Saturday, March 28, 2009

Being Transgender

When I was working on my PhD I met Clara, a brilliant nuclear physicist who also had a degree in electrical engineer and was working for one of the Big Three. This was an English theory class offered in the evening which focused on the works of great philosophers. Clara never missed a class and she was quite an impressive figure, both intellectually and physically.

I was drawn to Clara immediately because her mind was quick and her questions penetrating. She stood 6' 2" with a ruddy complexion, auburn hair and a voice that was slightly on the rough side. We got on fine. During breaks I would find her and we'd talk. After class we'd walk out together, talking about stuff, mainly class material but never personal matters.

One day about half way through the semester she asked if I would be "willing" to meet her for lunch the next day. There was something that she wanted to tell me. "Sure," I said. "You pick the restaurant," she replied with the biggest smile. "OK," I said.

As I got into my car, my heart sank. Oh, God, I thought, what does she want to tell me? Is she interested in a relationship with me? I assumed she was gay. But I didn't worry about it. The next afternoon we met at a popular spot near my house.

We arrived at the restaurant at the same time and walked in together. As the hostess took us to our table, we got tons of gawks; people began whispering as we passed. This angered me incredibly. I drew Clara to me and told her that it was good to see her. She smiled and embraced me midway to our table. There! As Bonnie Rait says, "Let's give them something to talk about. Let's give them something to figure out. Let's give them something to talk about. How about love?"

I ordered salmon salad. She did not eat. The conversation went like this:

"I want to share something with you."
(I looked at her with the most compassionate I could
give, thinking that people must stare at her all the
time. It's funny. I never saw what others might have
seen until that afternoon.)
"I am transgender. My name used to be Charles...
(Wow! That never even occurred to me.)
"I hope that's OK."
"Everything is alright."
"My insides hurt. My emotions are a wreck. I have to
take many pills daily. I'm sick of swallowing. My
family is in a mess; my wife has been great throughout
this, but she's not well. My children, especially my
son, are in bad shape."
"Where does he live?"
"With us. But he needs to find his own place. I told
him that I'd pay for wherever he'd like to go. But he's
afraid or something."
"How is your relationship?"
"It's good. But my change has affected him."
"Is he seeing someone?"
"Yes, for some years now. He's a good boy."
"I have a friend who owns a lot of houses; I'd be
happy to see what she has available."
"Oh, thank you."
"Does he want to be near campus?'
"That would be good. I'll pop in often."
"OK. I'll check with her."
"Thank you, Judith. My life is a mess. It's
been 10 years now. My wife is so good."
"What a woman!"
"My family is very wealthy and I visit them
occasionally on the East Coast. But we've never
been a close family. I spent my life with
nannies and at boarding schools."
"Are you seeing someone?"
"Yes, I have been seeing various psychiatrists for years,
before and after the surgery."
"Well, that's good."
"My body is completely out of sorts. I am so sorry I
did this. I thought that I was in pain then. The pain is
unbearable now. I don't think I will live."
"You shall live and not die!"
"It hurts so bad."
(I tried to contain my emotions as she spoke further, but
tears rolled down my cheeks uncontrollably.)
"I don't know."
"I love you, Clara. God loves you too. He sees who you are
and you are very, very dear to Him."
"Thank you so very much for that, Judith."

We were together for a few hours that afternoon and by the end of our conversation I could tell that she was feeling better. I gave her the biggest hug ever as we walked to our cars. She said, "ouch." That made both of us laugh.

When I saw her the following week in class, not much had changed. She still offered her brilliant comments and thought-provoking questions. But I noticed something about her voice that was slightly different. There was a noticeable smile there.

There is nothing like the love and support of others. Give love away.


dave wheeler said...


There are many lessons to be learned in that story for sure. Growing up in and around the Bay Area and the attitudes of my Mom and Dad really shaped the way I approach to many things. The most important perhaps is to be open minded and ever trying to be non judgmental when it comes to differences in people. That is a constant life long learning curve as now it's trying to figure out and adapt to working on starting a business with a person half my age.

Your kindness and concern for all folks Judith is remarkable. Not just words on my part, I have been the beneficiary of both the kind words and support you have extended to me. So Ms. Ellis, thank you Ma'am! Life is better with folks like you to share small bits of it with!

judith ellis said...

Dave - Your encouraging words are much appreciated. Thank you. You are most certainly a giving and non-judgemental person. The love that you show single working parents and school children is truly awesome. This I so value.

I love Clara--not her real name. We remainded friends for many years thereafter until I moved abroad. What matters most is the love we show others.

Love isn't love until you give it away.

septembermom said...

Clara really needed your kind words, unconditional acceptance and loving support. How wonderfully generous of you to open up your arms and allow her to feel free to share her emotions and fears with you. She must have known that you have an open heart. Thank you for sharing this story. We can all learn a lot from your example.

judith ellis said...

septembermom - Thank you for your words. They are encouraging. Clara also taught me a lot about love and acceptance. I thought her wife was a pretty amazing woman. I can't imagine many women staying in that situation. She stayed and loved, even when it hurt to do so. I will try to look Clara up; it will be good to see her again and to see how everyone is doing. I hope all is well.

Dianna said...


Thank you for your generous and accepting spirit. I am sure it meant the world to Clara to have a sympathetic ear to listen to her pain. I know, I am transgendered also, and it is a difficult path to follow and we cherish all of the loving caring souls that we encounter along the way.

judith ellis said...

Dear Dianna,

Thank you for your words. I am happy to have you here and wish you all the very best. God-speed to you. Healing. Health. Happiness.

Do pop in again.

Peace and love,


Cynthia said...

Carla's heart must break every day.
The ache of feeling she took a step
she should not have. I'm so glad you were an angel for her, there at
a time she needed a strong, positive, spiritual person to talk
to. Good for you, Judith.

judith ellis said...

Yes, Cynthia, it was very painful for her and her family--so very painful indeed. I am so happy to have been there for her. I love her. God so loves her too. This was my constant message.

LaDonna said...

I was strolling down your past blog posts to see what more you had said about Palin when I saw Transgender and clicked there instead. As I read I commented aloud, "Judith is awesome." Knowing our church upbringing I was curious to see how you handled this subject. I was in a class last summer with a young man who was going through the process. The class allowed for comments and one of his I admired and told him so. Leaving class, he nearly ran me over trying to catch up so we could continue talking. I was appalled, surprised, intrigued and saddened by all that he shared. The personal nature of most of what he shared told me he needed someone to talk with. Why he chose me, I will never know. He left me standing there humbled and grateful to be able to show love. Judith, I admire and respect you and being able to say that I am a friend of yours makes me proud.

Judith Ellis said...

LaDonna - Thank you for your words. I just noticed today that you left a comment. I love you, friend of my childhood and I'm blessed to call you friend. Love covers all.

Donna Page said...

I am so moved by your grace and compassion. It is not often that we carry out the responsibility of being the LIGHT by reflecting the love and acceptance that the creator has for all of us both individually and collectively. Thank you for sharing this.

Judith Ellis said...

Beautiful words, Donna. Thank you.