Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Socially Distant

We're 6 weeks into all the "social distancing" that is meant to flatten the curve and blunt the spread of Coronavirus.  Each of us is finding our own way to cope with the isolation that is needed to pull this off.

I don't find social distancing difficult.  I've actually felt socially distant for years in some very real ways.  I'd argue that being trans and having to hide a significant portion of ourselves builds some very effective distancing techniques which, learned as children and used through adulthood, become almost second nature.  I actually find it harder to overcome those - even to this day - than the opposite.  My world is  a relatively small, self-enclosed one so being social can be more of a challenge than the inverse. 

The hardest part for me in any of this is the physical barrrier between me and my mom.  I'm not going to wallow in self-pity over the disruption in my every day life because I've actually got it pretty good.  I've got a job.  I've got a paycheck.  I can pay my bills.  I'm not drifting aimlessly like some of my friends who don't have those things and don't know when they'll get them are having to do.  But it's the physical distancing that robs me of time with my almost 91-year-old mom that bothers me most.  That's time we can't get back.

I think about life "after" this.  I can see some dark times ahead as people begin to emerge from isolation with the spectre of a second wave, or of contaminating one another.  This next phase will either be too fast or too slow depending on who you ask.  I was talking with a friend yesterday who's measuring coming out based on when there's a vaccine available.  In all honestly, I'm not willing to wait that long to re-engage with the world. 

I've argued in the past that Gender is a purely social construct.  It provides a set of roles and expectations for people based on their physical sex, and is the most visible and enduring outward expression of it.  I've sometimes wondered if people who are trans in one culture would be trans in another, where gender is expressed in significantly different ways.  Regardless, I find the lack of social interraction to be an interesting study in gender expression.

Typically speaking, I still enjoy doing my makeup in the morning.  My entire ritual from getting in the shower to walking out the door can take upwards of an hour if I take my time, which I strive to do as it's MY time of the day.  However, much of that isn't happening right now.  I suppose I could do it just for the fun of it or to keep some consistency but for the moment my world is confined to my bedroom, my kitchen, my living room, and my office.  I guess I'm at a place where I don't need to express my gender to myself. 

I've been struck by some of what I'm seeing on Facebook.  It reinforces to the nth degree the thanks I feel that it didn't exist during my transition.  My transition was the single-most personal thing I've ever done.  It was something I needed to do for me, and wasn't open fodder for judgement, input from people who didn't have skin in the game, or uninvited guidance.  I didn't need external validation (or criticism) to tell me what to do. And I knew that, at the end of the day, the deeper lesson I needed to learn was to (a) to trust my gut and (b) to be able to filter out noise from others (both positive and negative).

If I were to psychoanalyze myself - that's part of the root of my social distance.  It's a good thing and a bad thing - kind of like fire.  I think it protects me but it also continues to keep me from allowing most people to get too close.  If that's not the definition of Social Distance, I don't know what is.

The reason that this is so pertinent right now is that today is the anniversary of the day I called off my transition.  It's a long story and this day, in 1998, played a key role in so many things.  In my journal I wrote something that I still believe to this day:  "I think jumping in feet first into deep waters and trying to swim has shown me things I could not have learned any other way. I'm just glad to get out of the pool before drowning."

Little did I know that I'd be headed back into the deep end again less than two months later.  But that time, there would be no turning back.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Perfect Scores Masking Critical Inadequacies and Failures in Trans Wellness

I had a routine follow-up visit with my surgeon earlier this week to assess healing from my procedure 3 weeks ago.  The good news is that the discomfort is mostly gone, although there still a teeny bit of bleeding.  We were all very happy with progress.

The visit led to a broader discussion that I was much less happy about.  The main thrust of the conversation is that many companies and insurance policies don't provide adequate support for trans employees, don't seem to want to understand the shortcomings, and at the end of the day may be doing more harm than good.

