The voice of the New York City subways and other transportation in the region has come out as a transgender woman.
Bernie Wagenblast began living full-time as a woman at the start of 2023, having taken to social media to make the announcement. But she had known since childhood that her true gender was not the one she was assigned at birth.
On the WNYC podcast Death, Sex & Money, Wagenblast, now 66, said she recalled first feeling like a girl at age 4. “I remember clearly being at my grandmother’s house, sitting in front of her vanity, putting on some of her necklaces, and I think she had powder at her vanity and putting that on my face,” Wagenblast told host Anna Sale.
“It felt good. It felt natural. It felt like, why can’t I do this?” Wagenblast continued. “Um, I’m not sure when I first came across the, the impression that this wasn’t OK, but I think fairly soon I realized that this was not OK.”
Adolescence was difficult for Wagenblast, who grew up in a suburban town in New Jersey, but at age 13 she found support from a trans woman in a neighboring community. A newspaper had reported on Paula Grossman’s transition, and Wagenblast wrote her a letter and arranged to receive a call from her at a pay phone.
“She called me and I just for the first time ever shared with somebody how I felt and talked with someone who I knew could understand what I was feeling,” Wagenblast said on the podcast. Grossman was taking a risk in talking to a minor, and she ended up being fired from her teaching job because of her transition. They didn’t stay in touch, and Grossman is no longer living, but that one call meant a great deal to Wagenblast.
Wagenblast eventually went to college, married a woman, and had three daughters, all while living as a man, although she had told her wife about her feelings of gender dysphoria. Wagenblast had a career as a radio reporter, working for two of New York City’s most popular stations, and is now best known as the voice for announcements on the city’s subway and the AirTrain at Newark Liberty International Airport. The announcements are in what Wagenblast calls her “old voice,” very male-sounding. But she has seen a voice therapist to feminize her voice.
“That’s not important to all trans women,” Wagenblast said. “But because my voice has played such an important part in my life, that is something that is important to me personally.” She is considering using her new voice on two podcasts she hosts, Transportation Radio and Cranford Radio.
After their daughters were grown, Wagenblast and her wife talked to them about her gender identity. She and her wife have decided to separate, something about which Wagenblast prefers to give no details, out of respect for her wife’s privacy. “Bernie,” the name by which she’s long been known, is now her legal name; she pointed out that it fits her gender, as Bernie can be short for Bernadette.
Wagenblast eventually went on hormone therapy and late last year, on social media, announced plans to live full-time as a woman in the new year. “This would be an opportunity to say it in my own words,” she said. “That was what was important to me. I wanted this to be said in my own words and not for people to hear about it in quiet conversations with, oh, did you hear about Bernie Wagenblast, or something like that. I wanted them to have a chance to read it in my own words and hear what I had to say and why this was important.”
Listen to the podcast or read a transcript here.