It has been almost 20 years since I last spent Christmas with my daughter. And I own the responsibility for the reason we have not been able to be together. I made a decision which split my family of over 30 years back in 1996 when I shared with my wife that I was transgender and that I was not sure how much longer I could continue to hide my true gender identity.
We struggled on together for a few years, but our marriage destructed in 1999. And so it was that my ex and my daughter began to have Christmases without me because my being present was just to painful for my ex, C. She was rightly angry that I had chosen my need to express my true gender to my need to keep the family together. I remember one heated conversation we had in which she said I should just keep my gender identity submerged because “you are old and don’t have that many years left anyway.”
I think in my naiveté I thought that she would somehow be able to get over the fact that I no longer looked like the man she married, but that was unrealistic I now understand. I am reading the book She’s not there, by Jenifer Boylan, which was published in 2003. In that book, Boylan comes out to her wife and has many of the same conversations I had with my wife. But Boylan does not lose anything that I can see because of her transition. She does not lose her job nor her livelihood, which was fairly large compared to most people anyway. She does not lose her family nor her wife nor her friends. She transitions easily compared to me and most trans women.
I wonder if Boylan’s wife would have stayed if she had lost her job, financial security, and position due to her transition? I sometimes think that my ex would have had an easier time sticking with me if I had been as lucky as Boylan.
But I was not. Although I never told my boss exactly what was causing my depression, I think he was perceptive enough to read the tea leaves. As I was crumbling under the pressure of the dysphoria, I had pierced my ears, much like Harrison Ford had done, and bleached my hair. On a trip to Dallas in which he put pressure on me to relocate to take over that region, Brian told me in the car after he picked me up at the airport that he had just fired a “queer” from his Atlanta office because the “queer” had begun showing up at work wearing women’s clothes. He made a sarcastic remark about the person, whom I never knew, and looked at me for some favorable reaction. I was stunned at his bringing up that topic and began to wonder how much he was reading into my changes in appearance.
About a month later, we had a major meeting of the senior staff in Phoenix and I was unable to get myself out of bed to make the flight. I was fighting the flu, and that, combined with my worsening depression, left me completely exhausted. The week after I missed the meeting, I was called to fly to Atlanta where his office was. There he made a show of introducing me to the people in Atlanta that I did not know – we had only recently merged our companies – and took me to lunch at a restaurant about 20 minutes away where I think he thought we would have privacy.
There, he told me he knew something was seriously wrong with me, and that he felt I could not perform the duties of my senior position with the new company. He asked what was wrong and I told him a bit of the truth, that I was having marital difficulties. He seemed to accept this and told me, not asked me, that I should take a leave of absence from the company while I sorted out the problem and could reflect on if I wanted to move to Dallas. And I stupidly leaped at this suggestion as I knew I needed time. What I didn’t realize was that my agreeing to take the sabbatical, as he called it, gave him the time to reorganize me out of the company. And that he announced to me after I called him three weeks later to tell him I was ready to come back to work.
I know now that my telling my ex I had been cut adrift from my company of almost 25 years was the end point for her in our marriage. I no longer was the successful breadwinner she had wanted and needed. And I was no longer going to be the man she thought she married. So she filed for divorce and served me with the papers.
We sold the cherished house in Sans Souci in August of 1999 and moved separately into the same apartment complex in Fairhope. I guess we were not ready to really be apart. I remember many days and nights when one of us visited the other and cried over the loss of our marriage. For a while, I had hopes of our finding some way to remain together, but it was not to be. Sometime in early 2000, after our divorce was finalized, C told me she was seeing my old friend B. I was stunned and hurt, but I tried to make her believe I was happy for her. I was, in a way, but I was devastated at the same time. My depression worsened and I was fired again, this time from the real estate company I had started working for in the fall of 1999. I overdosed but somehow survived and called C asking her to help me. She told me to go to the hospital in Fairhope where she had once gone while she struggled with my truth, but I prevailed on her to take me to New Orleans VA hospital where my friend Jamie worked. I think I finally accepted our relationship was over when C and B showed up to drive me to NOLA.
