What a Great Town We Live In!

On January 27, I wrote a piece for Shout Out titled You’ve Got a Friend, outlining the convoluted journey of a young transman named Tim. He had moved from southern California to England to live with a new family of choice, starting a new life for himself, out from under the extreme religious conservativism of his biological family; he saved the money for the trip surreptitiously, and has no desire to tell his biological family anything at all about his current life or hopes for the future. After nearly six months happily living a new life, he found himself faced with visa issues that necessitated returning to the U.S. to get his paperwork in order so he could remain in the U.K. indefinitely.

His adoptive U.K mom Kathy sent emails to many dozens of LGBT+ organizations all over the U.S., seeking advice, seeking help, seeking any kind of support that might be offered. Portland was on several people’s short list of cities that might be a supportive place for Tim to take refuge in the six months it would take to sort out his visa. Two people specifically recommended contacting PFLAG here in Portland, which is where I come in. Kathy sent an email to PFLAG Portland; I answer the emails for the Portland PFLAG chapter. Kathy and I had a Zoom call the same day she emailed, and it was clear she had found the support she and Tim needed.

Two weeks after her initial email to Portland PFLAG, Kathy and Tim flew to Portland. They arrived January 29. They stayed with my wife and I; Tim is going to remain with us for the duration of his visa process. I wrote You’ve Got a Friend in part to elicit local support for Tim. Several people have stepped forward very helpfully. The result? Before Kathy left a week later Tim’s paperwork for legal name/gender change was submitted, he was enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, he had applied for about a dozen jobs, and he had a doctor’s appointment at Outside In’s Trans Clinic to hopefully receive his hormone prescription. Whew!

Before we connected, Kathy had been beyond worried at the idea of Tim on his own in the U.S. for the six months the visa process would take. As we put her on the plane back to the U.K. Kathy said, “I’m not worried about him now – I’ll just miss him is all.”

As I write this a month later… Tim’s name and gender change are legal, he’s got his new driver’s license (now Oregon – buh bye, California!), he has a bank account in his new legal name, he’s had a job offer, he got all his bloodwork and lab tests done in preparation for getting a hormone prescription in mid-March, he has submitted paperwork to get a new passport and birth certificate, and he’s singing with Bridging Voices, our queer youth chorus. And our cat has a new best friend; Tim has taken over cat feeding duties.

In 1976, at the age of 20, I moved from San Francisco to attend Pacific University in Forest Grove. Did I move back to San Francisco after graduation in 1978? No. I moved into Portland. Even then, the open-armed ethos of this city captured my heart. Portland has exceeded my expectations, fast-tracking Tim into his new life without question, with nothing but loving support coming his way. Way to go, Portland! (As I said in my previous piece, Kathy and Tim are pseudonyms. Everything else – totally true!)

Team Tim

This story is about a young person named Joanna, born in southern California 18 years ago. Joanna grew up in a Christian family, a family that belonged to a church so conservative as to border on cult-like. All friends of the family, and of their children, had to be part of the same church. Any family members who rejected the church were in turn rejected by Joanna’s parents, who viewed them as evil influences, even if they had a religious practice of their own.

A most unfortunate family for any child to grow up in, particularly if they aren’t straight, or cisgender. At 14, Joanna came out as a lesbian. Coming out resulted in two rounds of conversion therapy. (In California, it isn’t legal to subject minors to conversion therapy; the church had to call it Bible therapy instead.) Fortunately, Joanna survived both ordeals, thanks to secret online support. It’s quite possible Joanna would have committed suicide without such on-line support; one ‘minister’ said to Joanna, “You’d be better off dead; you’d come back as a better person.”

Unbeknownst to mom and dad, Joanna developed a wonderful friendship on-line with James, a young transguy in England, also in his mid-teens at the time. This friendship was a lifesaver for Joanna on multiple levels. It provided hope there was life beyond this constricted family and church. It provided a forum for discussing identity, leading to Joanna’s eventual conclusion that ‘lesbian’ wasn’t really it, that ‘transguy’ was a truer fit. And ultimately it provided a new family.

Joanna chose the name Timothy, though his parents never knew this. Tim worked at a local coffee shop. He surreptitiously saved his tip money, adding to it money given to him for birthdays and the like; over a two-year period, he saved enough money to make his way over to England.

