The piece Chapter which was posted last night is an important part of my story, but needs some context. It is, after all, however vital, just a small thread in a much larger tapestry.
This chapter is an attempt at adding some of that missing context. Written in 1994, it was laid down at a time when I still had some fear of losing my employment, so was trying to document everything in case it might be needed legally. I've tried to remain faithful to its substance, but did edit it this morning.
I did not have a real opportunity to tell my parents about myself. They both died in 1983, my mother of a cerebral hemorrhage and my father of liver cancer. At the time I was very closeted. I had been doing some crossdressing, in the privacy of my own home and with the knowledge of my spouse, since about 1975.
I more or less adopted my wife's parents as my surrogate parents after that, and her brothers and their families as my family. I was very much estranged from my own family.
In 1992 my spouse jokingly commented to me something to the effect: "If you had some ribs removed and took hormones, you'd have a nice figure." My response was: "I'm not going to have any ribs removed."
It seemed to take her awhile to catch on to the implication there, but eventually she cornered me with the question: "You don't get any sexual gratification from crossdressing, do you?" I broke down and confessed that I crossdressed for comfort...that the sexual aspect was for her benefit: as long as she was getting sex, she didn't complain about my crossdressing. As was usual with her she didn't question me further.
We began to drift apart emotionally, which was very difficult for me. Her friendship had been an anchor that had kept me from deep despair and the loss of that friendship was almost more than I could contemplate. I knew that we would probably not be able to stay a couple if I transitioned, but she had been my best friend for more than half of my life and was the mother of my daughter. I was positive that if the string that bound us together became unraveled, I would not survive.
The untangling of our lives accelerated when my wife found a boyfriend. William is in many ways a lot like who I used to be. While I wasn't ecstatic about Becky finding a boyfriend, I was happy that she had found someone who cared for her and could help her through the difficult times ahead.
The Boyfriend was the second person I told about my transsexualism. He did not react well, not during our conversation nor during the days that followed. As a result my relationship with Becky deteriorated even more as we spent less and less time together.
When we were together and I needed someone to talk with, all she would talk about was William.
In June/July of 1992 I was at my wit's end. I was still too frightened to transition but it was obviously losing my life's partner. I was hanging by a thread.
One night (I wish I could remember the exact date) I nearly ended it all. I sat on the couch staring at a butcher's knife on the coffee table for what must have been two or three hours. Having been suicidal before in my life, I finally told myself that there was no hurry and forced myself to take a walk to somewhere there would be people.
I walked to Food 4 Less, a 24 hour grocery store that was about a mile away. It took all my will on the way there to keep from stepping in front of the cars that passed me. When I got there, I alternately walked the aisles of the store or sat outside on the fence around the cart corral, watching the people come and go and wondering why I couldn't be like them.
After several hours I decided to walk home. It was on the way there that I realized that my previous personality had indeed come to an end...and that I had survived my own death. The only question was one of how to proceed from here. By the time I reached home, I had decided that I needed to pack what I could and start hitch hiking to California, where I could start life anew.
The Woman was home when I arrived. In her own self serving way, she rescued me from that plan. She barraged me with guilt about my need to support her and I caved in, to the extent that I agreed to postpone my transition (or, as I saw it at the time, my life) until she finished her undergraduate degree (she was within two semesters of graduating and got a big discount on the cost of classes as the wife of a faculty member).
I had to come up with a way to nurture my new self even while I would be pretending to be my old self (which I figured I could do for some time since I had so much practice and because people see what they expect to see and hear what they expect to hear). I had hidden behind a beard for years (beards are useful to keep one from going out in public). It came off. I got my ears pierced (this was sort of symbolic for me). I went shopping and bought myself an entire wardrobe of androgynous clothing because I could not bring myself to wear my former attire and still feel I had some kind of dignity. I had my hair (which had been worn long since 1974) trimmed by a former student (Deanna) at the local beauty college.
One night in August The Boyfriend and The Woman and I went to a John Kilzer performance at Juanita's.
Most people outside the Mid South have never heard of John Kilzer, so I'll add some musical accompaniment here.
I wore the most femme of my androgynous clothing. As it happened, Deanna and her husband Bill (also an ex student) were there and we noticed each other and Deanna pulled me aside and asked me some questions.
"The people at the beauty salon really talked about you the other day. Do you shave your legs (I had been wearing shorts)? Why do you have both ears pierced? Why did you shave off your beard." (Deanna and Bill had once referred to me as `Professor Fuzzy.')?"
