My feet don’t feel like they touch the ground as I walk along the luxuriant green grass of the Courthouse Sunken Garden escorted by my tall handsome son. At 25 he is the picture of manhood. 6′ 6″ and well-groomed he wears an elegant navy suit as if he was born to it. At 6 feet now I feel substantially smaller as I negotiate my way towards the altar in the long beautiful mermaid style wedding dress trying not to trip or stumble over the hem. The sun is warm on my face and I’m happy for the light, cool jasmine scented breeze as I approach the lavender fabric of the aisle. Two steps up a small set of stairs and I’m traveling between the smiling faces of good friends, family and new acquaintances. I return the smile easily catching a few faces momentarily longer than others. We arrive at the altar my son deftly lets go of my arm and I mount the three saltillo tile stairs holding the dress hem up hoping once again to arrive without mishap. My partner’s three children flank me on my left and my three children are fanned out to the right as I climb the short flight. Finally I take the last step and look over at my partner already there with her dazzling smile and sparkling eyes lit full voltage. Our wedding officiant looks over and smiles warmly. “We made it.” she says softly. “Take a deep breath now.” How wise I thought. I needed a breath. It has been a very, very long journey to this place. To be standing here in front of over 100 people with my partner and our children wearing a gorgeous long trained wedding dress and feeling this good could not have seemed more improbable even a few years ago.
The last 24 months since my transition have been a warp speed learning curve after a life time of being unhappily male. Depression, fear, despair and hiding were my constant companions. For 52 years I lived a double life. Sometimes my female side was closer to the surface and sometimes it was so deep that even I thought I had managed to bury it. Those burials sometimes lasted days, sometimes weeks, sometimes years. As a small child it was right there. I felt open and expressed myself as any being would before the shaming began. Every time I encountered disapproval, annoyance, laughter or derision my armor and need to hide became denser and more intense. My early childhood was filled with shaming and both verbal and physical abuse. I learned to hide and hide well. I cultivated the ability to cover my tracks expertly even changing my persona to a more stoic and male facade around age 8 when my family moved to a new town. I kept the girl me under cover for the next 11 years not telling a soul even as I borrowed my mother’s and then my sister’s things. I learned to carefully put them back exactly as I had found them. There were many near misses in a house with three brothers when I thought I had precious time alone. More than once I found myself sprinting to the restroom wearing a dress and make-up carrying my male clothes with me.
I was fortunate my first love accepted my feminine side happily. We dated for 2 years in High School and I finally shared “Jennifer,” later “Genivieve” with her when I was 19. We moved in together before my eighteenth birthday and I immediately began borrowing her things. In our Prom picture I looked almost as feminine as she did and certainly tried on that pretty dress she wore afterward! I began to trust her more and more and finally shared my secret one afternoon as my body shook convulsively with raw fear. Now I know those symptoms to be PTSD but at the time I just thought I was ridiculous and felt embarrassed. Instead of anger, laughter or disappointment she embraced and hugged me. She loved having a new girlfriend. As it turned out the whole sex thing was a chore and she preferred to do my make-up and go shopping anyway. Unfortunately I’m not designed to abstain so I had to say goodbye.
During the next 5 years my female side came and went according to my circumstances. Mostly went. I had few means being without parents and often had roommates or difficult living circumstances. Initially I didn’t know there was anyone like me in the world. Later I began to see “female impersonators” on a talk show or a “cross-dresser” in a tabloid story. These were deviant denizens of alleyways, Gay bars and nightclubs. People in the sex or entertainment trades but only in places equally strange people frequented. I couldn’t be one of THEM could I? At first the idea seemed horrible like realizing you were the Wolfman or Dracula. Later I began to realize I might have something in common with them. By the time I sorted out who I was I was married. At 25 I married a woman who found my female side repellant. She had married a man after all, not a freaky pervert who wore women’s clothes! She knew only what most people did at the time just as I had before. I learned more because I had a need to find out.
My first discovery came by going to an Adult Store cross-dressed in public for the first time. Going in had been a monumental challenge. I stood across the street for half an hour getting up the nerve. After looking through rows of publications in the “Fetish” section I found some magazines that featured Cross Dressers. I went to the counter and nervously bought them. Once again I was shaking with fear and tried not to speak at all and give myself away. The male clerk took my money and said, “you look nice.” What?? I was shocked. The thought of someone thinking I looked good at all this way never entered my mind! Once safely home I opened the magazines. I found a “Cross-Dressing” group advertising in the back of one and went to a meeting. I had to drive 200 miles and go to a run down hotel conference room under florescent lights to sit with men like me in bad drag but it was a beginning. I couldn’t believe there were others who shared my curse! That meeting led me to a club in Studio City where I met more “cross-dressers” as we called ourselves at the time. Even we hadn’t a clear idea of what we were. At the club I met the first people I’d seen who had “transitioned.” I was stunned. Was it possible for me I wondered? I had to take a good look at myself. At 27 I was 6’2″ had a square jaw and was covered in body hair. The people who had transitioned had started out very feminine. Small slim people with little facial or body hair. I was dark and tall with a blue beard and 5 o’clock shadow by noon. My beard connected to my chest and back hair. If I didn’t shave I resembled Sasquatch or a Wookie more than a woman. In a dress I had to own I looked strange.
