The Bradley/Chelsea Manning development in the last 36 hours or so, besides being a remarkable twist in a national story, is also is a remarkable coincidence for me.
I have been planning this article for months, and just a few weeks ago, got permission from my dear friend to pursue it in fifth gear.
Seems more Convergence than Timing to me.
I have spent the last 22 years earning my (once grand, now meager) living as an Independent Record Promoter, specializing in all Rock formats. An '"indie" straddles the fence between two natural friends/foes... the record labels who record, release, promote new music, and the radio stations who play (or don't!) their music.
The overwhelming problem with any Rock Audience at commercial radio, regardless of specific demo being targeted, is that the enormous bulk of those listeners are the most conservative of any format. They really don't like unfamiliar music. This is not remotely a theory. Hundreds upon hundreds of all kinds of tests and measurements have proven this beyond a doubt.
My job as an indie was to seduce PDs (program directors) and MDs (music directors) into playing unfamiliar music by unfamiliar acts by offering them (as just once example) trips to give away on the air for one the new unfamiliar band's label's big acts... It helped (a lot) that I could suggest songs that didn't suck. The radio station's sales staff would be out luring advertisers with crap like, "Rock 106 and Manny's Bar Bee Q wanna send YOU to see U2... in Las Vvvvvveegas!" The radio station wasn't gonna pay for it, of course. The PD would then have to go find someone to get him that fuckin' trip.
That's where I came in.
This whole preamble is to explain how Jeff McMurray and I were strangers brought together for purely professional reasons. He'd just been named Program Director for KYYS, the most powerful Rock Station in Kansas City MO. This wasn't the beginning of a friendship, it was a business deal, pure and simple. An inauspicious one at that, considering most (honest) radio programmers rightly had a natural aversion to indies due to some less-than-savory characters in the game. Jeff was no different. Polite on the phone, but, making no bones about the fact that, while I came highly recommended, he 'normally didn't deal with indies.' I could tell the word 'indies' even tasted bad to him. My kind of guy!
I flew out to KC to make nice. I drove my rental to his station's building, and out came Jeff for our first face-to-face, a weekday lunch. Dude looked oddly a bit like Fred McMurray. Craggy handsome, tall, dressed like a Midwest exec off to get in some golf before the bowling tournament tonight. I noticed that he was immaculately put together. The muted tones of his clothes complemented each other, his sneakers, blindingly white, subtly styled semi-close-cropped hair. Jeff had a crisp, no-nonsense manner, but at the same time, an unusual engaged courtliness that was kind of curious, intriguing even. He seemed much more refined than his look indicated. He'd use "effing" instead of "fucking" in casual conversation. He was clearly very well read. Not he usual rock radio dude.
Yet, he and I connected with our redneck love for NASCAR (I'm one of 17 NYC-ers into that sport) and NFL. Jeff's politics, it turned out, DID match his look. But, even there, he was a rarity. An intelligent, non-knee jerk, superbly analytic, willing to concede a point, non-racist, non-homophobe right-wing GOP-er. Over the years, our political 'arguments' were really just me trying to get him over to the Light Side and him being fondly amused by my effort.
Jeff was the kind of guy who, when you visited him in his market/city, wouldn't take you to some damned Olive Garden. No. Jeff would drive you 30 miles out of town to a small run-down church that served barbecue in its undercroft to raise money, you and he being the only two white diners sitting at a picnic table with old guys who drove tractors and fixed roofs. The paper-plated, plastic-utensiled food was amazing. When Jeff would visit me in New York City, he'd insist on being taken to "a real Mafia joint", not one that looked like a Mafia joint, one where crimes had been committed. Why? It was interesting. That was Jeff.
The KYYS gig didn't last all that long. Radio Lifers get used to moving halfway across the country, moving halfway back two years later, moving halfway up a year later... Jeff was something of a rarity... He wasn't a 'format guy', he was a 'radio guy'. He could program any type of music to any type of audience. His abilities were recognized by the monolithic radio chain, Clear Channel. He was hired by CC and moved into 'money' formats in 'money' markets; radio stations that catered more to Persons or Females, as opposed to the almost exclusively Male-demo-ed rock formats, have exponentially higher billing. Another proven fact, not theory; guys pay waaay less attention to radio ads than ladies.
