Monday, February 9, 2015

Trans Faces #11 Lee Anne: One Woman's Quest For Her Truth

By Sabrina Samone, TMP


This latest interview without a doubt was extremely moving for me. I have yet been brought to tears by an interview until now. It brings to mind exactly why TMP was started; to promote visibility, unity, and a self acceptance of our own duality within Trans society. Here is a sister that suffered gender dysphoria before there was internet to connect to like minded souls. Even as we all know how the occasional loneliness of being transgender can be for many of us, I can't imagine the loneliness she must have felt. Yet, this is not a story of woe am I; but of survival, and determination to live one's truth.

Lee Anne's story stands as a reminder that not all of us had the luxury of self discovery at a young age and were able to seek out our salvation early. To have been raised in a time that one just desperately wanted to seek out the term that would describe them. Unlike now, where the term Transgender was uttered recently by our POTUS and all one needs is a computer, a social network profile, and you can connect with other trans people.

A woman that has unfortunately been affected by the pompous attitudes of trans hierarchy. Another reminder of the unity we all fight for within our society. We can not hold our hands out for equality and acceptance if we aren't willing to extend equality and acceptance to our own kind, regardless of transition status, ability to go stealth, race, religion, or economical status.

I am touched and inspired by the words of Lee Anne and I know you will enjoy getting to know this beautiful sister's soul as well.


1.  TMP: When were you able to come to terms with yourself about living your truth?

Lee Anne: The first time I admitted who I am was 19 years ago.  In 1996, a 5 year relationship I had been in came to a close and I was not only single, but jobless. When this relationship began I had buried myself very deep as I had finally found the woman who was going to “cure” me and make my life whole. That I was once again turning my back on what made me the kind and caring person she fell in love with never occurred to me. Towards the end the tension within caused me to push her away, and my inability to communicate on all but a superficial level helped to destroy the very thing I treasured.

I sought counseling for depression and the first therapist I went to was unwilling to recognize that I had a part of me that was not conventional  and wanted me to ask God for help. I had spent most of my young life fruitlessly praying to be healed before turning to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping. I knew that I needed to find someone else.

My second source of help was a licensed psychiatrist recommended by a cis friend who had used her for marriage counseling. I showed up as me for the third session and after my explaining for five minutes that I was just a cross dresser she looked me in the eyes and asked “Do you really think you are just a cross dresser?” Doors flew open, windows shot up and the tears that ran down my cheek were from the relief my psyche felt upon being freed from the walls I had erected by my long denial. Thus began my real journey into being me.

2: TMP: When was your earliest memory of feeling transgender, or in the wrong body?

L.A.:  When I was 5 my mother came to me and asked what I wanted to go as on Halloween . I told her I wanted to be a princess. We lived in the country so Halloween night all five kids were piled into the family station wagon and we were driven from one neighbors house to another. One of the first we visited was the Commander's whose teen age daughter baby sat for us. Mrs. Commander came to the door and upon seeing me in heels, a long gown, make-up and with a tiara perched upon my crew cut head said “My aren’t you pretty.” I was in heaven!  There were other Halloweens and other costumes but this is the only one I remember. I also can not quote verbatim any other comment from that time.

A year later while getting dressed for my first day of school I was in the process of pulling on one of my sisters crinolines when my older brother walked into the bathroom and said that I could not wear it to school. He went and got my pants and shirt and after getting dressed I exited the room with one last longing look back at the skirt and blouse I had chosen to wear that day. I wonder what the reaction would have been at Mamie P. Whitesides Elementary School to have me walk in dressed in those clothes. This was in 1958 South Carolina.

3: TMP: Many, but not all transgender people, were married to their spouse as their biological gender. How was it personally for you to transition within your marriage?