So...well, I told her I was transsexual and what was going to be happening eventually. She called Bill over and I repeated everything to him and before I knew it, there were two other people who overheard (who had come to the concert with Bill and Deanna). These people were of the counter culture though and thought everything was cool.
After the concert they invited me over to where they were and introduced me to the evening's performer and we ended up going over to their place for the evening. The journey to "outness" had begun.
Early in September I spoke to the assistant dean of my college and without giving anything away told him I would be leaving at the end of the school year because I had to tend to a "personal problem." He talked me out of tendering my resignation and trying to take care of my problem here in Arkansas. I have wondered if he regrets doing that now.
Now, as you recall, it had been my intention to delay transition for the full academic year. It turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be. Try as I might I felt like I just playing pretend and there just didn't seem to be anyway I would be able to keep up the facade of pretending to be my old self without the sense that I was losing my sanity. I decided that I would have to start therapy, especially after a migraine episode that had me in a fetal position on my living room floor for 5 hours, followed by two hours of being sick in the bathroom (was this the death throes of the old me or the birth pain of the new me?).
Finding a therapist...that's what lead to the real coming out. It turned out to have more ramifications than I had thought of at first. How does one find the appropriate therapist in a case like this? I thought about it and decided I needed some help in locating someone. One of my former students, Jennifer Petray, was one of my former students, a friend of my daughter, a grad student in psychology at UCA, and one of the founders of the campus gay/lesbian student group. I approached her one day and asked if she knew anyone that she could recommend...honesty required that I tell her that it was for me. She told me she would ask around and get back to me.
That night (although I trusted Jennifer P to be discrete), I felt it would be best to call my daughter (also named Jennifer) and her partner (Julie) and tell them what was going on, to avoid putting Jennifer P in an uncomfortable position.
It was really hard to force myself to pick up the phone and call Jen. Even though she had come out about being lesbian and I had accepted her and supported her for who she was, I was afraid that she might, like her mother, reject me. But I finally convinced myself that I helped to raise her to be a better person than that thought was giving her credit for being, so I punched the buttons.
Slowly, I framed the words: "Jen, I've got something to tell you that I can't keep from you any longer. I'm transsexual." She didn't hang up on me...she didn't even seem to be particularly surprised with the news (she later told me that when she and Julie talked about it, she said to Julie, "I always thought Dad was gay." I guess you can't really hide some things from your children...she saw through part of the facade) She told me she would support me whatever happened (I was profoundly relieved) and that she had always wondered why she had picked up most of her feminine qualities from me rather than from her mother.
We talked for over an hour, but I don't really remember much what we said. I was just so happy that we were still talking. After I hung up I could feel a real coldness coming from the direction of my wife. She seemed to think that somehow my daughter had chosen me over her.
I felt like I was on a roll, so I called my sister the same night. Jan is a cardiologist back in Oregon and I thought I might be able to ask her some medical questions. Since I had not talked to her much in the last decade, the call was clearly a bit strained, but she seemed to be understanding. We talked about how screwed up our family was and how all four kids seemed to be having so many troubles with life. I didn't get a sense of whether or not she could accept me as her sister, but at least I was still family.
Jennifer P got back in touch with me a few days later and gave me the name of a psychologist who specialized in helping gays and lesbians come to terms with themselves. Although she didn't know if he had any experience with transsexualism, I gave him a call. Ralph told me he had one transsexual patient, but that he was booked up until the middle of October and suggested I call another psychologist who also had transsexual patients. I called Kurt and made an appointment for September 30.
As the arrangement for therapy was being made, I was also busy trying to build a support network for myself. I identified people I thought would be able to handle the news and told them...
...my closest friend in the math department and his wife. Steve took the news rather well, but his wife started spouting a lot of feminist rhetoric that at one time, and still is with some women, was the party line about transwomen. I sometimes wonder if she had read Janice Raymond's _The Transsexual Empire before then. During my transition Steve lent me, and then eventually gave me, a car so that I could drive back and forth to Little Rock to see my doctors and therapists.
...a Chinese Malaysian student who was my chess adversary and who first told me my scribblings were poetry. Ai Kwan is an amazingly talented writer who ought by all rights spend her life providing beauty in words. Because of the vagaries of life, she was studying economics. Although there were times when she wavered a bit, she remained of my closest friends for quite some time.
...the president of the Lesbian and Gay Student Alliance on campus and her gay brother. Barbara and Butch were friendly faces and people who would talk to me when I got lonely.
...one of my ex-students who I had come to think of as a friend.
