Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #097, Spring 2002.


?Janet, this is Cassandra; Cassandra, This is Janet?

by Steph

In the spring of 1993, at a Chi meeting in Chicago, I met a special person; her name was Janet. All my life, I had known her masculine side. That?s because I had known her only as Dan, my older brother. Until that moment, Dan had known me only as Steve, hir younger brother.
Roots of Silence

In our family it was acknowledged that Dan was a little different, that he had taken to wearing womens? clothes. It wasn?t discussed openly?nor was it well-received. Dan?s treatment didn?t encourage me to share the fact of my own crossdressing. I carried that well-guarded secret with me when I left home to go to college.

The first person I shared my secret with was a girlfriend. It was 1984. First, I told her I had a brother who liked to crossdress, using that admission to gauge her reaction. After she expressed her displeasure with his crossdressing, I told her I also had a history of crossdressing, but it was in the past. I believed that.

Having convinced myself my crossdressing was firmly behind me, I believed I could be satisfied vicariously by her femininity. For a while that was true. We were married in 1985, and the subject was buried, smoldering for several years.

In May 1991 I took my first step out of the darkness. Tearfully, I opened up to my wife, telling her I had resumed crossdressing and that the episodes had grown in intensity and frequency. Despite her shock at this revelation, she took my admission as a guilty plea to change course?as it mostly was. She didn?t want me to go down the same path as my notorious crossdressing brother, and I didn?t want her to lose her affection for me.

The more I tried to be ?normal,? the more disillusioned I became with our relationship. We had met at Bible college at a time when we shared conservative values. By the time I acknowledged my return to crossdressing, I had become disillusioned with institutional Christianity. We sought marital counseling with an ex-gay Christian who couldn?t understand my motivation to dress up. I was finding an appreciation of my brother?s animosity toward Christianity. Now I could realize why, when I came out as born-again Christian in 1977, Dan didn?t have much to do with me.

In August 1992, I took a trip to my home state, where I found the nerve to reveal my secret to my sister. She, too, had recently been through marriage counseling, coming to terms with a painful secret in her past. When I told her Dan wasn?t the only crossdresser in the family, she was calmly accepting. Later that day, we bumped into Dan. I wasn?t ready to tell him, but I knew the day would soon come.

Breaking Free From Useless Shame

As I was returning home that weekend, I stopped at an adult bookstore, hoping to find information about crossdressing. I came across a CDS publication which opened the door for me to understand my gender issues. Once home, I wrote to the Tri-Ess address listed and joined.

I read everything I could find about transgenderism. To my amazement, I learned there was a support community for the very thing I was trying to run away from. I learned about coming out, about the dangers and joys of going out in public as my transgender self. Most of all, I learned about embracing my true self, about breaking free from the useless shame that was hindering my relationships?even the relationship I once enjoyed with my brother.

By February 1993, my wife and I had separated. I wrote to Dan, sharing, finally, what we had in common. We began a dialogue, racking up the phone bills. To my surprise, Dan wasn?t aware of the support network I had discovered.

In May, we met and drove to a Chi meeting in Chicago. As the meeting got underway, we went in the changing room to dress. There, for the first time, we met one another?s feminine side. Dan became Janet, and I became Cassandra. Janet captured the moment by commenting, ?Well, this really changes the family structure a bit!?

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

A month later, it was set for Janet to move in with me. After spending most of Saturday at the Be-All in Chicago, we moved all her stuff into my apartment. To cement our connection, to demonstrate that I was no longer the archconservative Christian she had known, I wrote the following polemic:

To All You ?Straight? Queers Out There!

You don?t know me as the guy who appreciates women so much, don?t know that I adore their womanhood, even to the point of emulating them in every way. You see me in a dress and immediately feel that masculinity is diametrically opposed to femininity. You feel an imbalance that I don?t. And you have the audacity to say you are ?straight??!

To make it easier on yourself, you label me queer. I don?t know if I should take that as an insult or a compliment. If being queer means being different from those with your narrowmindedness, then queer I happily am. I?m not afraid of homosexuality, even though I?m heterosexual, and I?m not afraid of myself. You see, to me, you?re the queer.

