable TV.

So much of the rest of my CSC career centered around shuttle launches.  I never worked on the shuttle program itself, but I came to work on HST in the mid-1980s and rarely left that project until I finally left CSC in 2004.  HST was launched on April 25. 1990, on Shuttle Discovery.

Coincidentally, it was shortly after HST launch in 1990 that I tried to talk openly about being transgender for the first time in my life.  For my efforts, I spent a week in a psychiatric ward, was placed on antidepressants, and was released back to home and work as though nothing had ever happened.  I went back into the closet for another twenty years.

Fixed Head Star Tracker
Then there were the HST servicing missions in 1993 (Endeavor), 1997 (Discovery), 1999 (Discovery), and 2002 (Columbia).  Through all those years I continued as an attitude analyst, having all sorts of fun with Fixed Head Star Trackers (FHSTs), gyroscopes, star catalogs, and pointing control algorithms for high gain antennas.  And it really **was** fun.  I will always look back on those years as the must fun, wonderful work years of my life.  Living and working overseas for State has been wonderful, but nothing will ever compare with a launch, mission operations, and solving problems when a satellite doesn't function the way it is supposed to.

My love of the night sky, astronomy, and the space program goes all the way back to the early 1960s.  I remember living every minute of those early Mercury flights, marveling at the stars and the very idea of space.  It is hard to say, in fact, which came first in my consciousness, my love of space or my sense that something was very wrong with me in the gender department.  They existed in parallel, and for decades to come I would throw myself into the one because I could not even bring myself to speak of the other.

Space Shuttle Atlantis
With the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis scheduled for today, July 8, 2011, it is appropriate to note the passing of an era.  I mean that both for human exploration of space and for myself personally.  For me, the first and last shuttle launches are the bookends for a marriage that endured but failed.  As we move forward beyond July 8, 2011, I seem to be moving into the most free, honest expression of a life that for 50+ years I had to keep in the shadows.  I wonder what direction my life will take?  What direction will we all take?

According to the liftoff clock, just 4 hours and 17 minutes remain until launch.  I will be sitting glued to the screen just as I was glued to the TV for the launch of John Glenn in 1962.  I expect many of you will be as well.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Meeting with Management

Today I had a meeting with the chief management officer at Embassy Bucharest.  The subject was the draft plan for my workplace transition.  The official process has begun.

I am myself amazed at how smoothly everything has gone to date.  When I first began to come out to a few people at work last autumn, it was with trepidation.  Downright fear might be a better description.  Not so long ago one could easily be fired for stating openly that one is transgender.  It was only one year ago that gender identity was added to the State Department's EEO and anti-discrimination statements.  Prior to that an admission such as mine probably would have led to a finding of "unsuitability," curtailment, and an early return to the U.S.

For the longest time the only person who knew at Embassy Bucharest was my good friend and neighbor K**a.  If there was ever a person placed on my life path for a purpose, she is that person.  When I had first tried to talk about being transgender in 1990, it landed me in a psychiatric ward for a week and then back in the closet for another 20 years.  I feared the same thing when I first talked openly with K**a, but her response was a hug and then in the weeks to follow lots and lots of information and encouragement.  She gave me the confidence to begin appearing publicly as Robyn, something I could only have dreamed of before that.  (She was even a bit "naughty" about it, putting me up to a theater date with others and then at the last minute pleading illness and sending me on my way solo in a taxi.)  With her careful prodding, I started to tell others such that by June about two dozen close friends, work colleagues, and my direct managers were in the know.  A few of them have already become comfortable with me as Robyn for weekend socializing.

Today was the beginning of the next phase, the official planning that will have to go into my coming out to the entire Embassy community.  The actual workplace transition date is still almost six months off, most likely in January of next year, but that will give me time in which to do as much electrolysis as I possibly can while still in "guy mode."  It will also allow time to plan on how the news will be communicated.  That most likely will happen in October, after we have moved physically from our current location to a new Embassy facility on the outskirts of Bucharest.

In the words of Alan Shepard, "Roger, liftoff, and the clock has started."

Письмо моим русскоязычным друзьям; A Letter to my Russian Speaking Friends

                                                                               7-ое июля 2011

Дорогие друзья!

Немножно смешновато получилось прошлым летом по пути в Москву.  Вместо Москвы, я неожиданно оказался в Бухаресте.  С тех пор я мало писал, и пора дать Вам знать о некоторых событиях в моей жизни.

