This is my 10th piece on The Huffington Post, and it's appropriate that I'm composing it for the 10th anniversary of my living an authentic life. I don't normally write here about anything of a deeply personal nature, so I hope you'll bear with me.
The bare facts are that I flew into San Francisco on Jan. 6 with my male ID, entered the hospital on Jan. 8 as Dana, and never looked back. The only personal accommodation I had to make was for the return flight home, when I tucked my hair under a baseball cap and boarded the plane in jeans and a loose shirt to avoid the increased attention being paid to identification in the years immediately after 9/11.
I had a friend who taught me that the social aspect of gender transition proceeds in stages and evolves, over a 10-year period, into what many would call a semblance of normalcy. At the time I had no idea if she was correct, but, having plunged headlong into the dark over the cliff of gender difference, I was determined to succeed. I had no conception whatsoever of how my life would look in a year, let alone in 10 (psychiatrists used to ask me, "If you had your druthers, what would life be like for you in five years?"), but I was determined that I would neither fail nor get stuck in transition, as so many unfortunately do. I knew there would be loss, maybe even tragic and crippling loss, but as the mantra goes, failure was not an option. Having come close to suicide, failure was simply an unacceptable outcome.
I spent the next year deeply involved in surgical procedures (as a patient, not as a surgeon) and the often long recovery attendant to them, and in navigating my family life, which had changed radically in some respects, and not at all in others. I reached out to hundreds of friends and family members, trying to meet face-to-face whenever possible. I was prepared to lose 50 percent of my friends and family, as the grapevine had it in those days. For many reasons, and particularly because of intense planning and attention to detail, tailored to each individual, and just dumb luck, the presentations nearly always went well. Going through the difficult years leading up to transition had made me a better listener, and when meeting in person, I was able to respond to the needs and questions of my friends and family directly, losing little "in translation," something that often happens in writing or when contact is indirect. I never deliberately tried to surprise or shock anyone. Most importantly, I had outed myself to the most important people in my life, the women whom I would marry, very early in our relationships, so there would be no question of betrayal. It was a huge risk at the time, but it paid off. I involved my children in an age-appropriate manner early on, so by the time I actually transitioned, the shock had been mitigated.
I'm writing about this today not only because a 10th anniversary seems an appropriate time to do so but because a friend of mine, Professor Joy Ladin of Yeshiva University, with whom I serve on the board of the nonprofit Jewish LGBT advocacy group Keshet, is undergoing a public trial by fire regarding her transition. She published a wonderful memoir on the subject, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, one that mirrors my experience as a Jewish woman. Where her experience significantly differs from that of the usual trans memoirist is in the fact that her ex-wife, Christine Benvenuto, has also published her story of the experience, Sex Changes: A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On.
I was fortunate to transition away from the public gaze, and it was only when I became active as an advocate for the trans and gay civil rights movements, and then ran for public office, that I willingly sacrificed my privacy. Joy, by publishing her story in the hope of helping others struggling as she did, also sacrificed her privacy, obviously. What she didn't expect was that her ex, a psychotherapist, would "come out" herself and publish as well.
I know that Joy has paid a high price, and those who've read excerpts of her ex's work have seen that she does not stint on being cruel and malicious. This is a very difficult time for Joy, as it would be for anyone in a similar situation. However, I do believe that in the long run it's a good thing to hear from the spouses of those who have transitioned -- both those who chose to leave and those who remained in their marriages. Just as gender transition is probably the most difficult and radical social change an individual can undergo, the intimate partner of a trans person has a transition to make that is also very wrenching and difficult. I have heard from spouses that they would have preferred for their husbands to have just died, because at least then there are community and religious rituals that assist the widow with grieving and moving on. I understand that, and I hope that we can create those rituals so that the loss for the spouse is not as devastating as a death in the family.
Most importantly to me, though, is the main reason I've been an advocate this past decade: so that the newest generation needn't needlessly suffer the way I and my cohort did. By changing the culture through increased understanding and protective legislation, and by changing medical and psychological norms to recognize and support young transitioners, we will soon create a world where such adult traumas will no longer have to occur. And we can't get to that day soon enough.