It seems strange to me that you think your macho behavior of treating girls as conquests could be attractive to them. How queer! It seems strange to me that you view girls as beneath you, so low it disgusts you to consider wearing anything they wear. How queer!

It seems strange to me that you view the kindness and tenderness so typical of the gay person as a threat to your image of power and glory. How queer to think power is devoid of kindness! How queer to repress feelings of tenderness! How queer to judge sex as bad if it?s done any way other than the way you do it! How queer to invoke the Bible, which admonishes us not to judge others, but to love one another, saying there is no fear in love!

How queer to be afraid of yourself and think it normal! How queer to glorify your own fears, manipulating others to be as afraid as you! How queer to claim justice is for all while wishing to deprive those you do not understand of justice. How queer to assume your anxiety is normal! How queer that you expect others to lower themselves to your level! How queer that you can?t see how life and liberty is for all. What part of all don?t you understand?

?Cassandra Trisch

This diatribe was my way of building a bridge to Janet; it was never meant for publication. But before the ink could dry, our lives were turned upside-down.

Then All Hell Broke Loose

Less than four weeks after Janet moved in with me, she drew the curious attention of a neighborhood girl. Apparently she wasn?t aware of the necessity of being cautious around pre-teen girls. The young girl took the liberty of gazing into our front window to look at ?a man with lipstick.?

Janet tried to cope with this unwelcome attention. She tried shooing the girl away, to no avail. Then, as I slept in the back room, she courted disaster, allowing the girl into our apartment. Janet thought she could quench the girl?s curiosity so she would leave hir to hir privacy.

About 4 p.m. on July 7, I awoke to voices in the living room. To my surprise and ire, I found my sister Janet entertaining a girl I had never met. Neither acknowledged my presence as I went into the kitchen for a glass of water. Perplexed, I left the apartment to discuss the situation with my estranged wife. She wasn?t home, so I returned to the apartment. By then the girl had left. I brought the matter up to Janet, who wasn?t ready to talk about it.

Some minutes later there was a commotion outside the apartment. An irate mother was demanding to know why her daughter had been in a stranger?s apartment. Accusations flew, and the police were summoned.
To my shock, Janet and I were arrested on charges of criminal sexual conduct. Later, I learned the girl was being encouraged to tell stories of bizarre sexual encounters. She claimed I had touched her breasts and posed in a staged photograph of her stabbing me with a jelly-stained butter knife. But there was no photograph, no butter knife. And why in the world would I touch her breasts? The fact that her allegations were taken seriously by the authorities only added to my shock. My fears about the consequences of coming out were being painfully realized.

Janet and I were held without bond in the county jail. As we prepared to go to trial, we believed we would be exonerated by a jury. We weren?t.

Ironically, among the items confiscated for evidential purposes was a copy of the above polemic. Our lives now resonated the line, ?How queer to claim justice is for all, while wishing to deprive those you do not understand of justice.?

I was shocked further when my attorney told me the law allowed for conviction of criminal sexual conduct without corroborating evidence. The allegations, improbable and inconsistent as they were, would be enough for a conviction. With our crossdressing lives demonized by the prosecutrix, there was little hope for acquittal.

I couldn?t even relate to the allegations. All my life I tended to play it safe. Hence, I developed conservative values early in life. I didn?t even start dating until I was in college. I missed the sleeping around experience of the sexual revolution and married the first girlfriend I ever had. I was accused of things I had never heard of, never realized people actually did.

Still, the outcome was predictable; we were both declared guilty and given lengthy sentences. I received 15 to 30 years (later reduced to 10 to 15 years). Janet was convicted as a habitual offender (she had past offenses of which I had been unaware) and given 30 to 50 years.

I was now regretting having come out. I was in retreat, seeing little benefit in being an out crossdresser in the base environment of prison.

Since Then...

Eight years later, it?s still difficult to write this. But I?m thankful I came to terms with my gender issues. The emotional prison of being locked out of my own identity was far worse than being locked in this physical prison.

