Something Bruce Jenner said during the interview on 20/20 Friday night resonated and brought me thinking back to a critical juncture in my own path to transition. “You can still call me Dad.” (Note I hid in Tef’s carryon bag for her 1998 trip to Oz)
“Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows might go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, So He loves also the bow that is stable.” Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”
Steph, You should be well on your way to Oz; I love your use of that pet name. It seems so appropriate for someone I remember that loved castles, unicorns, and all things Disney. But I know there is a deeper meaning to your use of that name, one you perhaps have not consciously thought. Much like Dorothy, your world has become troubling, with some people very close to you causing the disturbance. An escape to Oz is entirely appropriate. I hope like Dorothy, you will find special people there that will help you find your way home, no matter where you decide home is. Teffer, I have enclosed a letter in a sealed envelope that I hope you will eventually read. I realize you probably do not want to read it right now. Oz awaits. But in the letter I try to give you some idea of what is driving me forward and more information that may help you understand why I must find my true calling. Like you, I do not know what my future holds, only that I must find it. Paraphrasing Beth Nielsen Chapman:
Say G’day, not goodbye
You will never leave my heart behind Like the path of a star I’ll be anywhere you are. In the spark that lies beneath the coals In the secret place inside your soul Keep my light in your eyes Say G’day, not goodbye. You are everything you want to be So let your heart reach out to me I’ll be right by your side
Say G’day, not goodbye.
Dad (the letter) Stephanie, It is 5:30 am. I woke up about an hour ago with thoughts about writing this letter. It is important, not only for you, Stephanie, but for me as well. I need to put my feelings down on paper; they always make more sense and take on added realism, when I see them in black and white. Let me start by apologizing for my leaving things around the house that upset you when you got home last Friday. It was unthinking on my part that you would not stumble into them. I had no intention of trying to confront you with my problem that way. I really wanted these last few days together, all three of us, to be good memories for you during your time in Oz. I know that you are struggling with issues of your own and I am so glad that you have found someone you trust to help you establish appropriate boundaries. But I am worried that you are sealing me out of your life. That, of course, is your right, and I will respect your decision if that is what you need to protect yourself. I also must try to protect myself and set boundaries. It is important to me that you have good information about my situation and the thinking that led me to this point. A question I know you are probably asking: Why Now? Why after almost 53 years of living with this problem, do I need to confront the family with the feelings I had hidden inside? Why couldn’t I just suck it up and hold on to the image I created so long ago? After all, I am far closer to the end than the beginning of my life. Why am I being so selfish by wanting to be something that will tear our family apart? Why do I want to risk my career by becoming something I am “obviously” not, something much of the world may find undesirable? There is no concise answer. You know that the distress of hiding my true gender feelings led to physical and mental problems that almost ended in suicide. I finally reached the point that I could not face living in a dishonest way. In part, the timing may have been due to the classic mid-life crisis; the time when many first realize they have been so busy working to make money to buy “things” that they have not been living the life they were meant to live. The career they so aggressively pursued no longer provides enough satisfaction, especially when they realize they will never reach their potential in continuing to do it. Dr. Frederick, my analyst, strongly believes that my gender question, though important, is not the most critical issue in my life right now. It has been a catalyst, driving my hunt for deeper meaning and integrity in my life, forcing me to realize how important these are and pushing me forward to question all aspects of my life to this point. I think a compelling argument for her conclusion is that my need to dress, indeed, be Elizabeth, the name Dr. Frederick picked to identify my feminine persona, waxes and wanes. But my need to find fulfillment and connection grows stronger each passing day. The truth may be that I am searching for my vocation, listening for my calling in life. To achieve that, I need freedom, freedom that comes only through being brutally honest with myself. A long time ago when I was a freshman in high school, a so-called career counselor looked at the results of an aptitude test and told me I should be an engineer. Though I was good with words, I was great with numbers; and all engineers needed a love for numbers. The problem was that the aptitude test did not measure “love”, only capability. But she decided I should be an engineer, wrote that on her evaluation, and set me on my way. Who was I to question her? And engineering was a masculine career, so that neatly fit in with my cover story. Whenever I was asked what I was going to be, I answered “An Engineer!” So I was put on a curriculum that would get me into