Guest Author: Diana

In the Femme Fever group, Karen asked crossdressers to write something about crossdressing, and asked transsexuals to comment on their own decisions to transition. One of the first responses was this articulate piece by a transsexual who for many years identified as a crossdresser. I thought its reverse chronology helped illuminate how someone who has crossdressed for years realizes their transsexualism. Thanks to Diana for her permission to share it.
For about the first forty-years of life, I thought of myself as a crossdresser. Opportunities to dress were extremely infrequent. When an occasion did arise, I was tremendously disheartened when my appearance didn’t come anywhere close to what I both wanted and expected. Purging would then be an immediate action. “That’s it,” I’d tell myself. “This is crazy–I’m crazy–never again will I give-in to this idiotic fantasy!”
But, as the years passed, I continued the buy-dress-purge cycle. Might still be doing that had I not changed jobs. My new employer was very big on training. Their “academy” is located in America’s heartland–far from where I lived in New York. Since training classes can run anywhere from two-weeks to three-months in length, there was lotsa time spent away from home–away from my wife, kids, and all the other responsibilities that seemed to complicate crossdressing.
Although I would have denied it, in retrospect, my “crossdressing” behaviors became very much a compulsion. From 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Mondays through Fridays, I was just another of the thousand (or so) students attending various “academy” training classes. At all other moments I was “Diana.” Over time, I became better at achieving a more acceptable (to me) appearance. After a while, I began going out to clubs. One probably wouldn’t expect a well-developed gay community in what’s definitely Bible Belt country, but there were places to go seven-nights-a-week. The club scene was hopping–and I was a VERY active participant.
After a couple of years, I became aware of some rather (at that time) unsettling facts: It was getting harder and harder to go back to the male appearance. I also realized that happiness only existed when I was “Diana.” As a women there was (and still is) a comfort and self-satisfaction. That just did not happen when I was in “male” mode.
The actual turning point occurred somewhere around the year 1999. My class was ending but I didn’t wanna go back home. Lied to my spouse and told her that they’d added another two-week course. The “male” me didn’t make a single appearance during those two weeks. Finally, there was no other choice but to start driving back home. This time, though, instead of leaving all of Diana’s things in a storage facility, they were either packed in my car or shipped via U.P.S. to my home address. Although my spouse was aware of the “crossdressing,” she didn’t have a clue that it’d become much more than simply a part-time activity.
I remained “Diana” for the first four days of the cross-country drive. At a motel, about a day distant from my home, I sadly undressed, removed the acrylic fingernails, and promised myself that, one day, “Diana” would reappear as her true self–never again to be relegated to suitcases and packing boxes.
Fulfilling that promise turned out to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. (Y’all are just gonna hafta wait for my book to learn the details.)
The decision to transition has affected me on the inside in many ways–some expected and some that I never could have predicted. Most significantly, is a sense of serenity that says all’s right in my world. I’ve now come to realize that pretending to be someone who I really wasn’t–and living-up to society’s expectations for that person–took a tremendous amount of effort. Today, being myself is virtually effortless. Please don’t misunderstand that statement. I strive to be feminine, and this does indeed require quite a bit of effort. Yet, it’s an effort which is in-accord with how I truly see myself. In the past, I worked to achieve something that was totally at-odds with my real inner-self. The difference between these two, types of effort is absolutely amazing. Achieving my feminine best invigorates; working at trying to be a male took everything I had–leaving me physically and psychologically drained.
Because I decided to follow the S.O.C., my journey included countless sessions with gender therapists. This process helped to refine not only my perceptions of self, but it also brought about changes in how I felt about those with whom I share this world. A biggie here revolves around my new ability not to take the slightest degree of ownership in any “problems” others may have with me. That’s critical during the transition–and pretty neat thereafter. Alas, there are always going to be those who view the entire transgender community as subjects worthy of ridicule and abasement. This is also sometimes/often true when it comes to our families. Buying into such “problems” held by others–including family–has derailed any number of transition plans.
Another thing I learned during therapy was that it’s perfectly acceptable to think of myself in a positive light. I’m not a bad person–although I useta believe otherwise–and it’s quite healthy to focus on assets. Of course, one should also be aware of the not-so-good stuff if there’s to be any degree of self-improvement.
In preparing for transitioning I needed to squarely address the issue of guilt. It took a good year before I could “talk the talk,” and almost another year until I was able to also “walk the walk.” In other words, I learned to accept that guilt can not exist when being transgendered is totally beyond one’s ability to control. This ties directly to self-acceptance. The transitioning process is very much one in which we must come-to-terms with the “who” and “what” of our essential being. I accept that “who” and “what” without qualifications.
It’s said that when someone transitions, the inner person doesn’t change. Although my basic tenets and ethos are still firmly in-place, I have indeed changed. Mostly, however, those changes have resulted from the new-found freedom to be myself, 24/7, without any pretense or other constraints arising from unrealistic attempts at conforming to society’s expectation(s) for a man. I’m plainly a woman and, as such, there’s absolutely no expectation(s) that I act otherwise. Hooray!

