WHO IS THIS “LESLIE”?

I am a child of the 60’s. I remember my mother crying as she picked me up from school one terrible Friday afternoon.  My mom never cried, well almost never, but she was really upset. I asked her what was wrong and the said: “Honey, somebody shot the president.”

The 60’s were an interesting time to be a kid. My parents were much older than the parents of my peers and had a maturity and patience that others didn’t. Both were dyed in the wool Republicans but remarkably progressive in many ways. One thing for sure, I knew I was loved. I had a brother a year and a half my junior and he also was the apple of my parent’s eyes.

Growing up, we were encouraged to seek our own path. My dad always said “Son, you can do anything you want, if you want to do it badly enough.”

Yeah well, he was referring to things like being the President of The United States. THAT was possible he said., reiterating: “ANYTHING was possible.” I thought to my little boy self (insert thought bubble here) “Except THAT.” (“THAT” was being the little girl I KNEW I was. THAT was impossible.) It didn’t stop me from trying though.

No, I wasn’t one of the girls that in an act of desperation attempted to correct what biology had given them. No, I went straight to the top. I prayed to God every night that he would let me wake up in a body that matched what my brain told me I was. They say God answers all prayers, He just doesn’t always say “yes.” No deal. Every night, my mom or dad would poke their head in my room and ask me if I said my prayers. I’d answer: “Yes.” I just didn’t tell them what I was praying for.  I was 5 years old.

If you love the show “Mad Men” and the era – you will love this shot of my mom and dad.

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My parents passed away before I could tell them about the daughter they never really knew they had. No, they didn’t die a tragic death when I was young, thus depriving me of the ability to tell them. My dad died when I was 29 and my mom 5 years later. I just lacked the courage to say the words. That’s sad. The closest I was able to come was when I was about 6. I was watching my mom iron shirts in our comfortable suburban house. I screwed up my courage and asked her what my name would have been if I had been born a girl. She stopped ironing, looked at me and said: “We were going to name you “Leslie.” Then she resumed ironing and neither of us brought it up again. This was 4 years before Woodstock and there was no handbook for “How to come out to your parents.”

Since all I had in the way of siblings was a younger brother, I had no access to girls clothes. A few times I asked my mom if I could wear a dress of hers and she obliged.  I don’t know what she thought. Maybe that I’d grow out of it? Well mom, I grew INTO it!

If you really want my whole life story, buy the book…well it’s not quite done but trust me, it’s a really interesting book…or will be.  When it’s finished. So, I’ll give the “Cliffs Notes.”

I married at age 20. (Surely THAT would quell these feelings inside of me.  Nope) While I love my (Now ex) wife completely, there was a restlessness inside. Sometimes quiet, other times shouting. When she would visit family or if she was away from home for a reliable amount of time, I tried on her clothes. I always stayed slender so I could squeeze into her size. Some things I couldn’t wear, shoes in particular. She had a lot of cute shoes but was a women’s size 9. I was a women’s size 12. Sorry Charlie. This went on for many years.

I had 2 daughters 6 years apart. I love them with every ounce of my being.  I’ve always felt pretty close to my oldest, even though we would sometimes argue. My youngest was, for me, a challenge. Nobody knew why except me. See, my youngest was a very girly girl. She was drop dead beautiful and dressed so cute. She was the embodiment of what I wanted my childhood to be.  It’s hard when a father looks to his daughter as a role model.  So I put some artificial distance between us because this was just too close to the real me.

Today, we are closer than ever and we have talked about this.

My wife saw the rumblings along the way but misread them. She figured there was another woman and I suppose she was right in that the other woman was ME.

I finally came out in July of 2012.  It was a long time coming but once I said the words, there was no “Un-saying” them.  Everyone’s reaction to this news is different, yet many are similar. Hers started with: “Is THAT all it is? I’ve suspected that for a long time!” Whew! I thought. Then she asked if I was gay. I hadn’t thought about that. Was I? Did it matter? What was gay? If I liked guys and I am a girl, that’s not gay right? But I still have male plumbing. If I was attracted to women and I am also female, I guess that makes me a lesbian. I found that labels break down pretty fast around the Trans community…it is just too confusing and doesn’t really matter, does it?

In Texas where I live, the law permits me to fully transition to female and continue to be married to my wife with all the rights and privileges accorded a married couple. But if I divorced her, it would be illegal to re-marry her. I could, however, marry a man after surgery. It’s all very confusing and makes no sense.  DOMA made no sense.

Anyway, back to my wife’s reaction to the news…

She was very supportive, enthusiastically so. We went shopping for clothes for “Leslie.” She sat me on the tub in our bathroom and brought out her make-up case. She worked me over for about 45 minutes then had me sit while she disappeared. She came back with a longhaired wig, which she placed on my head and styled. At last she said: “Go look.”

I stood and moved to the mirror above the sink and looked. I stared at “her” and “she” stared at me. For maybe 30 seconds I stared silently and then burst into tears.  I cried hard, heavy sobs before pulling myself together. This was the first time in my life I ever saw myself as something remotely close to what I felt like and KNEW I was on the inside. For someone who has never had this feeling or can’t relate to it, I have no adequate words to describe the feeling.  My wife then took my picture. It was my 54th birthday.