a good engineering university. That also fit with the drive to replace my brother at the Air Force Academy, for back then the only degree they offered was engineering. When I got to the Academy, however, I learned that Congress had set USAFA as a prototype to test other career fields besides engineering for suitability for academy graduates. But when asked what curriculum I wanted, I of course answered “engineering” instead of medicine, or law or political science. It did not really matter, I thought, as I was going to fly, not work. You know that I did not find satisfaction in the Air Force. Even the sheer terror and exhilaration I felt on every flight was not enough to keep my soul subdued. I was not being true to my gender and I was not moving toward my vocation. When I decided to get out of the military, I naturally gravitated toward being an engineer. After all, that was what my degree said. Since I had not done any real engineering in the Air Force, I went back to school to get up-to-date. At Auburn, serendipity gave me a chance at architecture and regional planning, both softer more creative and possibly better aligned with my soul. But I could not make Cyndy wait four years while I completed those studies. So after a year in architecture I jumped back into engineering and got through a year later. You know the rest of the story, BCM for the last 25 years. I’m sure I would not have made it this far if I had really been doing engineering. Fortunately, or perhaps I unknowingly made it happen, I ended up doing the more creative, social side of engineering, conceptual and environmental planning and ultimately people management; I do not think I would have been as successful in “hard” engineering like design or construction. The male form I have used all my life has worked well. It worked well in high school, and throughout my time in the Air Force. And it worked well in my “chosen” profession; in the seventies, a female engineer was the exception and not likely to succeed. So the continual subversion of my feminine personality made glorious sense. Periodically, the need to express my femininity pushed to the surface; I always found a way to relieve the pressure and put the genie back into the bottle. Meanwhile, the subconscious drive to find my true self went on. I was searching for not only for a safe way to express my femininity, but also to find my calling. The crescendo of health problems these last few years results, of course, from the inner realization that what I have been doing has not been my highest calling. I have been compromising my true self, not living with integrity. And so I reached half time in my life with my autopilot, those routines that I have been doing more from perceived duty than from passion, beginning to shut down. In his book, “Game Plan”, Bob Buford mentions something called spiritual DNA, the plan for our significance that God embeds deeply within us. He says your soul will be restless until you somehow bring your real world into alignment with your spiritual DNA. Today, I know that finding my true vocation is most important and that I will be able to express my femininity when I do. A vocation is what you do in life that builds meaning for you, that makes a difference for you. It is something that you can look back on at some point and see that you made some difference in this world, that your life was more than just a relatively short biological process. A vocation is related to your calling; vocation comes from the Latin, vocare, which means, “to call.” You must learn to tune out the static of the busyness of survival to allow yourself to hear the music of your life. You must listen to your heart to hear your calling. When you are living true to your calling, your heart sings. I think that women are much more open to listening to their hearts. Other than for a short period during the ‘70’s, being a sensitive man has not been cool, even to a lot of women. In part, I think my drive to outwardly express my feminine side has been an attempt to make it okay for me to listen for my heart’s song. If I were a woman, it would be okay to be sensitive, have deep relationships and act on my heart’s call for expression. I think you know I have been taking hormones for some time. Last Friday I stopped taking the Premarin, though I continue to take the Spiranolactone for my blood pressure; the Spirano does have some “hormone-like” side effects, notably breast growth and a reduction in body hair. At some point I may ask Dr. Margaret to change this. Why have I stopped taking the feminizing hormones? Is this just a pause, after which I will start them again? Does it really matter whether I continue to take the hormones or not? Perhaps the more important question is how I will present myself to the world in the coming years. Will I want, or need, to present as a woman? Or as a man? Or as a person who decides on a day-by-day basis how I will look? Or as an androgynous person, with overtones of male, but with more personality in terms of hair, color, style, and jewelry? I understand these questions are important not only for my peace of mind, but because of the impact on those special people I hold dear. There is no question in my mind, nor in the minds of the doctors, psychiatrist, and psychologists I have consulted. I do have GID—gender identification disorder. GID results in a person’s feeling uncomfortable with the sex of their birth. But GID comes in many flavors, from a vague uneasiness that is never diagnosed to a terrible hatred and revulsion toward the body entrapping the opposite gendered mind.