L.A.:  I emerged in the fall of 1996 and began to explore who I was and what my role was in society. By early spring I was very confident in who I was despite having depleted most of my savings and living with my oldest sister in a small condo in Downtown Charleston, S.C. I would go out at night to a Lesbian Club, Déjà Vu, which was just across the Ashley River and was the prime reason my reserves were dwindling. I did not drink a lot but 3 drinks and a meal 4-5 nights a week add up quickly.
A local environmental group was having its annual thank you party in Rockville SC, pop. 137, at the Rockville Yacht Club. Now you must understand that in SC the name of something does not necessarily reflect its true status. The Yacht Club is a giant barn of a building with two enormous brick fireplaces for heat and no AC. It does have gorgeous porches and a beautiful view of the Stono River.
I knew quite a few of the members but they did not really know me. I called the groups office to make sure it was OK then made plans to make my debut at a large mainstream function. I walked up the steps little knowing that this one step would lead to a meeting that would change my life forever.
About an hour into the party a friend came up and said that she had a friend who wanted to meet me. She introduced me to this petit, Southern school teacher from the town of McClellanville SC, pop 459, and she and I spent the next hour or two chatting then went our separate ways.
I thought nothing of it but several days later the phone at my sisters house rang and it was Cindy. She had called around till she found out where I was staying and thus began a courtship that I was obtuse to for several months.
By summer I was caretaking some land on the Wando River and Cindy would come for visits as she was out of school for the summer. Women pretty much have to hit me over the head to get me to realize they are interested in me but by late June I had come to realize that I was in love and by late November we were about to be married.
What to wear to the wedding? While most in the Village (by now Cindy and I were living together) knew about me a wedding gown would not have been appropriate and may have cost Cindy her job if word got back to the school board. We went to Dillard’s where we picked out a very nice blue pants suit with a white and black striped top and disappeared into the changing booth. It fit perfectly and when we came out we saw that the sales women were looking our way with bemused smiles. Cindy is 5’2 and I am 6’2 and it was evident who the suit was for. We had a chuckle about it on the drive back home. We were married on November 29 and that is when the real transition began.
I was still out of work and finding a job that paid more than the minimum wage was next to impossible for a Trans woman in SC. My trade was in construction, a bastion of macho men and good old boys, and no one was in the mood to hire me and I was desperate for work as my living off plastic for several months was catching up with me.
HRT stopped and men’s jeans and shirts were bought. Within two weeks I had a job as a punch person/warranty rep for a national builder and worked this position until the economic collapse of 2008.
Once again I had to stuff myself deep down and go into the world as a person I was not in love with, and it almost wound up destroying my marriage. I was not happy and god only knows why Cindy stuck with the bitter person I had become. Things came to a head in March of 2014 and we reached out to a local support group. I went back on HRT and now the only place I am not out is at work. You would think that my wearing women’s jeans, post earrings, and with a definite shelf on my upper chest that at least a few of the 47 women I work with would notice something; but they seem oblivious. People really do see what they want to see. I am out to four co-workers and it is a joy to be able to be friends as women and not have to worry about them misinterpreting my intentions. All of my life I have never had close male friends, my real friends have always been women.
I am happy now and Cindy and I have mostly repaired the damaged my retreat caused. We still have a bit more to fix but life is good and with the help of my local support group the healing is all but done.

4. TMP:  With the success of the series “Transparent” we also find ourselves coming out to children and other relatives. How has this process been for you personally?

