Interview with Babs Siperstein - Part 2

Monika: Your wife must have supported you a lot.
Babs: Yes, I was very fortunate that my wife was also my best friend, and generally speaking she was the one for whom I wanted to share my time and she did with me. I had the confidence to share some of my thoughts of dressing and acting like a woman with her. At the time I did not know how far I would go, as I did understand the difference between fantasy and reality. I was very fortunate as Carol was the type of person who could make lemonade out of a lemon.
We decided to “explore” this woman inside me together. We were monogamous. We were both gregarious and enjoyed being with people. Being beginners, We decided to seek out other couples where the husband had this female side. We met an older couple and developed a friendship that lasted till they passed on, but they told us about support groups and crossdressing weekends where we met other couples. It was that very first weekend in which I was able to dress and act like a woman that I went through a catharsis and I knew, for me, that this was no fetish, no game, the trick was how to make it all happen so I could keep and protect my family, business and I could pass as a woman that my wife could be comfortable to be with as we went out together. I guess at that point I was about 47 or 48.

Award from Garden State Equality.

We started attending a CD Weekend each year, “Paradise in the Poconos” and got friendly with other couples, each had their own story. We found restaurants and clubs and other venues where it was “safe” to go out dressed. At some point in time, we graduated from the “support groups” and eventually developed a network of other middle-class, middle-aged couples in the North East U.S. where the husband was trans to some degree. We built friendships based on that.
We did weekends at gay resorts and eventually went with our friends to straight resorts as well. Both Carol and I enjoyed doing cruises and when we found out about the Dignity Cruise we decided to book one with a couple of our friends. It was great! I think that from the beginning I wanted to do just about everything I did normally, but now as a woman. I was a person, I had the same interests, movies, shows, food, travel... OK, I was softer and gentler as a woman, but I was still, essentially the same person.
Monika: When did you decide that you wanted to live as a full-time woman?
Babs: From the late 80’s to my wife’s sudden passing in October of 2001, we led a very active double life as I began my transition from male to female. My parents passed away in 1992 right after my 50th birthday. They never knew. The first physical change I made to myself was to have a nose job, a rhinoplasty as my nose was broken a couple of times as a kid growing up. I was careful to have something that fit my face. My beard, although not really dark was dense and I often broke out from shaving.
I started electrolysis beginning in the mid-nineties, but I was not really satisfied with the slow pace nor the quality of the work. I read about a trans dentist in Texas who had a faster method, without scarring, and used lidocaine as an anesthetic. We decided to take a trip to Dallas and try it! 67 hours with 2 operators working on my face to totally strip the beard. They said it was a record as my beard was incredibly dense. Ice packs each night and after I got home my face was blown up and red. But no scarring. Back at work, I had to make up a story about a food allergy at this Texas restaurant.
Well, I did have food intolerances that everyone knew about, so this went to my face instead of my stomach! I made several more trips over the years, and each time it took less time to clear my face. My wife was amazing although I could see the look on her face as she picked me up after each long daily session.
Monika: It was a very challenging time for you. 
Babs: I was a principal in a family business, but what made things the most difficult is that when my father died, he was the oldest of 4 brothers, not everything was in writing and I found myself as a minority shareholder in the business and being shorted in the profits and opportunity to share in what had been a fairly successful and growing business.
I soon found myself being sued by uncles and cousins. When attacked I fight, but in my heart and gut, I knew there was no way I could transition openly and be partners with these people. I was tearing myself apart and going to work with them every day. By 2000, we reached a legal settlement which left me with a fraction of the real value, but I had a small independent business and could go forward, or so I hoped.

With her family at the 2011 Legends Gala when
she was honored by Garden State Equality.

Monika: Did you get on well with your wife's family?
Babs: My wife’s family and her sister lived in South East Florida, near Ft. Lauderdale. At least once a year we would drive or fly down to visit them. Sometimes they would take the kids and we would take off to the Keys or Lauderdale beach and be “us”. One year, 1997, we took a CD dignity cruise out of Miami, it was a short 3-day cruise for Fantasy Fest in October in Key West and we flew down with our friends.
While we were away, my sister-in-law called our house and the kids told her were in Florida for a cruise. In Miami and she didn’t call? She was hurt, understandably so. The next spring we were down for a week visiting as my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer.
There was a lot of tension and anxiety, and at some point, my wife decided to tell her sister why she could not see her on our last trip to Florida. The fact that the reason was not something negative between the sisters was a relief. My dressing, my female persona was not to keep the sisters apart and my sister-in-law indicated that she wanted to “go out” with Babs. She and her husband actually joined us on our next cruise, along with their neighbors, which was another Halloween Fantasy Fest Cruise to Key West.
Monika: You also took part in a beauty pageant.
Babs: In 1998 at Wigstock I was picked out of the crowd as a contestant for a pageant to be Virgin Queen, sponsored by Virgin Cola. I was actually one of the three finalists which meant 2 tickets to London on Virgin Airlines, but my wife was relieved I didn’t win because the winner had her picture in a million cans of Virgin Cola, and she was afraid I’d be recognized. The cola never quite made it. It was quite an experience however being on stage in front of thousands of people!
My three children knew about me, and some of our friends, but we kept “Babs” out of their lives so as if not to complicate their lives or that of their friends who congregated at our house. With few exceptions, we kept our trans and gay friends separate from our old straight friends. By 1999 I had been taking herbal hormones for some time and now started low dosage estrogen.
Monika: Your wife's death must have been a terrible blow.
Babs: Yes, everything changed on October 30, 2001, when Carol, my wife of 34 years, died suddenly after being diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer only the month before. Much of what happened was a blur, but I suppose I have to thank primarily the friends of “Babs”, for stepping up and encouraging me to go on. I still was living this dual life, but as my children were grown and I had to go forward, and there was less of a necessity to protect my family, my transition was bound to speed up and I had much to prove to myself that I could eventually stand on my own and be successful as a woman.