Janet and I challenged out convictions in the court, but what a struggle it proved to be! I soon learned that along with my freedom I had lost my credibility. My assertions of innocence were dismissed, as if I was stuck in denial. Denial was the state I was in before I came out of the closet?not after!

I quickly lost my support network. Gradually, day-to-day survival become more important than my gender needs. Was I slipping into denial under duress? If I could remain aware of the question, I knew I wasn?t beyond hope.


In September, on her 44th birthday, Janet was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. Earl in the morning of 9 October, 2001, she passed on to transheaven.

My last message to Janet was my commitment to share our story. I pledged to hir that our misplaced lives would not be in vain. She received the letter on 8 October, the day before she died.

?Janet,? I wrote, ?hang on to hope, even as you pass on to the afterlife. May you see your life as a gift to the mountain of love and hope. May you see your life as a contribution to the hope that this world will soon be a gender-friendly place for all. And may you depart into the peace of knowing that where you?re going is already gender-friendly.

?Thank you, Janet, for being gender-friendly to me. You will always be in my heart as my sister and my friend. This is only a temporary goodbye.?

Yes, Janet, this really does change the family structure a bit.

Steph identifies as androgynous. Hir biological brother Janet identified as transsexual. Both also identified with their Native American heritage. They were incarcerated on 7 July, 1993 and struggled to clear their names. Steph is an accomplished writer and occasional editor. S?he currently serves as the congregational leader of a prison church and works as a computer lab tutor. S?he expects to be free by 2005.


There Are Some Really Nice People Here

by Quinn

I guess I?m what some would call a butch dyke. I?ve never thought I had a particularly masculine face; in fact I felt I had the ivory-girl / girl-next-door look as a teenager, before I cut my long, straight hair. I hated that image. I tried to cultivate a hard-boiled, smoking, drinking, bad-girl ambiance as a counterpoint, and got quite good at it before I finally got my first buzzcut right out of college. Suddenly, the world went silent. The catcalls, the come-ons, the heckling, the hooting, the ?Whee-oo, gimme some o? that, baby!? I?d come to resentfully accept as the background noise to being female stopped dead. It was blissfully refreshing, like suddenly being cured of tinnitus.

I no longer had to smoke or drink. And though I was now tall, thin and crewcut and sometimes mistaken for a boy, it always surprised me. I never considered myself male-looking. I felt like me. Butch? I guess so. I prefer ?Fierce.?

I?m a survivor of many things, but the one that seems the most suffocating, the one that?s grinding me down and wearing me to shreds, the one I still haven?t actually survived?that is to say, made it to the other side of?is poverty. Poverty has left me at times crushingly despondent and unbearably lonely. It once forced me to move four times in one year, at the whims and fancies of other people. My friends and acquaintances have come to unquestioningly accept my poverty in a way I still can?t.

It?s not that I came from anything and then went down; it?s just that I had high expectations that haven?t panned out.

And so it hurts that my friends simply accept that I don?t get included when they?re going to a concert. They accept and don?t even ask me to go to the benefit, or to the movies, or to dinner with the gang. They accept without a thought that they?ll see me at free events and gatherings, but never anywhere else. They?re happy to see me, and we dance or chat, depending on the event, yet it never goes deeper than that, since there?s so much I can?t share in.

But I am fierce. I try to show up to what I can, just for the sake of socializing. Usually, I?m able to wear my increasingly worn clothes with a swagger and a grin. The 12-year-old motorcycle jacket I saved two years for back in the day when I had a little something has only improved with age, right? Worn jeans are timeless. And the scuffed motorcycle boots a friend found in the closet of an apartment she moved into, they only complete the look. It?s a look of fierceness, born of necessity.

I?m usually able to insist, jokingly, that I?m ?watching my figure? if I sit with people in a restaurant watching them eat obscenely bulging burritos bedecked with sides of sour cream and creamy guacamole, or steaming calzones glistening with thick red sauce, or countless tiny bowls of Thai delicacies wafting exotic smells over my cup o? joe. ?I couldn?t eat one bite,? I tell them, knowing that if I did I couldn?t stop eating this and that off of everyone?s plate to the point of embarrassment for all of us, and I laugh loudly to cover the sound of my stomach growling.

