Warning! This is not the usual "Triumphal Transition" story.
I was sitting in the backyard of Dr. Mildred Brown's San Jose home, surrounded by about 40 other transwomen. They were all "Millie's girls"... many post-op, many in hormonal transition. I was the newest member of the group. I happened to be sitting next to a marine biologist who asked me "so what's your story?" I gave her a "Cliff Notes of the Cliff Notes" version. Below the fold is a slightly longer version, including some events that happened after that party.
I first tried to transition in my '20s (which were in the 1970s). I failed because the all-male gender shrinks of the time wanted only bubbly, boy-crazy clients -- many of whom were really just playing that role to give the shrinks whatever they wanted, in order to get their hormones and then surgery.
But I didn't know at the time that was how you were supposed to play it. I was the depressive, genderless sort who rather strongly disliked males, after growing up under their relentless fists. I had had a fairly academic life, completing majors in both mathematics and philosophy, and spending a few years in grad school. I had severe chronic social anxiety and PTSD, though the terms had not been invented yet.
The "expert" male shrink I saw when trying to get hormones cheerfully said "I can tell who is really a woman by whether she turns me on."
That was what it was like in the '70s. Today, a shrink could be sued and lose his license for saying something like that, but back then they were all out-and-proud masculist dickheads. As well as not-so-out chasers(1). Back in the "gender clinic" era, giant-sized male egos with MDs decided who "was really a woman".
So, no hormones for unbubbly me.
The US doesn't believe in public health care even for cisgender people, and I was far below the surface of the social trash heap. I came within a hair's breadth of suicide back then. I was actually preparing to do it. But something intervened, and I didn't.
A long, long, ever-worsening grey hell followed for the next 22 years. I got an MS in computer science, moved to Silicon Valley, helped hone a few stones in the great pyramid called the Internet. Although I went into the computer field, I did so not out of interest but purely in order to make enough money to transition.
But once I was actually surviving (barely) in that male dominated world, I could not imagine how I could ever transition. It took every ounce of my strength just to hang on to life by my fingernails. I finally decided that I would never transition. The world was just too hostile and I was too old now anyway. I knew that I would kill myself eventually.
Then the day came to die. Since I was going to die anyway, I decided I had nothing to lose by attempting to transition one last time. I expected to have the supreme battle of my life with some shrink. But this time, I was not so poor.
By this time, there were offshore pharmacies on the web, where you could buy estrogen... without a prescription. I put myself on an androgen blocker, estrogen (17-beta-estradiol) and a micronized progesterone. I found a gender therapist who cost $125/hour (Millie Brown) which I could afford now. She turned out not to be anything like the shrinks of the '70s. After a few sessions -- and after attending her backyard swimming pool party -- she told me she would recommend me for hormones... which meant that I could transition while having somebody watch my liver and kidney too. I much preferred doing things that way to scrutinizing the PDR and TS-do-it-yourself-ing. I was 50 years old and actually on hormones for the first time in my life. I quit smoking. I lost about 80 lbs. I started to feel that I might possibly live.
But under the gatekeepers' rules I had to transition on the job in order to get surgery. I had been working at a well-known computer manufacturer for about 17 years. It was an extremely male dominated culture. There was no legal protection for us then in CA -- "gender identity" was not added to CA fair housing and employment law until a couple of years later. The company I worked for had a notoriously bad track record of pushing out people who transitioned, and I learned first hand how they did it.
Transition on the job was a three-ring circus. I was not allowed to do it quietly. I stayed home for two weeks while a large meeting of two labs was held to "inform" everyone. Dr. Brown addressed the meeting. I had been the most highly ranked engineer in my lab because I was immensely productive and could solve technical problems very quickly, but on the day I showed up for work in a women's business suit from Banana Republic, I became permanently invisible to coworkers (but not to higher management). I had ceased to exist professionally. And everything went downhill from there. Essentially I was paid off to leave. Not exactly a golden parachute, but enough money for my medical expenses (insurance pays nothing for us). I took it and left, thinking that after I transitioned, if I needed a job in the computer field, with my experience I could write my own ticket.
I found out otherwise. Silicon Valley was decimated during that time by what the MSM called "the dot com bust". The dot com bust was not just a shakeout of dot coms, it was a complete restructuring of the industry through massive offshoring of tech jobs. Silicon Valley became a ghost town. There was no longer gridlock during rush hour.
But I was so far out of the loop I barely noticed, nor thought about what it would eventually mean to me. On Thanksgiving day following 9/11, I had switched on my tv and came across a parade -- ordinary enough on Thanksgiving. But the reporter was talking about Karl Rove's latest declamations on terrorism. I turned off the tv and never turned it on again, deciding that Karl Rove was not going to have any mindshare in my brain while I was transitioning. I laughed later when I saw the BART station signs scrolling something about Orange Alerts. Clearly they were making great hay of 9/11.
For a few years I lived on my retirement income. I transitioned, my birth family disowned me, and told me I should live in an insane asylum along with other people "like me". I took some classes looking for a second career in something remote from computers. When the money began to get low, I started looking for a computer job again, only to discover that everything I had done (Unix enterprise server stuff) had been offshored, and pretty much the only work left in the valley was now security- and defense-related. George II had been very busy.
I was prepared for the idea that I would not be paid as much as I had been, but not for the discovery that other than the militarized stuff, only a few benefitless "consulting" jobs now existed, mainly to write test code, at about 1/3 the pay I had been getting with benefits. And those few consulting jobs required immense skills at selling oneself that people with chronic severe social phobia and PTSD do not usually have.
Eventually, I wound up in homeless shelters. I lost everything I owned. I tried to kill myself, fully intending to succeed, but the poison I took was not quite strong enough.
But that is all another story for another diary.
Today, I am pushing 60. I have stable housing and I am studying bioinformatics thanks to a CA state rehabilitation program. I live on food stamps.
And occasionally, I write in dKos.
I am sometimes asked whether I am sorry I transitioned? Absolutely not. The only regret I have is that I could not transition back in my 20's, when the male-ego MDs were running the show. The real reason things changed was that the Internet took the monopoly on hormones out of their hands. I am proud of the little I did to help Ts free ourselves from those guys - to the extent that we have freed ourselves.
(1) A "chaser" is our word for a person, usually but not invariably male, who is attracted to / predates upon, pre-operative trans women. Often chasers present themselves as "sugar daddies" who will help an attractive and powerless pre-op to pay for her surgery, but the chasers are usually not interested in post-operative trans women, and frequently try to persuade the pre-op not to complete her transition.