“I’ve lived a whole life as someone that I wasn’t.”
When I uttered these words at the beginning of my poetry reading at the Inside Out Trans Art Project launch party for the Anthology “Inside Out: An Affirming Epiphany” last weekend in Cincinnati, I was totally unprepared for the effect that they would have on me. I began sobbing uncontrollably. My wife, Marilyn, had to bring a tissue to me at the podium. I was barely able to regain my composure enough to continue with my reading.
I did not know that I was trans. I grew up as a boy and lived as a man for the first 60 years of my life. I did not know how to be anything else. I did not fully transition until I was 63 years old. I fully intended to live the remainder of my life stealthily as a woman, but things did not quite work out that way. Coming out in an article on the front page of the Community Section of the Akron Beacon Journal kind of took care of that. I agreed to be interviewed about my experiences with gender counseling. I chose not to do the interview anonymously, because I thought it would have more impact, and I wanted to announce to the world that I was ready to truly live my life whether it was ready or not. My counseling experience saved my life and guided me to answer that universal question of “Who Am I?” In my opinion, finding the right counselor and creating a harmonious working relationship with him or her is an essential component of transitioning.
The second thing that caused me to live openly as a trans woman was my poetry. At all my early poetry readings, I identified myself as a transgender woman and still do. I was readily accepted into the poetry community. That was extremely gratifying.
There was also a subtle change in the way that I was perceived and treated by others. I did take a step back on the ladder of privilege from a white male to a white female and that was evident in some of my interactions. However, what I really want to talk about is why I believe that I have become a better person as a female.
The first significant change that I noticed is that I went from being an introvert to an extrovert. As a man, I was very unassertive in social situations and basically a wallflower, which was in total contrast to my work life as an attorney. Now, as a woman, I am strong and independent in my thinking and in all my interactions with others. I say whatever is on my mind, which sometimes gets me into trouble. As a man, I would never volunteer for anything, but as I woman, I am no longer afraid to raise my hand and take a chance. Maybe I am still hesitant sometimes, but in the end, I step up. For example, at last week’s event in Cincinnati, I volunteered to read one of my other poems at the open mic event. I was the only person to volunteer, and the event was terminated after my reading.
I still struggle with anxiety and depression at times, but I came awfully close to committing suicide two separate times as a man. As a woman, I feel much more grounded and whole. I also feel like I am much more in control. My first year as a woman was the absolute best year of my life. Then COVID took the wind out of those sails.
As a woman, I have found myself to be more empathetic and sympathetic. I tend to respond much more emotionally when I see suffering or injustice in the world. In fact, I respond much more emotionally to most things that I encounter in my life. I even cry during some commercials. Maybe that’s the effect of the hormones.
I have also expanded my horizons and my social consciousness beyond anything that I envisioned as a man. I have done many more things outside of my comfort zone. I have agreed to several more interviews, some of which have been national, and I am undertaking several trans-related projects, which I would probably have passed on before. I recently volunteered to partner with a trans man in developing and presenting an educational program designed for individuals at the beginning of, or considering, transition.
I am also not afraid to interact with complete strangers, which has resulted in some amazing and rewarding encounters. I am much more supportive of the arts. I attend events and performances that I would not even have considered attending while I was still a man, such as a Black Artist Showcase that was held prior to the pandemic. My circle also includes more people of color, some of whom are now among my closest friends. Sadly, I do not have any real close trans friends. Maybe that is a sign of how successfully I have assimilated myself into the mainstream. However, my wife and I have become more involved with the lesbian community.
I have also become more of an advocate for myself as a woman. This is especially evident in my interactions with medical and mental health professionals. As a man, I was very timid in these encounters and readily agreed to whatever the professional suggested, sometimes to my detriment. Now, I am much more assertive and a part of the treatment plan, and I readily question a health care professional if they seem to have very little experience in dealing with trans patients. Of course, I still must patiently answer silly questions about when I first experienced menopause and why I need a prostate exam.
As a man, I never viewed myself as an educator or an advocate. I readily accept and relish those roles as a proud trans woman. I boldly identify myself as a transgender woman, award-winning poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist and feel like I have real power now, maybe even a superpower. I may not be the perfect trans woman to some, but if you wait for perfection, you may miss your chance at happiness. I may have lived a lifetime as someone that I wasn’t, but now my goal is to live authentically, truthfully, and courageously as the woman that I now know I was meant to be in whatever time I have left on this earth.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, poet, writer, speaker, and quiet activist. She is a retired attorney and originally from West Virginia. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and the Akron Beacon Journal Best Northeast Ohio Books 2020.