Then, due to his success at Clear Channel, Jeff got hired away by CBS Radio. Jeff was moving up. As of about 18 months ago, Jeff was now programming a female-centric radio station in the fifth largest city in the USA, Dallas, Texas. His ratings were consistently (a holy grail in Radio) among the highest in the market for his targeted demographic, his station constantly doing something fun and unusual and entertaining, playing the right blend of new and old music. Jeff had his hand firmly on the pulse of Female Dallas. The company was very happy with Mr. McMurray.
Although, as a Strictly-Rock Formats guy, I had no professional reason to stay in touch, but, somehow, Jeff and I had remained actual friends for over 15 years... just because we liked each other. Then, during the first few days of September last year, Jeff, who I hadn't spoken to for a while, started leaving me messages and sending me emails... "Can we talk?" Like twice a day for 72 hours or so. WTF?
Okay... "Hey, Jeff, what the hell? We don't say boo to each other for months and now we have to talk this instant? What up, tough guy?"
"Well, you are one of maybe 4 or 5 people I feel safe telling this to. Only 2 or 3 other people are aware, okay?"
"Binky... I'm a woman."
I think this is the exact right moment to introduce you to Leslie Michelle McMurray (once Jeff) her own self. Right? Right! A few days ago, I sat down and kinda grilled my old friend and brand new gal pal, soon to be national and international known. Here it is, her first ever Q&A!
Binky: "So, I feel the need to tread gingerly here, Miss Leslie. Forgive any forthcoming faux pas, please. Can we start at the beginning? You're now 55 years old. How long ago did you know..."
Leslie: "First off, please know, I am an open book. You aren't going to embarrass me with any question. Acceptance comes through understanding. So.... How long? The easy answer is; since I was 5. Binky, I knew I was a girl. I only found out later that I wasn't as far as the rest of the world was concerned. That's when my before-sleep prayer every single night became, 'Oh God, please let me wake up a girl.' Doctors look between your legs, not between your ears. That's unfortunate. When I was six, I asked my mom what my name would have been had I been born a girl. 'Leslie, Jeff... why?' For me, that has always been my name."
Binky: "Wow! Since you were five?! Fifty years ago! That is a very, very long time to be keeping your true identity on the down low. Good grief, how did you manage that for so long?"
Leslie: "I realized fairly quickly that something was really wrong and that this was going to be hell for me if I didn't conform. I became a little macho-man. I excelled at sports. All my male pals were the bad-asses in school. I grew up hanging out with firemen, cops, mechanics, football dudes. Butch to the hilt. The distant drumbeat of the truth would never leave my soul, but, I had it tamped down pretty damn well. Barely audible. It clearly influenced my 'muscular' right wing outlook in life. And, that's now ancient history. I know you're happy about that, Bink.
For whatever reason, my advancing years perhaps, I found that drumbeat getting louder and louder. One day, I realized those drums were POUNDING. I cannot begin to describe how powerful the effect of Gender Dysphoria is. You can deny it all you want, but it will win every time, or in many cases, will put you in a grave by your own hand. People make light of this issue because they don't understand. This isn't a mental issue, it's a physiological medical issue. The current scientific theory is that there are two "hormone baths" that a new fetus is exposed to, one determines physical sex characteristics, the other, the "gender identity" in the brain. Since all fetus' start out female, if this exposure to one of the hormone baths is missed, the person can grow to perceive themselves as a gender other than what is expressed physically. But, there are female human beings who are born male, too. Still a mystery.
As I said, all my life I'd known but fought to hold it in. About four years ago, the first crack appeared when, almost as a dare, my wife painted my toes on vacation. I didn't take the turquoise polish off, even after returning home. I kept on painting my toes from then on. Little by little, I started pushing the envelope. My wife actually asked me a couple of times if I "wanted to be a woman". I denied it. But, she was intuitive and knew something was up. It all came to a tension-filled crescendo when, one evening, she asked me to take a polygraph. "Ummm, okay." It was scheduled for that Saturday, my birthday. When I came home from work Friday she told me, "I cancelled the polygraph." I said "Good." But then she added, "I still know something is going on."
