From My Heart to Yours: A Transgender Woman’s Letter to Anne Lamott

 


Dear Anne,
I’ve been a fan of yours for years, and your writings have helped sustain me in my own life journey. So I was confused to see your recent tweets making disparaging remarks about Caitlyn Jenner and her gender transition. In your Twitter apology, I noticed you primarily focused on transgender teenagers and their parents, with no apology to Caitlyn Jenner or older transgender women who identify with and are inspired by her courage.

As a transgender woman, I sincerely appreciate your willingness to publicly expose yourself and apologize for your previous lack of understanding. However, as a 63-year-old transgender woman, I feel that your emphasis on supporting transgender teenagers still left we older women out in the cold. 

I was born in 1952 in Western Kansas before the words transsexual or transgender existed. Like Caitlyn Jenner, I had to suppress my true self at a terrible cost. Although I was able to earn a Ph.D. in physics and have a successful career and family, I continued to experience extreme shame and pain, which I disguised through drug and alcohol abuse and even psychosis leading to several hospitalizations. Many transgender people have similar experiences, and the transgender suicide rate is at least 40 percent—about nine times that of the general population. It was in fact a failed suicide attempt that led me, at the age of 55, to decide to transition, risking my career as a physicist and possibly putting my family in jeopardy. I decided a live parent would support my children better than a dead parent. I am happy to say I kept my job and career as well as the full support of my family. 

Your statement about Caitlyn being a mannequin was like a knife in my heart. And though I completely believe and accept your apology, I would like to share with you how intensely painful it was to feel like a teenage girl awakening in a grown male body. Please try to empathize with the horror of looking at myself in the mirror, feeling as early as puberty like my body had betrayed me, forcing me to submerge my true self and desperately try to create an acceptable persona. I was fortunate that I had wonderful female friends and their daughters who saw the girl in me and took me under their wing. With their help, I was able to find ways to express my own girlhood in my transition. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to really feel like a girl, to have my own brief moment in the sun and grow into being a woman, which is what I see Caitlyn as doing now. 

Anne, I would like you to know that I’ve come to regard being transgender as a real gift. Like all gifts, it involves some suffering but can also open the door for personal and spiritual growth. This gift affords one the opportunity to see that we are so much more than our bodies. I have used the analogy of moving from one boxcar to another on a train, from the boys to the girls or vice versa. It is usually very difficult to see out of the cars, but as one steps across, all that is needed is to simply turn your head to realize that there is an enormous world out there beyond the train, and you could simply get off! 

I have always regarded myself as very fortunate to have the financial resources required to transition, which are substantial, and to have a loving and caring family and friends who supported me. This includes many women from women’s circles (including Awakening Women) where we laughed, cried, and celebrated together. The most poignant lesson I have learned is that “not feeling like a real woman” is far from being a transgender female issue, but a universal ache in the collective soul of modern women. As I have listened and felt the stories of other women, I have realized that this sharing of pain and longing is part of being feminine and makes me a “real woman” after all.  

My question for myself at this point in my life is how do I let people know? How can I find ways for transwomen less fortunate than myself to find the resources to transition to being themselves and realizing their inner gifts? How do I reach out in love and compassion to cis women (those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) to let them know what transgender people have to offer? How do I help all women see the glory of their own strength and beauty?

I hope I can do that here in this letter, Anne. And I hope you can find a way to expand your compassion to those of us who suffered in silence for decades, especially those who paid the ultimate price. I hope you can see this as an opportunity to support older transgender women as much as you’ve found the understanding to support transgender teenagers. After all, if not for the transgender women who as adults had the courage to scream "I am me!" in times much less accepting than now, transgender teenagers would not have the opportunities they do today. I hope you can see us as humans and as women. You have been an inspiration to me for years and will continue to be in the future. Perhaps that will tell you something about me and about women like me as well.

Love, 
Liz
 

Photo by Carolyn Hall Young (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Lizabeth Alexander

About

Lizabeth Alexander is a 63-year-old transgender woman living in Richland, Washington. She transitioned in 2006 and has lived fully as a woman ever since. She is a physicist at a national laboratory focused on research related to global climate change. Lizabeth is father to two children, who delightfully still call her Dad, and grandmother to a beautiful 3-year-old boy. She is engaged to a wonderful man and remains quite close to her former spouse. Lizabeth is planning to retire from her position soon and seek ways to tell the world about the love and joy she has found.