Let's start the discussion with recognition that transpeople often have special needs and issues when it comes to overall wellness.  That's a broad statement, and I could spend an hour expanding on it.  However, for the purposes of this discussion recognition of that singular reality is key.  It has been getting more and more visibility in recent years (Here's an example) but for those of us living these realities none of this is new news.  The problem for a generation of us, and still for many (if not most) transpeople today, involves paying to address these needs.

Thankfully, the medical community is aware and actually provides some good guidance for companies looking for it (here's an example from the AMA).  But that doesn't mean things are better for the bulk of us.  If you read the statistics in this 2019 paper it tells a very dangerous but real story.  These are our issues, and those thinking that our insurance coverage will help us to address some of them can be in for a very frustrating, angry awakening.

In order to put this into context I need to bring us back 15 years or so ago.  A few of us were beginning to do the initial legwork needed to build the business case for insurance coverage for trans wellness.  Most people from my generation had to pay cash for everything - nothing was covered by insurance - which made most of these procedures outside the realm of possibility for many who wanted/needed them.  As a result, there was a small group of specialists whose main focus was to support our community.  If you went to any HBIGDA conference (now WPATH) the numbers of medical specialists and clinicians was in the low hundreds, and it felt very much like a community.

In those early days people like Mary Ann Horton, Andre Wilson, Dr. Jamison Green, myself, and a few others began to demonstrate that the cost to companies for removing exclusions preventing trans employees from accessing needed healthcare was far less expensive than thought by collecting data and presenting it.  A key source for that data was the City of San Francisco, which was the first large agency go provide insurance benefits for trans employees in 2001.  Details here.

As the actual costs became easier to identify, one of the next problems to overcome was within the insurance industry itself and the lack of diagnostic codes to explain the various procedures that are broadly contained under the "Gender Confirmation Surgery" umbrella.  At the time there were two diagnostic codes: one for MTF procedures and the other for FTM procedures.

The biggest problem becomes apparent very quickly when you consider that a transwoman might have a vaginoplasty and it could be covered.  However, when she went back to the second step - the labiaplasty - it was denied because she was told that she already had that procedure.  The problem is even worse for FTM patients where top and bottom surgeries are often a progression of procedures that gradually lead to a desired end result.

Thankfully, a few key medical practitioners were supportive of this move for better codification of the actual procedures involved and helped to develop a more accurate set of diagnostic codes.  That was key before broader insurance coverage could have the real value it needed to have.

The third piece of this was the HRC Corporate Equality Index.  Jamison and I were on the Business Council and were approached about adding Trans Wellness criteria for the first time.  Up to that point trans elements of the CEI focused on adding "Gender Identity and Gender Expression" to a company's EEO policy, having a defined transition policy, and training that included trans topics.  Trans wellness was a whole new ballgame and there was concern that adding too much too quickly would make it impossible for employers to make the changes needed to maintain their perfect scores.

There was concern that if we did this wrong scores would go down and the message would be "Corporate Support for LGBT Employees is Declining" when in reality it was simply a cause and effect of raising the bar significantly.  To HRC's credit, we worked long and hard on getting it right (Samir Luther is one of the unsung superstars of this work.)

When we first rolled it out we did it gradually.  Companies only had to have 3 of 5 criteria to receive a perfect score.  We took some flack for that because some in the trans community wanted them all.  But the more pragmatic approach was to help companies understand what was being included and why, and helping them to get there.  In the end, that's what happened.

The key to all of this was to have at least one plan where exclusions that had been barriers for transpeople to access benefits were removed.  Many felt that would open the door for transpeople to get the services they need.  In fact, in many cases the opposite has happened.

That's the background.  Let me provide some real-life, current-day examples of significant issues.

Let's consider the situation where a transman went for upper surgery, and the "mastectomy" was covered.  However, the re positioning of the nipples was not.  Fail.