...my wife's boss and one of her coworkers. They seemed to be fairly nice people and I thought I would like to have them as friends.
...a biology professor who told Steve she wanted to meet me because of a letter I had written to the student newspaper about draft dodging. Vicky prepared a tape Mary Travers solo music for me of songs to help me along my path. The song which hit closest to home was:
...two members of a local rock band that were at a party at Butch's apartment one night.
There's a sort of a critical mass of people that can know a secret before there is a danger of some leakage. There were some rumors starting to surface. At first they were way off base. Because I had two pierced ears, it was rumored that I was gay. Because I had lost nearly 70 pounds and changed so drastically, there was a rumor that I had AIDS. Here I was hearing those things and knowing that there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 people who knew about what was really up, it was clear to me that I could not keep everything under wraps for very long.
It also occurred to me that when the bill from the therapist arrived at the Personnel department with the diagnosis space filled in, there wasn't going to be much of a secret for long. The bag would be catless.
In moments like these we sometimes have to choose what at the time seems like the best course of action. We are forever stuck with whatever we chose, so it's best just to believe it was the correct choice and go from there.
On Wednesday, September 30, 1992, I walked into my 11:00am Abstract Algebra I class and told my students that I was canceling class for that day. I told them that I had something personal to talk about and that if they felt uncomfortable, they could leave. I knew that they had a big midterm exam in a couple of weeks and that if they became distracted from studying for it, they very well could end up flunking the course and having their mathematics careers damaged. I told them that I didn't want that to happen and that I didn't want any news about me to disrupt their studies and that I thought it best if they got the scoop straight from me. None of the students left. I told them exactly what was going on and then answered their questions for the rest of the hour.
Afterwards I put a letter on my chairman's desk and drove to Little Rock to see my new therapist.
The letter I wrote to my chairman (I know I would word it differently if I wrote it today) was as follows:
September 30, 1992
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science
University of Central Arkansas
I'm writing this as a letter rather than speaking to you in person because it concerns a personal problem which is difficult for me to speak about to most people. This problem has raised in my mind many peripheral problems, some of which have troubled me at work and caused my recent "attitude adjustment." Since resolution of these problems and the original one will concern you in your position of chairman, I will try to explain. Please read the entire letter before you react to it.
I am sure that some, or perhaps many, of my colleagues have questioned my recent behavior. I recently heard that Brenda, for instance, asked Peggy Braden, "What's wrong with Bob?" This question errs on perhaps two points. The first concerns the word "wrong." From my point of view, my life has been "wrong" for the last 33 years and has finally been getting corrected during the last nine months. It has been unfortunate that this has occurred simultaneously with several different but ultimately related concerns (my concerns with what I perceive to be repression on campus, in Arkansas, and in American society, as well as what I perceive to be an undervaluing of my contributions to the department).
The second has to do with the name "Bob," a typically common, if not boring male appellation. My problem with it is that I believe that I am, and believe that I was born, transsexual. By this I mean that my mind is that of a female. Since I was born with a male body, this has presented me with a very difficult row to hoe in life, and the lower middle class values of my "typical" 1950's American family upbringing caused me to try to deny this facet of myself for three quarters of my life, i.e. since that point in time when I was "informed" in no uncertain terms that I better "straighten up and fly right." At that instant, a different personality was created. Thus was born "Bob" as a foil to set against the world. This personality crumbled into dust this past summer. Dead. Gone. I'm only left with me, and my social skills are at best rusty and at worst extremely stunted. As you may have noticed, I tend to lack a degree of tact present in most of our colleagues. The present state of affairs has left me angry, very angry, at the culture that has put me where I am, and I will continue to speak out in the future about my perceptions of the damaging aspects of this society.
So, what am I going to do about the present situation? The only solution I can conceive of is gender correction surgery. This is what raises the peripheral problems.
The first is of course a physical problem. In order to be considered a candidate for the surgery, I must first go through a lot of therapy. I am presently endeavoring to get this under way, but the choice of a therapist is of utmost importance. The second step is generally the same and is one that concerns me, you, the rest of the department, the administration, and the students at UCA. A male candidate for gender reassignment is usually required to live for a year as a woman. I guess this is an effort to find out if we are truly serious about our decision, as if we hadn't really thought it out. During this period, candidates usually begin taking hormones to change the configuration of the body. After all, society tends to judge us by our appearance (If it walks like a duck, etc.). As you might suppose, I foresee some problem with this "behavior" in my role as a teacher (by the way, it has been me, not Bob, that has been teaching in class; it has been my only outlet). This is the reason that I have said I may not be here next year. We transpeople tend to be extremely unselfish in that we don't want people to be uneasy, to the extent that we usually ruin our own lives. The reactions of my colleagues, employers, and students concern me greatly, so I prefer not to place any burden on anyone's shoulders but my own. Unfortunately, according to the faculty handbook, there does not seem to be a provision for taking a lengthy medical leave from this institution, only for taking academic leave. This problem begs resolution.
