During the years since my divorce, I had kept the boys in contact with their Mexican family, and had tried to maintain a civil relationship with their father for the sake of the children. The boys and I went down to visit the Mexican relatives on many special family occasions, and we were always accepted as part of the family. Daniel and his Mexican grandmother had a special bond, so his grandmother was heartbroken when we left to live in the States. Daniel spent several summer vacations with her in Mexico.
Salvador later remarried, moved to California, and had two more children. My boys really liked their half-siblings, and Daniel especially was thrilled to have a half-sister. My children visited their father frequently and even baby-sat the little ones. The stepmother didn't mind having my children around, and my boys would occasionally ride to Mexico with their father and his family to visit relatives.
Danielle's father was a Roman Catholic with little education, and had a closed mind about people whom he considered different. During the transition from Daniel to Danielle, she talked to her father about her feelings, explaining that she was really a girl. She purposely did not dress as a girl during this discussion with him. When she told me about the meeting with her father, she said he had been understanding, and I hoped for the best. Shortly after that, Danielle returned on a bus late one evening from a visit with her Mexican family. I asked Salvador to pick her up at the border because he lived closer than I did.
It was the first time he had seen her dressed as a girl. I met them at his house, and watched as Danielle thanked him and tried to hug him as she said good-by. Her father turned away rejecting her. It was apparent from his angry looks at me, that he thought I had purposely set up this situation. His apparent understanding about her change disappeared when he actually saw her as a girl.
After that, when Danielle happened to be visiting in the small Mexican town at the same time as her father, he would leave. He once walked out of the Catholic church when she entered. He did the same when she arrived during a meal at the home of relatives.
On numerous occasions I talked to him about Danielle, and how much it would mean to her if he would see her. I requested he speak to a Catholic priest whom I knew to be understanding of the transsexual community. Her father's response to that was, "Danielle is the one with the problem. She needs to talk to the priest."
Her older brothers also talked to their father and his wife to no avail. After a year or more David and Ben began to distance themselves from their father because of his continued rejection of their sister. Danielle continued to call her father who would talk to her on the phone, but would not visit or meet her, and he didn't attend any of the important events in her life. Even though her heart was breaking, she continued calling him still hoping that she could win him over. She sadly missed her little half-brother and sister. When a new girl baby was born, Danielle was not allowed to get acquainted with her at all.
Her Mexican Grandma tried to ignore the issue until Danielle went to visit her in a frilly dress, with high-heeled boots and a purse.
Her grandmother's first words were, "How come you are carrying a purse?"
During that visit Danielle and her Grandma laughed and cried together, and Grandma was convinced that Danielle was happier living as a girl. In the same courageous manner, Danielle faced the rest of the family, and the aunts and cousins soon treated her as if she had always been a girl.
One male cousin became very protective and watched out for her safety when he took her to dances and rodeos. She went to the dances in the little town where everyone had known her before as a boy. At first the guys would not ask her to dance, but her cousins did, and soon several others became her friends and danced with her too. Because she was brave and proud, others did not see her as an outcast, and soon she was being treated as a celebrity. She returned from her visits happy but exhausted because it was still stressful for her to be watched all the time.
Her father and one of his brothers continued to reject her, and would not attend family functions if she was going to be there. Her father sent her messages telling her not to attend dances in his hometown, and not to talk to his children if she saw them. She ignored the messages. She was deeply hurt by the strife in the family, and felt that she was the cause.
Again and again I told her, "It is not your fault, and your father is the only one that can stop the strife by changing his attitude."
Her father blamed the rest of the family for accepting her because he felt that she would not have continued her process of becoming female if the whole family had rejected her in the beginning.
Often I am thankful that I did not have to face Daniel's gender problems while living with Salvador because the difficulties of the transition would have been magnified many times over. Trying to protect Danielle and preserve the marriage would have tom me apart.
