Leaving Mars

At 57, Patricia O’Connor trades a badass-motorcycle-racer past for womanhood, finding—finally—congruence in her physical and emotional selves.


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There isn’t any one way that transgender women express themselves, Patricia said.

When I first spoke with Patricia in April, she said she wouldn’t have facial feminization surgery, a radical, expensive procedure in which any or all of these adjustments are made: the jaw and chin are tapered, the forehead bone contoured, the brow lifted, the Adam’s apple minimized, and the nose bobbed and curved slightly upward. Sometimes the lips are augmented with dermal filler, and sometimes the cheekbones are reshaped or enhanced with implants.

By August, Patricia had changed her mind about the surgery: “When I decided to transition I went, ‘Pat, you’ll never pass in a million years. No one will ever think for a second that you were born this way.’ I just decided that’s OK.” Today, she says, “I want to give Pat every shot.” When she goes in for facial feminization surgery, “I want them to break my jaw and narrow it, give me a more feminine jaw line. Take down this Kirk Douglas-looking chin. I’ve also got a big old honking nose, but it fits my face right now. When I do all that other stuff, it’s going to be too big.”

There isn’t any one way that transgender women express themselves, Patricia said. “You can be transitioned and have a beard; you can be transitioned and not take hormones. But I want all of it. I want boobs, hips, vagina. The basic parts of womanhood. I want to work on my manners and my voice. I want to conform.”

Although some trans women never go through with gender reassignment surgery—vaginoplasty—Patricia believes it’s necessary for her long-range relationship goals. Her vaginoplasty is scheduled for August 2018.

“I lost my fiancée when I transitioned, and when I’m finally ready, I’m gonna want as close to a normal lesbian relationship as possible. I think a vagina is probably a requirement for giving me the best shot at that.”

 

Each time I met Patricia, she was wearing a new outfit and reacted with girlish satisfaction if I complimented her look. One day it was a high-necked, form-fitting Chinese gown called a cheongsam. Another day, a leather miniskirt and fake-fur black jacket. “It’s Muppet fur,” she joked. “They killed Snuffleupagus.” She’s obviously playing with looks, having the fun she deferred for so long. “They already lectured me at work about my skirts being too short. I’m not too floozy, but I might show a little skin.”

It’s a huge undertaking, changing one’s gender at 57. Patricia said it’s all worth it: the cold stares, the high cost of surgery, the loss of old friends, and the occasional adolescent-like awkwardness of becoming a woman. None of that is too great a price, she said, for feeling that her physical self and emotional self are finally becoming congruent.

“With every tip of the hat, every ‘after you’ and every door that’s held, I am happier, and I look forward to more of this. I love my life now, and I never had that before. The things I find beautiful are deeper to me now. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a little like blue is bluer.”

When I asked if she missed anything about Wade, Patricia said “no.”

“Every once in a while, I miss racing motorcycles. But I don’t miss trucks, tents, coolers, or gas stations. I don’t miss blowing $1,000 a weekend to get to some place and race for no money. But I do miss the moment when the flag drops. I could still do that as Pat. I could still stomp ass on a bike.”

 

Transgender by the Numbers

Approximately 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender, according to research conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a think tank focusing on law and policy issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The figure, announced in June, represents 0.6 percent of the adult U.S. population. It was drawn from a question posed by 19 states in 2014 as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone health survey. Williams Institute researchers then drew from Census Bureau data to develop population estimates in the remaining 31 states.

The percentage of adults who identify as transgender ranged from 0.30 percent in North Dakota to 0.78 percent in Hawaii, 0.76 percent in California, and 0.75 percent in Georgia.

In the East Bay, there’s never been a survey measuring the transgender population, according to Tiffany Woods, Transgender Programs Manager at Tri-City Health Center in Fremont. Over the last decade, she said, “best-guess estimates have been as high as 500 to 2,000 [trans people] at peak.”

Exact numbers are hard to gather for a number of reasons, Woods said. “Trans people still experience high rates of stigma and targeted violence, even in the Bay Area, so many do not want to openly identify as transgender.” Also, “High rates of homelessness and gentrification in San Francisco and Oakland have created a migration of trans women moving around the Bay Area looking for stable housing—from Oakland, Hayward, Richmond to Antioch and Bay Point, and now from Vallejo to Sacramento.”

Demographically speaking, Woods said, “Berkeley has always had a higher concentration of out Caucasian trans men and women, East and West Oakland a higher number of African-American trans men and women, the Fruitvale district a higher number of Latinos, and Fremont/Union City/Newark a higher number of Philippine and Asian trans people.”

A Gallup Poll made public in March 2015 found that 6.2 percent of respondents in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward area identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, the highest percentage in the nation. Portland, Ore., was second, with 5.4 percent identifying as LGBT.

Putting a price on the cost of transition is difficult, with surgical procedural costs varying greatly. Patricia O’Connor’s surgeons wouldn’t release cost figures or estimates of the three surgeries—facial feminization, breast augmentation, and vaginoplasty (or sexual reassignment surgery)—she faces. The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery website and several other sources ballpark them thusly: breast augmentation for male-to-female transgender, $6,500 to $8,200; vaginopolasty, $20,000 to $24,000; facial feminization surgery, from $20,000 to $35,000.

This report was published in the October edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Oct. 17, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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