By this time, James and Tim had been on-line friends for four years. James’ mom and dad (Kathy and Frank) were both incensed by Tim’s birth parents. Kathy said indignantly, “They had one job!” Kathy, Frank, and James frequently went for hikes in the woods; they would take a phone with them and FaceTime with Tim so he would be hiking with them. All were so happy when he finally was able to make his way to join them. Tim fit right in with his new family unit, and began the enrollment process at a local college.

At this point, Tim discovered that his visa was the wrong type to stay in the UK as a student; he had acquired a visa that permitted a six-month stay. His visa was going to expire January 31, 2023. The only way he could fix it was from the U.S. side of the pond. Don’t ask me why – he can’t begin the visa process until April, and he can’t return to the U.K. until about a month before school starts in September.

Kathy was beside herself with worry. She couldn’t leave the rest of her family for six months. She had no idea where was the best place for Tim to land to navigate the bureaucratic process. (The only input Tim could give – “anywhere but California.”) Kathy sent emails all over the U.S., finding as many LGBT-focused organizations as she could. She got no helpful responses.

And this is where I enter the picture, feeling like I’ve come into the middle of Chapter 10. Kathy sent an email to the Portland PFLAG chapter; I answer the emails for Portland PFLAG. The bottom line – Kathy and Tim will be landing at PDX on January 29, and Kathy returns to the U.K. the following Sunday. Tim will be planted here in Portland until sometime in August. We have some support systems already in place. If you’d like to be part of Team Tim in some way, let me know: reidpdx@gmail.com. And BTW, a holdover from having been a therapist – Kathy, Frank, James, and Tim aren’t their real names. Nor was Tim given the name Joanna at birth. The rest of the story? Totally true.

Here’s to You, Mom!

September 13, 1917. My mother’s birthday. When I was a child, my mom told me that she’d been born on Friday the 13th. It never occurred to me to doubt this, much less go to the pre-internet trouble of fact-checking this tidbit of information. So I don’t remember what prompted me to look it up when such things became simple. I DO remember teasing my mother that her mom probably told her she acted like she’d been born on Friday the 13th. In fact – she was born on a Thursday.

My mother was a Rosie the Riveter in WWII. She welded ship bottoms in the Oakland shipyard, justifiably proud of her job — only the best were allowed to weld the bottom of a ship. She had lots of stories to tell of that era, bringing alive World War II for those of us born into a subsequent generation, if we cared to listen.

Family always came first with my mother. In the early 1990s, listening to Pat Buchanan give a Republican National Convention keynote speech waxing eloquently about the homosexual agenda and family values, my mom was horrified to realize how far to the right her Republican party had drifted on social issues. She had been a fiscal Republican, blaming the problems of the country on Roosevelt and the New Deal. She voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, and never voted Republican again. My jaw just about hit the floor when she told me she had switched her party affiliation. She didn’t have to say a word to me about this huge change in her world view; in telling me of her vote, she was also telling me how much my safety and well-being mattered to her. She was living her love for her family.

My mother died 19 years ago. Nineteen years ago today. A couple of years ago, I realized I’d passed into a new stage of grief about my mother’s death. Prior to that time, the date January 22 did not approach without my being aware of its imminence. This new grief stage is different – the date doesn’t pass without acknowledgment, but it does approach without my circling it in red in my mind. I realized the date this morning as I sat in church, the perfect place to toss a prayer of thanks heavenward for giving me Elizabeth Vanderburgh as my mother.

Thankfulness 2022

Four years ago, I started a tradition for myself. I no longer celebrate Thanksgiving in a traditional way; I don’t feel thankful that my ancestors participated in a genocide, colonizing the continent in the process. I have rebranded this day as an opportunity to reflect on Thankfulness.

Central to my thankfulness… I am blessed to have a loving partner in life. So thankful to have loving family. Blood relatives coming to hear my chorus in a few weeks. Family of choice to share a Thankfulness meal with a few hours from now. Thankful for the pecan and pumpkin pies that are making our house smell so good! Thankful we have a house…

Reflecting back on the past year, one milestone of thankfulness immediately comes to mind. March 18 – I came home from the hospital with a new right knee. Though still hobbling a bit when I walk, still needing physical therapy, still taking pain meds at night, yada yada… nevertheless I now walk without the pain that hampered me for several years. So thankful for the technology and medical expertise that made this possible!

For the first time in my life as a GALA choral singer, spanning 36 years, I took a complete leave of absence from chorus this past spring, missing not just rehearsals but the March concert itself. Back from leave for the Pride concert, I had the joyous experience of hearing our audience cheer as our new director Braeden Ayres was introduced, watching his first PGMC concert! Braeden then spent the summer programming this season, passionate about his avocation, about his new chorus, about his new city. In two weeks, we will perform three shows a sold-out holiday concert. I am thankful to be a part of this wonderful chorus!