In the old days some companies removed barriers but put a cap on the amount of money an employee could spend.  Often times these caps were unrealistic.  Thankfully, many companies ended up removing these caps but apparently they're coming back now.  As a result, transmen working for a company with these caps can receive top surgery but adding bottom surgery would put them way over the cap.  As a result, it would need to be out of pocket.  In once recent situation a patient needed to make a decision about having a significant procedure, or having an anesthesiologist.  Having both put the cost above the cap.  Fail. 

Even when a company covers the procedure, the policy often dictates how many days in the hospital they will cover.  We discussed a company that limits the nights in the hospital after SRS to 1.  Doctors traditionally recommend 7 or more.  Taking an SRS patient out of the hospital the day after surgery opens the door to all kinds of dangerous, potentially live-threatening complications and demonstrate complete misunderstanding of what is involved in these procedures.  It's like telling someone who has a heart transplant that the insurance will cover 1 night in the hospital.  Fail.

Many insurance policies exclude procedures they identify as "modifications or revisions".  It could easily be argued that many procedures required to achieve the necessary end result is often not one procedure, but are a series of procedures that are staged and necessarily need to happen one after another.  However, as doctors seek pre-auth approval for these procedures they get denied because the insurance company won't accept the fact that they are stages of completion.  They qualify them as "revisions" and as a result deny them.  Fail.

One of the things that has happened is that with all the insurance coverage more and more doctors have gotten in the business of doing trans-related procedures.  Frankly, many of these people are not qualified to be doing this work.  Regardless, when it comes to seeking an in-network provider vs an out-of-network provider the limitations become real barriers in and of themselves.  Unless you've got someone who's really qualified in network, you can have a hundred people who aren't and you're worse off by choosing one of them.  Cheaper is NOT better in this very specialized field, so choosing the right surgeon is absolutely critical to a healthy and satisfactory outcome. Fail.

And then, when you do end up with one of those doctors you often find that the end result is unsatisfactory, or filled with health-related complications.  Fistulas.  Ongoing bleeding.  Infections.  Urinary tract issues.  Functional issues.  One doctor reported that upwards of 45% of his patients required follow-up procedures.  And do you think that a patient would go back to that doctor to fix what they didn't do right the first time?  Usually not.  Lack of recognition of this is a health risk and a danger to transpeople who can't get past the "modification or revision" exclusion.  Fail.

What about those of us who transitioned years ago and didn't have procedures because either we didn't need them at the time or couldn't afford them.  We need them now, but find ourselves facing denials on a variety of fronts.  I won't go into some of the issues I just dealt with  other than to say that once you experience some of this personally it all gets very real.  It got real for me.

My insurance policy said I needed two letters from therapists to have any surgery "down there".  Are you kidding?  Therapists?  This requirement is loosely based on the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) requirement that the doctor obtain two letters before doing SRS.  However, companies are reading some of the basic elements from the SOC, mis-interpreting them, and then applying them to their coverage requirements.  There needs to be more recognition of the unique nature of the situation, not a one-size fits all "rule".  Fail.

What I've just outlined is just the tip of the iceberg.  It doesn't get the visibility it needs because there's no central forum to put or share our individual experiences.  As a result, the prevailing sense that companies are supporting trans people by covering trans wellness procedures to the point needed to achieve a 100 score on the CEI is all anyone has to go by.  The real-life, dangerous, health issues under that facade don't get the awareness that they need in order to change them.

I just experienced this first hand.  The procedures I needed were denied on the Friday before they were scheduled to happen the following Tuesday.  It was due to an emergency peer-to-peer discussion between the surgeon and a doctor for the insurance company that ONLY A PORTION of what we needed to do was approved.  Despite what this surgery was going to do the insurance coverage would only cover it as an "outpatient" procedure so I had to check out of the hospital within 24 hours.  The fact that it happened at all was testament to heroic intervention that I don't think all of us have.

