Sunday, August 4, 2013
Friday, August 2, 2013
On the wall at my engine house hangs a large framed photo featuring the silhouette of a firefighter against vivid flames. Underneath is a caption that reads: “Courage comes from a reserve of mind more powerful than outside circumstances.” As emergency first responders we are often lauded for our courage following some bold public act, yet I believe that the hardest courage is sometimes being brave enough to be honest with yourself.
Coming out as a male to female transsexual on the fire department wasn't easy. Wow, that's an understatement if ever there was one. In fact, for the longest time, not only did I think it would be extremely difficult, I believed it impossible. Having been on female hormones for two years, my physical transformation was well under way. I had recently separated from my wife and our marriage dissolution was pending. I decided that it was time to make my announcement and begin living socially and professionally as a woman, but I was convinced that there was no reality for me where I could be true to myself and also keep my job as a Fire Captain.
Let me add some historical context to explain how I shifted to seeing my on-the-job transition not only as possible, but as something I MUST do...
In December of 2006, after decades of hiding and fighting something coded deep within me, I had reached a tipping point. I was finally ready to take action regarding my struggle with my gender identity and I began taking hormones. My doctor and I were using them as a diagnostic tool. The theory is that if a male bodied person has a female brain, then female hormones will help blend body and mind. Ideally, the hormones' effect on that brain will be complimentary and positive. If, however, the brain is male, then the hormones will clash and a negative effect would be experienced.
After just one month on hormones, I felt as though for the first time in my life the world was making sense. The clouds had parted and the sun was finally shining through. Have you ever been listening to a radio for a very long time that was slightly off station, and then when finally you tune it in clearly, the static goes away, the bass is richer, the highs are clear and the entire listening experience is suddenly more robust? This is how I explained it to my doctor. We both agreed that I should continue the hormone therapy.
Over the next 24 months my body slowly changed from male to female. I underwent hours upon hours of painful and expensive facial hair removal. I spent 3 months in voice therapy so I could train my vocal chords to speak in a higher pitch. Some of it came naturally, but I had to practice the subtle differences in things such as tone, resonance, and inflection that make a voice sound female rather than male. I grew my hair from a short buzz cut to just above my ears which was the most that I could get away with given our strict hair grooming standards in the fire service. People were seeing the changes in me, yet were not realizing what was causing them. I looked odd for a man. I'm told now, that there were rumors and concern that I might have cancer. The irony is that while my body was finally becoming in sync with my mind and I was becoming whole for the first time in my life, my friends and colleagues worried that dark days lay ahead for me.