There was one bit of closure that was necessary... we never took that London trip with the tickets we won as Carol had a brief but acute illness just before we were scheduled to leave. My daughter, my youngest, was in college and had an international internship in London. She had scheduled a week of free time after her school term was over in England, so I booked a 2-week trip, the first week would be a similar tour that Carol and I had previously booked and the second week would be with my daughter.
July 2002, I was going to travel as Babs, I was going to see if I could spend a week on a bus tour and pass as a woman. I had a lot of accumulated air miles and decided there was less of a chance of a hassle if I traveled “first-class”.
Everyone is different, every situation is different, but the more people we met, the more we learned and that helped us adapt and survive and in some ways thrive.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Babs: I came out gradually and in stages. My biggest fear was the unknown. I had a decent-sized business with partners who would savage me if they knew. They would do anything to get an advantage ... to take advantage. I had to get out and salvage some equity in the business. There was a long drawn out expensive lawsuit and eventual settlement. I had control of a small-scale business, but I was vulnerable and weakened.
My wife passed away rather suddenly on October 30, 2001. My world, my life was shattered. Everything changed or was put on a new track. Because of his fiduciary responsibility, if something now happened to me, I had to come out to perhaps my oldest and closest friend. I phoned him and told him there was something important he needed to know and he met “Babs” for dinner one evening.
Monika: What was his reaction?
Babs: He was a bit in shock, but certainly was hurt because he felt that I didn’t have the confidence of our friendship for him to handle the new me. We were Grad school buddies and for years we shared NY Rangers Hockey season tickets. We were blunt and always brutally honest with one another. His big fear was if the basic nature of our friendship would change. He wanted to know that if he felt I did something stupid or foolish, could he still call me a “blankety-blank” (curse)? I smiled and said, “Of course ... and if you screw up, I’ll still call you a “blankety-blank-blank” (curse)!” He smiled and said, “Okay”!

2009 - Speaking in Washington DC, to an enthusiastic
crowd of 200,000 people.

My public outing came in the biggest daily newspaper in New Jersey. I had been out as a political activist and transgender advocate for several years as Barbra or “Babs” Casbar, but I never used my last name and no one really knew who I was. 
I was not out at work. With a wig, makeup, and women’s clothing, I lived a double life. My late wife and I had his and her “vanity” license plates on our cars, “MR SIP” and “MRS SIP”. I gave them up when I sold them and bought a new car with regular issue plates.
I think it was around 2006, I was vice-chair of Garden State Equality and we were holding a town meeting for LGBT equality featuring the children of LGBT parents. My daughter Jana came with me and spoke eloquently and dramatically to a crowd of several hundred. She impressed one of the reporters covering the event, they took her picture which appeared prominently in the paper and the article described her as Jana Siperstein daughter of Barbra Casbar.
Monika: Being outed is always a difficult situation.
Babs: I knew my employees would see the picture as they read that paper every morning. I came in late that next morning and no one said anything, but I knew I had to be proactive and called my managers and assistants into my office when business slowed down early in the afternoon. I explained the situation that I was transgender, a woman, I had been living a dual life for many years, my late wife knew, I haven’t shaved for several years from the electrolysis, etc, etc.
They were concerned that because most of our customers were tradesmen, they might not understand and we would lose their business if I started showing up very fem. I allayed their fears and those of my daughter who worked in the business. I reminded them that I had been making small changes over the years and no one really knew and that I would just continue to make gradual changes but perhaps just a little faster. I would eventually appear as one of our female tradespeople in dress, rather than one of the decorators in high heels.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Babs: I was married and shared my life for 34 years with Carol, an incredible woman. Love makes all the difference, love, and hard work as in any marriage... just a bit more challenging. We shared much of my early transition, so much of my basic education as a woman. She was extremely supportive although she would have much preferred that we be a “normal” male-female couple.
It was the love and strength of our relationship that made it possible ... and being the type of “positive” person who could make lemonade out of a lemon.
After she passed away, I had a small group of friends that pushed me to continue to be active socially and politically. At one of the Imperial Court events, (Carol and I were both Princesses), I met a woman for whom there was immediate chemistry. I was not ready emotionally for anything serious and she was in a caregiving relationship with a long-term partner, but we respected our situations and our friendship and love grew to a real relationship. We’re together now.

Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Babs: I suppose I’ve thought about writing a book. I suppose I’ve done things and looked back in amazement that I had the guts to those things, the many trips we took together, the close calls of being outed, but you do what you feel you must after taking calculated risks and you reap the rewards. There was much that I had to prove to myself that I could do as a woman and without using the advantages and privileges of my old male self.
I was devastated when my wife passed, but serendipitously I met a woman several months later when I least expected and gradually developed a relationship. We have been together for over 10 years. I suppose I’ve been “Twice Blessed”. 
Monika: You have three grandchildren. Do you spoil them?
Babs: I try. My two older grandchildren will be coming up here for a week this summer. They will surely keep me busy, but I can’t wait to spend quality time with them. They are 11 and 13 and growing up fast.
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Babs: Yes, I feel I am able to do something positive, create change, hopefully, help create that societal “respect”, have a partner, a loving family. I can’t afford the new Aston Martin, but I can’t complain, either.

Monika: Babs, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Babs Siperstein.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska 

Baps Siperstein has passed to the other side. May she find the happiness and love she gave to others. Thank you for all you have done. Rest in Peace.

3 Feb 2019

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