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'From My Heart to Yours: A Transgender Woman’s Letter to Anne Lamott' have 10 comments

  1. June 18, 2015 @ 11:25 am Chelsey

    Wow! What a beautiful and heartfelt letter! Thank you for your wisdom, honesty, bravery, and compassion!

    Reply

  2. June 18, 2015 @ 12:51 pm Suzan

    So impressed and proud of you, sister! Incredible story and letter. xo

    Reply

  3. June 18, 2015 @ 2:46 pm Samuel G Alexander

    Dear Liz, Thank you so much for this letter. Wonderful in so many, many ways – tone, integrity and in its humility in the face of a struggle I’ve not been able to imagine. I thank you most of all though for helping me to at least begin to imagine your journey because that makes me more of what I want to be – someone who has the capacity to love every person he meets.

    Reply

  4. June 18, 2015 @ 4:46 pm Lisa Frost

    Liz,

    Thank you so much for allowing us to see you as the beautiful woman you are. I am profoundly touched by your journey and courage. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to feel betrayed by your body in the way you describe and my heart breaks for that teenage girl who already had enough on her plate with puberty and high school alone. I’m so glad you were able to align your physical body with your internal sense of self and I too hope that others are able to find the courage and inspiration to face a journey such as yours if that is their path.

    Much love sister,
    Lisa

    Reply

  5. June 18, 2015 @ 4:58 pm Teri

    Liz,
    Thank you for sharing and teaching us. Your courage will be an inspiration to all of us. It will help us to understand what being a woman can bring to the world, the difficulties transitioning brings even in the act of freeing your true self, and opening the door to so many others.
    Bless you!
    Teri

    Reply

  6. June 19, 2015 @ 7:11 pm amy

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your journey, Liz. You are truly an example of the kind of “real woman” I aspire to be! One who is true to whatever form of me has chosen to arise. At peace with and gently and loving my Self!

    Reply

  7. June 23, 2015 @ 7:06 pm Jules

    Dear Liz,
    Thanks for your brave example. I am glad that you found supportive female friends during puberty, which is probably the most awful time of a person’s life.
    Blessings,
    Julie

    Reply

    • July 9, 2015 @ 6:57 pm liz alexander

      Jules, thank you for recognizing and honoring my puberty!! I am deeply touched.

      Liz

      Reply

  8. July 5, 2015 @ 2:17 am Jane

    Liz, thank you for your very personal testimony. Like you, I transitioned late in life, in my case at the age of 59! So I can empathise so much with the thoughts you express, having gone through the very same experiences. I can’t say very much about Caitlyn Jenner; to be honest, I’d never heard of her before she hit the headlines when she transitioned ( I don’t live in North America! ) but I do have very mixed feelings about “celebrity trans” people. While I can understand how they may be taken, in a rather facile way, as being role models for or by younger trans people, I personally find that the media circus around them may well banalise and cheapen what is or has been for so many like myself a terrible and wrenching life journey. Yes, you are right that there is still the very real perception in much of society that it’s perhaps somehow not right for older people to transition but that it’s okay for teens and twenties. However, as examples for older trans people, I’d rather skip the celebrities; there are many, many others, ordinary people who transitioned with few resources or means and who just get on with their lives without any fuss or bother, real people living ordinary lives. They are the ones with courage and who truly inspire.

    Best wishes,
    Jane.

    Reply

    • July 9, 2015 @ 6:55 pm Lizabeth Alexander

      Jane, Thank you for your kind response. I don’t agree with you about Caitlyn Jenner. Her celebrity status has allowed her to make a very positive impact on behalf of the trans community. She in fact has inspired me to be even more visible and vocal.Did you know that the approval rating for trans people in the US jumped from 30% to 41% immediately after her Vogue cover. I think it is a mistake to disregard someone just because they are a celebrity. Caitlyn has continued to use the celebrity status, enhance by her cove on Vogue, to bring increased awareness of the value of trans persons to reach a vastly expanded audience.

      Reply


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