I?m usually able to pull it off?but sometimes it catches me unawares. Sometimes when I?m alone. Sometimes when I?m walking down the sidewalk, sometimes when I?m sitting in my apartment. Sometimes, I?m overcome by a sudden torrent, a flood of tears of rage and loneliness that seem to come from nowhere.

It happened the other day. Driving my ancient, battle-scarred hatchback, I?d been reflecting on my new ?do.? Friends had been chiding me that I?d begun to look like a soccer-mom in my cotton K-mart bike pants and sneakers because I had grown my hair out. Straight, shoulder-length, and tucked behind my ears, it was a desperate, conciliatory attempt to look more like ?them? for a job interview, a self-loathing bid to sell out my real identity for the dream of dental care and ?a room of one?s own,? an emblem of, not everything I was, like Achilles, but of everything I was losing, as it grew ever longer, swallowing me. Men had begun smiling at me over their grocery carts and holding the door open at the convenience store. The first time it happened, I stopped and looked over my shoulder to see she to whom they were reacting.

On the road, my thoughts wandered; I wasn?t really aware of them. I was in the familiar, hip, seedy/artsy part of the city when out of the blue a tears exploded, like a dam breaking. Wracking sobs wrenched my body, so shocking me that part of me felt like an observer.

This thing was filling the vehicle, taking over my body; I sensed that I?d better pull over. I pulled into the large empty parking lot of an abandoned store and put the car in park; traffic poured past me. Over and over I screamed at the top of my lungs. I pounded the door, the seat, the steering wheel, in rage.

For a time I was completely unaware of the world outside the car. I was even almost unaware of what was going on inside the car. I watched my arms thrashing, flailing, witnessed the frightening noises of naked despair. Finally, after I don?t know how long, the cacophony seemed to wane, the storm to wear itself out. Finally, I grew slowly back into my arms and gained control of my face. I began to draw breath again, though it came in irregular gasps. I leaned forward into the steering wheel , my head in my arm, my shoulders still shaking. And as I did, I saw a ragged black man emerge from the side of the abandoned building and move towards my car. ?Not now!? I thought. I tried to wave him off, but he came to the driver?s side window. I waved him off again, thinking ?How could he possible expect me to have spare change?? He persisted. He stood there.

At last I rolled down my window and looked at him, shaking my head and still waving a ?no? with my hand. He leaned down into the window. ?Its gonna be aw-right, brother,? he said. ?It?s gonna be aw-right.? He nodded his head in serious affirmation, and then walked away. I sat in stunned silence, then took one last gasp for air and laughed out loud. And I thought, ?You know, I will never fit in on this planet, but there are some really nice people here.?


FTM Breast Cancer

by Julian Wolfe

One would think that after thirty years on testosterone, a bilateral mastectomy, and a total hysterectomy, one would be immune from breast cancer. Not! Just as males aren?t immune, neither are we. We may be at low risk, but we?re still at risk. So be forewarned.

Help wasn?t hard to find. I have a professional job and can afford high option Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance, so I get to select my physicians. I should say here that all my doctors here in Atlanta have been respectful and supportive of my gender issues. They?ve shown great sensitivity. Although they?re not necessarily well-informed, they seem to know the basics.

Over the years I?ve had regular physicals every two years. My long-time GP doctor told me I could still get breast cancer after having a mastectomy and always did an exam. He never recommended a mammogram, which isn?t unusual absent a family history of cancer.

Then my good doctor retired. I had moved to a less transgender friendly town, so it was about three years before I had had a complete physical. I don?t recall whether my new physician did a breast exam. Then he also retired.