At the end of a week, I was released from the hospital and C picked me up and drove me back to my little apartment in Fairhope. It was to be the last time I saw her for five years. In the interim, I finally had my bucket of sticks tip over and I made the painful and joyous decision to begin my transition. I soon exhausted my savings, had my car repossessed, and was evicted. At the same time, I had somehow held myself together with the help of new friends, filed for bankruptcy, applied and was accepted into the doctoral program at South Alabama, and began my new life as Dawn. My second Christmas alone was my first as myself. But the pain of not being with my family far overshadowed the joy of being myself. And that pain continues to this day.
In 2006, my world seemed to be approaching normality. I was back in my doctoral program, had found a wonderful supportive Catholic nun, and was awarded the honor of Vagina Warrior by the Feminists for Progress. And just prior to my 61st birthday in December of 2006, I flew to Thailand and finally had gender confirmation surgery. Then the darkness of being swallowed by my doctoral research overwhelmed me. I dropped out of my activism for GLBT rights to make time for the long hours completing the dissertation. Finally, in December 2009, I was hooded and left school with a new Ph.D. in search of a job with which to pay back my student loans with enough left over, I hoped, to allow me to pay off the remaining credit cards I had used to pay for my transition.
But something, a lot of things really, happened in the real world while I was gone. Bay Area Inclusion, a GLBT support organization I helped found in Mobile, folded its tent and went away. A new breed of trans-activists arrived on the scene and began to change my simple gender binary world. I first realized this when I saw that a “Q” had been added to the end of GLBT, the Q standing for Queer. Although the label queer had been in vogue way back in the ‘50s as a derogatory term for gay males, I learned it now stood for anyone who felt they did not fit into the neat boxes of male/female or straight/gay-lesbian. Then an “I” was added for intersex individuals as they too wanted to differentiate themselves from the run-of-the-mill gays/lesbians/trans/queer people. And I was OK with that. I could understand their point because their physiology just was different from that of most people.
But then the alphabet soup of letters was added making the LGBT tag almost meaningless, at least to me.
5 Ways to Support a Trans Person Experiencing Body Dysphoria (here)
This article popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, so I clicked and read. I had two thoughts when I finished my forced reading – not far into it I had the distinct feeling that some aspiring trans activist was clawing for something “trans” to write to come up with this fluff. All the things “they” suggested were common sense things an empathetic person would do for any friend struggling with an issue. The only difference was that the writer forced the overlay of trans onto the piece probably thinking the #trans keyword would help “their” marketing.
You may have noticed my use of air quotes around the non-gendered ‘they’ and ‘their.’ I did that because the writer, who is evidently a trans man, chose to make the article about gender-neutral body dysphoria instead of gender dysphoria. This even though ‘he’ chooses traditional masculine pronouns.
As you probably know by now, gender dysphoria is the extreme discomfort many trans people experience with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth, such assignment usually based upon the appearance of their external genitalia. This discomfort I know very well, having suffered with it for most of my life. I have always had a strong feeling that my body was not in alignment with my gender identity. I may have been assigned male at birth, but I finally found a way to correct that miss-alignment. With the help of hormone therapy and gender confirmation surgery, I crossed over from blue to pink.
But today many young (primarily) people in the trans collage are intent on doing away with the classical gender binary. Instead of being a trans man or trans woman, they choose to self-identify as gender queer, gender neutral (neutrois), non-binary, agender, polygender, androgyne, gender questioning, genderfluid, demigender, genderf#ck, and on and on and on. I can’t begin to keep up with the ever-growing list of nonbinary identities but you can read more about them here.
11 Times Gender Norms Got The Middle Finger in 2015 (here)
I am confused, very confused. And I think a lot of other people are too. And confused people always say No, such as they did to HERO in Houston.
Today I was lucky enough to be able to pay it forward. Years ago after I lost my job, financial security, and family, I was out on the streets. I had no income, was evicted from my little apartment in Fairhope and my car was repossessed. But I was lucky in that I had found new friends through PFLAG who reached out to me. One paid up my car loan and enabled me to get my car back. Another paid for a moving company to pick up my few possessions and take them to a house across the bay where she had negotiated a rent I could afford with the student loan that had yet to be approved. Another guided me toward the doctoral program at South and helped me get an interview with the faculty who could approve my acceptance.