Sometimes I feel sorry for her Dad because he is missing out on so much. At other times I hate him for hurting her and being so selfish, thinking only about himself. I cannot understand a parent rejecting a child, especially such a beautiful, kind, and happy child as Danielle. How can he possibly have peace in his heart?
My social outlet for many years has been community theater. I do stage managing, and participate in other behind-the-scene activities to make sure the show goes on, but I have no desire to be in the spotlight on the stage.
Among the theater community, I have made several very good friends through the years, and some are gay or lesbian. It was while I was in the middle of rehearsals for "Ten Little Indians," working with my favorite director and several friends, that I found out about Danielle. I tried not to let my personal problems interfere with the play, but sometimes I would cry for no apparent reason at all. I finally told my friends in the cast about Danielle because she would be attending rehearsals with me. They had known my boys as they were growing up, and were very interested and supportive when they learned of the situation.
When Danielle went to the theater with me one night, my friends acted as if they had known her as a girl all along - it was no big deal. They even got her name right! One of her favorite actors hugged her and told her she was cute. The actors that did not know her before had no inkling that something momentous was happening.
There were some interesting situations when new actors flirtedwith Danielle and tried to get better acquainted. Although I wanted to protect her from getting hurt and avoid embarrassment for the actors, there was not much I could do. However, the director once warned a newcomer that Danielle was "jail bait" since she looked so much older than fifteen. I was surprised that my friends who knew about her did not tell any of the other theater people.
Danielle went to an annual awards banquet with me where many of our friends greeted her warmly and gave her compliments on her appearance. One man asked her if hormones had given her that great shape. I thought she would be offended by such a direct question, but she answered in the affirmative and then hugged him.
Later she told me, "He was the only person that actually said anything directly to me about my new situation. That really made me feel good. Everyone else just told me how good I looked, but ignored the real subject."
It was my belief that my FRIENDS would understand, and they did.
Daniel had started shaving at age thirteen because he had quite a growth of facial hair - unlike his father and older brothers who had sparse beards. In the past I had remarked that some girls like guys with lots of hair, never realizing what a heartache all that hair caused for Daniel. Just when we were trying to deal with hormones, counseling, moving to a new apartment and a new school, we also had to deal with the matter of removing Danielle's facial hair by electrolysis.
One of our crossdresser friends recommended an electrologist, and Danielle arranged for an appointment. She and I went together for the first meeting where the electrologist explained the procedure, but could not answer all the questions I asked. How long would she have to have electrolysis, and how much would it cost? She said it depends on many variables, including pain threshold, type of skin, and genetic makeup
She further explained that Danielle would eventually need electrolysis around her genitals in preparation for surgery, so she wanted a picture of Danielle without clothes. Danielle didn't seem to mind so I didn't make a big deal out of it, but since then I have learned that taking nude pictures is not an accepted practice. Although the electrologist and I became friends, we never did see or talk about the picture she took that day.
Thus began the many hours Danielle spent in electrolysis, and the many dollars I spent paying for it. Electrolysis is a slow process and some days I was not sure we were making any progress at all. We heard that it might take as many as 300 hours. There were days when Danielle stayed home from school because her facial hair was too long to hide and she couldn't shave the day of an electrolysis appointment. We called them bad hair days. Days when I was out of town, Danielle took the responsibility of getting to her appointment on her own by bus or roller blades.
As I carefully observed the procedure, I thought it might be something that I could do. It would be a great savings to me, and it might eventually become another part time business. Through research, I learned that 600 hours of class and an examination were required for State Board Certification, but the nearest school was 100 miles away. I started the classes just after Danielle had completed her first year of treatment. I enjoyed the training and the hours of practice on Danielle. She taught me to be gentle, patient and careful during the procedure, and to talk to her at the same time. We had many good conversations while I was working on her, and we became even closer as we spent this time together.
Electrolysis is an art form, not a science. The pain, money and time spent in electrolysis weeds out those with just a passing fancy for changing to the opposite gender.
