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Transamerica gets real

Transamerica gets real

Joanne_herman_1

In this first installment of The Advocate's exclusive new series, the author talks about how her wife, her gay male friends, and the movie Transamerica inspired her to reach out to you, our readers, to answer all your questions about being transgender, whether you were afraid to ask or not

On February 11 I buried my wife of 30 years. A sad day, for sure, but also a remarkable one. Remarkable because Barbara and I had lovingly stayed together in spite of my transition from male to female in 2002. And especially remarkable because those last few years before her death were some of our best.

I've been told that only 20% of married couples survive the transition of a spouse from one sex to another. Some do so "for the kids" but in the absence of any real relationship. Some actually do stay friends, but without intimacy. Yet Barbara and I had it all!

But that's little comfort to me today--I miss her so.

I have always been attracted to and been more comfortable being around women. When I was 7 I used to get together with the neighborhood girls and try on their clothes. Once my parents learned of that, they made it abundantly clear that what I was doing was terribly wrong. I don't fault them for that--they were just being good, responsible parents of the 1950s. But their admonishment was so clear that it sent me into a period of heavy denial that did not end until the late 1990s, when I first saw another transgender woman and realized I was not alone.

Soon after reaching the point in 2002 where I could no longer live as a male, I started pondering what transition would mean for my sexual orientation. It didn't take long to figure out that I still liked women, regardless. That discovery led to one of my more embarrassing moments when I said to Barbara, "I've got great news. I'm a lesbian!" I was positively excited because I thought this fact would allow us to stay together. But my excitement evaporated in a flash when Barbara replied without hesitation, "Well, I've got bad news, dear. I'm not!"

But Barbara worked hard to understand. Imagine my emotions on Valentine's Day, only a few weeks after I had told her of my plans to transition from male to female, when she sent me roses! I'm so glad Barbara did give it a try, because along the way she discovered that she actually wanted to be intimate with me in my changed anatomy. Perhaps she was bi after all?

A recent Associated Press article referred to the groundbreaking movie Transamerica as "more of a healing family comedy than a threatening exploration of transgender issues." I recently went to see the movie with some of the gay guys from my church (to my knowledge, I'm the only transgender member of the congregation). They were happy to go, and it didn't hurt that Kevin Zegers was the costar either.

Afterward, over dinner, I answered one question after another about the movie, about being transgender, and about me and my wife. I guess that was the "threatening exploration" part. Yet it struck me that the guys were curious, not threatened, and had never had anyone else around to talk to about this stuff.

It's a familiar story for me. It started when I joined the board of directors of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders [a Boston-based nonprofit organization that focuses on litigating cases to advance LGBT equality]. GLAD's lawyers had already scored several victories for transgender rights, but there had never been a transgender presence on the board. As GLAD's first trans board member I was surprised at how welcome I felt and, more important, how anxious everyone was to learn more. When I became the first transgender member of the board of trustees of the Point Foundation, an organization that had already given scholarships to transgender students, I felt warmly welcomed again. And I continue to feel welcome elsewhere.

All of which leaves me believing that there is a lot of healthy curiosity and interest in understanding transgenderism--and few easy ways to do so short of going to the library. So I'm going to try in succeeding columns to cover all of those questions that you were "afraid to ask" and to do so in bite-size chunks. I hope that, like Barbara, you'll stay with me.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Joanne Herman