Guest Author: Dana Johnson

One of our MHB faithful wrote a piece called “Why Not Passing Ruins My Day,” and I thought it deserved a larger audience. – Helen
When we talk around TG issues, we are very careful.
We phrase things such that we do our best to respect and support one another. I am, in general, an enormous fan of this.
Unfortunately, it’s possible for that very politeness to mask out feelings we have, or to make us less willing to bring them up and feel legitimate doing so.
So I’m going to drop that pretense, and describe what this is like from inside my own head as clearly as I can. This is how I feel about what is going on with me, and may or may not have any real match-up with reality. It is, however, how this whole thing feels to me.
I begin at the beginning.
I am a woman.
I am not “expressing myself as a woman”. I am not “presenting as a woman.” I am a woman.
Nobody else sees a woman when they look at me, for the most part.
It was worse when I was a girl. Not only did nobody see me as a girl, but a lot of effort was put into making sure I was being a proper boy. It was quite clear to me that I wasn’t a boy, but everybody else insisted. I knew that I was supposed to be a boy, so I did everything I could to do what I was told.
Everything.
I drove myself half-mad, over the years, trying to convince myself that I was a boy, against my own perception of the facts. I tried to be interested in sports. I tried to date girls.
I succeeded at convincing most people that I was a geek boy, although I never managed to convince myself, really. Which is why it became such a problem.
I don’t try living as a man anymore. I live as a transsexual. That is, a man who is largely perceived to be mad, and who is generally recognized as attempting to live as a woman. This is not the same as being a woman, but it’s better than being a guy.
I may be seen as a guy in a dress, but at least I get to wear a dress.
One of the reasons it’s better to live this way than as a man is that I get brief windows into what it would be like if everybody just agreed with me that, yes, I am a woman. These windows are called “passing”.
If I am passing, and someone “clocks” me, well, it’s a grounding of a particularly painful sort. You see, there’s only two ways I am made aware of the fact that I’m not a woman. If I’m made aware of some component of my own anatomy (ie, facial hair, voice, plumbing) or if someone else points it out. Otherwise, I’m fairly oblivious. I am a woman, as far as my ability to discern and categorize myself is concerned.
I’m not necessarily aware that I’m anything other than a woman unless some idiot says, “Damn! It’s a Man!” or something of the sort, at which point I’m buried by the avalanche of an entire lifetime of bitter frustration.
Luckily, I’ve learned to cope with this a bit. It generally doesn’t result in days or weeks of navel gazing and depression. No, it’s now down to a few hours or an afternoon.
People don’t really understand why this is hard to get over. I mean, nobody gets what they want in life. So why should I expect to? In many ways, I suppose they’re right.
The problem I have is that I have found no way of successfully reprogramming my brain about this stuff. As far as it’s concerned, I am a woman. It’s not a question of not getting what I want, it’s a question of something I’m sure I already have not being there — kind of like when you go for your keys and they’re missing. You were certain they were there, and now they aren’t — where could they have gone. Someone saying, “No you aren’t a woman” always comes with that kind of cognitive dissonance — “I was certain that vagina was there a moment ago, but now it’s a penis.” Empirically, I have learned that “they” are right. But emotionally it has never sunk in. I still wake up every morning a woman, and have to readjust to the fact that there’s a penis down there for some reason.
I have to readjust, every damn day, to the fact that I’m a woman who is balding, has a deep voice, and has a penis. Thankfully, my breasts are no longer missing. Still, it only gets so easy to do this. It always seems a bit off. Why would I have a penis? Are you sure it’s really there? Yes, yes it is. Why? I dunno. Can we get rid of it? Well, yes. Whew! Okay, so how do we ditch it? Um, well, it’ll take a few months/years/decades…
Once I manage to get over that little early-morning hurdle, I can ignore for the most part the fact that reality doesn’t match up with what my brain keeps insisting on. Except for every time I get a weird look, or I have to pee. Or some idiot says, “Damn! It’s a Man!” When one of those things happens, it’s painfully obvious, again, and I have to readjust, again.
Some days I’m just better at that than others.
It would still be nice to move from being a transsexual to being a woman, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m trying to be as pragmatic about all this as possible, and as respectful of others point of view — ie, that I’m not a woman — as I can. If I’m a transsexual and people are polite, well, it’s better than being a guy, and I do get to wear a dress. And every once in awhile, I pass, and I get to be normal for a brief window of time — the world and my brain in harmony with one another. I try to enjoy it while it lasts.
It’s always over soon. And it will never last the way it’s supposed to.