I am beyond thankful for the three years I had with Kiko, inherited from my sister Susan and her wife Rita after they both died in the summer of 2019. A formerly-feral cat, Kiko allowed me to be her person during her last three years, happily purring on my heart every time I sat down within range. She died September 21, purring on my chest as the visiting vet sent her on from this life.

A friend of mine used to sing in a local chorus, an organization some sixty years old. I say ‘used to’ as this chorus may or may not exist in the future. There was no mask or vaccination requirement made of the singers, and within weeks of their first rehearsal in August, 17 members came down with Covid. The rest of their season is cancelled.

I am thankful to sing in a chorus with a strict vaccination/booster policy. We rehearse largely unmasked, over 120 voices strong. While a few members (4 or 5) have quarantined with Covid in the year since our return to live rehearsals, the chorus has largely been unaffected. Those members who contracted the disease all eventually returned. Covid is here to stay, sure and certain – and so is the chorus.

In recent years, with violence against LGBT+ folks on the rise, I have wondered if there might not be a watershed moment of some kind, turning the tide as happened with the 1969 raid on the Stonewall Inn. The recent shootings at Club Q in Colorado Springs may prove to be such a moment, this time with Richard Fierro at the hero’s center, rather than Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, and a crowd behind them – all who fought back at the Stonewall Inn that June night over 50 years ago.

Creation of community was the tide’s turning after Stonewall; we shall see how the tides turn after the Club Q shootings. I am thankful for the loving resilience of our community, though always sad at the need for the resilience. Regardless the circumstances necessitating resilience, whether AIDS, Covid, or violent attack, we come through. We are there for each other, and I am so blessed to call this community home. Thankful.

It’s a Journey

September 19 marked the 35th anniversary of my return home from the longest bicycle tour I ever undertook, gone nearly five months. Over 5,200 miles. 22 states and two Canadian provinces. Lots of stories to tell! Here’s one:

While doing laundry in a small Illinois town, I went to a nearby café for lunch while my clothes washed. I ate at every opportunity, trying to replenish the thousands of calories a day I was burning. Sitting at the counter, I got to talking with a man on his lunch break from work. Upon finding out I was biking cross-country, heading to Boston, he laughed and said, intending humor, “That’s what trains and planes are for!”

As I rode away from his town, I thought about what he said. On one trip, I rode to California. Ten days on the road. I filled a journal and shot five rolls of film. I had ridden to a music festival, and met up with some friends from Portland. By previous arrangement, I rode back to Portland with them. A van up I-5, home in two days. I wrote a few entries in my journal and took zero photos.

An hour or so into my afternoon, I finally articulated my response to the man in the café: Boston was my destination. The journey was my goal.

Thankfulness 2021

Three years ago, I started a tradition for myself. I no longer celebrate Thanksgiving in a traditional way; I don’t feel thankful that my ancestors participated in a genocide, colonizing the continent in the process. Rather than Thanksgiving, I celebrate Thankfulness.

What am I thankful for in 2021? An easy answer comes to mind immediately – Covid vaccines. March 6, 2021: my first. April 3, 2021: my second. October 28, 2021: first booster. No birthdays, but Lifedays I will always celebrate.

I am thankful PGMC survived Covid, live rehearsals resuming October 3, 2021. We had not shared the air in song since March of 2020; though masked, not having any social interactions over snacks as we used to do, nevertheless we are back. As we sang, windows open to the fall air, I envisioned the folks in the apartments across the street back on their balconies to listen, crying at this hallmark of resilience. PGMC has gained a number of season ticketholders among neighbors grateful to have moved by happenstance into an apartment across the street from our rehearsal space.

I am thankful for closer friendships with John and Mark, quarantine allowing us more time to become friends without the busy structure of rehearsals and concert prep.

Once again, I’m thankful for Zoom, making possible the continued work of so many organizations and businesses. PFLAG Portland is forever changed, having discovered a new depth of sharing and intimacy conducting chapter meetings via Zoom – the virtual meeting is here to stay, with a few social gatherings in the offing each year in order to connect in person. My church will continue to offer services via Zoom as well as in person, to the relief of older members who have difficulty with the in-person trip during the winter months. Every organization I’m involved with has embraced Zoom as a permanent fixture, virtual meetings now the norm.

