Suzanne's Story

My name is Suzanne. My parents made the mistake of naming me Melvin when I was born. I am a transsexual woman.

For the most part, my transition from Melvin to Suzanne has been relatively trouble free. That’s not to say there weren’t problems, but unlike so many like me mine seemed much less significant.

I’ve been very fortunate in so many ways. I am so fortunate to have an ex spouse who is a very dear and caring friend. I am so fortunate to have two wonderful children who love me and love being with me. I am so fortunate to have an accepting family. I am so fortunate to have my own business. I am so fortunate to have had the money to do what needed to be done. I am so fortunate to be a woman.

For the past 6 years I have been living in what some call “Stealth”.  That is to say, that unless I say anything about my past I am fully accepted as a woman in society.  Recently, there have been several events that have put transgendered people in the spotlight. After seeing “Transamerica” recently I realized that although I don’t talk about it much, I am extremely proud to be transgendered.

The story of my younger years isn’t so different than anyone else’s. For those who suffer from gender dysphoria, our stories only differ due to ones own particular environment. That’s not to say that the story of my younger years isn’t important. Mine is important story and so are those of the other suffering from gender dysphoria. I hope that someday, these stories will emerge as have the actual transition stories have.

For the purposes of the story, I will refer to “transition” as being that time beginning when I actually made a conscious decision to move forward with a full transition.

At 44, I was co-owner of a medium sized electronics export company making over a million dollars a year.  I was married to the most wonderful woman in the world and had 2 wonderful kids. I owned an airplane, a boat, 2 BMW’s and a 4,500 square foot house to which we had just added a $50,000 pool area.  I had it all. All, of course, except peace of mind.

Except of course, the feeling like I belonged in my own skin.  I decided in just one moment that I had to move ahead with transition.

My sister Gale was the only person who knew anything about my gender dysphoria. Gale and I had been talking pretty constantly for about a year about my condition and what should, or could, be done about it. I had given her the same web sites that I visited for my own research on the subject and become quite knowledgeable. She was very worried about me since I had already started taking hormones and still didn’t know what I was going to do. We decided that we had to get together to discuss my situation in person.

Very early Saturday morning, August 1st, 1998, I climbed into my Cessna T-210 for what was to be an epic solo cross-country flight from California up the West Coast to Tacoma, Washington. My flight was wonderful, in fact it was the best flight I had since earning my pilot’s license in 1979. It was calm and peaceful and the day was perfect. I landed at South Lake Tahoe for fuel and a great breakfast. On my departure, I flew lower over the lake and watched several beautiful hot air balloons starting their ascent. It was simply gorgeous.

My flight remained calm, and uneventful until I was just over Portland Oregon. I got a weather report for the Seattle-Tacoma area and found that the early morning clear skies had clouded up a bit. Not having my instrument ticket, I decided to pop over the Cascades to Ellensburg where the weather was nice. I had to wait the weather out in Ellensburg for about three hours. Finally, after the cloud cover had cleared over my destination I took off again.

By the time I reached the Tacoma, it had been 12 hours since leaving Camarillo. The controllers there vectored me all over the place, including right over an Air Force Base.

By the time I got into the traffic pattern at Spanaway Airport, I was pretty tired. I entered a left hand traffic pattern to the west when it should have been a right hand pattern to the east. My view of the runway was obscured and I was a bit nervous because the strip was narrower and much shorter than where I usually land. My sister and her husband were at the end of the runway waiting. It was actually one of my best landings ever. The airspeed was just right, my approach angle was perfect and I was all set up for a smooth and impressive landing. Except for one tiny little detail; I had forgotten to lower my landing gear. Before I had time to react, I was past the point of no return.

The 210 actually glided softly onto the runway, scraping very little paint from the bottom of the airplane. The 3 bladed propeller hit the asphalt 18 times, 6 times per blade. I pushed the right rudder pedal as hard as I could and the airplane moved off the runway, stopping in soft grass just 300 yards from the landing point.

I was stunned but surprisingly calm. I turned the ignition key to OFF, un-buckled my seat belt and climbed out to a beautiful Western Washington afternoon.

