Dawn“I’m from Scotland. Before I was born my parents had another child who died during childbirth, and I think they were both desperate to have another son, so when I arrived they were overjoyed. But by the age of four or five that all went down the toilet for them! I didn’t want to do the boy things they wanted me to do and it went sort of pear-shaped from that point on. There was a point that I thought perhaps I might be gay, but then I realized it was an awful lot worse than that because when I was ten, I had come across a note of someone being arrested for being a transvestite and I didn’t know what that was. I looked up transvestite in the dictionary and I thought, “Oh no, this can’t be me!” My parents brought me to doctors, to the hospital, making me get undressed, poking and prodding me to see why things weren’t going the way they were supposed to. It was terrible. No one understood.

School was just a nightmare. I went to a Catholic single-sex school and I didn’t fit in very well. I used to come up with all sorts of reasons not to go to school or get in to trouble so I would be separated from the group. The boys were horrible to me. The communal showers- the things they would do to me. It was awful.

Ideas of harassment or discrimination didn’t exist back then; bullying was just a right of passage and the teachers would do it to you, too. I had a French teacher and that man hated me with a passion. He used to come up with words to call me that got the message across without actually saying I was a faggot. One time, I got so furious with him, and I sat there and I said, “You are the biggest fucking asshole I have ever met.” “What did you say?” he asked. I replied, “You are a fucking bastard.” Then I picked up my heavy wooden desk and I walked it over to the window (we were on the 5th floor) and I threw it through the plate glass into the teacher’s parking lot onto someone’s car. There was absolute silence. The teacher was dumbstruck. It was wonderful! I was sixteen and it was the first time in my school career that I fought back. From that point on, I went from being the class fag to the class hero! I came back to school intermittently afterwards- no one seemed to care if I was there or if I wasn’t, and that was okay with me. I spent hours and hours in the local art gallery or in the park thinking and scribbling instead. I made my first of a few attempts at suicide about a year later.

I took night classes to graduate, then went on to work and party; eventually went to university, became a scientist, a motor sport racer, a mountain climber, and worked in HIV research.

In my twenties, I really wanted to be a mother and I knew it couldn’t happen, but there are a lot of children that need a home. So I went out and I adopted my daughter who was four at the time, and oh, I love her. God, I love her. It was meant to be. She always knew I was different, that I was always mom and dad. She was about twelve and half when I finally sat her down one Sunday afternoon and tried to explain it to her. She sat there expressionless. I thought, ‘My God, she must think this is so out of the blue! She must be so shocked!’ She just said, “Oh, I know. I know. Don’t worry.” I don’t know exactly how she sees me, but I know that she loves me and that I love her to bits and pieces. She’s in her thirties now, and I go back to Scotland to visit her. Even if she’s fifty or sixty, she’ll still be my little kid. I’ll always still want to hold her and protect her. I cannot imagine a world without her in it.

When she was in college, I went to HR at my job in Scotland and wanted to see what my options were for transitioning. I had thought this meeting was in confidence, but I was wrong and my position suddenly shifted- they paid for a one-way airplane ticket and I was basically expected to leave. I came to work for UPenn and it was okay after that. I had surgery two and half years ago and I finally feel right. A good way to describe it is like having a car alarm going off in your head all these years and getting a vagina turned that alarm off. It just feels so right. I’m someplace where I’m happy, I have humor, and I have people who care for me. It feels great.”

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