The next morning, I told her there was "something." I asked her if she was sure she wanted to know because I will never be able to "un-tell". She said she wanted to know. I told her. She took it relatively well, initially. But once she read up on it, and felt the full weight of all it meant, she became very depressed. Ultimately, it ended our marriage. I don't blame her a bit and feel terrible for causing her pain. But, for me, it was live as Leslie, or not live, period. It was that bad.
I took it slow. I started to wear subtle mascara and blue fingernails to work at my very-corporate-environment job. But, being that Radio has always been viewed as the domain of the slightly eccentric, I didn't merit all that much attention. Now and then, a colleague would stick his head in my door and ask, 'What's with the freakin' earrings, Jeff?' I'd answer, "Oh, you know us old Bowie and Queen fans..." That was totally accepted as my reason for slowly becoming what they must've viewed as a California eccentric. I was let go on April 11th this year, and on that day, I went from being Leslie at home, behind closed doors, nights and weekends to full-time, 24/7/365. So... It was a blessing in disguise.
Binky: "Well, that's an interesting way of looking at losing your job, your income, maybe even your career. Good for you, Leslie. But, it certainly sounds like you were ready for more than nail polish..."
Leslie: "Ha! Yes, indeed. As far as when I actually finally did something about it... It was about a year ago that I came out to my wife of 33 years. Then, to my two daughters (now 32 and 26). My daughters have been very supportive. My wife moved back to California. As I've said, we are now divorced. This happens in about 99 percent of the cases. Sad, but true."
Binky: "Very sorry to hear that, but, not surprised, frankly. Ummmm, so, have you found me attractive all these years, ya big galootina?"
Leslie: "Amazing as this might seem, I am literally the old frat boy joke... A lesbian trapped in man's body. As far as a transgender person being attracted to the same sex and/or how common that is... The easiest way I can explain it is this: Sexual orientation is who I go to bed WITH. Gender Identity is who I go to bed AS. Generally, if you liked something before you transition, you will like that thing after. It wasn't difficult for me sexually to be married to a woman. But, I am now a lot more free to like things like little black cocktail dresses. There are cases where someone who is oriented towards women before transition will later find themselves attracted to men. It happens, but it's not common. I would guess fewer than 10 percent switch. Many that do were "Bi" in the first place.
Look, it's a whole new world for me. One that brings with it a fascinating perspective of having seen both sides of the gender binary... no such thing, really...it's a continuum. I have lived the pressure society puts on men to be good providers, protectors, and fathers, all while being stoic and not showing emotion, so as not to appear weak. I am now experiencing things like the expectations placed on women to be skinny. I am hungry all the time!
More firsthand experiences in the recent past... Women actually are judged by the handbags we carry and the shoes we wear. When men talk, people listen. When women talk, we are often ignored, especially by men. Also, women are every bit as competitive as men, just in different ways. Social cues are different. Women notice everything! It's been like getting a Ph.D in social science. Every day presents something new. I don't think anyone who has ever transitioned knew what he/she was getting themselves into, not completely. It is quite profound. Add to that the effects both physical and mental of completely changing your body's chemistry with hormones and, goodness gracious!
And yet, I haven't forgotten how to do great radio. I'm the same smart ass I've always been, just in much cuter shoes!
Binky: "Oh, I can back up that last bit for sure! Jeeez, Jeff... I mean, Leslie... Bone-breaking changes in every aspect of your life! But, more to do, I'd guess..."
Leslie: "The medical process of changing your physical gender is long, painful, and very expensive. And, hooray, due to discriminatory laws, it's specifically not covered by medical insurance and not even tax deductible. I know! What a shock, huh! Figure ballpark costs between $75,000 and $100,000. It can go higher. I've been on female hormone therapy for just over seven months. The effects are slow. It's very much like a second puberty. But, the effects are awesome. I can't imagine life without them now."
Binky: "I know this seems the cliche cheesy question, but, it's probably the most important one... Your advice to those trapped in your situation and not seeing a way out?"