Until recently I have been unable to pay them back for their kindness. But instead of paying them back directly, something I will eventually do, I decided to pay it forward today. And I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do just that.
Along with paying it forward, I made a pact with my friend: we would both invest 20 minutes a day writing in our blogs. And I intend to do just that. So the challenge goes out to J. I’ll help you get a blog up on line and we both will write at least 20 minutes a day and hit the “Publish” button.
To all my Facebook friends: this morning I listened to another news broadcast about the tragedy in San Bernardino. I know I should not tune into these types of shows because they usually offer nothing new, instead rehashing “facts” with a bias toward the faction they think they represent. But I did hear two things new.
A young Muslin American, a friend of the male attacker, said he appreciated the part of President Obama’s speech last night where the President called for Americans to not allow the demagogues to lead us to condemn and disenfranchise all Muslims. The young man recalled the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance he had learned in school: “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Later in that same news show, an expert on terrorism said he was a bit confused about the negative reaction of some politicians to President Obama’s mention of the need to prevent people on the terrorist no-fly list from buying guns legally. The expert said he could not understand why lives lost to a terrorist act where somehow more important than lives lost to inner-city gun violence.
I just doubled checked the numbers and the total number of American deaths due to acts of terrorism on US soil in the last decade is 85, including the 14 in San Bernardino. And of that 85, 48 were due to right-wing and white supremacists (here). Strikingly, the total number of gun-deaths in American the last decade is 302,000, though it is impossible to give an exact number because they are happening all the time. This graphic from the CDC includes all American deaths due to terrorism globally since 2001.
Gun deaths v deaths due to terrorism
I know 2nd amendment folks like to claim otherwise, but the extremely large number of guns in America does have consequences (here and here). Ignoring gun suicides (which of course are much greater in America than in any other country), there are some 11,000 to 13,000 gun homicides in the US each year. And, alarmingly, there are 700 to 800 deaths due to gun accidents each year. And these numbers are from a conservative, 2nd amendment group.(here) Yet the number of crimes and deaths thwarted by citizens carrying guns is almost non-existent (here). Ironically, if the Republicans/NRA allowed the CDC to actually study gun deaths, we might have such information.
Gun deaths per 100,000 population
My point in this post is that lives do matter, all lives. Not just those lost due to radical Muslim terrorism. And to use the fact that terrorism is increasingly a threat to everyone as a justification to preach divisiveness and hate for fellow Americans is unacceptable. If we are to defeat ISIS and radicalism, including white hate groups, we must be a country undivided.
To A Life Which Justifies Itself
On this Veterans Day, I am remembering my lost flock of Golden Boys of the Class of 1967; there are other members of the class of 67 who were also lost in Vietnam and who are missed, but these are very close friends. They are listed in order of their casualty date.
John Albright, ’67
John Albright was a member of my doolie summer squadron in the summer of ’63. I remember him as a serious cadet longing to earn his pilot’s wings and anxious to get to the building war in Vietnam. Like myself, his long hours of study at the Academy led to eyesight that was not quite good enough to get into pilot training and we both graduated from navigator training the late summer of 1968. Although I stayed on at Mather for advanced training, John got his chance to go to Vietnam as a C-123 navigator. He was lost on his first operational Candlestick flight out of Nakhon Phanom RTAFB only four months after he left nav-school. He was the first of my close Zoomie friends to die in Vietnam.
(For some reason, Morg’s photo is not on the Vietnam Virtual Memorial website; this is his second class year photo).
Morgan Jefferson Donahue I claimed as a fellow Alabamian; though born in Virginia, he attended Sidney Lanier high school in Montgomery, one of my least favorite football teams to play as they always seemed to beat us. Morg was assigned to the 21st Cadet Squadron but we maintained a connection throughout our four years at the Academy and ended up in navigator training at Mather together with Scot Albright. And like Scot, Morg snagged a C-123 navigator slot out of undergraduate navigator training. In fact, they both were on the Candlestick mission together when their C-123 collided with one of the B-57s they were directing to a target in Laos. But unlike Scot Albright, we did not immediately know if Morg was killed. In fact, we thought he had survived the crash and had been captured and was being held captive in Laos. As recently as 1987, there was information he was alive but since then no news. He was declared killed in action in 1990.
