Ten months have elapsed since my Document of declaration was written, and the changes in my life have been sweeping. First, as suggested in my new byline, my identity has been formally changed. On 1 June this year, Vern legally ceased to exist, becoming Lea in his stead. This was but one milestone in a whirlwind sequence of events.
In November, my course was set. I was committed to transition, come what may, and of course filled with trepidation, began the process of coming out at work. This was very tentative at first, and by the end of the year I had "outed" to just two people. Analyzing and digesting their reactions at great length, I formulated a painfully detailed plan for the purpose of being as absolutely correct and causing the least amount of disruption and pain possible.
It was not until May that I launched my plan: to announce in mid-to-late spring semester while everyone was here, and to change my presentation early summer session when many were out of town. This would allow some time for people to grapple with the abstract concept before being confronted with the in-your-face reality. And presenting myself as Lea first to the smaller summer community allowed me to devote more personal attention to help those needing it. According to my plan, the onset of fall semester would bring people back to a community which would have already become acculturated to Lea, thereby easing their introductions.
To summarize my transition at work in a word: fantastic. It has gone exceedingly well with no (as far as I am aware) negative reactions. This is not to say there has not been some substantial discomfort generated, but even this seems to have mostly dissipated. Typifying the best of reactions was a hand-written note from UNC's Chancellor Michael Hooker, "Dear Lea, I admire your courage, and I wish you well." That he could find the time to wish me well in his own time of trial was awesome, and I shall never forget it. Within a month, he had passed away, a victim of cancer.
Naturally as important to me as my career is my spouse Ina. This has been extremely difficult for her, and consequently for me. It would be too lengthy as well as inappropriate to go into details here, but I can say we have together worked through many difficulties, problems, and adjustments, and in spite of the angst and stress, we have both emerged the better for it, and with our relationship strengthened. The power of love is an incredible force, even with sex subtracted out, and it has seen us through the worst!
I have also come out first to my nuclear family, then to my extended family. Reactions are mixed but predominantly positive and none downright negative. The same can be said for those neighbors to whom I have come out, as well as those friends I can reach by email, or with whom I have otherwise communicated. Responses have ranged from, "Welcome aboard! One more good woman in my life is welcome news!" and, "I am awed. I am so grateful for your sharing - and I applaud you. … Congratulations, you are a beautiful woman." to, "I think you’re out of your cotton picken’ mind! … We females are considered second class beings…"
To the latter, I must agree that by no rational argument can I claim that what I am doing is anything but a bad idea. But I also know the roots of the situation run far too deep to be accessible to rational analysis. I had reached the point where the choice I made could not be denied; in fact, at that point perhaps I no longer even had a choice. But clearly the course I am now traveling is simply the right way for me. The proof is quite plain to me. It is no exaggeration to say I have never been more relaxed and happy with myself before in my entire life; a life I now enjoy in ways never before possible.
Is this merely a flash-in-the-pan? I don’t think so. But of course, only time will tell, so maybe I should write another sequel in a year or so.
As far as the mechanics of transition are concerned, I believe my greatest recent progress has been social. Both in how I relate to life at work and at home, and how people seem to relate to me. Naturally, as experienced either from the inside or the outside, one does not socially become a woman by instant magic upon change of presentation. But with the considerable care and help of the community at work, and of Ina and my neighbors at home, I am rapidly learning an entire new way of life, and discovering the joys, sorrows, privileges and disadvantages of feminine acculturation.
A year ago, counsel and advice from the transgendered community and support groups were my most valuable guide. Now I feel I am learning far more from my new-found naturally female friends. Not that I didn't know them before, but it's like really different. It feels as if by some rite of passage I have been accepted into a club. I get to learn things Vern never would have heard from them, and get to share my feelings and experiences with them, in ways Vern never could have. In fact, with a fair number of women, especially at work, I feel not only accepted into their confidence, but even taken under their guidance and protection. Female faculty and staff alike have been as sisters to me.
As far as the men at work go, the relational change has been far more
subtle. I am still generally accorded the respect and camaraderie
our culture customarily reserves for the male club. I ascribe this
to my as yet incomplete process of shedding a lifetime of male ways and
habits. Consequently, my social responses are comfortable to them in a
kind of way and consequently do not elicit the typically reserved, and
often subtly superior manner often taken towards women. Nevertheless,
I have occasionally experienced some of the down side of being discounted
or not taken seriously, albeit not so far in any substantive way.
This is an effect about which I'd been warned, so perhaps I was overly
sensitized to it. By the same token though, I'd also already prepared myself
to live with it as an unavoidable cultural reality.
My voice and locution are still problematic and quite out of character. In person, it simply detracts from my overall presentation, but on the telephone, I am definitely perceived as "sir" rather than "ma'm", notwithstanding introducing myself as Leandra. I am currently taking voice and speech training lessons and if I try really hard I can sound acceptably female (without the falsetto Minnie Mouse effect, I'll have you know). But I'm still far from habituated to this sound, and rapidly lose it in normal conversation. This will simply be a matter of persistence, though, and I'm confident it's just another hurdle to be cleared.
And finally, of course, I still face surgery. Barring any major
upset in my progress, I hope to accomplish it as soon after the end of
spring semester as I can. Surgery is often considered the
event of gender transition -- the point of no return. And in the
eyes of the State of North Carolina, I remain legally male until after
surgery, as presently indicated by an "M" on the driver's license of one
Leandra Vicci, notwithstanding a convincingly feminine photograph. However
to me, surgery is just another milestone in becoming right with myself.
Indeed, if fraught with any special personal significance, it would be
the beginning of a new life, much as a butterfly emerging from metamorphosis.
(Illustration from cover of Supplement 154 of the 1993 Scandinavian Journal of Urology and Nephrology, courtesy of Anne Lawrence)
Permission to copy only in its entirety is hereby granted strictly
for non-commercial purposes.
Copyright © 5 September 1999, Leandra Vicci