My sister however, not knowing if I was hurt, came running down the runway with tears in her eyes. When she got to me and saw that I was OK, she gave me a big hug of relief. Asking if I was OK, I simply replied, “I am fine but I think I just answered the question that I came here to ask.”  From that day on, I knew what I had to do.

I sought the services of a good gender therapist, and found the perfect person. I started seeing her once a week. Then, twice a week.

I now had many things to work out: my wife, the kids, my family, my business, and my future. These aspects of transition are those we all have to face to one degree or another. Basically, the issue is how is what I am about to tell everyone going to affect them. And me.

My wife, Debbie, and I had had our troubles, mostly because of my gender dysphoria. She initially knew nothing of my gender dysphoria of course, but my mood swings, my anger problems and frequent unexplained nights out really took their toll on our marriage. I created the basis for all of our problems with dishonesty and fear.

But I was (and still am) very much in love with her. I knew that she would not want to be with me after announcing my intentions. I struggled with it so much. It consumed me. How could I do this? If I were a real man, she was the perfect partner for me. But I wasn’t a man. I had to tell her, I had to give up my life with her.

I was so afraid to tell her that I called her brother Steve and asked him to meet me. I had “something” to talk to him about. He thought it was because I wanted to renew our vows or something to that effect.

I talked, and cried, for 4 hours that night. I spilled everything. I bared my soul, my past, my lies, my fears, all of it. I told him that I planned to tell her the next morning and asked if he could be close to comfort her. Unbeknownst to me, Steve told Debbie’s sister later that night.

Debbie’s sister couldn’t contain herself and was going to meet Debbie that morning for a hike. I had to intervene. I caught up with her before her sister had a chance to say anything but she knew now that something was “up”. (insert sound from Dragnet TV show)

It was an awfully painful conversation. At one point Debbie asked if I had even thought about discussing it with her and trying to work it out. That one threw me. But I realized that would never have happened. She is a woman and wants to be with a man, a real man. I thought I was doing the “right” thing and letting her go to spare her any more pain.

The next few months or so were absolute hell. I had left my business by then and wasn’t working so the house and the kids became my responsibility. I don’t know what Debbie was doing. She came and went and it was none of me business. Guilt has firmly set itself into my soul.

Just being around here during that time was uncomfortable. Of course, I was OK with being with the kids a lot but and not having to work. I stayed at the house, in the guest room downstairs. I moved in there completely. Female clothes and all. I spent a lot of time in that room, alone.

Then, one day, Debbie came to me and said, “I am not going to be angry any more. We, both of us, are going to do whatever we have to do to get the kids through this”. Period. We agreed not to fight in front of them, not to discuss any of this in front of them.

My transition was going to be regulated, slow, over time so that the impact on the kids was minimal. She was suddenly much easier to be around. I still took care of the kids a lot and when I was around them, I was not to be feminine in any way.

Over the course of the next few months, Debbie let me know when it was OK to let my hair grow longer, to get my ears pierced. The kids seemed not to notice anything.

Debbie had found a new house nearby and I was charged with selling the old behemoth. We adopted a “week on – week off” agreement for the care of our children. That was something of a relief because now I had some time to myself. So, I was a “girl” one week and a “boy” the next.

That was an extremely difficult time. My therapist and I had agreed that we would consider this time the beginning of the required one-year life experience. However, having to change so completely every week became near impossible. I guess it was inevitable that parts of the new me I was just discovering had to cross over.

I wasn’t long before I found myself pretty much fully “ME” around the kids. I had actually spoken to me son about it at one point. He was inquisitive but not upset.

Then, one day in spring of 1999, the kids and I were at a local restaurant, with me in my regal best and Debbie’s sister walked in. Shit! This was the same sister who couldn’t help but reveal everything to Debbie before.

Of course, Debbie heard about it within hours and I was busted. She was pretty calm about it though but said that this wasn’t a great way to regain her trust in me. Then, very compassionately, she told me that she recognized that it must be very difficult for me to maintain this on/off transitional time. Wow.