L.A.: Compared to a lot of the stories I have heard I had a relatively easy coming out.  I had a vasectomy at the age of 30, so there were no children to deal with.  My mother had passed away some years before, and while she had been liberal in her world views she was also a devout Christian.  My father once told me that she could spot a “Q***r” from across the room, so I wonder what her view of me would have been.
 I was living in a small 450 sq. ft. shed next to the eldest sisters property when I announced to the world that I was Lee Anne. Most of my acquaintances  took it very well and I can think of only one who abandoned me completely. That was the woman I had been with before my emergence from the cocoon. I told her approximately 2 ½ months after our break up that I was going to become a woman and she was stunned. Her comment was that I was the only person she had ever met who was more robust than her. I thought we had parted amicably and it was only years later I discovered that she had then told people the reason she threw me out was that she had caught me wearing her clothes. As she was 5’7” and 120 and I was 6’2” and a very muscular 195 this was an impossibility and had never happened.
At the time I had two step sisters and one step brother (he has since passed), so I called their Aunt to get a feel on how they would react. She was none to pleased and hung up on me after saying that given the family’s history, how could I; and that I should remain in the closet. 
In the 1960’s my step sib's father had killed himself rather than face a public outing in a divorce from my stepmother who had caught him with another man. In addition the youngest of my step sisters had been told that her God Father had died . In reality Gordon Langley Hall had undergone SRS and become Dawn Langley Hall and married her Black boyfriend. I do not know which upset 1960’s Charleston more, the SRS or the marriage. Judging from the stories I heard it was probably the marriage. My father actually covered the wedding for one of the New York papers. The local paper gave it a very brief mention on the obit page.
Three of my siblings took the news very well, and my youngest sister even brought my then months old niece by for a visit when they came down from Charlotte. The next to the oldest, in whose guest cottage I was living, was not so accepting. She would look down across the yard at me as I walked to my jeep to drive to Déjà Vu, my bar of choice. I was also told by her that since I wanted SRS and to be with a woman I was sinning and damning myself to hell. Some weeks later things came to a head and I moved out and in with my oldest sister in Downtown Charleston. Sixteen years later she loaned me some of our mother’s jewelry to wear to the SC Equality Gala in Columbia.
My brother was teaching at VMI in Virginia and was unperturbed by my news. He was unable to get down before I returned to the closet so he never saw the real me. In 2014 when I reemerged I sent him a photo from that time and his reply was “God. I think I am lusting after my brother.” It is the best picture I ever took and I use it on my google e-mail. Such smooth and unwrinkled skin I had back then.

5. TMP: Occasionally, over time, you may or may not have heard the term transgender. What were the feelings that arose within you, knowing who you are but yet unable to express it?

L.A. : When I was growing up and wondering why I was attracted to feminine attire and makeup, the term transgender had not yet come into use. One was either a cross dresser, transvestite (at the time a term for those who derive sexual pleasure from dressing as the opposite sex) or transsexual.  I knew I was not a cross dresser, and while there were times in my adolescence when I indulged in self gratification while wearing women’s clothing I knew I was not dressing for the thrill of sexual pleasure. That left transsexual and so I thought that is what I must be. Then I did research at the local library. To be a transsexual there were certain criteria one had to meet among them being: Never having masturbated while wearing the clothes of the opposite sex and a MtF transsexual must be attracted to men and not women. 
If there are any Transpeople who knew from an early age that they were “different”, and who did not masturbate while so dressed, they must be both Trans and Asexual. When puberty hits most of us explore, and what we are wearing has little relationship to our desires. And my desire was to be a woman and be with a woman. I had absolutely no sexual interest in men but if the experts said I must be attracted to men then I must be. My two experiences in gay sex were interesting, but did not move me as when I was with a woman. I preferred oral sex with a woman, and in my mind it was always better to give rather than receive. 
So I did not fit in anywhere and drifted further into the world of drugs and alcohol, trying to obliterate what I felt inside. Confusion was what I felt the most. I did not fit any of the categories. When I dressed, I did so in private. When I went out it was late at night on the deserted streets of Charleston, or for long walks on the moonlit beach of Sullivan’s Island. I had one failed relationship after the other as I desperately tried to prove that I was all man. I became a carpenter as further proof of my manhood all the while knowing I was living a lie, and fooling myself.
In 1996 after deciding that I could no longer live this way I confided in a friend my turmoil and he invited me over to his apartment to use his computer to do an internet search. I knew what a computer was but had no clue what a search engine was.  He logged me onto Alta Vista and showed me how to type in the search words and then hit enter. I typed in transsexual and found the term transgender. I looked up the definition and there I was. After all the years of pain and denial I finally realized that I was someone, and that there were others out there just like me. Within two days I had purchased my own computer and was on it constantly, reading and learning about what it meant to be Transgender. Then I discovered The Transgender Forum. At the time it was the largest and best networking site for Trans Women, with links to anything and everything related to being Transgender. And it had a chat room! It was here that my true education began as to what it meant to be Trans and that my experience growing up was in no way atypical. We laughed, cried, and reveled in being ourselves. I had finally figured it out. Transgender I was and Transgender I will be until the day I die. And then? Who knows, but there had better be glitter and heels.