I went to therapy and worked on the marriage. We had children and I made a promise to myself then to be their Dad until they were adults. I knew some in what I came to know then as the “Transsexual” community who came out to their children and it had been a disaster. The world still didn’t know what we were and even the Gay community wasn’t very fond of us. If you didn’t look “passable” you would be a pariah. You would lose your job, your friends and your family. I saw this happen to people I knew. Their only option became the sex trade and generally that led to drugs and a quick descent into a very short hard life. I loved my children too much to put our relationship at risk. During the next few years we moved to a new town with a new job so my son and daughter could have a better quality of life. I left my Trans friends and connections behind but knew my female side wasn’t really going anywhere. I cross-dressed at night alone while my wife and children slept. I often worked on side projects while wearing a dress and make-up outside in my garage studio and kept all my female things in our extra room.
I knew our life was out of balance and it finally imploded. My wife left me for someone else after a year long affair citing my deviant behavior to anyone who cared to listen. Humiliated again and on my own but now with two small beings I felt the door to my dream close. The pain of such a traumatic rejection and the question of my worthiness as a parent pushed the female in me deeper than it had ever gone. I cut off my long hair and put on weight. I wanted to be as physically male as I could. I gained 25 pounds and my hair began to recede. My body hair was thicker than ever and I dated the best looking women I could find to prove that I was all man. I became an elite swimmer and a more aggressive surfer pushing my limits physically. No one could doubt outwardly that I appeared the macho stud in every way. I had my children every weekend and and took my father role model position very seriously. I adored my children and wanted them to be whole in ways I wasn’t. They weren’t to blame for my shortcomings and I was determined to not allow it to affect them.
For the next 10 years as they grew into teenagers I played that role as best I could. My forays into my female side were brief and I kept only one simple dress and a pair of shoes. I thought looking in the mirror in those years my dream was as likely as my chances of becoming an astronaut and landing on the moon. I went through multiple relationships often with painful acrimonious endings. If I shared it would inevitably result in the same insults and often threats to “out” me. My children grew up and needed me less and less. Eventually they preferred living in one house and they moved in full time with their mother. Suddenly I had space and time again and my thoughts wandered back to my dream. I had followed developments in hair removal, hair replacement and hormone therapy. Transgender groups existed now and were available on the internet. There were still few who had transitioned and no real protocol for doing the path available anywhere. I decided to start with what I could do and see where it took me.
I had my body hair lasered off when I was 45. This began a series of treatments that spanned the next 5 years which included 3 hair transplants and the beginning of electrolysis. With a smooth body and my hair more or less back I took pride in my body again and continued swimming and losing weight. Later I started hormones. After years of searching I found a website that described the male to female hormone regimen. Not too long after I located an online pharmacy where I could buy them. I started on low doses of oral Estrogen and a male hormone blocker. My skin began to smooth, my hair thickened and my body softened. I loved every step and found a deep well of happiness inside that I hadn’t known existed. Eventually there was only one step left to transition and I resolved to take it. Facial feminization had evolved into a known specialty and there were perhaps a dozen surgeons in the world who were on my short list. Fortunately I had started a small business a few years earlier which was finally providing enough income for this expensive surgery. After interviewing all the doctors on my list I picked one and put down my deposit.
About the same time I decided to make the big leap I met my partner. She and I had been dating other people with her ex being a trans woman friend of mine. I was gun-shy at first fearing my path would be derailed again or that I would find myself disappointing another person. I really liked her and agreed to allow her to “court” me. Within a few months we were in a committed relationship and I knew I had found the love of my life. We had more in common than I could imagine. She was a gifted elite cyclist, a professional potter and a mother of three children the same age as mine. She had been challenged by gender roles her entire life but from the other side. She was a male spirit in a female “earth suit” as she called it. She had known me from afar for years and fate had finally brought our paths together.
I let the breath out and looked across at her again. What a miracle I thought. To be here with my adult children supporting me getting married to the person of my dreams in a beautiful location wearing my fantasy dress in front of more than 100 of our friends and family. It was really happening. I took another breath and took it all in. Very few in this audience I realized see me as anything other than a tall athletic woman. I couldn’t begin to explain what it has taken to get here. The 54 year journey had been long and I lost hope many times, but in the end it made this moment of being the bride that much richer.