I am thankful for Facebook. As an extrovert, connection via Zoom and Facebook has proven to be a lifeline to sanity. I have more presence on Facebook than ever in the past; my depression would have been fairly complete were it not for the connection afforded me by virtual contact.

And most of all – I am thankful everyone in my life survived Covid, and with admirable resilience. At the beginning of Covid, none of us knowing where to acquire a mask and now all of us with multiples in various locations – glove compartment, backpack or purse, by the front door. John will now work from home permanently, though his dog has mixed feelings about not having the house peacefully to herself all day. Sue realized through quarantining at the coast that the rhythm of the ocean called to her; she is now living there more permanently than she ever anticipated. Cristina has come into her own as an introvert, able to own not wanting to attend many live events, hoping for a Zoom component of some sort so she can participate. Brenda is part of a Long Covid study, living with long-term effects and coming over for lunch most Fridays.

Life is moving on, not post-Covid but incorporating Covid as part of our lives moving forward. We have re-ordered our lives to accommodate safety as much as possible while still having a life. Covid is such a part of our lives now, it has formed the backdrop for everything I’m thankful for this past year.

Excerpt from my forthcoming memoir

I’m not precisely sure when I’ll be publishing my memoir Work in Progress, but expect to see it emerge sometime in the next few months. Setting the stage… when I was in graduate school, about twenty years ago now, I broke my leg and was home in a non-walking cast for three months. I finished my master’s thesis six months early. Casting about for something to do, I decided, “I’m going to write my autobiography.” I did, and then it sat on my hard drive all these years. At the beginning of quarantine, now stuck at home with a panedemic, I decided to write Volume II of my story. The voice of then contrasts strikingly with the voice of early transition, twenty years ago. To tease you a bit, here’s an excerpt:

Thank God – I survived

A bit at a time, a shelf here, a drawer there, I organized my office during Covid quarantine. At one point, I decided to order my old journals chronologically. I opened one only to see the date October 11, 1986.

It’s always easy for me to get distracted when doing some tedious project like organizing, but in this case I might be forgiven. October 1986 – right around the time of the formation of the Portland Lesbian Choir. I hadn’t read these journals since their writing, so was quite interested to ‘hear’ what I had to say about the choir at its inception.

Excitedly, I sat down and began reading. Good thing I was sitting down, for in no way was I prepared for November 11, 1986:

“I’ve felt alone since I was born, and the feeling has only grown stronger as time passes. More and more I am estranged from those of my age as they grow and develop and become more whole people. I withdraw more and more, feel more isolated as each year passes. I don’t know how long I can go on like this. I am perpetually miserable.

I don’t think I used to be like this. That’s one purpose of old journals. Sure I used to get upset and depressed over various women, but I don’t read any thread of suicide in my past writings. It’s sure there now, make no mistake. Something is quite wrong with me and I have managed to convince myself it’s the way I am and nothing I can change. Which of course makes the suicidal thoughts all the stronger: if I can’t change this, that means I will be this miserable all my life. And I simply can’t want that for another 50 or 60 years. I can’t do it.”

With shocked sympathy for my younger self, I read on, to November 23, 1986:

“Well, kid, you have to hang tough and keep open, because every now and then something actually will fall into place. I went, against my feelings and with nervous trepidation, to the Lesbian Community Project meeting. And afterward came the best thing of all – Sally announced the formation of a lesbian chorus and gave the address. The next meeting was that evening, and I went with a couple of friends. We went to sing for the evening, and I am now part of the Portland Lesbian Choir. This day I did something extremely important and good for myself.”

In fact – I had joined the group that gave me a reason to live, a purpose in life, for the next nine years until I finally realized why I’d felt so increasingly isolated and depressed and miserable. Oh my God indeed… I have often looked back to that winter night in 1995, reaching out, saying miserably, “Help me, I can’t do this anymore.” Re-reading my 1986 self, I see now that 1995 wasn’t the first time the hand of God saved me.

Yet another profound difference between the voice of then and the voice of now. How did I describe the formation of the Choir when I wrote Volume I, twenty years ago?

“In October of 1986, a fledgling organization, the Lesbian Community Project, produced the first lesbian conference Portland had ever known. Over 400 women attended workshops on a variety of topics. I went, though I had no intention of joining any political group. Politics (and particularly processing) bored me. However, something happened at that conference that changed my life once again.

