After I graduated from high school, I left Idaho for Stanford University. I was a student there from 1971-1975. In many ways, those were some of the best years of my life. Stanford was the first place where I experienced what it’s like to be part of a community, to have friends who truly care about me. At the same time, I also was very depressed during much of my time there, isolating myself from the very friends who I knew could most help me out of that dark place. Although mostly repressed, my gender dysphoria was still present during those years, revealing itself to me, but never to others, in various ways during those years.
I’ve stayed connected with several friends from my freshman dorm (*waves to Pam, Kevin, Rob, Bruce, Anne, Jon and Hilarie*), but I’ve only been back to the campus a few times since I graduated. Before I transitioned last year, I wanted my friends to know about me, so I sent an email to dorm buddies telling them about my plans. In response, I received unconditional support from them all, for which I count myself very fortunate. Although there have been questions, the support and love has continued just as it did before.
Stanford is very diligent about maintaining contact with its alumni, so I still receive Stanford Magazine regularly, and I always read the “Class Notes” section for news of my friends and classmates. Every month after my transition, I would wonder about somehow announcing my transition and change of name there. Until a few months ago, however, I never knew quite how to go about it and the time never felt quite right.
Then, in the May/June issue this year, there was an article about the support given to transgender students on campus and the addition of “gender identity” to Stanford’s nondiscrimination policy. Seeing that article, I knew that it was time to share my transition. Before that article, I had never seen the word “transgender” mentioned in any official Stanford publication, nor had I ever read of any other transition in the Class Notes. But I wanted both current students, and my classmates, to know that it’s OK to be trans and that, wherever they are, they’re not alone. Thus, not long after that article appeared, I contacted the “class correspondent” for the Stanford Class of 1975 and shared my story. The result is this addition to our “Class Notes” in the November/December issue of Stanford Magazine:
Following up on the article on transgender students in the May/June issue of Stanford, one of our classmates was inspired to share her story. Abby [Abigail] Louise Jensen writes, “While I was at Stanford and until last year, my name was Sherman Jensen. On May 10, 2007, I legally changed my name. Four days later, I transitioned, finally and forever, to live as a woman. It’s the best decision I ever made for myself and has brought me more peace and joy than I have ever experienced.
“After graduation, I worked fighting forest fires for the U.S. Forest Service and as a civil rights investigator for the Idaho Human Rights Commission; received a law degree from Boalt Hall Law School (Class of 1982); worked 12 years in Seattle as an associate and partner at Garvey, Schubert & Barer, along with Soto dormmate Rob Spitzer; had three beautiful daughters; got divorced and moved to Prescott, Ariz. Since 1997, I have worked as a sole practitioner doing criminal appeals and state post-conviction proceedings as court-appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants, where I’ve had some success in changing the law of Arizona to be fairer for all.
“At Stanford, I did my best to suppress any thoughts of who I knew myself to be, even then. Nonetheless, I remember distinctly one afternoon spent hiding among the shelves in Meyer Library looking at books containing pictures of genital reassignment surgery. I suspect that’s not an experience that many of our classmates share. Beginning in 2005, the gender dysphoria that I struggled with since I was very young began to assert itself, leading to my transition last year to living the rest of my life as a woman. I have been fortunate to have escaped the harassment and discrimination that many who follow this path experience. In particular, I am grateful for the loving support I have received from the other Soto dormmates with whom I’ve stayed in contact: Pam Franks, Anne Watson, Kevin Wright Enright, Hilarie Hathaway Pierce, MA ’75, Jon Levin, ’76, and Bruce Williams, as well as Rob Spitzer.
“As my transition progressed, as well as my increasing interest in civil rights issues, I have become involved in advocating for fair treatment of LGBT people. In December 2007, I appeared before the Scottsdale, Ariz., City Council and spoke on behalf of the Arizona Transgender Alliance in support of proposed city ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That night, Scottsdale became only the fourth Arizona city (after Tucson, Tempe and Phoenix) to enact a ban on such discrimination in city employment. In addition, to the best of my knowledge, last year, I became the first attorney to argue before the Arizona Supreme Court as both a man and a woman. Both of those appearances, as well as all my other court appearances since my transition, have been handled with dignity and respect by both the judges and my fellow attorneys.
“Finally, I joined the board of directors of and became president of QsquaredYouth, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides support, education and advocacy for LGBTQ youth in Yavapai County, and the Board of Directors of the Prescott Area Women’s Shelter. I am now hoping to move on from my current career to a position where I can devote my time and energy to improving the lives of LGBTQ people.” Abby, thank you for sharing your personal experience with our classmates.
It will be interesting to see what kind of response I get. I’m listed under my current name on the Stanford Alumni website (my first name is Abigail, although I go by Abby), so it should be relatively easy for any of my classmates, other Stanford alums, or students to contact me, and I would certainly be interested in hearing from any and all of them (as long as they remain respectful, that is).