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