I changed my sex and then killed myself on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving has never been the same since.
The day dawned cold and rainy. I woke when it got light. These days I wasn’t getting much sleep; a few hours here and there – that’s it. Discomfort and stress kept me from getting a good night’s sleep. It’s not easy living in a car. I was living in my car where it ran out of gas, under a freeway overpass in West Los Angeles. Though I woke feeling bleak and depressed on that rainy Thanksgiving day, I had no idea it would be my last.
Changing sex isn’t something that can be done in private. You have to do it right in front of everyone in your life: family, friends, coworkers, boss, neighbors, the grocery checker. And it’s not instantaneous; it takes a very long time. Years. And all the while, people watch with fascination and horror and sometimes revulsion, as you struggle to find yourself. When people think about transsexuals, they don’t think about stuff like that.
Going from one gender to the other requires jumping through myriad hoops. First, you need lots of psychotherapy, because it is taken for granted that any man who wants to whack off Hootie and the Blowfish must be crazy, right? We hear it all the time. “What kind of man would want to cut off his own penis?” The answer to this question is supposed to be a crazy man. But the real answer is that a man would never do that, but a woman would. Eventually, after months of tests and therapy, your shrink – who acts as a gatekeeper to the Holy Land – pronounces that you’re probably sane enough to take the first physical steps toward changing sex, which are living in the “target gender” and starting on female hormones.
See, they have this rule. Once they determine that you’re really transsexual and not just a crazy person, you can’t just get sex change surgery. No, you have to go through the seven levels of Hell, first.
Your first task is to announce to everyone in your life that you are going to have a sex change. This isn’t an easy thing to do. You find out that people who are supposed to love you unconditionally – parents, children, siblings, best friends – don’t. You start to lose people as you tell them. Some transsexuals suffer nary a loss; others suffer substantial losses. I lost everyone.
I told my parents. They expressed love and support. Then three weeks later I got a call from my mother saying I shouldn’t come around anymore. What would their neighbors think? How would they explain things? How could I do this to them? My entire family followed suit and disowned me.
I told my spouse. Naturally, I lost my marriage. We’re good friends now, though, which is great. Then I told my friends, each of whom expressed their undying friendship, and each of whom then disappeared. I told my boss, with predictable results.
All told, I lost everyone in my life, my home, my job, my family, and my income. My creditors stayed with me, though. Changing sex cost me over $150,000, which was a good three years’ income. It would have taken me 20 years to save that much money, so I did a lot of it on credit. And though I lost my income, I did not lose my debts.
My therapist declared that I was now ready to embark on the Real Life Test. That’s where you live for at least one full year in the “target gender,” after which – if you’re still alive and can afford therapy – you may (or may not) be approved for sex reassignment surgery. The idea is that you live for a year as a woman to see if you like it, or whether you come to your senses and decide to keep your penis and live as the man God meant you to be.
I had never so much as put on a pair of women’s shoes before. Now I was required to dress as female (and how was I going to afford a whole new wardrobe?), adopt a female name, and live my whole life as a woman.
Only problem was, I still looked like a man.
It turns out that the Real Life Test is not, after all, about seeing if you can live life as a woman. It’s about seeing if you can live life as a man in a dress. It is the most humiliating, terrifying, soul-killing exercise one can perform in America. The result, for me, was homelessness and becoming unemployable. I couldn’t even get a minimum wage job. I guess I must really have been a sight.
Of course, I was warned. My therapist told me – so kindly and with great sadness – that I might never “pass” as a woman, and that I might forever have to live in a ghetto of fringe people, always on the periphery of society. She reminded me that 75% of transsexuals are chronically unemployed, and 40% die, either at their own hands or at the hands of those expressing their disapproval. Did I really want to do this?
After much soul searching, my answer was that I didn’t have a choice. I could no longer live another day in a lie. I had to be me, whatever that was, and whatever the consequences.
The consequences brought me to a rainy Thanksgiving, living in my car under a freeway. I had run out of money. I could no longer afford food or gas, much less therapy, doctors or hormone treatments. I was hungry and cold. I hadn’t eaten the day prior, and my stomach complained all day.
Finally, I swallowed my pride and walked more than a mile in the rain to a pay phone, where I called my parents, collect. My mother answered, and when the operator was asking if she would accept the charges (before the process was automated), I could hear my family laughing and talking in the background. Surely, I could explain and on this day, of all days, my family would take me in and feed me. But when my mother was asked if she would take my call, she spat “No,” and unceremoniously hung up. That was it.
My pride was gone and I was hungry. I begged for food. You’d think that Thanksgiving would be a day of generosity, but the few people I encountered in the rain didn’t hold that view. One gave me a sad look and a shrug of the shoulders, as if saying he would like to help me, but he simply was not allowed to. I stood outside restaurants (what riches lay therein!) and didn’t get so much as a dollar or a leftover biscuit.