Guest Author: LWU

Today, on the MHB Message Boards, one of our regulars, LWU, posted an insightful piece about the mysteries of being a recently transitioned woman. I found it quite in keeping with my reputation as Helen ‘Pulls No Punches’ Boyd, and so it found its way to my blog.
LWU called her post “Dirty Little Secrets: Passing.”

**
The Short Version:
— Don’t transition if you don’t or can’t pass.

The Long Version:

Every few weeks I have a conversation with someone who wants advice about transitioning. Leaving aside the issue about the value of free advice, or my capabilities to say useful things in this regard, a recent conversation brought up a point that forced me to clarify and distill some thoughts.

A lot of the questions in these conversations revolve around material issues such as surgery, voice, etc. In this case, though, I had a very specific thought, which is that passing may well be the single most important issue in post-transition happiness. I know that I’m covering old ground, but that’s the miracle of the Web, that everything old is new again. And again. And again.
Here’s the deal. If you transition and don’t pass, for the rest of your life, on every day that you interact with the mundane world, people will treat you like a pariah, at best. Perhaps you don’t care what they think, or how they treat you, but it’s going to affect your ability to get a job, etc.
I’ve never met any vaguely normal person who absolutely had no concern about how others perceived them. You’re not one of them, otherwise you’d be a sociopath.
Happiness for a lot of people seems to be the ability to lead a life that maximizes happiness and minimizes hassle. If you don’t pass, you’re going to get hassled. It’s not fair, and it’s certainly not just, but like Microsoft in the software world, it *is* the dominant factor in most social environments. You can’t ignore it.
Passing has a lot of aspects, of which appearance is probably the most important, followed by behavior and then voice. A lot of MTFs don’t seem to understand what it takes to pass. A fat wallet isn’t enough. I’ve met a number of MTF folks in the last few years who’ve had very expensive facial surgery, implants, hair-removal, voice training, and you know what? They don’t pass. And after a few minutes in their company, other people treat them poorly, because they’re being perceived as weirdos (at a minimum) and perverts (at the worst).
Are there exceptions? Sure, and somebody wins every single lottery, but it’s not going to be you. In fact, if you’re not sure whether you can do it, you probably can’t, at least not until you’re sure.
In my case, I pass most of the time *except* on the phone with strangers (and friends, I suspect) when I *never* pass, and this after lots of voice and social-voice training and practice. And when people call me “sir” on the phone, it makes me feel bad, although I’d like to be able to shrug it off.
My advice was, and is: Do everything possible to avoid transitioning. Others have written this screed, I know, but it bears repeating, that many people aren’t going to pass, especially late-transitioners. At the very minimum you *must* find a psychologist who specializes in gender issues *and* who will let you speak with existing patients.
You *must* have a comprehensive physical to rule out organic issues. Maybe you don’t feel like a man because you have very low testosterone. Perhaps you have a pituitary or adrenal tumor or other endocrine problem. You. Don’t. Know. If you make a decision about transitioning without investigating all these possibilities you’re doing your family, friends, and self a huge disservice.
And there’s another rub: Many, if not all of these changes take money and time. Fair? No. Just as Helen is tired of having to repeat herself about her approach to feminism, I’m tired of talking about whether the binary gender system is fair, and whether certain aspects of semi-free-market economies are fair. They’re not, Ok? And it sucks. But you still have to live with it, like it or not. Why? Because if you won’t pay attention to the outside world, you’re literally insane. I’m going to talk about resources and whining in another inflammatory post, coming soon to a MHB forum near you.
Don’t do it. Don’t transition. Do anything and everything you can to work out some other solution. If you’re depressed a few days a month because you have to be a man, would you rather be depressed for a few weeks every month because no one will accept you as a woman?
I’m much happier now that I’ve transitioned, but I’m the exception in almost every respect. I got the Lucky Sperm Club neutral facial structure, neutral hand/foot size, and enough resources that counseling, electrolysis, and surgery did not represent an insurmountable burden. I have a spouse and friends who weren’t happy with me at first, but they didn’t actively interfere with my project and many of them helped and are helping me to learn to act like the person I want to be.
In addition, I work hard at passing every single day that I’m going to interact with The Man. Makeup, shoes, clothes, behaviors that match my age and apparent social background. I’m 43, so I selected a name that was statistically likely both in terms of frequency and social group. I work with financial institutions and MBAs, so I wear makeup and clothes suitable for that environment. I’m a nerd so I also present as a nerd by carrying the appropriate amount of geer (geek-gear). If I don’t, someone will kill me with sticks, or refuse to hire me, which actually has longer-term personal consequences.
-LWU

