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Posts Tagged ‘transition’

I have participated in the Arizona Transgender Alliance (AZTA) since its inception. Like any organization, it has struggled to define itself and its purposes in a way that unites, rather than divides, us. Nonetheless, it continues because people see a need to join together. One of AZTA’s current projects is to produce a calendar with photos and biographies of trans women and men to help educate the public about who we are. I volunteered to participate and wanted to share here the biography I submitted because I think it expresses some of the most important aspects of my transition and who I am today. This is what I said:

I was 52 years old before I first began to accept what I had always known: that I’ve always wanted to live my life as a woman, because that is who I am. That moment was one of revelation, but not one of surprise. It was a moment of calmness and gentle peace. It was a moment when I simply realized, “oh, yes, that is what I want.” A month later, I began taking estrogen and I’ve never looked back. Each step along the way, I tested whether I was on the right path for me by asking, “is this bringing me peace or anxiety, love or fear?” And each time, the answer was always the same: “this is right for me because this is who I am.” There were, of course, many moments when I felt scared. In those moments, I simply waited to see if the fear would pass. When it did, I continued forward. Because of that process, when I finally decided it was time to transition, I was ready. My confidence in my decision was unshakable. It is that confidence that has allowed me to live my life as a woman with a calmness and comfort with who I am that others see and that helps them to accept me as who I know myself to be.

When I transitioned, I feared those moments when people would learn that I am transgender. Much to my surprise, however, after transition, I have found that I am much more comfortable when people know about my history. My transition was part of a lifelong search for wholeness and integrity, so situations where fear leads me to believe that I need to deny or hide who I am tempt me to violate my sense of wholeness, of personal integrity. The pain of that violation is much more powerful than any fear of what people may think or how they might react. Consequently, I stay true to myself and am “out” in virtually all parts of my life.

Together, my comfort in who I am, and the pain I feel when any of us suffer because of the bigotry and hate of those who feel threatened by who we are have led me to be an advocate whenever and wherever I can. That takes many forms, from standing before the Scottsdale City Council arguing for the passage of ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression to proudly becoming, as far as I know, the first attorney to ever appear before the Arizona Supreme Court as both a man and a woman (and in the same year!). But mostly it takes the form of simply being who I am, a woman of integrity and grace who lives in peace with herself, allowing others to see and learn about who I am and, in that process, to see that trans people are no threat to them and thus build tolerance and acceptance of who we are. Today I am proud to be transgender and grateful for each opportunity I get to show the world who I am and, hopefully, change the world one heart, and one mind, at a time.

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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).

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On Sunday, September 7, CBS Sunday Morning did a fairly long story on Trinidad, Colorado, the home of Dr. Marci Bowers, one of the leading sexual reassignment surgeons in the U.S. I don’t like the phrase “sex change” but the story is pretty straight forward and not at all sensationalistic. I was in Trinidad in July to support my friend Mari through her surgery. It’s a nice little town, similar to many other mountain towns I’ve visited in the West; the people were friendly; and the care at the hospital was, for the most part, excellent. Marci is friendly and personable but, like most doctors, entirely too busy. From what I’ve seen, the surgical results were excellent, with only a few minor complications. Here’s the video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’d like to learn more about Trinidad and how it has dealt with the attention that having a leading SRS surgeon (actually, for many years, the only SRS surgeon in the U.S.) in its midst, there’s a new documentary out called Trinidad that is now touring the U.S. Look for it at your local LGBT film festival.

Cross-posted from TranscendGender.

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Hopefully, none of you will be disappointed to find that this post isn’t about a picnic or a trip to the mall. Instead, it’s about my decision to once more tell my story.

As I mentioned on my About Abby page, A Course in Miracles has been an important part of my spiritual life for more than 11 years now. In fact, without the things I have learned through the Course, I would never have had the courage to accept the truth of who I am and become the woman I am today. Thus, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Course.

I first came to the Course through a woman I began dating in August 1996. Linda had been a student of the Course for several years and we discussed it briefly several times while we were together. At one point, we read the Preface, which describes how the Course came to be and the major lessons it teaches. What I read spoke to a deep place within me but the study group that Linda had been part of had disbanded and I didn’t know how else to begin, so I didn’t pursue it further. In January 1997, however, Linda ended our relationship. By then, I had lived in Prescott for almost two years. During that time, I had noticed an announcement of a weekly Course in Miracles study group in the “community calendar” feature in the local newspaper. Having lost the relationship that I had been clinging to for support and companionship, I was angry and hurt and felt myself sinking further into the depression that has been a part of my life since I was very, very young. Fortunately, by that time, I had learned that I didn’t have to live in misery. I also knew, however, that I had to find something besides the twelve-step meetings, therapy and breathwork sessions that I was already doing, to keep me afloat. In that moment of pain and desperation, I turned to the Course.

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Earlier today, my friend Nikki posted a recent letter from her mother on the TranscenderGender group blog and asked for advice on how to respond. A little background is necessary.

In April, Nikki told her family that she plans to transition to living full time as Nikki. Although they have been supportive, her mother wrote Nikki about her efforts to find a way to understand the changes brought on by Nikki’s decision and how to explain them to family members who have not yet heard the news. She told Nikki that the best way she could find to do that “is to consider that there is no more [Nikki’s male name] and he is deceased!!!!!!!!,” and to tell family members “that [Nikki’s male name] is deceased and that Nikki is now our daughter.” She acknowledged how “unreal” it felt to write that her child is dead and asked Nikki what she thought of this approach. Nikki, in turn, asked the rest of us for our thoughts before she responds. This is my response:

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