Danielle accompanied me to class on several occasions where the other students were amazed at her feminine appearance. We spent many nights at motels near the classroom to maximize my time at school. I worked at my other contract jobs during the days between classes. I never wasted a minute - a habit that I cultivated while raising my three children.
By the time I finished my classes and the required practice hours, and passed the State Board examination, I had rented an office. My part time electrolysis business grew by word of mouth through the transgendered community. They seemed to feel comfortable with me since I knew the problems they were experiencing while in transition. In time my business developed into a haven where the transgendered were comfortable and knew they were welcome. My clients started popping in between appointments to network with others in the community. Regularly scheduled social gatherings evolved from this. My efforts seemed to encourage a community spirit among the transsexuals as they became better acquainted and reached out to one another.
The rewards of my business were more than financial. My sister sometimes says to me, "You seem to have made lemonade out of lemons." To which Ben always adds, "Damn good lemonade."
We never did any genital electrolysis on Danielle because we learned from those in our area that had gone through surgery without it, that none of them had complications. There have been a few reports of hair in the new vagina which is unpleasant, but has not caused other medical problems like infection. There seems to be no consensus among surgeons as to which area requires electrolysis. At this point in time, I think that the cure is worse than the problem.
One of Danielle's friends invited her to go with the Scouts to the Colorado River on a canoe trip. She was to take food, water, and everything she needed for the four days in a small canoe. She was required to learn canoeing and to be able to swim. When I took her to a small lake for the canoeing classes, she was eager to learn and did very well.
The group was to include both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, so Danielle would be sleeping in a tent with other girls. The group also included several adults whom I found to be very friendly. I thought it would be wise to tell at least one of them about Danielle, but she did not want me to tell anyone. After discussing the situation at length, we decided that if there was a problem, I could be there in three hours to bring her home.
She was trained in survival techniques and had to pass some swim tests, in case the canoe overturned. Each of the Scouts had to jump into the water fully clothed over a swim suit, remove their clothes, and swim a lap. They were told not to wear jeans or sweats because they would be too heavy when wet. For the test Danielle chose a pair of nylon jogging pants with elastic around the ankles. I was watching from the bleachers with interest but not concern because I knew that Danielle was a strong swimmer. She jumped in and almost immediately began to struggle and looked frightened. When she entered the water, her nylon pants immediately filled with water The nylon material and the elastic around the ankles kept all of the water in her pants causing her to be dragged under. Before I could get out of the bleachers, she turned to the life guard and called for help. He went right in and brought her to the edge. It was amazing to me how quickly even a good swimmer could get in trouble in the water.
Since she had satisfactorily completed all the other water activities, the leaders did not make her repeat that test. They did tell her not to wear those pants on the trip. After she stopped shaking and calmed down, we headed for home.
She asked me, "Did you see how cute the lifeguard was? I wonder if he could tell that I was wearing breast forms when he put his arm across my chest."
We bought all the required supplies including a very conservative swimsuit - a one piece, with boy legs, and a high neckline so she could wear her bra. She wore very tight cutoff shorts most of the time, and a shirt tied in front. No matter what she wore, she looked sexy even when nothing was showing but her tummy. We made a little bag for her wet breast forms so she could hang them up to dry over night. She left on the trip, and I tried to keep busy so that I would not worry.
She slept in a tent with four other girls and a female counselor. They went in pairs to visit the bathroom facilities - the bushes - and she Was careful to be well hidden. At one of the overnight stops, there were showers. She kept her underwear on while she showered since the curtains were not very substantial.
She had fun on the outing and had no problems, but found canoeing on the river rather boring. It was good for her to participate in the Girl Scout experience as one of the things that girls do. I was sorely tempted to tell the Girl Scouts that they had taken a transsexual with them on the river trip and no harm had been done, but I didn't. At a later speaking engagement, I told the audience about the river trip. A Scout leader came up after the program to tell me that he would have been required to put Danielle in a tent by herself if he had known, even though he was understanding and a crossdresser himself.