This is the beginning of this conversation.  I plan to make it my mission to get more data, to get more real-life stories, and to bring what we NEED to bear on what we're getting.  I don't care about political climate, what's happening in our government, or anything outside the context of bringing more visibility and information to these issues the same as we did when we originally started.  Without shedding light on it, it won't just change by itself.  And I daresay that more brothers and sisters will die either from lack of care, bad care, or refusal to seek care.

We can't allow that to keep happening....

Sunday, June 2, 2019


Dear Blog,

It sounds odd to say that I've got a routine when things always seem to be in flux in my world.  But I do have a routine.  It may not BE routine, and it may not be necessarily consistent, but it's my routine.

In that routine, Sunday is my favorite day.  During football season that reason is an obvious one, but for the rest of the year it typically involves hiking, spending quality time with the pups, cleaning a bit (I need help on that front), running errands.  It typically involves a shower (after the hike) and a nap (after the shower). 

It's interesting to me to see how our lives feel anchored around these kinds of routines.  My mom, for instance, has one of the most rigid routines that I know.  At 3-months shy of 90 years old, she's very busy and active and I think that her routine is part of the reason she's doing so well.  For example, even though I was in Dallas on Friday she attended her Tues/Fri senior dance.  She said they had 165 people there and it provides an opportunity for her to exercise, socialize, and just plain get out.

My life doesn't lend itself well to that kind of structure.  It hasn't for a long time now.  There was a time when I tried to force my life into routine because for many routine=comfort.  I learned that I'm not built that way.  For me, extended routine=bored=need change.  I think it's important to explain that, especially given the fact that I just interviewed for a job on a whole other continent that would upend my life significantly.

That said, the one thing that does remain a driving force for me is Balance.  Balance to me may not be balance to anyone else, but through all these comings and goings and all the years it's really importance to realize the constant sense of Balance I feel remains a driving force.

Someone on FB today posted about this being their first PRIDE, and the first time they'd been out as their true selves.  She talked about continuing feelings of shame, and of her difficulty at being identified as a transwoman despite the fact that these were the most inclusive and supportive surroundings she could imagine. 

I remember those days.  Actually....I don't.  I remember my first PRIDE, my introduction to an LGBT world that until that point was totally foreign to me.  I remember the early shame.  But the thing I remember most was getting to a point where I just didn't care.  I was living my life on my own terms and couldn't afford to let the judgement of others dictate how that would play out.  That focused mindset is as true now as it was then.

I've been doing some interviews lately.  A couple of months ago there was a Bloomberg Business Week article that I was in.  I did another for Phoenix Business Journal article that will be coming out in a couple of weeks.  It feels a little odd to be doing these again because all the stuff they ask is like ancient history to me at this point.  Still, I think one of the things I represent (or at least I like to think I do) is that Life As Trans doesn't have to suck.  It sure does for many of us, and so many things still need to change, but it all gets back to the Balance thing. 

Most days I don't even think about it.  But the fact is that I never want to forget it.  It's part of who I am.  It's part of what makes me me.  I've never wanted it to define me, to be all of me.  But I don't want it to be none of me, either.

As I get older, though, I'm reminded of it more and more.  Aging as Trans is a thing.  I never even stopped to consider it when I was just starting, but now that I'm here I've never been more aware that we've got unique needs, unique considerations, unique anatomies.  I suspect that I'll have a lot more to say on that subject as time goes on.  But for now, it's just an awareness and I'm focused on sharing that in the circles where I travel.

I've got a follow-up appointment with Dr. Meltzer tomorrow.  My surgery with him was nearly 3 weeks ago, and I'll be honest in admitting that today was the first really pain-free day I've experienced.  For all intents and purposes I had a labiaplasty but I suspect I'll get into that more in a future installment.  Part of the challenge was finding some skin to provide the tissue, so I've got a long incision along my belly to recover from as well.  But there are some big stitches deep in some of the folds that have been hurting with all the sitting I've been doing.  I think the difference has been that, today, I haven't been doing much sitting. 