Во первых, длительное судебное дело с бывшей супругой успешно закончилось 1-го июня.  Не верится, но это дело затянулось почти четыре года и обошлось мне $40,000 для адвоката и $200,000 для бывшей супруги.  Вот объяснение почему я так мало писал в течение прошедшего года.  Прошлой зимой я жил в Бухаресте почти без копейки так как вся зарплата шла не мне а адвокату и бывшей жене.  В отличии от Москвы и Ташкента, я до сих пор очень мало видел в Румынии кроме моего ежедневного маршрута на работу.  В марте съездил в город Брашов и тоже на велике выбирался за пределами кольцевой дороги раза два.   Остальное время сидел тихо дома и на работе.

К счастью, работа здесь легкая по сравнению с тем, что было в Москве и в Ташкенте.  (Зато зарплата на 1/3 меньше.)  Преимущество этой легкой работы в том, что оно дало мне сосредоточить все внимание на судебное дело.

Но судебное дело в конце концов позади, и следует сейчас сообщить о новом этапе в моей жизни.  Я недавно начал официальный медицинский процесс перехода из мужчины в женщину, таким образом очевидно став первым американцем в дипкорпусе, решившись на такой шаг.

Скорее всего застал Вас врасплох.  Если пролили чай на компьютер из-за этого неожиданного сообщения, я дам Вам короткий перерыв на уборку. . . .


Пришли в себя?  Для многих это наверно огромнейший шок, но не исключено, что есть другие, которые давно что-то подозревали.  (Ведь бывшая супруга начала об этом довольно открыто писать в 2007.)  Каждый, у которого есть хоть малейшая черта трансгендерной психолоии -- по крайней мере любой, который родился в США в 1950-ых годах -- старается всю жизнь как больше возможно это не разглашать.

Я считаю, что это начало интереснейшего межкультурного путешествия о котором я мечтал(а) с тех пор, как мне было лет 5.  Точно так же как в 1950-ых в СССР не следовало бы открыто говорить о том, что хочешь переехать и жить в США, так и не полагалось у нас говорить о том, что хочешь перейти из одного пола в другой.  То есть, не полагалось если хотелось сохранить себе карьеру, зарплату, друзей, семью и т.д.

Но времена меняются.  Я успел(а) путешествовать и жить в СССР, в России, и во многих других ресбупликах бывшего союза включая и в Узбекистане.  Сейчас я стою у начала путешествия другого типа.  За этот год я стал(а) активным членом общества Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), написал(а) довольно существенный доклад о гендерной идентичности в контексте Госдепа, и доложил(а) о результатах Первого румынского конгресса по гендерной идентичности.  Тоже работаю активно с представителями других агенств и министерств в нашем правительстве по вопросам равноправия для геев и трансгендеров.

Я уже несколько месяцев представляю себя женщиной по выходным.  Начал(а) недавно принимать женские гормоны, и в начале следующего года начну и ходить на работу не как Robert а как Robyn.
Когда Вы записались (или Вас записали) на моих запискак, Friends of Bob (FOB), Вы наверно ожидали читать мои размышления о том, как бывает для члена американского дипкорпуса жить в разных странах.  Прошу дать мне знать, если тоже заинтересованы получать мои новые записки, Friends of Robyn (FOR).  Вы тоже имеете возможность "подружиться"на Facebook c Robyn Alice McCutcheon.  Представьте себе в какие затруднительные но зато и забавные гендерные моменты бывший специалист по ориентации ИСЗ может попасть на родине Дракулы!  Найдешь ответы на такие вопросы как, есть ли опытные электрологи в Бухаресте?

Я не хочу уменьшить серьёзность такого перехода.  Это ещё экспериментальный этап в моей жизни и не знаю, чем он кончится.  Но даже пробное начало такого процесса нельзя скрывать, потому что он бросается в глаза всех друзей и близких.  Уверяю, что все близкие мои -- включая и сына и сестер -- в курсе и меня поддерживают.  Тоже пользуюсь услугами очень опытных по этим делам врачей в США.  Точно как в прошлом я вырабатывал(а) алгоритмы для телескопа Хаббл, я теперь вырабатываю новый алгоритм моей жизни.  Больше всего не хочется терять дружбу и уважение друзей и коллег в бывшей СССР.  Я знаю, что переходы между гендерами там очень редко бывают и может быть поэтому непонятны.  Уверяю, что этот мой переход не влияет на мое уважение и мои дружеские отношения к Вам.  Только внешний мой облик меняется.

