Interview with Lois Simmons - Part 2

Monika: Was it important for you that it came from the Christian friend?
Lois: Yes, because this came from a Christian source totally separate from the secular transgender community, it was easier for me to accept that this might be from God and other confirmation followed. I began to see how certain Bible verses reveal how God views gender and identifies people. It wasn’t that I used to believe that God was against transgender people and now reversed my opinion. I simply spent many years not knowing one way or the other. Ironically, my life verse as a Christian (many of us have one) was a clue all along and I just didn’t see it for years. It’s a portion of 1st Samuel 16:7 – “… for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
Once I was able to remain serious about transition and no longer feel guilty about how God saw me, it went relatively quickly and easily. It was so freeing to no longer carry the burden that wanting to transition would make me a disappointment to God. It was like I had spent all those years building up a critical mass, but once I achieved it, LOOK OUT!
I began taking herbal hormone substitutes in October 2011, to see how my body reacted to them. Meanwhile, I started to gather other resources. I found a transgender-friendly shop that helped me know my approximate sizes (November). Of course, woman’s clothing sizes are much less definite than man’s sizes because of manufacturing variation, but at least I had a starting point now, especially if I wanted to buy online. (It starts with baby steps.) And I bought my first bras and shapewear there.
Monika: That was a good start.
Lois: Then I started to gather other resources: support groups (December), makeup (January 2012) people who could advise me how and where to buy clothing and shoes while still dressing as a guy (February), hair removal (March), gender counselor (May), and eventually through my gender counselor a referral (September) to be able to get prescription hormones and a personal physician who was transgender friendly and knowledgeable (November). Within a week of starting prescription hormones, I started living and presenting myself to the world full time as Lois. 
(Note: I very quickly stopped using the term “therapist” to describe my gender counselor. The therapist implies something wrong with me that needs to be cured. Counselor implies working together to find the appropriate solution to a situation, the appropriate goal to fit that solution, and the appropriate process to implement the solution and reach the goal.) 
Of course, there were other things involved along the way: practicing makeup, reconnecting to my female voice, practicing comportment, developing a budget, doing homework for my counseling sessions, and preparing to come out to clients and friends. I also informed my pastor and his wife in January and had regular sessions with him until I went full time (we still keep in touch). I had to come out to the governing board of my co-op apartment (September) and decide on a new church to go to (not knowing that no one guessed that I was transgender, even as a newbie).
So once I shed my guilt, gathered resources, and gained confidence it went remarkably quickly. I was still timid leaving my apartment for a while, but a very successful makeover and photoshoot nine days after going full time was a huge boost to my confidence. And I gain confidence daily. I have been blessed that I have never had a negative incident in public after 4½ years.

In May 2015 at a gala held by one of my
support groups.

Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Lois: When I found Lynn Conway’s website, she was a huge inspiration to me. We both have STEM backgrounds. We both attended Ivy League universities. I could relate to her in a way that I couldn’t relate to the showgirls that I found in those magazines and then on websites. Her gallery of trans women's successes was extremely encouraging. For the first time, I found others, non-celebrities, who I could relate to better: scientists, engineers, professionals (attorneys, doctors, financial services), and clergy, for example.
Gina Grahame is someone relatable you mention who I found there. It made me happy to see some who had found long-term relationships and even marriage. (I love a good love story with a happy ending.) It was encouraging to see so many who looked very feminine without the glam, exotic, or sexually provocative looks that I used to see in magazines and on websites. But other than Lynn, no one, in particular, stands out to me from those galleries. It was the totality of all those relatable and successful trans women on one site who helped me go forward.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Lois: In addition to Lynn, I have added a number of them in the last few years. They tend to be success stories that, like Lynn, have been positive role models for the trans feminine community. In no particular order, I think of Calpernia Addams, Andrea James, Dana Beyer, Marci Bowers, Christine McGinn, Phyllis Frye, Jennifer Boylan, Janet Mock, Michaela Mendelsohn, Joy Ladin (who encouraged me to write my blog), and two others who I have met in person besides Joy: Grace Stevens who does such a wonderful job at First Event and in many ways it is like we were separated at birth and Abby Stein who has had to overcome so much more than most of us to transition. And if I have left anyone out, I apologize.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Lois: Wondering that first year what would happen to my tax practice was by far the hardest. If I lost my source of income, I would probably lose my home, too.
First of all, I had a very tight window between when extensions were due in mid-October (filed under my old name) and sending coming-out letters with pictures to my clients by mid-December. Plus legally changing my name and registering it with the IRS and New York State had to be accomplished by the time the new tax season started in the second half of January. Having told my clients my new name, I didn’t want the old one to appear on the tax returns. There were some bureaucratic delays. The office of a local congresswoman helped straighten that out.