As I type this I've got three tired dogs sleeping by my feet.  They are my family.  They make me laugh.  I talk with them.  Doing things with them fills my days.  The fact that two of them are a dozen years old and very much showing the signs of their age fill me with dread and the terror that comes with imagining life without a life companion brings.  I've already decided that when they pass, and when I pass, that our ashes should be mixed together.  These are the quiet days that come with the kind of routine I mentioned at the outset.  If this could be the routine for the rest of my life, I'd die a happy person.



Thursday, May 30, 2019

Talent Pleases Itself

Dear Blog:

Hello dear friend.  I apologize for my failed attempts to stay in touch over these past several years.  I can't really put my finger on a single cause or reason so suffice to say that I'm really, really, really going to try to do better.  As I logged in to create this entry I was unsure if you'd even remember me, but here we are.

Lots happens.  I realize that's a mouthful but it's nothing new for me but perhaps that's one of the reasons we've drifted apart.  It's not an excuse so much as a simple fact.  However, I'm feeling like we're about to get closer again.  The tides of life come in and go out on a regular basis, and I'm sensing that the tide is rising.  Again.

I also realize that we've got lots of catching up to do.  As I type this I'm in an airplane over northern Ontario, a little more than halfway between London and Dallas (the screen says we're 1,444 miles out and 34,000 feet in the air).  I've been fairly vague about the reasoning for this quick trip, but truth be told it was for an interview.  I've applied for a role at AA that would be based out of London and have progressed to the bonus round.

I typically enjoy job interviews.  I realize that may be uncommon but I've done more of them in my life than I care to remember and I just generally like them.  At AA it's a very formal process, which is fine, and I find that we're both actually interviewing each other.  They just get to ask more questions than I do.  But still - that was the reason for the trip.  Shhhh - it's not public knowledge yet.

Lots would need to happen in order for me to get this role.  Some of which I control (like applying for it, and yesterday's interview) but much of what I don't.  I'll expand more on that if we get to that point but I'm told that decisions will be made after the interviews are wrapped up next week.  All I know is that I feel good about how things went.  The rest will play itself out as it will.

I've worked for American Airlines since the beginning of 2016.  I actually moved back to Phoenix to take a contract there and found it very much to my liking.  After being there 6 months they asked if I'd be interested in coming onboard as an FTE (Full-Time Employee) and I accepted.  I've worked in the same group, in a variety of capacities, since starting there and am feeling a bit restless.  I suspect I'll have more to say on that sometime soon, as well.

As I prepared for my interview yesterday I couldn't help but think back to my first job interview as Donna.  It was early 2000 and I had been approached by Dell to come to Austin to interview.  I remember calling some friends for advice on interviewing - I have never done it as a woman before.  Their advice focused on high heels, short black dresses, and the like.  That wasn't really the kind of advice I was looking for, but figured that all those things couldn't hurt.  I got the job, so I guess they were right.

I've gone to interviews that last an entire day.  Different people from different groups come to grill you about your experience, your background, your approach to different situations - it can be grueling.  Yesterday's experience wasn't nearly that expansive although I thought we covered quite a bit of ground. 

While in London I had to fulfill other obligations as well.  Jamison Green and I had been asked to present a condensed version of our Presentation for the 2018 Out & Equal Workplace Summit so we did that.  I had a 90 minute O&E Board meeting to attend, as well.  And, of course, there was keeping my ahead above water on my day job.  Given the 8 hour time difference, the brevity of the trip, and everything that needed to happen I'm comfortable that it all went well. 

My podcast partner, Diana, says there's a showbiz saying that, "Talent pleases itself."  That is, if you're doing something and you're satisfied with the way it goes then you can't really control anything outside of that.  Over these past few days, I pleased myself.