It wasn?t until 2001 that I got a new endocrinologist and primary care physician, neither of whom did a breast exam. However, it?s my habit to examine myself. Thank God! When I detected an unfamiliar lump, I immediately made an appointment with my primary care physician. After the exam, I was referred to a general surgeon, who did a biopsy in his office. He used an ultrasound machine and a probe which took three samples of the tissue. He ordered a mammogram and X-ray to confirm his diagnosis, and asked me to call in 3-4 days. When I phoned, he told me it was a malignant tumor, stage 2, cm in diameter. His first recommendation was a radical mastectomy, which would remove all the breast tissue, including the nipple and some lymph nodes. That went over like a lead balloon. My main objection was the scarring. Although almost nobody sees my chest but me, I?m self-conscious about it. I had a keyhole mastectomy the first time and had been contemplating a revision to make it less saggy and more manly, but there was no visible scarring. Also, removing the lymph nodes weakens your arm significantly. I asked about the less radical lumpectomy. He said I was a good candidate for that. With the lumpectomy, the incisions would be smaller, the nipple left intact, and fewer lymph nodes would be harvested for testing. After discussing my options, we scheduled lumpectomy surgery about 3 weeks later.

It was outpatient surgery. Although I was scheduled to spend the night, I went home early that afternoon. I had a friend drive me to and from the hospital and stay with me for the first 24 hours. The most uncomfortable incision was where the lymph nodes were removed. The surgeon removed five. They were negative for cancer cells, as was the tissue excised around the tumor.
By the next day, I was ready to go out and about within reason, which I did. Exercising the arm after surgery is key to preserving a full range of motion.

On my follow-up visit a week later, we discussed the surgery in general terms. The surgeon said I was healing well and referred me to an oncologist. That was surprising to me. Before surgery, he had said radiation was necessary with a lumpectomy; he hadn?t mentioned chemo.

A few days later, I saw the oncologist, a thin, middle-aged, soft-spoken man with a friendly smile. We talked a little. He examined me, then we moved to his office and talked some more. After reviewing the surgeon?s notes and the pathology report, his recommendation was four treatments of chemo using two drugs. Treatments would be every three weeks. I wasn?t a happy camper, especially about the prospect of going bald and losing my facial hair. (I?m keeping my hair cut short and buying a hat. My wig investigation was disappointing, both for cost and for appearance.) I asked for more information, which he gave me.

By the weekend I was able to get my laptop out of repair and do a web search. I found a great deal of information on breast cancer, including male breast cancer. There?s even a male breast cancer website. Treatments are nearly the same as with female breast cancer. I found information on alternative treatments using vitamins and minerals, with claims of outstanding results. No one claimed a cure.

Doctors can?t recommend treatments not endorsed by the Food & Drug Administration. The FDA is notoriously slow to endorse new therapies and often works hand-in-hand with the drug companies, whose bottom line is profit. However, doctors will speak up if they know a treatment is harmful. It?s good to confide in them and carefully listen.

With all this new information, I had more questions. I made an appointment with the radiologist, a young, attractive Afro-American woman who won my trust with her openness and willingness to go over my case, answer my questions, and give me a copy of my reports. She explained to me why chemotherapy was recommended and should be effective in my case. She also said I could take the vitamins during treatment. I saw the oncologist again and rescheduled my treatment.

My first treatment was yesterday. It went well, comfort-wise, although it took four hours out of my day. They gave me medicine via IV for nausea and two prescriptions for the same. I was able to drive myself to and from the doctor?s office, which had been a concern. On the way home, I stopped by the pharmacy and picked up the cheaper nausea medicine. The other wasn?t in stock and cost $66 for 5 pills. Fortunately, I had told the nurse I was broke until payday and she had given me samples of the expensive medication.

So far, I?ve not experienced nausea. I prepared a dinner of rice, meatballs and green beans, which tasted good and went down well. Later I had a dessert of apple-cranberry pie la mode. I drank plenty of liquids, mostly water?a liter of water that morning before treatment, and 2 liters after treatment, plus juice and coffee. It?s important to flush the poisons out of your kidneys. I slept well and felt fine this morning. I?m an early bird, and got up as usual around 5 am.

The chemo will be repeated three more times. Then I?ll begin radiation of the local area. The good news is that I?ll get to see the pretty doctor again. Maybe I?ll be back to normal by the time you read this.

I should add that for a week prior to treatment I was taking all the recommended vitamins: vitamin C, E, D, MGN3, and melatonin. This regimen is said to reduce the side effects of chemo and increase the number of healthy white blood cells, some of which naturally fight cancer in the body. Sometimes you get to keep your hair. Dare I hope?