Danielle learned about the New Images Theater Group sponsored by Planned Parenthood. They were all teens that did skits and stage plays dealing with teen issues. She auditioned to be part of the troupe. If she was accepted, there would be a stipend of $200.00 a month. Although I worried about the auditions because I feared that she might be very disappointed if she did not get a part, she was very confident that she could do it and would be part of the group.
The would-be actors were asked to portray an animal at the auditions, and Danielle chose to be a cat. Everyone laughed when her imitation sounded like a cat having an orgasm. She was a little embarrassed. There were other impromptu acts required that included singing and dancing. I was very proud of her that she was chosen to be a member of the troupe.
The members of the theater represented ethnic and sexual diversity They wrote and produced their own skits and they were very well done. Danielle learned about child and sexual abuse, contraception, body parts, counseling, and acceptance of diversity. During a training session on transsexuals, the leader told what she knew, then Danielle added to the information claiming that she had a friend who was transsexual. The group went on camping trips and overnight outings together and became very close. I wanted to tell the leader about Danielle because I thought that this group of kids would be supportive and understanding, but Danielle did not want them to know yet. She seemed more comfortable around people that did not know about her past.
After many performances, when the group had been together almost a year, they went on an overnight trip. The kids became pretty emotional after the performance, and as often happens at a slumber party, they told their secrets to each other. The leader was trying to divide the group into acceptable sleeping arrangements in the one large empty room that was their abode for the night. Each teen had a sleeping bag and none of them were in romantic relationships, but she sent the boys to one corner of the room and the girls to another. One of the girls told the leader that if she was trying to prevent sex, this would not work because at least one of the girls was a lesbian, and at least one of the boys was gay. The leader then attempted to divide the straight and gays from each other. It was at this Danielle decided it was time to reveal her secret. The leader later told me that she gave up then, and let the kids all sleep together in the middle of the room. She just didn't have the heart to make Danielle sleep in an area all by herself after such an emotional revelation. I was very grateful for such an understanding leader. The others were amazed when they heard. They hugged her and cried with her. Danielle was happy that she had let her friends know about her past, and that they were very supportive..
When Danielle's year with New Images was over, she helped with the training session about transsexuals for the next group. The year with this group was very good for her self-confidence, and I was thankful that she had received a sound education on many controversial issues.
One time Danielle rode to a party with several of her friends, but the boy that drove the car became so drunk that Danielle had to find another way home. Another time she was frightened because the driver was speeding. I was anxious for Danielle to get a driver's license and bought her a used pick-up as soon as she was old enough so as to avoid such uncomfortable and dangerous circumstances. If she were in control of the vehicle she could leave if she found herself in an unsafe or awkward situation. She had more common sense and was more responsible and mature than other teens with whom I had become aquainted.
A new law had just passed in our state requiring every new applicant for a driver's license to show a birth certificate. This was to verify age and citizenship, not gender. I was trying to avoid the government being involved in my child's gender reassignment, so we considered many ways to approach the problem. The State has a protocol for the change of name and sex on a current driver's license An endocrinologist has to declare on a Department of Motor Vehicle form that the person is living full time as a female and intends to have sex reassignment surgery. I had been told that such medical information is confidential, but any alias will show up on a computer search. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if a person has changed from Joe to Jane, that individual is probably a transsexual. I could just see Big Brother with a drawer labeled "Confidential Name Changes (Transsexuals)."
We had several options. One was buying a fake birth certificate. Another was to find an old typewriter with the same print as the original birth certificate and change the information. We tried to generate a computer certificate similar to the current government issue. None of these ideas worked, but Danielle found a solution that did work. One day she sat down with my magnifying glasses, and with a pencil put the two extra letters after her male name to feminize it. She wrote "Fe" in front of "Male," darkened the letters slightly to match, and we had just committed a felony. Some would not agree with our methods, but the birth certificate now showed the truth. We just did not have all the information when she was born.