Jim Gilmore, ’67
Jim Gilmore was one of my roommates in 2nd Squadron – Tough Two! Jim and I were close friends throughout my four years at the Academy and for a while our fiancés shared an apartment in Colorado Springs. Jim was always fun to be around, always seeing the good in people and situations. I remember the break between our second class and first class years we planned a train ride home from the Academy with our fiancés. We booked the trip on the same phone call but somehow the travel agency screwed up the reservations. C and I ended up traveling the northern route through Chicago while Jim and Sue were put on a train running south though Texas. We laughed about that but I sure wish now I had that lost time with him back. Jim was flying an O-2 over Quang Tin as a forward air controller when he was lost. Thankfully, Jim’s remains were recovered and he was finally able to come home.
Hal Henderson, ’67
Hal was another close friend throughout my four years at the Academy. We began our time there in the same doolie squadron (First Squadron) and after our formal acceptance into the Cadet Wing, Hal moved downstairs one floor in Vandenberg Hall to the Third Cadet Squadron. Starting in mid August, Hal and I went out for the football team; I busted my knee about three weeks in and had to give up football, but Hal made the team and was a great Zoomie player all four years. Hal and I spent a lot of fun time together during our 4th Class field trip when we were both assigned to the same bunk space on the Yorktown. I have a photo Hal took of me near the arresting gear that was just over our heads in the bunk space and which woke us each time an aircraft was recovered. But Hal was able to get into pilot training and landed an O-2 flying out of Da Nang. Hal was lost near Chu Lai when his O-2 collided with an Army helicopter as he was pulling off a marking run. His remains were recovered and Hal was able to come home.
Max, Rosen, ’67
Max was another close friend from the top floor of Vandenberg Hall. We were in the same doolie squadron but he was then assigned to the 1st Cadet Squadron while I went to the 2nd. Throughout our four years, we had a healthy competition for academic honors, which Max won. He also won my coveted pilot’s wings and the race to Vietnam as well. Max was assigned as a co-pilot on an EC-47 flying out of Phu Cat in South Vietnam. On his last mission, his aircraft had a fire in the instrument bay and crashed while on emergency approach for landing. His remains were recovered and Max was able to come home.
Don Shay. ’67
Don Shay was also in my doolie summer squadron and a fun guy to be around. And like myself, he ended up in navigator school at Mather AFB in California instead of the longed for pilot training. But we both decided to try to leverage our nav wings into a second chance at pilot training by choosing a back seat slot in F-4s where you could get a lot of “stick” time. Don got the reconnaissance version, the RF-4, and loved it. Don also got his chance in Vietnam with the 14th TAC Recon Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. There we lost him on a night mission over Laos. His remains have not been recovered.
Jim Steadman, ’67
Jim was my first roommate at the Academy and forever one of my favorite people. I wrote a previous post about him here.
Bob Lodge, ’64
Bob Lodge was not one of my classmates, but I knew him both at the Academy and later on active duty. I first met Bob early in my doolie summer – he was the flight commander of my summer squadron – and I recall that he was a take-no-prisoners kind of upper classman. He was in the class of 64, a “firstie” and he was responsible for taking a bunch of young civilians and turning us into something resembling a real cadet by the end of the summer. To that end, he was relentless in pushing us far beyond what we thought were our limits. I particularly hated the hallway “exercises” we had each night that summer. Bob was extremely fit and prided himself in being able to do far more pushups and chin-ups that any of us doolies. He also could and did run us into the ground on our morning runs up and down the foothills surrounding the Academy. In the fall, Bob became the 2nd Cadet squadron commander and continued to push us, and especially me. I didn’t know then, but he had taken a liking to me and wanted me to do well, especially after I had destroyed my knee trying to play football for the Academy. Somehow I survived that first year, with a great deal of his close attention, and I have to admit I was glad to see him graduate. I ran into Bob again in 1970/71 when he was assigned to the 16th Tac Fighter Squadron I was in. He had completed one tour in Vietnam and was upgrading to F-4s. I flew with him often, shared many a beer at our squadron bar, and learned a lot from his combat savvy. In the spring of 1972, after I had submitted my resignation in frustration of not being allowed to go to pilot training, we learned that the now 58th TFS, as the 16th had been redesignated, was deploying en mass to Thailand. Although I then tried to withdraw my resignation, the Air Force was slow to react and the squadron deployed without me that April. Bob and his backseater were shot down shortly after I started grad school at Auburn. His status is still missing in action.