There is also a problem about the fact that I have tenure at this institution. Again, I don't want to be here if I'm not wanted, but teaching is my life. I'm not at all confident of obtaining employment elsewhere in a "new position" environment. As far as I can discern, again from the faculty handbook, there is no reason the Administration will be able to supply that will support termination of my employment for cause. I have done nothing outside of the privacy of my own home, and I doubt that I have done anything even there (but I'm not conversant with all laws of the state of Arkansas), that could constitute "grave personal misconduct." But my pre- and post-surgery existence will undoubtedly be the personification of pornography to some and blasphemy to others. Some may even turn violence my way. It has happened before. Since I intend to continue in my career as a damn good teacher, I need to know the position of all concerned up front. To protect myself, I'm meeting with a lawyer (Michael Murphy) tomorrow. Since my sex cannot be used as a determining factor in my hiring or firing, I fail to see how the changing of my sex should affect my position.
The third problem that arises is monetary. Gender reassignment is generally not covered by insurance. I sincerely don't believe this is fair, since the only alternative I have is suicide. (Yes, I have already considered it this year). This points out the need for therapy obviously, but I truly can only see one future of any length. To deny surgery to me using the two pronged attack that insurance companies usually follow (it is elective surgery, or if not, it is a pre-existing condition) is to deny me a chance at life. Since I have always only tried to have "enough" money, I don't know how to raise money sufficient to cover the expense involved (which is considerable). The option of approaching my family is non existent since only my mother in law has any money, and Becky will not ask it from her. The only option I can conceive of could possibly be solved by the administration's response to the previous paragraph.
The final (as yet) problem that has arisen is emotional. Although Becky is vocally supportive of my decision, her actions belie her words. She acts at every turn to try an isolate me in order to protect her own status in the university community. We have had several (rather vicious) fights about this and our friendship will probably not last. There will be times in the near future that I will not be in the best of even my current moods. I would appreciate anything that you can do to deflect from me anything that does not bear directly on my teaching.
Robert J. Serven
I heard nothing at all from Chuck on Thursday or Friday morning. After my last class on Friday I got a call that he wanted to talk with me later in the afternoon. It would be the first of many late Friday afternoon "chats." I guess they figured I would get over whatever bad news I got by Monday morning.
Chuck told me that THEY had had a meeting...THEM consisting of him, my dean, the president of the university, the school attorney, and the head of personnel (it would have included the VP for academic affairs, but he was out of town). My immediate thought was: "Why didn't WE have a meeting?" Chuck told me he was to be the conduit for any communication between me and THEM.
He voiced the "concerns" of those at the meeting:
How does 'he' know?
Gee, Chuck. How do you know who you are? That seems to be one of the central questions of philosophy for the past couple of millennia.
If 'he' wears a dress to class, he's out of here.
Oh, how wonderfully enlightened! Well, Chuck, I don't currently have any dresses appropriate for the classroom and the weather, but I'll let you know when I do.
Wouldn't immediate medical leave be in order?
Well, Chuck, I don't have any medical needs as of yet. I'm not even on hormones right now. I'll let you know when I can use it. Besides, couldn't that be interpreted as abandoning my classes and give THEM an excuse to terminate my tenure?
Why couldn't you just be gay?
No answer...just a disbelieving stare.
So...eventually Chuck told me that I had to inform my colleagues about what was going to happen. I probably should have asked if I could do it in a group...that seemed to work for others, but I didn't have that knowledge at the time. I was just playing it as it lay. I considered the options: tell them each face to face or inform them by letter. It seemed to me if I did it face to face, I would be telling #2 about the same time that #1 would be telling everyone else, so I chose the letter route. Besides, I admit to some cowardice.
So Friday evening I wrote a letter to my colleagues and Saturday put it in their mail boxes in the math department.
October 3, 1992
Most of you have already noticed some major changes in my personality during the past year or so. I have overheard comments from some sources that have been nothing more than poor guesses at my condition ("He's gay." "He's crazy." "He's got AIDS.") I would like at this time to explain why this has occurred in my life and what will likely occur in the future.
