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Fri, Feb. 21

It's what's inside that determines gender

Bettie and I have a good friend in Prescott – now a hugging friend for both of us – someone who has been through a very uncommon experience. It is fascinating to observe and learn, and, boy, have I learned a lot. Let me share some of it with you.

Caution: Some people may be turned off by this column. It deals with a person' s gender, so if that bothers you, skip on over to the comics.

We first became acquainted with Jim nine years ago when we took one of his classes, and then went to New Zealand with a tour group that he was leading. Later I was in another of his classes, and saw him around campus occasionally. We've been friendly, but not close.

Today, Jim no longer exists. He is now Jamie, and the female pronouns apply. She still lives in Prescott, but is not teaching this school year.

In January 2003, Jim became a female, legally – the culmination of a lengthy personal journey. She changed her name and attire, and taught during the spring semester as a female. After school ended last May, she underwent gender reassignment surgery; meaning, the anatomy changed as well.

Why would anybody do such a thing?

It' s complicated, and has nothing to do with sexual preference or homosexuality. Those who believe that homosexuals are merely living a "lifestyle," which they can change at will, will not be able to understand Jamie. You see, Jim, now Jamie, was born trans-sexual.

This was not something that she chose. From early childhood, she knew that she was really female, as any woman does, but her body didn't match. It was male.

After reading an entire book on the subject and asking her lots of questions, I think I now understand. In the next column I'll try to explain trans-sexuality and the process for changing from one gender to another, but for now let's talk about Jamie, the person.

As Jim, he was high school valedictorian, president of his senior class, voted most-likely-to-succeed and most versatile, and played center field on the baseball team. Obviously, this is an intelligent, popular, high-achieving person.

In spite of realizing that he had some gender confusion, Jim married twice and fathered a son. I asked Jamie why a trans-sexual would marry at all, and she replied that most try to fit in and live as conventionally as possible, hoping that doing male things will make the gender issue go away. But it nearly always fails.

Jamie was a single parent for her son for most of his life, and he graduated from college just this past month. They have always been very close, and still are. "It's an unconditional love," she says. 

Most acquaintances have been understanding. A few have not. Some associates and most students don't even know she used to be a male because she looks, acts, and talks like a woman – an attractive woman.

Jamie has had no really bad experiences since coming out 15 months ago. I asked about using bathrooms during the transition period. No problem. Initially the school asked her to use the one unisex restroom, but soon dropped that. Even before surgery, she was legally female and looked like one, so no one raised eyebrows if she used the ladies room.

Jamie is currently on medical leave, and can return to teaching next fall if she wants to. Right now she' s busy writing a book about this journey of gender change, and speaking to interested groups.

Changing one's gender is a very drastic measure, fraught with all kinds of problems. A good friend of hers went through the same transitioning process, then moved to Connecticut to begin a new life. Last month the friend committed suicide.

More about it next time.

(Al Herron is a former hospital administrator, and current Prescott resident.)

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