Gianna Israel article about "Transgenderists"

Transgenderists: When Self-Identification Challenges Transgender Stereotypes
By Gianna E. Israel
Copyright 1996, all rights reserved.
There has been an interesting development in the transgender community in recent years, specifically of persons who do not identify with the social and clinical definitions which apply to individuals with gender identity issues. Traditionally, those who comprise what is frequently referred to as the “transgender community” include transsexuals and crossdressers. In part, the definitions on who is a transsexual and who is a crossdresser are defined by social stereotypes and clinical literature; however they are also defined by those unique persons who have transgender experiences.
A transsexual is a person who transitions and permanently lives as a member of the opposite gender. These persons seek out sex hormones and cosmetic surgery. This includes breast augmentation or mastectomy depending on the direction of change. In addition, transsexuals are interested in Genital Reassignment Surgery or what is also known as Sex Reassignment Surgery. It is common knowledge that there is a larger proportion of individuals who self-identify as transsexual, than the actual number of people who have genital reassignment. This in part is due to the high financial, emotional and social costs associated with living as a member of the opposite gender as well as the surgical procedure itself. There also exists a number of individuals who are unable to undergo Genital Reassignment. More information about those persons will be briefly addressed later in this article.
Crossdressers are persons who temporarily wear clothing of the opposite gender to fulfill an inner sense of need or reduce gender related anxiety. Typically crossdressing is done privately, although some persons do so publicly when circumstances appear safe. Some also crossdress for sexual fulfillment, such as in “transvestic fetishism.” While crossdressers do not experience the many difficulties transsexuals face during the pursuit of transition or Genital Reassignment, they do experience emotional turbulence, social isolation, or concerns regarding privacy and whether to tell others about their secret. Like transsexuals, these factors are particularly evident when a crossdresser is unaware of transgender resources or is unable to resolve stereotype induced feelings of guilt, shame or fear. Both transsexuals and crossdressers are at risk of victimization by persons who cannot tolerate differences in others. Although, transsexuals face slightly higher risks because they are more visible than crossdressers who tend to be more hidden.
Transgenderists are persons who consistently live as members of the opposite gender either on a part or full-time basis. Some maintain their original identity in the work place or during formal occasions. Others appear in their new identity during all aspects of daily life. Transgenderists are unique because maintaining both masculine and feminine characteristics is integral to having a sense of balance. However, the outward presentation of these characteristics varies subtly depending on the individual’s needs and sense of connection to each gender. Like transsexuals, many are interested in obtaining electrolysis, hormones and even cosmetic surgery to bring their outward presentation in line with their inner sense of self. However, like crossdressers, transgenderists are not interested in Genital Reassignment Surgery.
To elaborate on this distinction, even if a transgenderists lives “in role” as a member of the opposite gender on a full-time basis, what separates them from transsexuals, is that they derive pleasure from and value their genitals as originally developed. However, in most circumstances, it is unlikely that a transgenderist who lives in role full-time will disclose such private information without good reason. Because transgenderists are not interested in genital reassignment, they should not be confused with “non-operative” transsexuals or persons who are unable to have surgery due to financial or medical hardship. Although the majority of non-operative transsexuals live “in role” permanently, most need to adjust to a period of internalized incongruency during the time they are unable to have genital reassignment, if at all. Transgenderists do not go through this period of adjustment, because they are not interested in altering their genitals.
Like transsexuals who are at the very beginning of transition, transgenderists frequently experience incongruent feelings regarding their gender identity. Unlike crossdressers these feelings persist “after the clothes come off” and the person dresses in their original gender. These incongruent feelings typically can be continuous, lasting for days and even weeks, until the individual recognizes a pattern in his or her needs. Transgenderists stop feeling incongruent when their needs are consistently met by maintaining characteristics from both genders.