Nearly everyone knows or knows of someone that was born with a genetic disorder or defect. It is my personal belief that I was born with one also, although the medical community really has no clue to what causes my disorder. I suffer from "gender dysphoria:" roughly speaking, I born with the wrong physical body for my psychological gender. In the late '50s I entered puberty and realized that the interior feelings I had didn't coincide with the societal role my body was going to force on me. My parents, and society at that time, could not or would not accept someone with this problem. For the next 33 years I had to live a lie: I had to behave as if my interior self was not in any way at odds with my visible gender. I played sports, I dated, I did boy/man things. Later I met Becky and did more man things: I married and had a daughter. These last 24 years with Becky have been often painful, sometimes joyful, but ultimately frustrating. Becky is my best friend. There were times when she was my only friend. I regret that I could not be honest with her before we married, but that is the nature of denial, even culturally induced denial.
The older generations of my family have passed on and I no longer feel the oppressive burden of trying to please them. I must now try to please myself in the time I have left. I wish to be comfortable with myself in my remaining years. Therefore I plan to undergo hormonal therapy and have gender reassignment surgery to become physically female.
Some of you will be terribly uncomfortable with this decision. You may not be able to accommodate it into your world view, religion, or philosophy. I don't wish to impose my problems on any of you. At the same time, I live to teach. I happen to believe that I'm a damn good teacher. Teaching is my means of affecting the lives of others. I don't want to give up this career. The chances of obtaining employment elsewhere in a "new" position seem remote while I'm going through this process. It is a very expensive process (the major surgical procedure costs $10,000 to $12,000 and it is not likely to be covered by insurance). So I have to work. Since I have tenure here, I'll work here unless or until other arrangements are made with the administration. Since all my friends live in this area, I don't choose to leave it at this time.
Please try to understand that gender and sex are not the same thing. This has nothing to do with homosexuality (although that community has been supportive of me), nothing to do with pornography (although much of the information I can get on the subject has been classified as such), nothing to do with perversion. I have a medical problem that is going to be corrected. If any of you want to talk about this, feel free to drop by and see me.
(signed Robyn Elaine Serven)
Robert J. Serven
To my female colleagues: One of the steps in the overall process is that I must live for a year "as a woman." If anyone can explain what that means in today's society, I would be interested in hearing your views.
On Monday morning I was very apprehensive about what was going to happen. Other than teaching my classes I didn't venture out of my office much and when I did it was with The Woman, who spent most of the day with me. A few people did drop by:
...the secretary of the math department, who told me she didn't agree with what I was doing (who asked her to?) but said she would still endeavor to work with me (how kind of her). She is conservatively-christianed. To this day she refers to me as "he" over the telephone and supplies my former name to book reps when they ask for a list of the faculty.
...one of the math education faculty, who told me she had serious negative thoughts about transsexual people in general until my coming out made her think more about it. She discovered that she could not reconcile her belief in a woman's right to supremacy over her own body with a stance against transsexualism.
...one of the part time math instructors, who entered my office in tears. My announcement had apparently struck a nerve. I later found out that this former Miss Arkansas had married a man who later deserted her after announcing he was gay. She couldn't get past thinking of me as also a gay male and inundated me with christian anti-gay readings over the next few weeks.
...several students who stopped by, even though it was apparent that they didn't really need that much help. I began to see their visits as an expression of their desire to protect me.
Finally, late in the afternoon, Chuck stopped by my office. I'm sure that he had been talking again with THEM. After making himself comfortable he started with the phrase, "In the interests of the team..." I wonder sometimes if I should have waited for him to finish. But I didn't. I interrupted him with, "In the interests of the team, blacks weren't hired in the 60's. In the interests of the team, women weren't hired in the 70's. In the interests of the team, homosexuals weren't hired in the 80's. I think it's time that, in the interests of the team, bigots lose their jobs." He rose and left my office. Clearly there must have been a lot of discussion going on down in the math office.
By the end of the day I was quite weary but I was still in one piece. One day down and the rest of my life to go.
Tuesday was much of the same, an occasional faculty or staff member stopping by to say hello (mostly supportive, or at least accepting, though there were a few more religious tracts in my mailbox or slipped under my office door), until I got a phone call a little after noon.
"Hello. I'm and I am a reporter for the Log Cabin Democrat (the small local daily) and I wondered if I could ask you some questions?"
"To what purpose?", I asked.
"Well, we received a copy of the letter you sent to your colleagues and we are planning an article about you."
