Understanding the 'T' in LGBT 

Meeting Jessica

This is a story about the "T" in LGBT. T is for transgender and in my personal LGBT circle, it's probably the least understood.

Let's start with a basic understanding, which much of the population lacks: A transgender person's gender identity does not match their "assigned sex," the one based on his or her genitalia. For instance, suppose you're born with male genitals. Your family raises you as a male, but inside, you feel as though you were born into the wrong sex body. You identify as female. That's transgender.

Transgender folks may be straight or gay, lesbian or bisexual. They may or may not want to undergo gender reassignment therapy, which includes hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery.

Just so we're clear, cross-dressers, drag queens, and drag kings are not transgender; they simply wear the clothes of the opposite sex for varying reasons.

I'll be honest, until Jessica, I've never known anyone who is transgender.

Jessica arrived at my house as Jeff, who I've known most of my life. He was wearing jeans, a sweater, and sneakers. Jeff's about 6 foot 2 inches, blue-eyed and long-limbed. His hair is short and sandy brown, and he's bald on top. For 25 years, Jeff was married to a woman, and he has a grown son and a daughter. He's 60 years old.

Not long after arriving, he walked out to his car and returned with two suitcases. I showed him the bathroom and the guest room where he could change.

About 20 minutes later, Jessica emerged still in jeans and sneakers — but now wearing a short, platinum blond wig, full makeup, and a T-shirt, which accentuated her breasts. She carried a purse.

I told her she looked great, because she did. Besides seeming a bit nervous, she also seemed genuinely happy.

We drove downtown to have lunch at a place that I know from experience is LGBT friendly. A few stares notwithstanding, Jessica and I received very little attention.

Over the course of the next two hours, we talked and talked. I listened as she told me of her slow coming out process. How spending time as Jessica is exciting and empowering, but how she also recognizes the comfort of nearly 60 years living as Jeff.

While she contemplates starting hormone therapy upon her return home — she's already under the care of a therapist who specializes in transgender issues — she also carries the knowledge that once you've taken hormones for six months, there is no going back. She's still uncertain if she would undergo sexual reassignment surgery.

As we talked about the LGBT community, transgender issues, politics, movies, family, and books, I realized that what I've always loved and admired about Jeff is what I love and admire about Jessica — intelligence, gentleness, and a curiosity about the world.

As she spoke, I took in her physicality. I'd never noticed the deep hue of her eyes or the fullness of her lips until now. Behold, the miracle of makeup! And though she did not alter the tone of her voice, she adapted her mannerisms to what most would label as "feminine."

More than anything, I was struck by her humanity. By that I mean a blend of vulnerability and bravery, an acknowledgement of both her fear and exhilaration.

Truthfully, I don't know what I'd do if Jessica was my father. But I can tell you that sitting across from her, seeing how happy she was, I could barely keep from crying out of joy.

Sharing this story is part of my ongoing search for understanding. None of us can know the gifts or challenges we'll meet along the way. But becoming who we are meant to be is the lifelong journey we all undertake — and no one should go it alone.

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