I think of you every day and miss you so much. So many people have told me how much you meant to them. You made an enormous difference in so many people’s journeys. This week, in particular, as I thought about what would have been your 73rd birthday, I thought a lot about how badly I wish I could tell you about my own journey. I’ve thought about how to tell you this, and if you were still here, I would probably just call you on the phone and tell you, but I can’t do that now. So, I will just say:
I am transgender.
During your lifetime, I had thoughts that this might be the case, but I could not connect them to any kind of reality that made any sense. I remember daydreaming of being a girl as early as age seven. As I got older, I became angry at myself and the unfairness of a universe that had doomed me to be a boy and to become a man. These thoughts were not frequent or all-consuming, but rather, background noise that was easily dismissed as impulsive and not real or realistic.
When I lost a lot of weight in 2004, that was about being transgender. The thing that caused me to gain all that weight in the first place was a hatred of my own body, and a desire to hide from the world and keep people at arms’ length. When I finally rejected that attitude as unsustainable and lost the weight, I struggled with rationalizing why I was doing it. I told myself it was because I wanted to live – not to die at a young age from complications from obesity. However, once I had lost the weight, I remember thinking, “You lost all that weight, you can do anything you set your mind to. You can become a woman.” Immediately, I labeled that goal as unrealistic and that thought as dangerous and transient and dismissed them. I did not give another thought to these things until a couple years ago.
In mid-2018, I was out on a run. Running seems to be when I let my guard down and ideas are free to present themselves to me seemingly out of nowhere. On that particular day, as with so many others here in Colorado, the sun was shining, the weather was beautiful and warm. I remember seeing a woman out on her run, and she sort of resembled me. I thought, “You can look like that. Wouldn’t it be nice to be the person you haven’t allowed yourself to imagine?” Again, I dismissed this almost immediately as a spurious notion.
Then, you got sick and I forgot all about the box of puzzle pieces my brain kept trying to assemble for me. For eighteen months, I became more and more depressed. Then, the pandemic hit. Thank goodness you didn’t have to experience the pandemic. While your extensive experience with and passion for online teaching would have served you well in this environment (your online lecture material is still being used to teach your courses, still with record enrollments!) I think you probably would have been driven mad by not being able to go to restaurants, movies, the bookstore, etc.
Shortly after the start of the pandemic, I had decided that this thing was going to be with us for a long time, and I needed to get outside and get exercise, or I would also go nuts. I started running on the trails near our house, with a mask on. Something about the “social distancing” (a terrible Newspeak term) environment – masks, standing at least six feet apart in line, staying inside much of the time, felt liberating to me. It was liberating in the ways I imagine it is for many introverts like me. But, beyond that, there was something else. On the run, with a mask over my face, no one could tell I wasn’t a woman. Obviously that’s not true, but for some reason, this was the first sign to me that I had facial dysphoria. I decided that running was a safe place to start to come out as trans. I bought some women’s running clothes. Nothing too obvious or over the top. Nothing too colorful. It was still cold out in March, so I bought insulated leggings. I loved running in them- they kept my thighs from rubbing together and chafing, and were nice and warm.
Things progressed from there. I had to tell people. In May, I told Jill, Mom and Megan that I was non-binary, and they all took that quite well. And, it was the truth. I am not totally a woman and not totally a man. That’s what being non-binary is. I was emboldened by their support at that point, and continued to explore my gender more freely. I started buying more kinds of women’s clothes, trying them on when Jill wasn’t around, because I didn’t want to shock her. I had the biggest smile on my face the day I tried on a women’s button-down flannel shirt and jeans. I looked much more how I wanted to look. I bought makeup at Target. I clumsily applied that makeup and I kind of looked cartoonish, but it was so much closer to how I wanted to be, I smiled so much!
Eventually, I came out to Jill, Mom and Megan as transgender. I’m still non-binary, but I am clearly very transfeminine – want to be much more feminine in appearance and action than I have ever been.
This may be shocking. It was certainly shocking to me to learn this about myself. When my brain finally assembled all the puzzle pieces in July, I was distraught. How would I ever do this? Could I tell Jill? What would it do to my relationship with her? I love her so very much, and I don’t want to lose her. So, now she and I both have to figure out how to work through this. I hope we can, and I have to believe we can.
I am so sorry that I could not understand this earlier. In many ways, I wish I had listened to myself years ago, and not been afraid to see what the assembled puzzle looked like – mostly, because I feel like I’ve been hiding something from very important people. It hurts when this is suggested, probably because I feel like it’s true, as much as I know it’s not. What hurts the most is that I could not ever tell you about this while you were here with us. For that, I will be sorry for the rest of my life.
I love you, Dad. I hope you understand.