Body Vs. Soul

This branch of the rainbow family includes women rebuilt as men, gals who were born guys (some of them lesbians in male bodies), cross-dressers, drag queens, and some folks who say gender no longer means much

Anne told her wife two and a half years ago. "That was the most traumatic thing," she muses. "I certainly didn't want to hurt her."

Thoughts of suicide had come, often. "Sometimes I felt like I should just kill myself rather than put them through it," she says softly. "It would be easier for people to deal with my killing myself than to deal with my being transgendered."

She never tried. Though she does remember driving down a highway and staring at an oncoming semi, thinking, "This could be over real quick."

Her wife was devastated. But she was also understanding.

"It really signaled to her the end of a lot of hopes and dreams she had for us as a couple," Anne explains. "She was very appreciative that I told her. We could have parted ways, and she never would have known."

They wed when Anne was 22 years old and stayed married for 25 years. Though their divorce became final eight months ago, they still share the same home in a Twin Cities suburb. They are still best friends. They will probably remain so, even as Anne continues to figure out who she is, at the most fundamental of levels: her gender. Hers might be a man's body, but she has always felt more like a woman.

Anne is 47 years old. She is six feet tall, weighs 200 pounds, and wears a shoulder-length honey-brown wig cut in soft layers to frame her face. Her voice is grainy and deep. There are hints of the facial and body hair she has removed. Because she is not out to all of her friends and clients, she is careful to shield information that might too closely identify her.

Anne has spent a lifetime grappling with issues of her gender identity. She remembers a day, decades ago, when she was four years old and went shopping with her mother at Dayton's in downtown Minneapolis. Anne noticed a saleswoman there, and something clicked. "I realized at that point that I wanted to grow up and be like her," says Anne.

In junior high school, she was jealous of all the girls. "That was a time when everyone was starting to grow up, develop," she says. "Their clothes were more interesting. They got to wear makeup, to do things with their hair."

But those feelings, Anne told herself, were wrong, bad, sick. A little editor grew inside her brain, continuously monitoring what she did, what she said.

To convince the world, to convince herself, in college she enrolled in a military training program run by the Marines. She stuck it out for a couple of years before she quit. She married. She became a successful commercial photographer. She and her wife didn't have children, but they settled into a home, a life. She tried to do all the things a man is supposed to do. "I pushed this down," she says. "I repressed this."

But in time, as is usually the case, the truth grew restless. It wanted recognition. It began to shove its way through the tiniest cracks. Her disposition, usually mild-mannered, became rancorous, even volatile. "I was a difficult person to be around," Anne says. "I was angry--primarily at myself, but it came off as being angry at the whole world....It didn't take much to set me off."

Friends and family, she later learned, were so perplexed by her behavior that they began to wonder what deep secret so consumed her. Perhaps she was reliving abuse from her childhood, they told her later. Maybe she was a Mafia don. Or a drug connection for a Colombian cartel.

Anne never had a great epiphany, no sudden moment of realization that pushed her to seek help. The truth had simply bubbled up, gradually, until it demanded attention--and action. Several years ago she began to look for information online. Eventually she decided she wanted to talk to someone. "I took out the phone book," she says quietly, as if reliving the nervousness. "I thought of all the words that had to do with gender, sexuality, transgender, and I went through all the words one by one."

She found the Center for Sexual Health, a clinic run through the University of Minnesota's Program in Human Sexuality (PHS). "One day in May, with great fear, I called up there," Anne begins, exhaling a long breath. "I talked to a receptionist. I was connected to a doctor. She was so comforting and so relaxed about my issues, yet took it seriously. It made me feel okay about it. Or better about it."

Soon she started individual and group therapy. She grappled with her fear of admitting the truth. To herself. To others.

Today she is more comfortable. Just a few weeks ago she told her 87-year-old mother, who was accepting and supportive, though full of questions. It's been a year and a half since she first went out publicly dressed as a woman, and it no longer scares her to express her identity. "I thought everyone would be pointing and staring," she says, remembering that terrifying first outing. "Of course, no one did. It was actually kind of no big deal."

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