Understanding a transgenderist identity becomes particularly interesting when the subject of differentiating these from other transgender persons is looked at in further detail. Upon hearing about transgenderists, many people are inclined to believe that transgenderists are actually undecided about or simply unaware of genital reassignment. Others believe transgenderists are crossdressers, who somehow have managed to arrange unique living situations, so as to live out their fantasy. While the potential for such circumstances exists, a person usually self identifies as a transgenderist because their internal needs do not meet the narrow definitions associated with transsexuals or crossdressers.
As we try understanding the process of differentiating one type of transgender person from another, it is important to recognize where transgender persons get their definitions and role models. In coming to terms with crossdressing or gender identity issues, most people consult clinical as well as community resources, so as to compare their experiences with others. Access to resources can vary immensely depending upon the individual’s location, cultural background, social status, educational and investigative skills.
For example, the standards which validates a person having a transgender identity vary greatly depending on location. In India, many transgender people have a choice between conforming to traditional gender stereotypes or becoming part of the Hijra caste. This is particularly so if they intend to live out their lives as members of the opposite gender. Within the caste, ritual castration without anesthesia is performed on new members by the caste. Also, hand plucking of facial and body hair is widely encouraged over shaving. Subsequently, while crossdressers and transgenderists may participate in Hijra activities to some extent, none are really considered a full member until they have suffered the pain of beautification and ritual castration.
These practices can seem quite removed from the experiences of transgender persons living in the North America or Europe. These individuals find out about electrolysis, coping with crossdressing, or making a gender transition through relatively similar gender clinics or organizations. For the transgenderist, information addressing their needs has come forth slowly as clinicians began documenting gender identity issues only 20 years ago. In fact, the process of disseminating clinical information about gender issues is so slow, most people are not aware that transgender persons may have specialized medical needs. They may also not be aware that having a transgender identity is not in and of itself mentally disordered, medically diseased or pathological.
Because the majority of clinical resources make no reference to transgenderists, it is important to recognize that differentiating this specialized sub-population is not much different than other transgender persons. Whereas most clinical resources use “consistency” in determining who is a crossdresser as well as who is a transsexual (and therefore an appropriate candidate for hormone administration and genital reassignment), this criterion is equally valuable in identifying transgenderists and their needs. Consistency is defined as person having consistent thoughts, actions, requests or demands for a set period of time. Professionals who utilize consistency as a factor for assessing crossdresser and transsexual treatment plans, may also do so for transgenderists. For example, within the Recommended Guidelines for Transgender Care, Dr. Donald Tarver and I recommend (in part) that “transgender individuals appropriate for hormone administration include those who have in the preceding three months consistently expressed interest in the permanent physical changes brought forward by hormones, in order to bring the body in line with an intended masculine, feminine or androgynous appearance.”
On the surface the preceding recommendation may appear vague because it does not distinguish between transgender sub-populations. This lack of distinction, however, reflects an increasing trend among care providers to encourage transgender persons to adopt a gender-identification based on their needs and experiences, rather than force clients to conform to a provider or clinic’s stereotypes. Encouraging self-determination has encouraged a relaxation of gender boundaries, which meets the needs of all transgender persons.