Leslie: My advice is my advice, but it comes from the heart. Get help. Find someone you can trust and can talk to. There is a way out, but you need to find out what is going on first. Once you come out, especially to a spouse, you can't "Un-Come Out". There is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Be sure. It's a BIG deal and nothing to screw around with. The list below are the steps I personally took. Your mileage may vary.
Step one: Admit it to yourself! Get in therapy, ideally someone who specializes in gender issues... and do it right away. Stay consistent with it. It's been a huge help to me.
Step two: Go shopping! I'm dead serious. I have accumulated a fairly nice wardrobe by now... but, as you might imagine, being a woman in need of catching up, it's growing all the time!
[I have to interject... when Leslie and I chat on the phone, there is literally no difference for me than the chats I had with Jeff. While Leslie is working on 'feminizing' her voice, she doesn't bother with me. Except... when she starts describing the outfit she's wearing or just bought. "Jeff" has a smooth baritone speaking voice. So, in a very real way, she's still Jeff for me. But, when "he" starts talking clothes, "his" voice takes on a light lilt and a certain kind of joy men just never express. It's quite adorable.]
Step three: Let your hair grow. I haven't taken much length off in 13 months. Still a ways to go, but what a difference in the mirror! I got my ears pierced a little over a year ago, one of the first permanent things I did in transition.
Step four: After you are with your therapist for a while, the two of you may agree that you are ready for hormone therapy. Or you may not. Regardless, DO NOT do this yourself. You can DIE! Don't screw around. Hormones don't just grow boobs, they mess with your brain chemistry and a dozen other things. They also DON'T do things. They don't make your beard stop growing (which sucks!) or change your low voice (which sucks!).
Step five: Get your Facial Electrolysis goin' on. It's many painful and expensive hours. And totally worth the money and discomfort. Expect it to take as long as two years. Sometimes more, and it freaking hurts! Did I mention that? And people say this is a choice!
Step seven: Facial Feminization Surgery is something many of us turn to. It's very expensive, and as I mentioned, not covered by insurance or tax deductible. The facial geometry of the male face is different from the female face, sometimes by very small distances. The human brain very quickly reads these things and genders the person they are looking at. Changing these features goes a long way towards hearing "ma'am" instead of "sir." Common steps are eliminating the brow ridge in men, shaving the trachea (Adam's Apple) lip implants, scalp reduction, etc. Everyone is different.
Step eight: Depending upon how generous the Boob Fairy is once you're on hormones, it is possible for anyone to have breast augmentation surgery, not just Vegas strippers. I am very happy with my new 'girls', which as of now, are just what the hormones have given me. No surgery of any kind for me... yet.
Step nine: The Big One! 'Bottom Surgery', often called Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS), but I tend to prefer Gender Correction Surgery, And no, they don't cut it off, they kind of turn it inside out. That's actually something of a test to see if a guy is truly transgender... if they don't cringe at the thought of someone with a knife around their junk, they might just be transgender! How's that?"
Binky: "So, bing bang boom, done, huh?"
Leslie: [laughs] "Courage is often described as being scared to death and doing it anyway. Yes, it is terrifying. Not trying to curry sympathy at all here, but the reality is, just leaving the house is always a bit 'hold your breath'. There is a LOT of prep involved, too. Women can roll out of bed, throw on a ball cap with a ponytail and a sweatshirt, no make up, and never be mis-gendered at the store. I can't do that. Even small trips require significant preparation. Even then, I get the occasional "sir." Although, very rarely these days, something that quietly thrills me.
The most obvious example of the social minefield outside my apartment's door... For most people, using a public restroom requires no thought at all. For me, it most surely does. Although I have become comfortable using the ladies room, I don't linger. I'm always wary. I'm always respectful and try to go with a girlfriend whenever possible.
The truth is, I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. But, I wouldn't change a thing. This path is unbelievably difficult... but it's my path. For the first time in my life I'm walking my path. That makes it worth it all."
Binky: "Girlfriend, you are the greatest! I wish you only good things!"
Leslie: "Oh, darling, I love you... and the ink."