After a long silence, as I contemplated which one of my "colleagues" had exhibited his collegiality in such a nice way, I replied, "And what is it you want from me?"
"I would like to interview you for the article."
This was another one of those occasions when one has to make a decision that can have momentous consequences...and one gets about a minute or less to think about it. I agreed to be interviewed by the woman on Thursday morning. I figured that at least this way I might have some input into the article.
Before the conversation was terminated, she told me that the letter had not come directly from someone on campus, but it was from someone from the First Baptist Church (the largest political organization in town) and that she had supplied some rumors as well: things like that I was/would be a lesbian (okay, so some of the rumors were true). This could have only come from my chat with my abstract algebra class. Indeed on Wednesday, one of my students dropped the class, which she had every right to do, but she didn't do it the normal way of just filling out the paperwork, but rather by approaching the administration and telling them she shouldn't be forced to take a class from me. I also received an anonymous note in my mailbox, in her handwriting, saying that the "anonymous" person would pray for me.
I got so tired of all the christian propaganda, that I finally came out as a non christian as well and started asking people to remember that their prayers would be for their own benefit and have no affect on me.
Wednesday night I visited Deanna and Bill and Deanna gave my hair a body wave. I tried to keep myself as calm as I could, while my insides were churning about the interview.
As it turned out the interview went fairly well. I answered questions as honestly as I could. There was this guy with a camera there for a bit and he snapped a few photos before running off. The reporter talked to me for about 45 minutes and then with The Woman for a little while and then said her goodbyes.
The interview was over before 9 am and the paper doesn't come out until around noon, so I was surprised that the article came out the same day. But there it was: around a third of the front page (with picture) and a quarter of the back one.
I wish I had a copy of the article, but I've moved several since then and have lost the copy I had.
Though there were a few inaccuracies when she didn't quite understand what I was saying or when she used some of the gossip as source material, I thought the article was overall fairly positive. It may in fact have been too good as far as I was concerned because I found out on Friday that the article was picked up by the Associated Press wire service and distributed widely (I got calls from people elsewhere in Arkansas, and in Missouri, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Quite awhile later I was to learn that it was even printed in the gay press in Los Angeles). Part of it was in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette (or as we call it, the DOG...it's the only statewide daily). The DOG placed their truncated version (omitting the part where my wife was verbally supportive of me) on the inside of the front section, right under an article about two gay bodybuilders who had spoken on campus at UCA the previous night. Friends told me that the Thursday night television news had a story about me and that I was discussed on Friday morning "drivetime" radio.
Well, so much for any sort of privacy in my transition. I was out...in a big way. In some ways this would prove to be beneficial. If everyone knows, I wouldn't have to worry about who did and who didn't. If everyone would be watching me, it was not as likely I'd be assaulted in public. And I certainly wouldn't have to worry about passing...it's impossible to pass if everyone knows.
The treatment I received in the next several months will be covered in another chapter as will the eventual dissolution of my marriage. Suffice it to say that there were a few nice people but that I felt (and still feel) that for the most part I had been ostracized from the community at large.
On the other hand I still had other family to deal with. In December I sent holiday greetings to Aunt Joan and Uncle Larry. Joan is my mother's younger sister. Enclosed in the card was a 20 some page letter about what was happening. She called me after she received the letter and we talked for hours, some of it about me, much more about the rest of the family as she tried to show that I was still one of them. She was wonderfully accepting although she did slip on my name and on pronouns from time to time. Larry didn't even make those mistakes. I do sometimes wish that she would stop watching the "tawkies" though. I kept having to assure her that I am nothing like most of the transsexual women that appear on them.
At the end of our long phone chat Joan and I made a deal. I would tell my brothers and she would tell hers. The reactions were mixed. My older brother still accepted me as family and let me stay at his house when I was visiting the area (he is just happy that Te Woman and I were no longer married...he hated her). My younger brother didn't respond to my letter until last December. He had felt abandoned when I ran away from home and had to work through that.
Joan's brothers are another story. Her older brother, my uncle Jerry, had been in ill health and she though she should withhold telling him. She was probably right. When my uncle Bud, her younger brother, heard the news, he responded with, "Well, it's not like Bobby has really been a part of the family in recent years."
You win some and you lose some.
The "coming outs" continue to this day. I have discovered that, having emerged from one closet, I am not comfortable in any other. I don't go around telling everyone who and what I am, but when I meet someone who is a potential friend, I tell them about my past. My memory is not good enough for me to try editing my personal history. The truth is much easier to remember.