On the way to Department of Motor Vehicles, she said, "I feel like "Thelma & Louise."
I told her, "Don't make a big deal about the birth certificate. Flash one of your wonderful smiles."
She had no problem. They glanced at the date of birth and did not keep a copy. They have no proof showing that she altered the birth certificate, and she has her license showing she is a female, with the name she wants.
When she applied for an Arizona drivers license, they required a Social Security number as identification, but we had not changed the Social Security card. We could have done that quite easily with available forms, but again, we wanted to avoid notifying the government.
Danielle showed her card to the clerk who asked, "Is this an alternative spelling of your name?"
She answered, "Yes," and left it at that.
On another occasion, she had to show her Social Security card for employment in a fast food restaurant. I told her, "Don't make a big deal of it. Just show it like there is nothing special."
When Danielle got home, I asked, "So, how did you do with your Social Security card?"
"They didn't even speak English," she said.
People from other countries do not always know which names are traditionally female or male names, so they didn't recognize any problem.
ON BEING NORMAL
Normal is a word that I try not to use anymore. Danielle met a boy who was attending Narcotics Anonymous for his drug habit. She attended one meeting with him to see what it was all about, and on the way home, he tried to play on her emotions.
"You have a normal life. You have no idea how hard it is to quit drugs."
He didn't get any sympathy from her, as she answered, "I didn't do anything stupid like start drugs in the first place."
And so this boy joined the others that she met along the way that she did not need to know any better.
Although I knew how hard her life was, she just looked like any other teenager. I considered that a real accomplishment.
Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.
Danielle was on the phone defending our non-traditional meals. I heard her explain to a friend, "MY mother is busy working, and we come and go at different times. We just ate what and when we want and share with each other if we are both home and hungry at the same time."
When the children were young and money was scarce, we ate a lot of tortillas and beans together. As we became more affluent we had more choices, but I had learned that what and when the children wanted to eat did not always fit my schedule or idea of a meal. They did not like casseroles, so when I Made one, I had to eat it for days. Hot-dogs or bologna sandwiches every other day didn't do it for me. Sometimes when we were all home at the same time we had a sitdown meal of spaghetti or tacos, foods that we all liked. Danielle had gone through her vegetarian phase, and her "I'm too fat" phase, and on the whole ate better than I did since I was on the road for many meals.
When Danielle hung up after talking to her friend, I remarked, "Your friend didn't sound convinced."
Danielle said, "His mom fixes the meal, and the family all sits down together every night. But he is gay and hasn't told his parents because he knows that they wouldn't understand."
So much for the closeness and quality time of family meals.
A few months into the transition, a close friend was visiting when Danielle came exuberantly through the living room in her girlish teenage manner.
After she was gone, I asked my friend, "Isn't she just the cutest thing?"
His answer echoed in my ears for days. "In my mind's eye," he said, "I still see the boy I used to know."
Again and again that phrase went through my head. I had retrained my mind's eye so that now I only saw the girl, but I understood his reaction. In the beginning, even though my real eye could see the girl, my old brain would spit out male pronouns. After that experience, I could better understand why some parents have trouble allowing their children to grow up and change. In their mind they still have the image of a beloved toddler, an innocent seven or eight year-old, or a rebellious teenager. It takes some time for the mind's eye to replace the youthful image with a new picture of the adult. This may explain why a husband does not notice a new hairstyle, or why the family doesn't notice grandma's wrinkles. It is even more difficult to replace the old image with one of the opposite gender.
Since I saw Danielle every day, my mind's eye had been retrained until I no longer saw the little boy, but only a lovable teenage girl. It was more difficult for Danielle's relatives to retrain their minds when they saw her infrequently or only in pictures. Even though our eyes had seen the same person, my friend still saw the boy that used to be, whereas I just saw a jubilant daughter.
We all have our secrets
and some we will never know have
My special daughter was once a son.
Please don't judge her
Appreciate the beauty and the irony.
It's hard to imagine how it feels inside,