This is the story of a black transgender lesbian. Before you steel yourself for a long litany of pain, let me not bury the lede; this piece is largely innocent of the long litany of pain. Part of why I wrote this is because I can tell a story about transition and, while being perfectly honest, have not a scene that involves the back of a police car, or being arrested for prostitution, or even engaging in any kind of sex work. There's no period of homelessness and no vignettes where I wake up in a hospital, lucky to be alive. My life is quotidian and it is that very character that makes my story worth telling.
I started transition back in 1991, in 1993 I went 'full time,' had my ID changed and a year later I landed my first job in the software industry, working as a customer service rep for the Institute for Global Communications, a non-profit ISP. With the exception of the first four years of my time in Oregon, during the 2001 - 2004 crash, I have been steadily employed, largely paid fairly and where I have not been it has been rectified without my having to make a stink. I have seen the private sector move from a place where it was pretty amazing to have out gay men and lesbians to one where, as a new hire at at start-up in the latter 90s my HR person said that the subject of domestic partner coverage for insurance had never come up because I was employee #11 and only the second person to come 'outside the family' as it were and now that they had hired a lesbian they needed to add it. It was a matter of waiting a few days. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I didn't have a partner! That was in 1997. Fast forward to 2015.
Three things happened in very rapid succession starting last June. The first is that I received a rejection letter from Kaiser kicking back my doctor's referral for me to get GCS. The second is that the Obergfell decision was handed down and the third is the aftermath of my GCS referral being rejected.
The rejection letter speaks for itself. I was devastated but my wonderful wife, Jaime, reminded me that the doctor had said this might happen. I went to my HR department and made the case that because my employer, New Relic, is based in San Francisco had I stayed in the Bay Area and then been hired on my surgery would be covered on the Kaiser plan down there but it wasn't in Portland. PeopleOps said that they would look into the matter and get back to me.
This was last June, about a week before the Obergfell decision legalizing marriage equality. I heard back from HR in mid-July. They were in the middle of negotiating with Kaiser for this year's benefits, GCS would be added. In October, just before the open enrollment period began, I heard back on the details of what the benefit will be. Suffice to say that it's more than enough to cover the bottom surgery I need plus hospitalization. I now had only to wait until the beginning of 2016 and I would be in the endgame. I wrote the three top leaders in the company about the tears of joy I was crying and received wonderful, heartfelt responses of support back.
In December of last year, I told my boss and our director that in 2016 I was going to be getting surgery and what that surgery was for. I've never been out at work about this. I then told my team and then the department. A few weeks before I wrote this version of this essay, I gave a talk to the women of the engineering group -- comprising the software engineers, the TSE (Technical Support Engineers) and BSEs (Business Support Engineers) -- about what it has been like to transition, what the journey was like and, most importantly, what strengths I've picked up along the way.
A year ago on this date, the sum of people who knew I was transgender was less than 30. If you count only those disclosures that happened because I was dating someone, that number is less than 20. If you counted only people I worked with, it was four people, one of whom died a few years ago. Counting the people who knew me in high school or junior high, there were three -- including my sister. If you count the people who knew me prior to junior high, it was my sister and a sixth grade teacher who I got back in touch with.
Fast-forward to the present and I am writing this piece. I'm out at work, I'm out at the UU church we attend, I wrote a piece for Basic Rights Oregon's blog, which this essay is a riff on, I'm out at work, I'm out with the neighbors with whom we are close. I even, in the wake of Orlando, took a risk and reconnected with people from high school (and some as far back as elementary school!) and was shocked. I have my best girlfriend back, the person who I used to talk all day at school and then talk all night on the phone driving our parents to utter distraction. People I hadn't spoken to in three decades welcomed me home like a long lost sister. It put some perspective on things which resulted in me dumping someone whose 'support' consisted of misgendering me (publicly, multiple times in a given conversation) and using my wrong name, not a year on, or five but twenty-five years on. I am loved and people see the powerful woman I've become.
So why now? In thirty-nine days and eighteen hours from this writing (but who's counting?) I will be checking into Oregon Health Sciences University where my surgery is taking place. So why on God's green earth am I coming out now? I don't have to do this. I've been stealth long enough I could have kept flying under the radar.
There are three reasons, the first having to do with my parents and the charge they gave my sister and I; the second having to do with who I was 25 years ago, and the last having to do with a hedgehog. The first, is that my parents raised my sister and I that we would, by dint of our upbringing and privileges, be expected to take some kind of leadership role in our community. This, of course, meant the black community or at least the black church but I've taken that and just moved it over to the queer community. I was raised to carry myself a certain way and that makes me a good person to put out front as a visible symbol of a minority group.
The second is that to hear the Internet tell it, black transgender women only have one of two fates -- celebrity or a desperate, marginal existence ending lonely, too young, and possibly violently. Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, or one of the many black transgender women who were murdered in 2015. There is another possible future.
The third is because this last March, we put our first hedgehog, Nuggan, to sleep. She was a rescue someone had dumped next to our house and our dog had found. She was elderly and we gave her the best last couple of years of life we could manage. At the end, with cancer eating her back quarters and she unable to even get to the food bowl, we put her to sleep using carbon dioxide in a closed container. This is the method recommended by the American Veterinary Association to euthanize a small animal in the home. It seemed far less cruel on her than to take her to the vet, where a needle would be put through her heart. My part was to keep a tight seal on the pitcher we had her in so I watched the life go out of her eyes. I'd killed plenty of insects and spiders but never another mammal, not face to face like that (I've hit a couple of suicidal squirrels) but we did it because it was the best thing for her, even if it was the hardest thing for us.
It taught me something about love; if you really love someone or a group of someones you will do what is best for them, even if it is hardest for you. It is better for young transgender women to know that there's a life out there for them that doesn't involve sex work, either prostitution or pornography, nor does it rest on the vagaries of celebrity, stardom and being discovered. I am not a celebrity, I live a good life but it lacks glamour and excitement. That's kind of the whole point.
There's a teenaged girl, I didn't quite get to be and I've built the life she would have wanted. Somewhere out there, there's a version of me from 1991 and now she knows that it's possible.
This post is part of HuffPost's Journey Beyond the Binary blog series, an editorial effort to bring diverse trans and gender non-conforming voices to the HuffPost Blog. As the LGBTQIA community celebrates great strides forward, it's important to acknowledge the struggles still pertinent to trans and gender variant members of the community. Please email any pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org