A few women had been trying for a month or so to form a women’s chorus in Portland but had had little success; only four women had shown up at the first few meetings. Their advertising had been a little too minimalist. One member offered to announce the formation of this group at the Lesbian Community Project conference.

With two friends, I heard the announcement, and all three of us decided to go to the next rehearsal to check it out. We did, and I stayed. For the next eleven years, the soon-to-be-named Portland Lesbian Choir was my spiritual center and the only place I ever felt truly at home in the lesbian community.”

Well… yes… a good description of events, but not showing my heart. Ironically – the Choir saved me until 1995, when I was ready to face the knowledge that I needed to transition. Then I had to let the Choir go in order to do so.

I recently came across a meme on Facebook that perfectly captures the depth of change necessary to transition.

Grief Isn’t Just For Death

  • Relationships that have ended
  • Losing your community
  • Missing the certainty you once had
  • Questioning your judgment
  • Releasing who you once were
  • Feeling lost and unanchored
  • Losing traditions you loved

Yes. To every one of these, yes. I gave up the Choir, I gave up everything I thought was true about myself in order to pursue the unknown. Paradoxically, the life lesson I gleaned from this was: I don’t pursue the unknown, I live it. I have always resonated with this particular bit of Rilke’s writing, which came my way in graduate school. I included this once before in this book, and it bears repeating:

Have patience with everything

unresolved in your heart

and try to love the questions themselves.

Do not search for the answers,

which could not be given to you now anyway,

as you would not be able to live them.

And the point is, to live everything.

Live the questions now.

Perhaps then, someday far in the future,

you will gradually,

without even knowing it,

live your way into the answer.

                                            – Rainier Maria Rilke

Building Bridges

June, 1992. Sunday afternoon rehearsal, a tense moment of challenge. Ali scolded us, “If you don’t concentrate with every fiber of your being, concentrate on blend, on singing precisely in the center of the pitch, we are going to divide the performance. Half of you will perform in one hall and half in the other.” That did it.

A few weeks later… Denver, July, 1992. GALA IV. (GALA: Gay and Lesbian Choral Association) A week jam-packed with choral performances and the high energy of focusing for four years on performing for each other for half an hour. In that era of GALA choral festival, every chorus performed twice – we did our set in Buell Theater, then made our way underground through a maze of corridors to perform again in Boettcher Concert Hall. This was Bridges Vocal Ensemble’s debut as a GALA chorus.

Ali’s challenge: meld our 28-voice chorus to perform a close-harmony, fast-paced arrangement of Cris Williamson’s folk ballad Shooting Star, an arrangement originally performed by a professional quintet, one voice per part. This song, eventually our signature song, was the culmination of our GALA set, performed for several thousand of our peers.

There is no audience more exhilarating or terrifying than GALA – singing for thousands of choral singers who all know what you’re trying to do and if you succeeded. Cheering for you, knowing you worked as hard and traveled as far as we all did to get there. Assessing (sometimes judging) you —  how might you have done that better or differently? And occasionally awestruck – O.M.G. to be able to sing like that…

Boettcher Concert Hall was packed to the rafters. In the crowd, roaring above the rest, was the Portland Lesbian Choir and Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Bridges was comprised of members of both (hence our name). We had originally been an auditioned subgroup – members had to already be singers in either PLC or PGMC to join. We had since become an independent chorus, but our members still sang in one or the other of our parent choruses. We were determined to do our parents proud.

Boettcher is one of the finest chorally-acoustic halls I’ve ever sung in. Several times during our set, we spread out across the stage, in our usual mixed formation, clearly able to hear each other. But for our final number, our Shooting Star finale, we bunched close together on the risers, leaning in toward the audience. A starting note. And then…

Shooting Star

Thankfulness 2020

As a kid, Thanksgiving was an all-family gathering at my house, and meant no more to me than that. My current-day perspective: Thanksgiving is a misplaced celebration of the conquest of a continent, taking joy in having usurped home from millions of people whose ancestors had been here for millennia. I can’t celebrate Thanksgiving any longer. Two years ago, I invented my own holiday to celebrate – Thankfulness.

2020 – a quarantine of a pandemic, and the most divisive election season I’ve ever experienced. How can I write about thankfulness this year? What can there possibly be to write about?

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first… people have died of Covid. I know some of them… Children aren’t receiving proper socialization. How can you learn social behavior from six feet away and behind a mask, unable to go to physical school?… I have never seen so many houseless people in Portland, tent townships springing up in all manner of urban open areas, many streets with tents lining the grass verge… Every time there is a new outbreak, or announcement of further quarantine, toilet paper disappears from the store shelves (it’s not hard to imagine what Freud would make of that)… Chorus can’t meet, a lifeline of my existence… Friends can’t hug, or share a meal, another lifeline of my existence.