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This acceptance lasted a week or maybe 10 days. My (ex) wife was a voracious researcher and consumed everything she could get her hands on regarding Transgender people, cross-dressers or bi-gender.  Once she saw what transition was like, she sank into a deep depression.  She could not fathom the man she married taking female hormones and growing breasts…among other things. She told me: “I’m not a lesbian! I married a man.”  I said: “I AM a lesbian and I’m the same person I’ve always been inside.”

Slowly but surely we drifted further and further apart. In January of 2013 I filed for divorce, ending our 33-year marriage.

It’s not all tragedy. There are many, many joyous times, but make no mistake, just about every Transgender person’s transition is littered with heartache and loss.

The tremendous pain we experience and sense of loss is part of what makes me roll my eyes at those that want to deny us the right to use a public restroom matching our gender presentation, calling us perverts or saying our gender identity is a “choice.”  The sheer ridiculousness of that argument makes me want to both laugh and cry.

Let me explain:  As of today, I have been “out” as a Transgender woman for a year and a half.  I have been taking female hormones for 10 months. My last blood test showed I have the blood chemistry of a natal female. My Testosterone level is “4” By comparison a normal male is between 325 and 1,200.  I have breasts that are growing still but now almost fill a “B” cup.  The hormones are fairly expensive. About $215 a month and NOT covered by insurance.  I have been living my life completely as Leslie 24/7 for a little over 7 months. My “down there” is almost completely inactive. I am sterile.

Many people confuse gender identity and sex – or sexual preference. The best explanation for describing the difference I’ve heard is:

Sexual preference is who I go to bed WITH.  Gender identity is who I go to bed AS.

It’s just not the same thing.

As I write this, my beard has 4 days growth on it because I have en electrolysis appointment tomorrow where they will give me something like 60 Lidocaine  shots in my face to numb the pain and then 2 women will zap my face by sticking a needle into each hair follicle. Depending on the person there may be as many as 10,000 – 15,000 follicles on the face and EACH ONE has to be killed. Sometimes more than once by inserting a needle into the follicle and electrifying it, making it very hot. It flash boils the growing follicle and kills it and the surrounding stem cells. The hair is then removed with tweezers.  15,000 times! It’s painful and costs about as much as a Hyundai. It can also take many visits over the course of 2 years. (So I’m sitting here looking very female in clothing,  the marvelous results of hormones and make-up and 4 days of beard growth. I look hideous and won’t be leaving the house.) That’s just hair removal.

Next is what is called FFS or “Facial Feminization Surgery.” This is also painful and expensive. It can run $30,000 or more and isn’t covered by insurance. Yes, break my nose please, shave my trachea, shave off the bony brow above my eyes and pull my whole scalp forward so my hairline is more feminine. Vanity? Hell no. How about employability and personal safety?

Then there is the SRS or “Sex Change” surgery.  First, you need electrolysis “down there” (Yippie!) before the doctor goes to work. While the testicles are removed, the penis is not. It’s basically turned inside out and becomes your shiny new clitoris and vagina. This runs about $25,000 – $30,000 and is not covered by insurance. It takes months to fully recover.

So to re-cap: Transgender people make a DECISION to spend nearly $75,000 dollars in extremely painful non-covered medical procedures, risk and most often lose their relationships, jobs and friends. In my case, add house to the list, all so we can LISTEN to other women going to the bathroom? Are you insane?

So, why would we go through all of the pain, emotional trauma and hideously expensive medical procedures?

It’s THAT important to be who we are. Well, you say, not everyone can afford that. True. Maybe that has a little to do with the fact that the suicide rate for pre-op Transgender people is 25 TIMES the national average.  OK, that and the verbal and physical abuse heaped on anyone who is different. This often starts very early.

But there is good news. Just today I read about a camp for non-gender conforming kids to explore who they are without judgment or fear. I love that. Wish I had a camp like that when I was a kid. We are winning some battles.  A young Transgender child in Colorado and another in Maine recently won the right to use the proper restroom in school. Think about that.  When was the last time you even gave a thought to using a public restroom? Any concern was probably hygiene related, not “Will I be “read,” harassed, attacked or arrested?

AB 1266 which granted these rights is being fought tooth and nail in California by the religious right. Reprehensible.

The U.S. Senate recently passed ENDA providing Transgender individuals the same employment rights as everyone else. Hope it passes the House and becomes law, because as it stands, we can be fired just for being Transgender in 36 states. Yep. In 2013. (But John Boehner has pledged to keep that from happening)

I don’t want this to sound like “Poor us.” It’s not. I’ve never been happier. I face every day with a smile.  No house, no wife, no job, no problem. Ok, I’m not thrilled with all of that, but neither would I change it. I’m learning how to endure great loss with no regrets. There is a lot we need to let go of. But it’s when we let go that we can truly fly and that freedom has never tasted so good.

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4 Responses to WHO IS THIS “LESLIE”?

  1. Jessica Hightower says:

    Very well written. I enjoyed reading it very much!

  2. Esther says:

    Love you Leslie.

  3. Mary says:

    Very insightful. Why would someone “choose” to pay $75,000 to have the “privilege” to wait in the long lines for the Women’s restroom? Point is, it’s not a choice, it’s who you are. You go girl!

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