I won't go into much more at the moment other than to say I expect to be more present, more often, in the coming weeks and months.  I don't plan to share much of what I put here outside of this forum.  If anyone still reads it - that's fine.  If not, that's fine too.  When I started the Blog a long time ago I never expected anyone to check it and was shocked to learn otherwise.  That same mindset still applies.  The goal was, and is - that Talent Please Itself.

It's nice to be back.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Speed of Life

Last night the Commander and Chief of this country reiterated that transgender people will not be allowed to serve in the military.

This proclamation, which should have been a surprise to nobody, caused a wave of anger, frustration, indignation, and fiery backlash throughout my Facebook world.  Although disappointed, I don't feel that same level of emotion.  It's another skirmish in the culture war we've been fighting, and is yet another reminder why we fight it.

To be clear, I'm not complacent nor unaffected by all of this.  On the contrary.  It's just that when I'm focused one of the things I'm typically good at is blotting out emotional "noise" that tends to cloud that focus.  I know that about myself.  Otherwise I end up swinging at the wind and losing track of things I can actually affect.  This is one of those things.

I had a friend who was trans, and who served in the military.  She ended up attempting suicide because of the way she was treated.  She was successful on the second attempt, after the first attempt left her broken and hopeless.  The story of many of our trans brothers and sisters isn't simply one of honor on the battlefield.  It's of the battles that happen behind the lines - with their own military and their own government.  The end up as part of the body count, not from enemy fire but from "friendly" fire.  They become collateral damage.  Those stories rarely get told because there's nobody around to tell them.

I've got a lot happening in the next couple of weeks.  I joined the Board of Out and Equal late last year and we've got an event in San Francisco on Thu-Fri this week, preceded by an all day Board Meeting on Wednesday.  It's a very exciting time for the organization as the founding Executive Director recently retired so there a new captain at the helm.  They sent me my itinerary and my script for the brief speaking portion of this I'll be doing.  I'm sure I'll have more to say on this as it unfolds.

I fly back to Phoenix for a day - for Easter - before heading to Dallas for the balance of the week.  I've got offices in both Phoenix and Dallas and have made the commitment to spend the first full week of every month there.  Most of the engineers who work in my organization and our main body of management is there so I typically have meetings and other face-to-face things I can't do when I'm in Phoenix. 

From Dallas I fly to Miami for an American Airlines National Equality Board meeting on Friday.  Then I fly home to participate in the Phoenix PRIDE Parade.  I'm the President of the American Airlines PRIDE EBRG here in PHX so I've been coordinating that for weeks.  The parade is typically our largest event so it's quite the logistical feat to pull it all together.

And lastly, I have applied for a couple of new roles at American Airlines.  I've got an interview for one of them while I'm in Dallas.  I don't have much more to share on that at the moment other than I've made my peace with a number of things.  Peace is a good thing.

I do a weekly podcast called "The Deeper End".  It's a lot of fun to do.  This past week we tried something new - we had a group of 4 women as guests to discuss something at my podcast partner Diana felt would be a fertile topic.  It was.  The best part of it was getting to meet some new friends.  Anyway, we'll publish that in a couple of weeks once the editing is done.

Today I've got a meeting at Arizona State University to learn a bit about what's involved in pursuing an MBA.  Monday I've got a Board Meeting for One n Ten.  I need to finish my taxes.  The list of "stuff" going on is a long one.  But for anyone who knows me, it's just the speed of life for me.  I guess I'm used to it.  :)

Monday, March 12, 2018

One More Day

There was a time when I wrote a lot.  I mean, a LOT.  So much was happening in my life and I felt a need to express it in writing...every day. 

The value of my writing to anyone but me can be debated, but I'm comfortable that, as a collection, it still stands on its merit given the time it was written and my overall maturity.  That element - maturity - is a function of time and experience and I've see my fair share of both.  If nothing else, my writing is a valuable time capsule to myself.