I may have left out a few negatives; I got too weighted down to keep going on that thread.

I wouldn’t say the flip side is positives – how can there be anything positive about Covid? I’m known as the Punster and Uplifter of Spirits to quite a few folks on Facebook, and this punster isn’t going to make the obvious one – positives and Covid. It’s too serious a subject for jokes.

While there aren’t positives, there are most definitely silver linings to celebrate. Here are a few, my list of Thankfulness for 2020:

  • I used my stimulus check to buy a badly-needed new computer. From March 17, I was working from home, using an eleven-year-old computer that took half an hour to boot up in the morning, and could only run Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or Firefox – pick one at a time. I graduated to a Ferrari. This may seem like a small silver lining, yet this change meant:
  • I learned how to meld PowerPoint with Zoom, and discovered I excel at creating and delivering this kind of presentation. I don’t know exactly where this will lead in the future, but it can only be somewhere good;
  • If we had to have a pandemic, thank God it has taken place at a time of connectivity; Zoom and FaceTime are lifesavers to this extrovert. I can’t hug friends, but I can at least talk to them while seeing their smiling faces on my screen. I’ve become closer friends with a number of folks after Zoom heart-to-hearts.
  • Though I couldn’t experience it as I would have wanted, I did experience the most beautiful clean summer air since my 1976 move to Portland.
  • Absences makes the heart grow fonder indeed. I will never take chorus for granted again, sharing the air in song. Choruses will be the last to reconvene as the pandemic recedes into history. Back in the mid-1990s, my chorus began offering free flu shots every winter; a week before a December holiday concert, a third of the chorus had come down with the flu and couldn’t perform. There’s nothing like chorus to spread viruses. All that deep breathing in close quarters.
  • Cooking for people is part of my Nia, my purpose in life, as is singing together. I am blessed with many friends to cook with and for, and with the ability to sing for people in chorus. While I will eventually be able to do both again, I will never again take either for granted.

Which leads to my most counterintuitive thankfulness: all the loving interconnection that keeps my heart going every day. Not being able to hug, to share the air in song, we’ve had to find other ways to keep the connection going. Zoom socials. Long phone conversations. The longing expressed in various ways is a constant reminder of connections we often took for granted while conducting our busy lives. The isolation does take its toll at times. And, slowing our lives down to the rhythm of interconnection is also an opportunity to be reminded of what’s most important in life: each other.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over…. and Transition is NEVER Over!

I recently applied for Medicare. A few weeks after submitting my application on line, I received a letter in the mail from Social Security, telling me to call not a phone number but a specific person, named in the letter. I couldn’t imagine what would warrant a letter telling me to call an actual person.

I called Usha, and a real person answered the phone. O.M.G. really??? She looked up my name and asked me security questions to verify it was really me. Then she said the absolute last thing I would ever have expected: “The gender you checked on your form doesn’t match what’s in our system.”

As a therapist, I advised hundreds of people: “Before you ever start telling people you’re going to transition, before you ever start taking hormones – right now, start making a list of all the places your name and gender appear. Include phone numbers, email addresses – whatever information will help you make the change once you reach that point. Add to the list as you think of new things. Library card. Your bank. School. Believe me, you will be so grateful to not have to create this list once people are reacting to your transition, especially if you’re also going to be dealing with a shifting hormone balance.”

No one ever gave me that advice 25 years ago. At the time, I was too young to have much interaction with Social Security. I got a new Social Security card with my name change – but I changed my name long before I started taking hormones and could change my gender. There is no gender indicated on my Social Security card. I forgot I’d never made that change to the Social Security system.

Usha: “Do you have paperwork that will verify your gender change?”

Me, nearly falling over laughing, “I might have a file… somewhere… maybe.”

Usha, beginning to laugh herself as the ludicrousness of the situation was clear: “Ordinarily, you’d have to take paper documentation to your local Social Security office along with your ID, to prove it’s you. Because of Covid, the offices aren’t open, so I’m going to waive this requirement and process your application.” Yesterday I received my Medicare card in the mail.

So, trans folks reading this – make sure you’ve changed your name and gender everywhere you need to! And if, like me, you have transitioned long before you’re dealing with Medicare or Social Security benefits – double check that you’ve changed your gender in their system!