“I remember going through a period where I was not sure whether I was a transsexual or not. I have come to the conclusion that transsexualism involves not only wanting to be of the opposite sex, but also not wanting to be of my birth sex. Many people have shades of another gender – but to me it seems the determining factor for me is that I hate being a “man.””
The quotation comes from an email from Jill recently posted on a gender-related discussion group. Jill has chosen to live full time as a woman and has completed sexual reassignment surgery. I am uncomfortable with my body, but I fall short of total revulsion with it. Okay, but why do I like to wear women’s clothes (yes, I still have that feeling)? I don’t really know, though it may be as simple as an outer expression of my inner femininity. But what are women’s clothes? Throughout my life, I have been aware that I am “different” from most people who have male bodies. I have not and still do not like to do many of the things that “real” males seem to want to do. But there are many male things I do like: football, fishing, winning, for example. And I like many “feminine” things: fashion, relationships, and the arts. If you think about these “male” things, you may realize that we are really talking about our culture, today’s American culture. Our culture determines what is appropriate for men and women to do; and we blindly assume that determines what makes real men and women happy. After all, everything has to be either pink or blue, right? Until I started studying gender, I assumed that pink always was for girls and blue always was for boys. But this is really a relatively recent assignment for,as you probably know, until the early 1900’s, pink was considered by most Western cultures to be a very masculine color, while baby blue was reserved for girls. You know that even today there are cultures where only women wear pants and only men can wear flowing dress-like garments? Do you remember that in the 17 and 1800’s, fashionable men, and men of wealth and power, kept their hair long and curly, wore form fitting satin and lace clothes, teetered on high heeled shoes, adorned their face with makeup and patches and put bows in their hair? Nothing stays constant. The sexes continually steal their modes of expression and adornment from each other. Perhaps this is evidence that there really is a continuum between the sexes and genders. In truth, I believe that the range of physical forms, from huge mountains of men to the smallest and frailest woman, is paralleled by the spectrum of genders. And we now know that the gender of the brains inside these widely varying bodies does not always match. I have never really hated this male body, though at one point I tried to make myself believe I did. I must admit, I like the body I have now (losing 15 pounds and firming up will make it even better). It is a combination of male and female, pink and blue, yin and yang. I cannot say I will not, at some point want to go forward with a transition to living as a woman. Right now, I understand that a male presentation will make it easier for me to find and achieve my true calling. I make a fairly good looking male, and I have grown in these last six months to feel much better about my male presentation. I am confident I look good when I present as a male and I know confidence will be important until I get established in my calling. Perhaps this confidence comes from the fact that I have lived as a male for almost 53 years, while I have presented as woman at most a total of a few days. Over time, I plan to learn about my feelings about my presentation by finding safe opportunities to experience life presenting as a woman. But what does all this really mean for my future? Who am I? What will I do for the next half of my life? Dr. Frederick says I will be myself, no matter how I present to the world, and that I will find a way incorporate all of “me” into my calling. I’m beginning to understand what she means. She gave me a metaphor to help me understand my mistake in thinking everything in life was coded ether pink or blue. It is a jigsaw puzzle with pieces that were colored according to the plan for my soul that is now unfolding. There are some pink pieces and blue pieces, but there are many more pieces of a thousand other colors. I have the ability to choose the pieces for my solution and find that they fit together in more than just one pattern. I can decide how to place them and I will know when I have it right. She told me last Monday afternoon that the picture that I am painting with the puzzle pieces is coming into focus for her. It is not yet complete, but she sees that the edges are indeed pure pink and blue, but I have mixed them in the center into a beautiful purple that occurs at dawn as the sun begins to push aside the darkness. And there are flashes of other colors, greens, reds, gold, that hint of something good yet to come. Stephanie, this letter does not fully answer your concerns, for it is not finished. As I go forward, I will find a way to communicate my future, my calling and my heart. I will always be your dad, always love you, always help in any way I can, and always be your friend. Dad