Однако, я предпочитаю подчеркнуть то, что для меня это радостное начало исполенения давней мечты.  Есть в этом тоже много забавного.  Я заканчиваю прилагаемым письмом автора Jennifer Finney Boylan в адрес нашей космической программы NASA в котором она выдвигает свою кандидатуру на должность первого астронавта-транссексуала.  Boylan является заведующим кафедры английского языка в Colby College и красноречиво и с юмором описывает положение трансгендеров в нашем обществе.  Думаю, что Вы прочитаете со смехом.

Желаю мира, здоровья, и благополучия Вам и Вашим близким!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Electrolysis in the Land of Vlad the Impaler

It seems strangely appropriate to come to Romania in search of electrolysis.  Anyone who relishes the idea of having electrified needles inserted into one's face thousands and thousands of times should have a natural affinity for the land where Vlad the Impaler once reigned.

Someone once told me that only a true transsexual enjoys facial hair removal by electrolysis.  If that is true, then I rate a 10 by this criterion.  In the U.S. I have used three different electrologists for a total of about 15 hours of electrolysis.  Each electrologist was skilled and wonderful, and a special bond begins to form as you lie there and the two of you share the stories of your lives.  Each little electrical shock feels like a victory, a turning back of the clock, and a step into a new future.  200 hours and up is the norm for removal of all facial hair, and it can go on for months, a year, or longer.   At an average of $100/hour in the Washington, DC, area, this can be the most expensive part of a male-to-female transition.

What shocked me -- figuratively, not literally this time -- is that finding an electrologist in Bucharest has been difficult.  Laser hair removal is given the hard sell at almost all plastic surgery and dermatology clinics.  When one asks for electrolysis, the response is a surprised one, usually along the lines of, "We haven't done that in years."  For anyone of a certain age whose facial hair is already 80% white and gray, laser is a useless waste of time and money.  It only works on dark hairs.

The Magic Machine of a Thousand Needles
Last winter I found one clinic offering electrolysis, and I went for a test run.  My face was a swollen, bloody mess after only 30 minutes of electrolysis, and for days I had to make up stories about my "shaving accident."  Worse than that, all the hair grew right back!  The electrologist, actually a plastic surgeon, readily admitted that I was her first client for electrolysis in three years.  After that I thought I was doomed to doing electrolysis on the slow plan on my occasional trips back to the U.S.  Surely I could complete the process by the end of my next lifetime, couldn't I?

Mirela, the best electrologist in Bucharest
I was thrilled last week, however, to find Mirela, an electrologist at an out of the way clinic who has been doing electrolysis for 30 years.  Her equipment is old but not outdated, and she has the same skilled hands that I came to expect in the U.S.  Her hourly rate is 80 lei, about $27.  In the weeks and months to come, I will be pushing for every hour she can give me and that my face can take.  At the moment, after 1.5 hours electrolysis yesterday, I still look a bit like Richard Nixon with his jowls, but that is the price we willingly pay.  The swelling will subside, and in its place there will be a smoothness I have not known in 40 years.

So "Hurrah!" for Mirela, the best and perhaps only electrologist in Bucharest.  (You can find her at

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Of Trains and Bicycles

Although I may not ride 5000 miles and more a year as I once did, bicycles are still in my blood and in the title of these notes.  I live walking distance from work, but whenever the weather is decent -- and sometimes even when it isn't -- I ride my Rivendell Atlantis to work in the morning and then take a longer 15-20 mile ride around Bucharest in the evening.  Over the course of my months here I have worked out three intersecting loops that give me some variety, not the sameness of my daily Laurel to Silver Spring, MD, commute of so many years.

Last weekend, however, I finally broke out of Bucharest on a group ride.  On Saturday morning I rode over to Gara de Nord, the main train station, and met up with several other riders.  To my delight, I found that most trains in Romania have special bicycle cars.  (Take that, Amtrak!)  It was just over an hour's ride from Bucharest to the country town of Floriesti and a day of riding.  My only miscalculation was in not reading the fine print that this ride would be mainly on muddy tracks through forests and fields.  My touring bike with its fenders got fouled with mud again and again, but that was nothing if not a good excuse to do a cleanup and maintenance the next day.  The ride was followed by a barbecue and a quick road ride back to the train station for the return to Bucharest.

Now, will I have the discipline to get myself out of Bucharest on more rides like this one?

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,