It got dark. Restaurants wound down. My hunger ramped up. I was soaked to the skin, depressed, hungry and running out of ideas. Finally, I did something I swore I would never, ever do. I went to a street where I knew that people like me rented out their bodies to passersby, and I did my best to entice some man into stopping and paying me money for sex.
Eventually, a man walked up to me. He questioned me. What was I doing out here? What was I waiting for? Did I want to sell my body for sex? I freaked. I don’t know if he was a creep or a cop (or both), but I ran away. He didn’t follow.
Later, a man with a beard and kind eyes pulled up in a brown Lincoln, and asked me if I needed a date. I did. He invited me into his car. I have told this story so many times before, it has lost its power. I tell it almost by rote, now. I had visions of a warm bed, a meal and a few dollars to feed myself and buy some gas. But that’s not what I got. Cut to the chase: We negotiated a price for sex. We went somewhere dry. I tried to look sexy, be sexy. God, it was awful. He became angry and started roughing me up, calling me nasty names. I was scum, I was an abomination before God, not fit to breathe the same air as normal people. He was violent now. I tried to fight him off. He hit me, hit me again, knocked me down, and raped me. Then he suddenly became remorseful and apologized to me. Offered me a ride. I begged off, which insulted him. He insisted. I gave him directions to an intersection not far from my car. When he stopped to let me out, I asked for the money we had agreed upon. He said something mean and hit me again; told me to get out or he would kill me.
I got out.
Back in the cold, the rain. Bleeding. Walking to my car. My face hurt and so did my body. It turns out my nose was broken, as were three ribs on my left side. I made it back to my car. Sat inside and shook. To calm myself, I turned on the radio. There was some football game on. Two college teams I didn’t know. I don’t like football, but I listened, picked a team and tried to care what happened. Then the battery went dead and the radio died. And so did I.
Hopeless, desperate, hungry and hurting, I began to sob and couldn’t stop. I wailed and cried for an eternity. Eventually, it stopped, and a bleak calm settled in. I knew what I was going to do.
Three weeks earlier, my mentor and best friend, another transsexual named Christina, had taken her own life. Hung herself in her mother’s garage. She had been so pretty, so successful, and she was showing me the way. And then they took away her daughter and her job, and she took away her own life.
That cold, rainy Thanksgiving night, I took my own. Another statistic. One of the 40% of pathetic transsexuals who lose their lives, proof that we’re all sick, immoral, lost souls. There were pills. A lot of them. I had horded them, saving them as my escape hatch. And now it was finally time to escape. I could see no path that would lead to a happy, productive life. I could see no way out, except one, and I took it and slipped away.
I am told that a policeman happened by and wondered what this car was doing parked, at night, under the freeway overpass, and he investigated. He saw me inside, could not rouse me. Broke the window when he couldn’t jimmy the lock. Called for an ambulance. Performed CPR on me.
When I woke in the hospital, it was the worst feeling I ever felt. Not only was I not allowed to have a life, I was also not allowed to die. They told me about the cop as if he had done something wonderful, but the only thing I felt for him was hate. Why hadn’t he minded his own fucking business?
They kept me there for three days, during which time they found someone who would take me in. A friend of mine, who hadn’t spoken to me in months, said she and her husband would let me stay on their boat in the marina for a while, while I “got back on my feet.” They gave me food and some money, and transported me to see the social worker who had been assigned to me.
My body continued to live. And I cut my hair, donned men’s clothes and got a job as “him” again. But I remained dead inside. Eventually, I took an opportunity and moved thousands of miles away, to a different country. There, I hoped, I could simply breathe in and out, day after day, until my life mercifully came to an end, without anyone bothering me.
But after living there for three years, something happened. I started to wake up. I started to care about life again. And after six years, I was fully alive and ready to try again.
This time, I didn’t follow their rules. I didn’t do a Real Life Test. I went to Thailand and got surgeries without their tests and their therapy and their letters of approval. I had my face feminized, my breasts augmented, my vagina given to me. I had my identity and my sex legally changed.
Then, and only then, did I return to the United States, a whole, brand new, complete person. A woman. Me.
I moved to my old home town and started over. No one knew – or knows today – my old identity, my old history. I have had long talks with my closest old friends, and they never had a clue whom they were talking to. Once, I ran into a man I adored and admired, who was my friend and professional mentor for 15 years. We had a 20 minute conversation, during which he stared at my cleavage and talked about what a beautiful young woman I was. He’s something of a celebrity, so just for fun I got his autograph. And he never knew that he was talking to the guy he used to hang out and smoke weed with, who helped rescue his wife when she became a cocaine addict and ran off with a drug-addled movie star’s wife, who saw him through his darkest days. And I never told him.
Why should I? That guy died on a rainy Thanksgiving night, years ago.
It happens that I have his soul and memories, but I am not him. I am a smart and attractive career woman, with a great life.
And that’s just the way I like it.