I thought it important to share this information with my brothers. We go through a lot to achieve a life that is livable. We shouldn?t overlook the health basics, which can prolong and enhance our living: diet, exercise, and not increasing risk factors with smoking, alcohol, social drugs, and unsafe sexual practices. Even so, there are no preventive measures to take for breast cancer.

I was at low risk, with no family history. The doctors have no explanation for why I got cancer. For 20-odd years, I had had no significant estrogen in my system?nor was taking testosterone all those years a risk factor. In fact, the oncologist told me it used to be routine to prescribe T to women with breast cancer. No one has recommended that I alter my T regimen?a good thing, because that would be seriously depressing.

I believe we should look to the environment for increased rates of cancer. Our immune systems are compromised by pollution and the soil is depleted of minerals, which are then lacking in our fruits and vegetables. We?re not eating as well as our grandparents, or even our parents. We?re overfed but undernourished. That?s the best explanation I?ve read to account for the rise in cancer rates over the last 40 or so years.

Early detection is key to longer survival. Check yourself regularly. Make a breast exam part of your regular physical. Make a positive contribution to life every day.


The Dress

by Robyn Sondra Wills

During grade school, I was living in suburbia, the ?Styx? of Chicago. My recollections of those days are vague at best?nearly forty years have passed?but one memory is crystal clear.

I was sick with pneumonia. The doctors ordered me home from school, where I stayed for almost a month?not that I minded, for school was a place where I was consistently on trial. I knew I was different. At that age, any boy who wished to play with girls suffered greatly at the hands of the other boys. Not even the girls understood. At home for a month, I didn?t have to worry about the bullies.

Catalogs the size of the Chicago phone book were lying about the house. Since it was that time of year, fancy Christmas catalogs, printed in full color, added to the fair. It was into these, in my pre-puberty femininity, I would retreat when I was alone. That month, I was alone a lot.

My way of hiding was to keep a finger in a more ?appropriate? section of the catalog so, if someone entered the room, I could quickly turn to a section my mother would find more acceptable. I feared my mother?s wrath, but the beating I would get from my father was too terrifying to consider! I would drool for hours over dolls, stuffed animals, bedroom sets in pastels, jewelry, dresses.

I remember in particular a plaid jumper with a blue/green tartan. I must have stared at it for hours at a time. The model wore a white, ruffled blouse with the jumper. I think it?s perhaps more a trick of my memory than a reality, but I remember the model?s hair was nearly the color of my all-too-short fuzz. I could picture myself as her, in that jumper, going somewhere with my parents, my mother proud of her daughter.

About seven years ago, I told my mother her son was really her only daughter. It was a shock to find she already knew. That night, we talked as we never had before. She proved to be more understanding than I would have ever credited. I even told her about a dress I saw while we were on vacation in Hawaii. As we stood in front of the shop, she asked if there was anything I really wanted. Still fearful in those days, my answer was of course ?No!? I got a shock when she described the dress!

Several days later, my mother met her daughter Robyn for the first time. Her words, not mine: ?I think you would have made a very good-looking woman.?

Sadly, the mother-daughter relationship would go not further. At eighty-one years of age, her mind was rapidly degenerating. The mother-daughter relationship I dreamed of was gone.

I still remember her talking about the time I was home sick from school. She said she had entered the living room and seen me staring at the dress. From that moment on, she said, she had wished I would talk to her about the feelings stirring within me. This woman?who more than once intimidated men twice her size?was afraid I would clam up and say nothing. It?s strange how fear kept us apart for so long.

I was sitting, she said, looking at the catalog?my finger just below the jumper. Thirty-some-odd years later, she could still remember me saying, ?I wish I could have that dress ...?

Robyn Sondra Wills was born in Chicago. A male-to-female transsexual and a strange duck in any pond, she traveled the world as both a child and an adult. She is a 15-year veteran of the U. S. Navy, and has been married, widowed, remarried, and divorced. She is the Fantasy and Poetry Editor of Alternate Realities Webzine. Robyn lives in Portland, Oregon.