Because there is not an overabundance of clinical literature portraying the specialized needs and issues transgenderists face, frequently these people cannot locate or are turned away from medical, surgical and psychological services. Those given incorrect information suffer needlessly and are often at risk. For example, those believing they are crossdressers and ineligible for professional services frequently end up self-prescribing, or seeking black market hormones and substandard cosmetic surgeries. Others, believing they are transsexuals, mistakenly proceed with a full-time transition or undergo Genital Reassignment Surgery. As a result these persons end up making huge sacrifices in order to validate themselves, and those who go through with genital reassignment may find themselves regretting having done so for the remainder of their lives. Recognition by professionals and the transgender community of transgenderist needs can help reduce these types of incidents.
Frequently I receive requests for information from physicians who are uncertain about how to address hormone administration in transgenderists. Because hormone administration is a routine medical procedure, providing it to transgenderists is for the most part identical to that of pre-operative transsexuals. I always advise physicians to take into account the patient’s general health, blood laboratory testing, prescription side effects and cosmetic predisposition. The only significant differences include the possibility that the transgenderist may ask that the prescription strength does not interfere with sexual performance, or that cosmetic growth be focused on moderate development or androgenization.
One of the most exciting developments in understanding transgenderist issues, is the recognition that these their experiences can sharply differ in regard to pre-existing relationships such as marriages. Unlike transsexuals who are more likely to face divorce as a consequence of transition, and unlike closeted crossdressers who are the least likely to share “their secret” with a spouse, transgender issues become a significant dynamic within relationships. This is particularly true for those who live in role. In most circumstances the person’s spouse or significant other is clearly supportive of the transgenderist’s needs. Frequently many couples find that the relaxation of gender roles allows both persons to get their internal needs met, whereas they might not get through traditional role play.
It may be assumed that the majority of transgenderist persons deny a desire to have Genital Reassignment Surgery in order to save a pre-existing marital relationship. In some circumstances that maybe the case. However, within my counseling practice only 1 out of every 4 transgenderists state that he or she would “possibly be interested” in genital reassignment if not involved in a pre-existing relationship. Frequently, this ambiguity diminishes the more accepted the person is by others, particularly when acceptance comes from their spouse.
Other issues where transgenderists find difficulties include disclosure and isolation. Disclosing one’s transgender status to others is a challenging prospect fraught with risks. However for the transgenderist, in addition to potential rejection from family and friends, they face the possibility of being turned away by professionals and rejected by the transgender community at large. This is particularly so when transgenderists encounter crossdressers who prefer keeping their behavior hidden, and subsequently feel uncomfortable being around someone who is so visible. Likewise, transsexuals may not be interested in socializing with a transgenderist for fear of having a desire or lack of desire in seeking Genital Reassignment Surgery invalidated.
Like other transgender persons who are hidden or who have not found resources, transgenderists tend to live very isolated, painful lives. This can be overcome by organizations and professionals encouraging differences in others, even when a person’s gender identification challenges transgender stereotypes.
GENDER ARTICLES. This educational column authored by Gianna E. Israel is regularly featured on the 3rd Monday of each month in Tg-Forum, the Internet’s most up-to-date, weekly Transgender Magazine . Several weeks later each article is forwarded to Usenet and AOL . Each column has been written to inspire contemplation and dialogue. Columns may be reprinted in any medium insofar as each article, its introduction, and the author’s contact information remains unaltered.
GIANNA E. ISRAEL provides nationwide telephone consultation, individual & relationship counseling, evaluations and referrals. She is principal author of the Transgender Care (Temple University / in press 1997). She also writes Transgender Tapestry’s “Ask Gianna” column; is an AEGIS board member and HBIGDA member.She can be contacted at (415) 558-8058, at P.O. Box 424447 San Francisco, CA 94142, or via e-mail at Gianna@counselsuite.com.
Copyright 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.