Debbie was planning a 2 week trip to Italy with her new boyfriend. We decided that before she left we would get together, sit the kids down and talk to them about what Daddy was going to do.  It never happened and the night before she left for her trip she told me, “Why don’t you go ahead and tell the kids while I am away?” I had re-gained her trust! We have been great friends ever since. I am the luckiest person alive!

My business was another issue. I had one partner, Mike. Over the years in business with Mike I had grown not to trust him. I was now afraid to tell him. But why should I be? I owned 50% of this company. I was an integral part of it. He can’t fire me. So I sat him down one day, before I told my wife, and told Mike. He though about it a while before saying a word. Finally,

“Well, I went into business with you because of your abilities, not your gender, so I guess I have no problem with it.” Verbatim. What a guy.

Mike's wife wasn't so okay with it.  As time went on, things changed.

About ten weeks later, Mike came to me and said; “I am not going to be able to handle this. One of us has to leave.” He said that to make it look like I had a choice, him or me. But he knew with what lay ahead of me, and knowing my emotional situation at the time, I would be virtually incapable of running the company. Mike knew I would say, “OK, buy me out.” And I did.

His bluff paid off and although he paid me a lot of money over the next two years I had been screwed. The first time as a woman.

Meanwhile, I was in the process of telling my family. My “Dad” had passed on (we were never close anyway) so I had my mother, two younger brothers, my grandmother and aunt’s and uncles to tell. I told my mother by email, including attachments that would further explain and serve to lessen her inevitable fears. She took it all quite well and even made closed one of her e-mails with, “I finally have a daughter.”  Another sigh of relief.

Later, when she saw me for the first time, she looked at my feminine face and said, “Now it all makes sense.” I didn’t know what she meant at the time but I would get it out of her later.

I told my brother Chris at a family reunion back up in Seattle. He asked a lot of questions pointing towards the one, “Are you sure about this?”  I was.

My other brother, Mark was a more difficult sell. He went on about me being is only male role model and was quite concerned about HE was going to deal with this. I discovered the reason for that later too.

I was actually quite pleased at this point. My therapist and I talked about how great it was that it was all going so well.

I wasn’t working, I was full time now, had lots of money to buy beautiful clothes. I had facial feminization surgery with Dr. Ousterhout in San Francisco.

Debbie had recommended a doctor for my breast augmentation. Wow, I used the same doctor for breast aug that my ex-wife used.

But the very best thing was that I had a lot of time. I went to Dallas frequently for weeklong electrolysis treatments. I went to Vegas to have fun. But what I liked best was that I had a lot of time to spend with my kids. They had become very comfortable with who I was and we went everywhere.

Life was good; I was getting huge checks from the sale of my business to Mike, bought a great little house, bought a new car. Oh, and somewhere in there, I think it was June 13, 2000, I checked into Century City Hospital where Dr. Gary Alter (yes, ALTER) performed my gender re-assignment surgery. I was now a woman. Of course, it was merely a physical formality as I had always been a woman.

My very favorite thing to do with my time was to be a “Room Mom” in my daughters’ classes. Most of the teachers and other parents knew about my change but everyone was very accepting. I never heard or word or caught a “look” from anyone. I made several friends at the school and some are still good friends. I helped out at the school for her Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. I was the most fulfilling time of my life.

Then, it was time to go back to work. I started a new company, in direct competition with Mike, my ex partner. We staggered for a while and we made more than a few mistakes but today, we are profitable and having fun. I am actually going on a business trip to Japan this spring, with my new passport and with great eagerness.

So, now 6 years post-op, I hardly think about gender anymore. Not until the subject comes up, usually in the form of a new movie dealing with transgender issues. It was the film “Transamerica” and the wonderful way it and felicity Huffman reminded me once again that I am quite a beautiful and special person.

Please don’t misunderstand however - it WAS a very difficult road. It was filled with potholes and times I would rather forget. Times that I thought it was time to end everything. But I didn’t. Today, I'm happier than I thought I could be...


[posted 2-26-2006]