I was born in Long Beach, California, the first-born “male” child to parents who dearly wanted children. They named me “Jeff” after a family friend, a man who I would later work for many years down the road.
My childhood was pretty normal by the “Leave It To Beaver” (Google it) standards of the day, at least externally. On the inside of young Jeff, was the feeling that “he” was a “she.” I kept this to myself for the most part. No way could I express exactly what I was feeling for there was no script in 1965 for a child to tell his or her parents “I am not the gender you think I am.”
So, I hinted the best I knew how. I asked what my girl name would have been – “Leslie” – my mother said. I sometimes asked if I could wear a dress when playing. My mom obliged. I don’t think my dad ever saw me doing that, not that I hid it, I actually didn’t see it as unusual. But no discussion ever took place. That was probably a good thing because acceptance of and resources for transgender people then was just about nil. I probably would have been lobotomized.
So I grew up with a sort of duality that most people don’t have. Unconsciously, but consistently through the years I would refer to myself as “we.” My mom would ask what I was going to do today. I’d say “We’re going to the park.” She would ask who I was going with. “Just me” I’d say.
I’d say “We” to my dad and he would kid me by asking: “What? Do you have fleas?” Many years later, my wife would call and ask when I’d be home from work, I would say “We’ll be home in about half an hour.” She would ask who was with me. This was completely unconscious, never intentional. Matter of fact it was only my subconscious that would speak the word “we,” because Jeff guarded Leslie with his life.
“Jeff” & “Leslie” shared the same mind and body for over 50 years, but it was Jeff who took the lead. Jeff was a very sensitive child, unusual for most boys. Teachers often noted on that on report cards.
I studied other girls growing up, desperately wishing I could be one of them. To act and dress as they do. Their social interaction of rapid conversation, groups and laughter contrasted with boys that punched each other in the arm.
Through the years, Jeff learned how to act like a boy and then a man. He had a job to do. He had to protect his girls. 1st, his wife, who he married at age 20, and then 2 daughters, and always there was Leslie. She was in the background but silently watching, learning. Sometimes when we were alone, Jeff would let Leslie come out a little, usually trying on my wife’s clothes. But Leslie knew her place and it was not in the public eye. The pain of having to hide was kept hidden.
Jeff, on the other hand, thrived in the public eye. He was a good provider, working 30 years in the radio industry hosting a major market morning show and programming stations in cities like Sacramento, Dallas, Atlanta and Houston. He was as good a husband as he knew how to be. He tried his best to be a good dad to his daughters, who he adored. He worked hard for his employers, a work ethic passed down by a father who grew up during the Great Depression. Jeff was a good friend.
By 1995, Jeff had it all. A beautiful wife, 2 wonderful daughters, a big house in the mountains on 3 acres, a ski boat and good friends! Life was great! Why was I still restless?
The frequency of dressing in women’s clothes and secretly experimenting with nail polish and make-up increased; always in private. If Leslie were discovered, I believed I’d lose everything. So WHY would I even risk it? Could Jeff be willing to give up his life for Leslie?
It was about 4 years ago – April of 2009 that the first crack in the dam appeared. On a trip to the coast for our anniversary, my wife gave me a pedicure. When she finished, I found the courage to ask: “Aren’t you going to paint them?” I waited breathlessly before she called my bluff. “What color?” she asked…handing me a purple and a turquoise nail polish. I handed her the turquoise and said: “This one.”
I walked around town with turquoise toes all week. When I got home, another crack showed as I kept my toes painted – changing colors every few weeks.
Slowly at first, and then with increasing momentum, Jeff would take a step back and Leslie would show herself a little more.
Jeff was a mentor for Leslie. Protecting her from the brutal realities of a world that didn’t understand and keeping her safe, nurturing her slowly and allowing her to experiment.
The time finally came when Jeff knew that this duality that existed since birth had to end. “We” must become “Me” and “He” would become “She.” The sad part was, for Leslie to fully live, Jeff had to die.
Jeff wasn’t a scoundrel. There would be no tap dancing on his grave. His death would be selfless, even heroic. He was throwing himself on the “Gender Grenade.”
When it went off, Jeff was destroyed but not surprisingly, there was collateral damage everywhere. My marriage ended, I lost my home and I lost my job. My “You have everything” world had come crashing down and my protector and mentor was no longer there to help.
On April 11th of 2013, Leslie Michelle flew solo for the first time. The next month there was a clothing drive in Dallas to provide clothing to other transgender men & women. So I gathered up Jeff’s clothing and carefully folded them and placed them in my car. As I was gathering the last of it from my closet, I felt the tears coming, slowly at first and then hot and heavy, the sobs heaving my chest.
I stopped what I was doing and sat on the bed thinking about what was upsetting me so. I realized that I hadn’t really said “Thank You” to Jeff. Also I hadn’t really even said “Goodbye.” After all, I still carried his ID around everywhere. But it was then that I realized that Jeff had made the “Ultimate Sacrifice” for me. He had given his life so that I may fully live.
How do you thank someone for a selfless gift of that magnitude? What comes to mind are the final words of Captain Miller played by Tom Hanks as he lay mortally wounded speaking to Private Ryan he said: “Earn this. Earn it.” Meaning; live a life that is worthy of the sacrifice that was made to bring you through this alive. So that’s what I am trying to do as Leslie. Live a life in the years I have left that will validate and honor the extreme sacrifice made by Jeff. He was a good guy. I will never forget him.
My last formal goodbye to him was September 20th. My court date to legally change my name to Leslie Michelle McMurray was on that date. My driver’s license that has had Jeff’s name and photo on it has been surrendered in exchange for a new one. This time with an “F” where once there was an “M.” My credit cards, social security and car title all read “Leslie.” The last document to arrive was appropriately enough, my birth certificate, showing that my parents gave birth to a girl, Leslie Michelle McMurray. Jeff no longer exists except in my memory and that of family and long-term friends.
God bless you Jeff. Thanks for everything.