Hate to say it trans folks, but this is largely our own fault. Only 26% of the electorate turned out to vote in this referendum. That in itself is appalling. Although HRC and some other trans friendly groups were active primarily in placing ads and holding rallies, how many trans folks actually turned out to man the phone banks, go door-to-door, and/or volunteer to drive friendly voters to the polls or to register to vote? Not very many, I’d wager. We cannot outspend the conservative right with their extremely wealthy donors and the tele–evangelists who are primarily intent on fear mongering, which they did very successfully in Houston. And we trans people have garbled our message and sound all too like greedy children who demand what we want because, well, because we demand it.
A wise friend once told me, confused people always say no. And I think our accelerating push of the now many flavors of unconstrained gender identity selection and gender expression does not help clarify the issue. (I will shortly publish a post expanding on this thought here.)
Last week I responded to a Facebook post of a friend about a petition to ban Germain Greer from speaking at Cardiff, a college in Britain. Being of the ancient boomer generation, freedom of speech still looms important for me. But I admit my reading of feminist literature began to lag during my push to finish my dissertation and subsequent hunger for employment to pay the bills. So I was somewhat unnerved by the heated feedback I got from some of the people on the thread. One trans woman (I made the mistake of writing “transwoman” in my post; I won’t do that again. :-/ ) was particularly incensed. I don’t know if she is 3rd or 4th wave trans feminist, but she was unbudging in her calling me out as a Greer apologist and thus possibly responsible for who knows how many trans deaths. I am not making light of that serious problem in any way, but those were her words about Greer. The dreaded TERF label was mentioned; I surely do not want to be called that.
So I began an effort to catch up on my feminist and trans feminist reading. The last formal publication (i.e. book) I read on the topic was Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl a few years ago.
Still thinking about the movie Woodlawn that I am yet to see. And merging those thoughts with the Facebook conversation about the proposed new football stadium for USA. I guess that is part of the reason I’m so uptight about that one stadium supporter’s words that he “is tired of going to football games in the slums.” I’m feeling guilty by association, by not having spoken up in the 60s and 70s when the white flight from Birmingham, and so many other southern cities, was beginning.
When I was growing up in Birmingham, downtown was the place
to go for essentially everything. It was where most people worked, save for the many that worked at the steel mills on the west end of the city where I was initially brought up. West End, as it was formally called, was not a bad place to live except for the extremely poor air quality there. There was yet to be any governmental controls on the environmental damage from the steel and coal plants in Birmingham, or anywhere else in America for that matter. (more…)
I just watched the trailer for the movie Woodlawn and it brought back some vivid memories. I played football for Banks High School in Birmingham in the 60’s. That’s me, #80, talking to my linebacker coach, Coach Taylor, during a game.
Woodlawn was our arch rival and I looked forward to that game each year. Usually we played at Legion Field, but once when I was on the JV team, we played Woodlawn on the field behind their school. Much like one of the games in the movie, the field was muddy, but we won. Shorty White, an Auburn graduate but admirer of Coach Bear Bryant, took over the football program at Banks in 1961 and began to build a (more…)
I met Jim just a few hours into my four years at the Air Force Academy. As the last step of induction, I was led by an upper classman (a “Firstie” or senior) to my dorm room on the top floor of Vandenberg Hall. When I entered the room, I saw Jim sitting at one of the two desks looking as stressed as I felt. Before I could even say hello, the firstie screamed “Get this room in order! I’ll be back in 30 minutes and this room better be ready. And somehow we made it. (more…)