"Most of the transgender people I know have to transition with
one employer. I had to transition with about 80 clients."

But the main concern was the reaction of my clients. Most of the transgender people I know have to transition with one employer. I had to transition with about 80 clients. I contacted some of my key clients in person or via phone conference in late October and received a positive response. But I couldn’t contact everyone that way. I sent out letters with a photo card of three pictures from my photoshoot. I received an immediate response of support from about a dozen clients by New Year’s Day and support continued to trickle in for a couple of weeks.
Then, after the first week of January, I got the e-mails and letters from a handful of people who were dropping me. One was very polite. One client contacted and then must have changed his mind. Another client simply didn’t respond. Unfortunately, three clients were quite nasty when they told me. And they were all people who I had known as friends before they became clients. And they were all one of my support groups. Christian, although I had many Christians who stayed with me. And then there were the clients who I sweated out because they took their time to contact me. But they stayed.
Monika: Well done!
Lois: There was a humorous side to this. I changed both my first and last name. And I looked quite different from the old me in the photos I sent. A handful of people confessed that they didn’t recognize me at all before they read the letter and the stories were usually very funny.
I also had a few people who contacted me by phone or e-mail using my old name. They weren’t being impolite. They swore they never got the letter. There were too many to chalk up to post office error.
What I think happened was this. The letters came during the height of the Christmas card season. They opened my envelope. The photo card fell out first. They saw the picture of someone they didn’t recognize and whose name they did not know. It mentioned that I was a tax professional. They assumed it was someone looking for new clients. But they were satisfied with their tax preparer (me!). And so they tossed it aside without bothering to read the letter.
I’ve gotten more than enough new clients since then to replace the ones who left. I even have a few clients who were more determined to recommend me to their friends and family after they found out that some dropped me.
Monika: So you did not lose anyone and anything, did you?
Lois: I lost some friends and others are still slowly coming around. One very dear young woman who saw me as the dad she never had has really struggled with this as another loss. I left one church and found another with new possibilities. I resigned from a Christian ministry and found a way to become involved in a different capacity.
My parents had passed away before I transitioned. The cousins I had stayed in contact with over the years have all been wonderfully accepting, amazing to me because they are all older than me and raised at a time when transgender was not accepted in most circles. And our family would have been described as fairly conservative. My brother is still in mourning for a lost brother. Our contact is basically limited to birthday and Christmas cards (never to “sister”). But because of a trans person in his high school class, I know he does not have a moral objection. So I am hopeful.
When I transitioned, I was unmarried, not in a relationship, and had no children (and therefore no connection to an ex because of the children). In comparison with trans women who had some of those things in place, this made my transition much simpler and with less drama. What had been a disappointment to me for much of my life became a blessing.

"I lost some friends and others are still
slowly coming around. "

Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced, “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with an interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Lois: It’s a complex situation because in the U.S. it varies by region and community, and in the world, it varies from country to country. It even varies from family to family and it is generally very difficult for marriages to stay together. I’m fortunate to live in a state that has been increasingly proactive in legal protection and health care for the transgender community.
But I have trans women friends in the South who are under attack and have lost a lot in terms of family, friends, resources, and career. And I know others in that region who are fearful of transitioning or going full time because of the likely consequences.
Internationally, it is much easier being transgender in Japan than in Indonesia; in Western Europe than in most of Africa. In Israel, it’s easier to be trans in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem and in Brazil, it’s easier in Rio than in Sao Paolo. There are parts of the culture of Brazil that are very positive towards the transgender community. And yet the number of reports of transgender people, usually women, being murdered every year is downright scary and their diligence in reporting only accounts for a small percentage of the difference.
White trans women are more likely to avoid violence than trans women of color. Part of that is racial and part of that relates to education levels and who is more likely to need to do street work to survive. Regardless of color, trans women who are better educated tend to do better. And those who can find a way to be mobile, if necessary, to move to a locale that is less hostile to trans women tend to do better.
If anything, the situation seems to be becoming more polarized. In some circles, support is growing. But those who were already hostile are becoming more so. At one time their focus was on gays and lesbians and we were barely a blip on their radar. As a result of recent losses, trans people have become their new line in the sand.
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Lois: Again in some places more than others for the reasons noted in the answer to the previous question. And there are some countries (many of the Muslim countries, Russia and China to give some of the more prominent examples), where trans women are killed and it isn’t being reported, or the murders are being reported under the person’s birth name and gender rather than recognizing their true identity and transition.


All the photos: courtesy of Lois Simmons.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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