I figure that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while so the more I wrote the more likely I was to express something that others were feeling, too.  That's not to say I'm right and anyone else is wrong.  It's actually the opposite.  It's recognition that our individual narratives do not necessarily align into some greater, universal, or even "common" story.  Each needs to be told and processed because if life has taught us anything it's that none of us truly is "the only one". 

It is indeed unfortunate that we sometimes create what I call a pack mentality.  That is, when anyone dares to speak out and says something that someone else disagrees with they become a target for attack.  Lord knows, I've been there.  But back to that maturity thing...I've long since passed a point of caring if anyone else agrees or not.  It doesn't invalidate what I think or what I write. 

All that is a long Introduction to the fact that I'm writing again.  I see things happening and feel things, and I feel compelled to write.  I'm closer to the end of my life's journey than the beginning and I feel that, alone, provides a unique perspective worthwhile of being added to the greater collective of our life experiences.  That faint candle has survived all these years and finally has something to share.  Again.  Or Still.

I read something last month and wanted to comment.  The following essay is the result:

I Didn’t Transition to Simply Survive, I Did It to Be Happy

Donna Rose
Jan 13, 2018

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about the broad spectrum of communities that comprise what many commonly refer to as the “Transgender Community” is a general acknowledgement that our varied narratives are as broad as our realities.  Those differences don’t invalidate them.  If anything, they serve as testament to those who follow that there are innumerable paths to the same destination…to becoming.

I recently read an article titled “I Didn’t Transition to Be Happy, I Did It to Survive”.  I transitioned from male to female nearly 20 years ago and as I read the article I found that the author and I share many of the unique elements that are often common to this journey.  There was much there that resonated.  However the core concept – that transition was about survival rather than happiness – did not, and it never did.  In fact, my own narrative is exactly the opposite.  I truly, truly transitioned to find two things – happiness, and peace.  Today, two decades later, I’m happy to say that I’ve had them both for a long time.

The specter of suicide across the Trans community is beyond alarming.  A 2015 study by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute reported that 41% of the almost 28,000 self-identified Trans respondents had attempted suicide at some point in their lives (compared with 4.6% of the general population).  Think about that….that’s not the percent who considered it; it’s the percent that actually attempted it.  Those numbers are terrifying.

I am not part of that 41%.  I feel no shame acknowledging that this journey was never one of life or death for me, at least not in the traditional sense.  I've never had my own gun in my mouth, or been in a car filling with its own exhaust and made a last minute desperate decision to live.  My heart truly hurts for those who have been there.  But one thing I know about myself is that once I allow myself to get there I've given myself permission to consider that as a reasonable option in other contexts.  That's a whole other conversation, but it's simply the long way of saying I've never been there.

When I found myself struggling I found focus by putting things in perspective.  I’ve seen people with far bigger problems than mine – people dealing with unimaginable physical and situational issues in their lives.  When compared to their challenges, mine seemed trivial to me to the point where I almost felt embarrassed.  If they could find ways to deal with their challenges then I could find ways to deal with mine, at least for one more day.  That concept - One More Day - made all the difference.  So, although there was lots of complex “stuff” going on in my head at the time, this was really simple for me.

The thing that provided the driving force during the difficult times was my pillar belief that Maslow’s concept of self-actualization requires inner peace.  Each of us has only one life to live and we don’t have to spend it being scared and miserable.  Peace, though, doesn’t always come easily.  It has a price, and I was about to pay it.    

I’m what some commonly refer to as a “mid-life transitioner”.  At almost 40 years old I was approaching the 20th year of happy marriage to a woman I very much loved.  I was the father of our teenage son.  I had a successful career and we had many of the trappings that pass for success in our culture – homes, cars, money, and “stuff”.  I easily lived the charade of being male and could probably have lived the rest of my life that way – unfulfilled – just as generations before me had done.   

