Despite living a life that appeared complete, something was always missing. I knew I wasn’t being true to myself.
Things changed for me when my father passed away four years ago. Nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming grief, mixed in with eye-opening clarity that comes from losing someone you love. It’s the punch in the gut that reminds you that life truly is too short, so you should make the most of it.
My mother was heartbroken and found it difficult to stay in the first home that her and my father purchased. She asked to come stay with me since I didn’t have kids and was single again. She shipped all of the things she treasured the most and moved from the East Coast to live with me on Mercer Island. We were each other’s support system. I believe the silver lining in losing my father was that I would have the opportunity to get to know my mother and she would get to know me. We filled our time walking around Mercer Island, cooking Vietnamese food and having weekly movie nights. As a movie buff, those nights were particularly important to me.
One day, we decided to watch Chaz Bono’s documentary about his journey from “girl to boy to man.” While on the couch, about to grab a handful of popcorn, it hit me. This person who is the same age as me and once frequently appeared on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour with his parents as a little “girl,” was now becoming the guy he envisioned himself to be. I turned to my mother and gasped, “this is me.”
My mom just casually nodded and replied, “You were supposed to be a boy.”
You see, growing up my mom did her best to socialize me into behaving like a “girl” by dressing my older sister and me in matching homemade dresses and braiding my hair into long ponytails. When I turned 11 years old she realized no matter how many dresses she made for me, I wasn’t going to be that delicate little “girl.” So when she signed my younger brother up to play “Little League” baseball she signed me as well. I shined at the game of baseball, even more so than my brother. I played in the outfield because I had a really good arm. I was the only “girl” in the entire league.
“This person who is the same age as me and once frequently appeared on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour with his parents as a little ‘girl,’ was now becoming the guy he envisioned himself to be. I turned to my mother and gasped, ‘this is me.’ My mom just casually nodded and replied, ‘You were supposed to be a boy.'”
This lasted until puberty hit and the boys around me were getting stronger while I was remaining the same. I didn’t understand this and I didn’t like it, but I knew deep down that I should be going through the same changes the boys on my team were experiencing. In the end I had to give up baseball and switch to fast pitch softball, because this is what is acceptable for “girls” of my age.
I was fortunate to grow up in the ’80s because rock glam role models were in abundance. I could dress more masculine and it wouldn’t be seen as weird. I even had the nickname “Classic Clark,” because I loved wearing ties to school. I didn’t know the word “transgender” so I really just embraced being seen as androgynous.
Throughout my twenties and thirties I continually struggled with the various “labels” (lesbian and butch) that were put upon me and the ones I put upon myself (stud and masculine of center). I would be asked by various people at various times in my life if I was a boy or a girl. The question regarding my gender identity usually came from little kids, while I would just get misgendered by adults.
When I hit my early forties and had a breast cancer scare I knew I wasn’t being true to myself. It’s not right to want breast cancer so that you can have the two lumps taking up valuable real estate on your chest removed, especially when they should never have been there in the first place.
Even after my initial epiphany and all the other indicators that what everyone was seeing was not what they were getting, I let the months pass by in a blur of workdays, meetings and evenings with my mom. It’s funny how—if you let it—life has a way of happening to you.
Before I could think about it, December came. The holiday season packs a punch for anyone who has lost a family member. The fact that it was also my dad’s birthday month made it much more difficult. It was those feelings that finally pulled me away from my day-to-day activity. I looked at the next year’s calendar and I knew in my bones that I couldn’t let another year pass while I was living an incomplete life. Determined, I transitioned to reflect the man I truly am.
I am two years into medically transitioning and I cherish that I am living in a state that honors and respects me being my authentic self. My employer Microsoft readily supported me and continually strives to create a culture that is diverse and inclusive. I have siblings who love me.
And what I am most fortunate to have is a mother who has been my biggest champion. She not only expresses her unconditional love, but repeatedly comments on how comfortable I am in my own skin now. I will always treasure her words, “you are now who you’ve always seen yourself as.” She believes everyone deserves to live a life without discrimination, to be one’s authentic self and to have the support from those they love.
“I am two years into medically transitioning and I cherish that I am living in a state that honors and respects me being my authentic self. My employer Microsoft readily supported me and continually strives to create a culture that is diverse and inclusive. I have siblings who love me. And what I am most fortunate to have is a mother who has been my biggest champion.”
Thankfully, in Washington, the law supports me too. Transitioning is more than a little nerve-wracking for everyone—you’re never totally sure how anyone will react. And for transgender people who live in states without laws that prohibit anti-transgender discrimination, there’s an extra layer of uncertainty.
In Washington, I don’t have that uncertainty, because for 11 years, our state’s non-discrimination law has made clear that it’s not OK to treat me any differently because of who I am. Some people, though, think that should be OK, so they’re trying to repeal Washington’s non-discrimination laws protecting transgender people.
These opponents of equality just filed a ballot initiative, I-1552, and are actively collecting signatures to place it on the 2017 general election ballot. If passed, this initiative would allow places of public accommodation, like businesses, to discriminate by prohibiting transgender people from using facilities that are consistent with who they are. This would severely limit my ability to go out in public, and could even endanger my safety.
Acceptance from my friends and family played a huge role in helping me feel comfortable being my authentic self—but the law played a big role too. If Washington’s non-discrimination laws are repealed, people like me simply won’t be able to live full lives in this state that we are proud to call home.
There’s an effort to stop this harmful initiative: No On I-1552. If you agree that all Washingtonians deserve to live their lives free from discrimination, click here and decline to sign.