6. TMP: How did the death of 17 year old Leelah Alcorn affect you personally?

Lee Anne: Her death was an unnecessary tragedy that was due to ignorance and religious zeal, and I still feel the tears well up when I think of her. The first reports were sketchy, but then her dying wishes were made known and the story exploded. Her parents appeared on TV and tried to paint themselves as loving parents, all the while referring to Leelah by her birth name and constantly using the pronoun him.

I was sad, tearful, and outraged. Compounding my anger was that in the early hours the ONLY mainstream story I could find that was respectful to Leelah, and used the correct pronouns, was from a British newspaper.

I shared with friends and commented on their posts. All the while raging inside at the zealotry that led her parents to turn their backs on this wonderful child they had brought into this world. I read some of the hateful and frightening comments that followed these stories and I raged anew. If I had a faith in the Judeo-Christian God I would have cursed him for allowing this to happen. How many more would have to die before we are accepted.

Her dying hit me hard on an emotional level and the cause of, and some of the reaction to, her death helped me to come to a better understanding of what my role should be in this life. Leelah’s own words showed me what she wanted us to do. It was there before me, but I was so caught up in the moment I had ignored her wishes in my desire to strike back at those who hate, bully, and destroy. And oh how I wanted to strike back. Then her words touched my soul and my rage turned into determination.

Leelah wrote: “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in school. My death needs to mean something.”

The way to avenge her death was not by striking out at those who hate, nor was it in commiserating with friends on just how bad we Trans people have it in a world that does not understand us. The way to avenge her death was to teach the haters that we were not so different from them, and that we had a right to the same protections they have. Education is the key to acceptance, and not just in the schools. We need to educate adults and dispel the myths, misconceptions, and scare stories that play a large part in the feeling of “other” that many have towards us.

When Stuart Milk spoke at the Equality Gala in Columbia this past November he said that the path to understanding is through visibility. It is time we emerged into the full sun, stood proud, and took our place as full members of our society. Even many members of the LGBTQ community do not know that the Gay Pride movement would not exist if not for the defiant actions of two Trans Women who stood up to the bullying tactics of the NYPD at Stonewall. A Latino and an African-American began the movement. Now it is our turn to say enough! I plan to spend what time I can educating the public and bringing light to those who wait in the shadows, too afraid to emerge.

 
7. TMP: Being of a wiser age, you would have a wiser outlook on life. What is your opinion and views on current transgender society? What needs to be highlighted, and what, in your opinion, should be done away with?

L.A.: It is an exciting time to be Transgender in America especially for the children. It is still not easy, but just 15 short years ago we would rarely have see someone like Jazz transition at such an early age and with such support from her parents; or Chaz Bono appearing on a network television dancing show. Things are changing fast but we still have a long way to go for acceptance, and cannot let our guard down for a minute as there are those who would seek to refuse us our rights as members of modern society, including some within the broad spectrum that the term Transgender covers.
It is bad enough that we are, at times, overlooked by the LGBQ. ENDA is a perfect example, but just when we need to present a solid front in our struggle we find that even within the Trans community there are divisions that fragment our cause. Some of those who go stealth look down upon those who can’t and there are those who feel that without the bottom surgery one is just a cross dresser. And some cross dressers look at all of us, shake their heads, change clothes and return to their assigned birth roles until the next time. 
Unity is lacking and that is the number one issue that could well hold us back. We need to quit spending so much energy trying to fit everyone in the nice little box we want them in and focus more on education and visibility. Society will never accept us until we accept ourselves.
Visibility is the best educational tool we possess. We need to step out of the shadows and show that we are not the one dimensional characters seen in the movies. We need to be seen as neighbors, co-workers, and quite possibility the person in the adjacent seat at the ball game. 90% of America either knows or is related to a LGBQ. Only 10% consciously know someone who is Trans. I say consciously as we became so adept at hiding ourselves over the years that those who thought they knew who we were really did not have a clue. There are laws on the books in many states that still keep us hidden because of fear of losing work or housing. This has to change. We need to build upon what was begun by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson at Stonewall. It will not be easy, and it will not be overnight, but it will be something we can take Pride in.


