A Transgender Retrospective

A quarter-century of poor choices and exceptional support

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
Purplepaw faces her American Dream - image by the author via Midjourney

I am scheduled to travel to Thailand in July for gender-affirming surgery, as I wrote in a previous post. Because I must wind down my creative endeavors for a hiatus as I recover, I feel compelled to write more contemplative posts than academic. I intend, however, to continue to serve my purpose of exploring identity through describing my transgender experience.

My wife mused recently about how our relationship has changed since we first started dating in 2000, especially after I began gender transition in 2022. She had given permission (of a sort) for me to transition gender as early as 2001, which shines a peculiar light on how we have interacted and why ever since.

After all, if I had permission from her to be as feminine as I wanted or needed to be, why would I act the way I have - as a man - for another 20 years?

Before I leave for Thailand to complete the final vestiges of my medical transition, it will be fascinating to look at what motivated me in life. Further, I want to explore how those motivations played out in my work, my personal life, my marriage, and our family.

I expect this retrospective will be valuable as I return home from Thailand with only one directive left for my life after transitioning gender: to live it in peace.

Young transgender life

Before I discuss the recent past, however, I want to set the stage appropriately. By 12 years old, I was well aware it was possible to transition gender, and I intended to do it someday. What I lacked was a plan for how and when to transition.

I dressed in girl's and women's clothing - in private, at least - since I was very young, maybe as young as 6 - 8 years old. When I moved away for college, I began to buy (or steal) my own lingerie, wearing it whenever I could. By graduate school, I lived most weekends as Selina, the feminine name I used then. Even as I was married in 1997, I dressed up at least occasionally.

But college and graduate school are not what we colloquially refer to as The Real World. No, in The Real World, we must be reliable and responsible.

In return for our reliability and the hard work we volunteer for the company, somebody in a position of authority will recognize our talent, our efforts, our hard work and dedication, and reward us with all The American Dream entails.

The American Dream is rich: we will be showered with money, fame, status, respect. We will own fast cars and a big house - you name it, The American Dream can contain it.

Denying the woman

When I graduated with a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1998, I focused myself completely on The American Dream. I knew I would own a luxurious mansion and two cars. I knew I would have a loving wife who baked bread during the day and brought me my pipe and slippers when I came home at night. I knew my wife and I would have the requisite 2.4 children who would excel in Little League or ballet - all gender appropriate activities, of course.

In my mind, it made no difference that I wanted neither house nor cars, despised children, and married a woman who hated cooking. All of the above was my due as a man engaged in The American Dream.

There was one slight problem. I was not a man.

I had played a man - sort of - through graduate school, but the stakes are higher in The Real World. Out there in The Real World, women do not work and come home to a pipe and slippers. Women do not rise as a result of their hard work to receive the status and respect rewarded for loyalty to the company (and The American Dream).

As a fledgling in The Real World, I faced a choice. I could throw away The American Dream, live as the person I knew I was, and possibly be happy. Or I could throw away Selina and make scads of money and accolades as an Alpha Male.

The choice seemed simple - The American Dream is intoxicating.

A new hope

When I met an intriguing young blonde woman in 2000, I was already separated from my first wife. Two years in The Real World is hard when you must silence your truth. I was angry. I was jaded. I was drunk often, and my marriage suffered for it.

But I was living The American Dream and there was no gainsaying it. I had been taught from birth - was even shown tangible proof in the 1980s - that The American Dream made everything better, especially if you're white and male.

The dissonance that rang in my ears was easily ignored as the paychecks rolled in. Who cares about who I really am when money can buy me happiness?

I went on my first date with the intriguing young blonde woman on 20 April 2000. Both of us were emerging from long-term relationships, and our conversation centered around everything we knew was wrong about ourselves.

We were both jaded - the world was a shitty place, and as long as we hit our educational and financial goals, it could fuck off. I found it refreshing to be able to talk candidly about my wrong parts - the transgender parts, particularly - to somebody who seemed not to judge them.

On the contrary, when I brought up women's clothing for the first time, the intriguing young blonde woman claimed she would like to see me wear them one day. I was cautious...but curious.

Gender transition is not for me

My divorce was final 04 January 2001.

One of my first intentions after receiving the divorce decree was to investigate gender transition. I was free, and even though I liked the intriguing young blonde woman who seemed to like me, the cacophony of gender dissonance had reached a point where I could not ignore it, paychecks or otherwise.

I confessed to this wonderful young blonde woman that I was considering a change - a big one. To my surprise, the young blonde woman was unconcerned with the changes. She was in love with the real me, and the parts I had were not important.

Unfortunately, gender transition in Los Angeles in 2001 was tough. I had to be evaluated by two psychiatrists and live full-time for a year presenting as a woman before I could begin hormone therapy. After a year of hormone therapy, I might be approved for bottom surgery.

The dream of becoming Selina was far more difficult than I assumed as a preteen. In graduate school, I struggled with dissociation. Even in 2001, navigating in The Real World, I struggled with dissociation.

I doubted I could pass two evaluations by psychiatrists. And to my regret, I did not even try. I accepted gender transition was one more bit of succor that was not for me.

Ignoring the truth

No. It isn't accurate to write I "accepted" gender transition would be impossible. I was crushed.

I had lived The American Dream for three years. I was due the right to live as myself, and I felt it snatched away just when I thought it was in my grasp. I was 30 years old, staring down the barrel of a long, unfulfilled life. The American Dream had failed me.

Had I not worked hard enough? Had I not sacrificed enough of my personal life and well-being to the Gods of Industry? All I wanted was my fair share.

So I did what any typical white male would do when faced with the realization his work was not good enough to be rewarded with a happy life: I doubled down.

Certainly The American Dream was righteous; the issue lay with me. If I had not been accepted by The American Dream after three years, I would work even harder, deny myself even louder, and force myself into the Inner Circle where I could find happiness.

Then the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 destroyed skyscrapers, lives, and the technology industry. And things got worse.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.