My options at that stage of my life were gradually become clear to me.  I could begin taking baby steps to live fully, authentically, without regret.  Or not.  It was the choice to knowingly live a lie, or to shed the suffocating burden of that dishonesty.  It was the choice to accept things as they were, or to take action to affirm that there’s more to life than simply existing.  In all those contexts – the choice was clear.  The next biggest question was “How?”

As time passed I gradually built the inner courage it took to confront myself rather than run from myself.  I chose to acknowledge that I had the power to change my fate.  That change necessarily started with one monumental thing: Coming out….first to myself, then to others.  For many of us, THAT’S the choice, because once you do that other things will happen….things you can’t even envision or guess. 

The year was 1997 – a long time ago.  At that time there were two therapists specializing in transgender clientele in the Phoenix area and I started to see one of them.  I went every two weeks for almost two years, during my lunch hour at work, without any outward expression of who I am or who I knew myself to be.  Our sessions consisted of me talking for almost the entire time – I had a whole lifetime pent up inside me that needed to come out.  That seemingly simple act of articulating my fears, hopes, confusions, frustrations, needs, and dreams helped me get to know myself better.  They were a Godsend.

At that point I couldn’t even imagine transition or living as me, much less begin to plan for it.  Nothing could prepare me for what was to come.  It was joyous, terrifying, exciting, confusing and awkward – all at the same time.  I found comfort knowing that it was like a car alarm had been going off in my head for my entire life and I was finally making a conscious effort to silence it.  The farther I progressed, the more I realized that I was on the right track, that I could actually silence it.

By the time I was ready to share my hidden self with others my need for authenticity was greater than my sense of terror.  So I did it.  I came out.  To my wife, my son, my family, my work, my friends;  it was harder than I ever imagined.  I was acutely aware that once I came out I couldn’t un-come out, so regardless of what happened next my life from that point on was profoundly changed.  I had absolute faith that life after could be better than life before.

Reactions were immediate and intense.  My marriage collapsed.  My son didn’t want to see me.  I was rejected at work to the point I moved away to start a new life as generations before me attempted to do.  I was truly, truly alone for the first time in my life, a story that many of us know all too well.  But after the initial shock started to wear off things began to even out.  A new normal settled into my life.  A new, better me emerged from the debris of my old life and started to move on.   That car alarm in my head had faded to silence, and has been silent ever since.

That was almost 20 years ago.  Life since then has never been all Rainbows and Unicorns but I never expected it would be.  It has settled into a comfortable groove that’s far more satisfying and comfortable than my old life ever was.  I have a career I enjoy.  Relationships with my family, my son, and my dearest friends are deeper and more fulfilling than I could have imagined.  My comfort moving through the world as the real me is unconstrained and natural.  In short - my faith and patience have been rewarded to a level I could never have imagined when facing those early decisions.  I am keenly aware of my many blessings, and that it all started with Faith.

The concept that “I have always been a woman” has never resonated with me either.  I’ve certainly always been aware of the prominent female presence in my psyche.  My earliest coping mechanisms involved envisioning that there were two distinct people inhabiting this body, fighting for it.  One was unquestionably male and the other was unquestionably female.  The only question was whether or not I could give the female part of me permission to exist outside the deep, dark dungeons of my mind.  Over time, the harder I tried to prevent it the harder she pushed back.  Eventually I became dark and angry over the gradual realization that it would never go away.  The pathway to peace for me wasn’t to consider killing myself – it was to find a way to come to peace within myself, which I’ve done.  Over time I have come to embrace the unique opportunity to incorporate both my selves into a harmonious whole.

So am I happy?  Yes, I am.  I am truly, deeply, profoundly, authentically happy being this unique, generally well-balanced, sometimes self-actualized person I have come to be.  Perhaps recognition of that happiness has become keener over the years as the difficulties from those tumultuous times have faded in the rear view mirror of my life.  Regardless – the goal has been clear to me all along. Happiness was the goal, and goal acieved.

The goal for me has never been merely to survive.  And, by that measure, I’m finally truly living.....  One day at a time.