8. TMP: Being a baby to transitioning, what are the things that are important to you in your new life?

 
L.A.: My marriage first and foremost. I am blessed with a remarkable wife with whom I could not imagine life without. Her support is what has enabled me to get as far as I have in such a short time. Our marriage is the main reason that I began anew my transition, as it would not have survived much longer if I hadn’t. 
The second is the wonderful members of the local support group to which I belong. I have learned so much from them and am amazed at how some persevere despite what life throws at them. 

 9. TMP: How do you see your life being happier living your truth?

L.A.: I am free. Free from the self doubt, the self medicating with drugs and alcohol, and free from living a lie. 
How does one explain to others outside of the Trans Community what it is like to know who you are, but be so scared and ashamed that you turn your back on yourself? Living life as a shell is not much of a life. The more I denied, the more angry and bitter I became. This influenced how I dealt with people and I would take out my frustrations on those closest to me. That so many stayed is a testament to the goodness of their hearts. Now, when I walk down the halls at work there is a smile on my face and a bounce to my walk (with maybe a little wiggle thrown in for good measure :) . 
I am comfortable with who I am and how I am living my life. I finally see that I will always be me no matter how I appear to others. If they have trouble with me that is their problem, not mine. I love getting all dressed up and can be so girly that I sometimes surprise even myself. I can also go out in jeans, work shirt, and gloves to cut firewood with my chain saw. Where once I used to dress as a means of expressing my femininity, I now dress for the occasion. Clothes do not the woman make, and I am extremely comfortable no matter how I dress. How a person looks is just their façade. It is what lies behind their appearance that matters. After 62 years I am content with the person I have become. And that person is a woman. 


 
10. TMP: I’d like to ask, if you could tell the world something about Lee Anne and you knew everyone would listen, what would you like them to know about you?

L.A.: There are so many things. I love nature and find there is nothing more relaxing than launching my 17’ sea kayak onto the water and paddling down a Lowcountry black water river, or riding with the tide down a creek to the ocean.
My wife and I are the unofficial animal rescue for our small village and have quite a collection of dogs on our six, fenced in acres. We have a one acre pond which, at night, is sometimes filled with 500+ egrets and ibis who come to roost for the evening. We even had as pets two possums, long deceased, that were literally rescued as babies from the jaws of dogs.
I am concerned about the damage we are doing to our beautiful world, and hope that we come to our senses before there is no habitable world left.
I would love to see term limits for both houses of Congress and am very upset at all the hatred, violence, and persecution done in the name of one's God.
I am very proud of the fact that I have quit smoking and have managed to lose 75 pounds. I now weigh just five more pounds than I did in college.
Oh, and did I mention that I am Transgender? 


I thank Lee Ann for telling us her beautiful story of courage. I hope that it inspires others within the community to think about our sisters and brothers who spent years hiding their truth in order to survive. This will, for our 'genderation', continue to be an issue as younger trans kids are able to start puberty blockers at younger ages. How will they one day view us, those not able to begin transition until late teens or early twenties? The drive for many future trans people who are able to blend will be to walk away from visibility, but I urge the contrary because without visibility, those in main stream society will not know the personal stories like Lee Anne's. Without trans representation and visibility  in everyday society, there is no need for those to extend visible equality we can feel.

To connect with Lee Anne on Facebook

Links to references mentioned in interview:
The bar in North Charleston SC, Lee Anne went to Déjà Vu.
HRT
Dawn Langley Hall (Peninsula of Lies) 
South Carolina Equality
TG Forum
Leelah's Law
Sylvia Rivera and Sylvia Rivera Law Project
Saint Marsha P. Johnson
Stonewall
The support group Lee Ann mentioned; Charleston Area Transgender Support Group



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