There was a time when this post would have been unthinkable. Even as I write it, I wonder if I will have the character to hit ‘post’ when I have said all I have to say here. I have a secret. It is a secret that, until very recently, I have kept very close to my vest. This secret involves a quest that I set out upon twenty-five years ago. That quest was to bring my body into line with what I knew and know myself to be for I am a transwoman; a woman who has a Y-chromosome where none should be. I have been stealthy, very stealthy, for all of the years when I could start to pass. I did so for a number of reasons. Some of that career related—I work in corporate software and I thought that black and lesbian was quite enough difference, thank you very much, for one person to have to explain. Some of that was social.
I came out at a time when to be a transsexual in what was then euphmastically known as ‘the women’s community’ (or because I’m a lesbian of 90s vintage, womyns) was a bit controversial. I learned to carry that secret close to the breast and let people get to know me, Aj, my true, ultra-geeky, Lawful Good self. And then, if something in the relationship crossed certain points I would then disclose to the other person. Typically that meant someone I was romantically interested in. If there was a first kiss then the conversation happened before there was a second kiss. Sometimes if the first kiss seemed a fait accompli even before dessert had been pondered, then it might happen before the first kiss. There were friendships that would get to a point where I would want the person to know just because I wanted to fill in some gaps in the story.
So why now? Two reasons: the first is that after 25 years the end is in sight. In just slightly over a month my medical plan will pick up the cost of GCS and I will get an appointment to meet the surgical team and then get a date. The waiting list is comfortably under a year and so this journey ends next year. Even if the worst were to happen and I were to not have surgery until 2017 that would still only mean another full calendar year. The quest, the self-imposed geas that has defined my adult life will come to an end. The second is that as it comes to an end, there are promises I made to my younger self that I feel compelled to follow through on.
When I began this journey, I knew that either it would either be the crucible through which I would pass and emerge a much stronger, more powerful person or I would be destroyed upon the way somewhere. What I envisioned started out, as all youthful dreams do, as my writing the Great American Lesbian Science Fiction novel, it becoming a break out hit, Hugo award, Nebula award, etc., movie rights, all of that. The life I built, one that is simultaneously more interesting and yet objectively quotidian, is beyond anything I imagined. I am beyond the woman I dreamed of becoming back in the late 1980s when the ice I had built up around my inner self began to thaw. Locking up my feelings, including my feelings of being a girl, was only supposed to be a stopgap measure. I never intended it to be a lifelong commitment. Of course, I froze that knowledge up with my emotions.
When I began this journey, it looked impossible. In fact, I knew it to be impossible but I felt I had no choice but to try. All the possible futures where I did not transition and live the rest of my life as the woman I hoped to become did not have any dates beyond March of 1997. I would have destroyed myself had I not transitioned. So to save myself from myself, I took a leap into the unknown. And to my surprise landed on my feet! I told myself two things because I knew that I would have to put my writing career—such as it was or wasn’t—on hold until I finished this. The first was this: if I manage to get to the eve of surgery and know that I have come to the other side of this journey with more than I started with, then I will know I have done the impossible. From that point on, everything I ever attempt will simply be merely difficult. I used to have a housemate, Diana although we all just called her Fritz, whose battlecry was ‘I can do anything’. Well now, like Fritz, I know I can do anything other than that which my body or physics prohibits. I am a better worker, a better spouse, a better parent, a better neighbor, a better friend and a better sibling than I could ever have imagined myself being. I am smarter than I knew myself to be (and being clever was the only thing I never lost faith in). I am much, much, stronger than I once was. Bruce Banner to Hulk is the scale upon which we are talking about.
The second thing I told myself was that if I got to a place where I had transformed myself into a force of nature was that I would have to be out so that I could help other transsexual women on the journey. I have built a good life. An amazing life, really. It is not fancy. My life is not glamorous. I drive a nine year old Prius that I paid cash for with a tax return earlier this year. We are still renting our house although we are going to buy it. My name is not up in lights. It is a life that is achievable though.
I had, as late as the beginning of this year, told myself that when it was all over I was going to leave it all behind me. But I kept reading story after story, viewing meme after meme, about how the fate of black transwomen was that we are murdered in the course of doing sex work. Usually the sex work part is conveniently ironed over in order to smooth out any narrative wrinkles but that need not detain us here. I realized that if I were starting this journey in 2015, I would feel far more pessimistic than if I did starting in 1990! I would think that as a black transwoman I’m either going to be unemployed and turn to sex work and die, or I might be underemployed and turn to sex work and die, or I might just skip the employment and go straight to the sex work and die. As an alternative to death, I might become a celebrity. But nowhere was there any idea that I might have a nice middle-class job where I can keep us in a modest home while my wife is a full-time student. I can do that and we still have the means for her to lease a horse and take lessons which is something my wife has wanted to do since before she could say the word horse.
The only way for young transgendered women to know that a life like this, a suburban house, five cats, a dog, a turtle, a bearded dragon, and a hedgehog, friends who enjoy our company, neighbors who love one, and a job one enjoys and is compensated well for are ALL within grasp is for those of us who have achieved these things to be out and visible. The only way for people who are not transgendered (neither my lips nor my pen nor my keyboard will ever use cisgendered except to talk about the term itself) to understand what our lives are like is for women like me to come out wherever we are and whenever we can.
I am secure in my job. I have established relationships with my friends and neighbors and coworkers that I am certain will weather this revelation just fine. Surgery is a matter of keeping my job and keeping my job is a matter of continuing to work hard. The top strata of my corporate brass all know as do my manager and his manager as well as my whole immediate team. The rest of my team will know very soon.
There are some people, our dear friends across the street being the most immediate ones, that I was going to wait to post this so that I could tell them in person but I know that this is a scary coming out. The coming out that I dreaded far more than coming out as a lesbian. Being an out lesbian is easy. Being an out transwoman is quite another thing altogether. We’ve shared a lot and I’ve wanted to share this with you personally. Since I know that jumping into these waters is something I’m terrified of doing, I know that the only way to do this is to just jump. If I stand there and think about how cold the water is or how deep the pool is, I’ll never go in the water. So I jumped. My apologies for your finding out in this impersonal manner instead of the far more personal one that you deserve.
So there it is world, I’m a black, transsexual woman who is a lesbian. My life is good. Great in reality. As good an ordinary life as any woman could ask for.
There are a few people I need to thank for making this post possible:
Always, my wife Jaime for being the best wife while insisting, incorrectly of course, that I am the best wife.
Jeanie Swan for teaching me what real Christianity looks like lived out in realtime.
Elizabeth Miller for being a solid friend and telling me that I could do this coming out.
Rev. Sean Parker Dennison. He knows why.
Rev. Patti Pomerantz of Eastrose Fellowship Unitarian Church.
My sister, Lola Davis, for accepting me as her little sister.
My fellow Crew from Team Planet Espresso at New Relic.