Transgender Veterans

The Transgender Americans Veterans Association recently visited DC and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Here’s Phyllis Frye’s report from www.texastriangle.com:

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Cry
TG veterans lay wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier
By Phyllis Randolph Frye

We met in D.C. as part of an event sponsored by the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) (www.tavausa.org).
In our group that weekend were over forty veterans who are transgendered, including a WWII TG Vet, a TG Korean Vet and two who had been in the Gulf War. The rest of us were of various ages and had served our nation in uniform between those conflicts. Significantly, not all of us were white and not all of us were male to female. Those attending reflected the diversity of our country and of our current military.
On Saturday morning, May 1, we loaded up at the event hotel onto a chartered bus and were escorted with sirens and flashing lights by a D.C. police car driven by a member of the gay liaison in the police department. It was strictly V.I.T. treatment.
We offloaded at the Vietnam Veterans Wall and spent several hours with other tourists at the Wall, at the Korean Memorial and at the newly opened World War II Memorial.
As we initially began to walk along the Wall, one of the transgender veterans that I was walking behind began to falter. I quickly came up to her and said, “you have someone on this wall.” She said yes, a cousin, and that this was her first time here, and she did not know it would affect her so strongly. Another vet and I took her to get the cousin’s name location. When we found the cousin’s name, it was high up on one of the tallest panels. The Park Ranger set up a ladder and took a rubbing off of the wall. This transgendered veteran began to sob, and I held her close for several minutes.
I have been to the Wall six times now, and it is always a powerful experience.
We went to the Korean Memorial and to the World War II Memorial. While at WWII, we sat to rest and a woman approached us, saying that she and her husband had met some in our group and were curious as to the name of our group. We gave them the full story. and they sat down to visit and to learn. They were very proud of our coming that day and said they wanted to attend the placing of our wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier scheduled for 3:05 that afternoon.
Throughout the weekend, our entire TAVA group shared similar stories of ordinary citizens, touring the memorials, and showing respect for our being veterans.
Next we bused to the Iwo Jima Memorial for a short visit and picture taking.
Then we bused to Arlington National Cemetery and walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Solder. If there was ever an appropriate place for transgender veterans to be, it was here. For it is truly unknown as to just how many we are.
We were asked that question by people throughout the day. My answer was ‘many.’ When you think of it, what more masculine occupation would an emerging FTM want to try than the military? Indeed there are documented stories of FTM folks serving and fighting in the American Revolution and the Civil War. And for an MTF who is doing everything possible to deny or trying to kill-off the feminine impulse, what better way to try. That is why so many of us MTFs are Eagle Scouts and veterans as well as police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Yes, lots of us.
We watched a Changing of the Guard (twice each hour on the half-hours) and a Laying of the Wreath (four times each hour at 5, 20, 35 and 50 minutes past the hour) for another group.
We learned later that our wreath had been somehow lost, but members of our Transgender Honor Guard (selected by drawing of names from a hat at the previous night’s reception, sponsored by Mara Keisling’s organization, National Center for Transgender Education, located in D.C.) would have none of that. They went up the chain of command and within five minutes, our wreath was found.
And as it was placed, the Sergeant of the Guard announced in his clear and bold voice, just as he had done for the previous group, ‘This wreath is being placed by the Transgender American Veterans Association.’
I began to cry. Others did too. For those of you who do not know, I began to be an out activist on August 20th of 1974 – almost three decades ago. It is always a struggle to get people to give us the simply human dignity of using our name. I was expecting him to short us by saying TAVA, or tgvets, or something less. But as he stood in his dress blues, at that sacred site and proclaimed the words, ‘This wreath is being placed by the Transgender American Veterans Association,’ I began to cry.
Then there was a salute.
And then there was TAPS.
After the ceremony, I went with two transgender veterans to find the markers of people that were significant to them who were buried there. It was a beautiful thing to do.
That night we had a dinner. Speeches were made. More healing took place. The next morning many of us shared breakfast and then we went our ways to our homes.
As much as I have been through for transgender rights in the past, almost thirty years, this was different. I was changed by it.
I hope that the leaders of TAVA do it again.
I hope that you come with us next time.

Phyllis Randolph Frye is a nationally-acclaimed transgender activist and attorney. She received an Honorable Discharge after serving 1971-72 as 1 LT (Reg.) in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps in Landstuhl, Germany.
There are pictures of the event online, too, at http://www.sheck.com/gallery2/tavatrip?page=1