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.