Point 5cc donated $2,300 to Elizabeth Gibson for her upcoming surgery!
Elizabeth Gibson was one of 637 applicants and 5 finalists to the 2016 Point 5cc Surgery Fund. Elizabeth is currently the co-chair of the Northern Virginia Trans Allies group, an outspoken advocate and speaker who works to raise trans* awareness, and a 100% disabled GI vet going to college on the GI bill for a graduate degree in Women and Gender Studies. At her university, she works with the LGBTQ office and is currently trying to put a preferred name policy into place to protect trans* students on campus. But more than that, we were moved by her personal story and the optimism she expressed about her journey, her identity as a woman, and her life as it is today.
Please tell us about your personal journey to your current gender expression.
“I knew I was a girl by the age of three. My parents never agreed with my assertion of gender. My first recollection was playing with Mom’s lipstick, as any pre-school girl might. I showed Mom, and rather than being impressed with how “grow up” I was, she grabbed me by the wrist, dragged me down the street to a neighbor friend of hers, knocked on the door, and commenced berating me in front of her friend for being a “sissy” and a “girl” …as if girl were a bad word. I don’t remember all that was said, but I so very distinctly remember my shock at the thought I was a boy, and sentenced to be a boy for life. I used to lay in the grass and watch the clouds drift by, making magical shapes for me to discern. I used to revel in the small pleasures like the ice cream truck stopping on our block in the summer, or catching snow flakes on my tongue in the winter. After that incident with my Mom, I can’t recall a single day where I simply enjoyed life’s small and miraculous pleasures until I finally came to terms with my gender and came out as a trans woman.
My father was worse. He beat me and berated me for being a “sissy,” “fag,” “girl” (and he always made it sound like a dirty word), “crazy” and “criminal.” He regularly threatened to send to a mental hospital and put me in jail. Sometime around the age of seven, the sexual abuse began. It was usually heralded by, “…you wanna’ be a girl? I’ll show you what it’s like to be a girl!” I was taught that being transgender was a filthy thing, that it would bring only pain and render me unlovable. So I repressed it…deeply.
I joined the Air Force. They promised to “make a man out of me.” As you can guess, they were only temporarily successful. On the plus side, I found a family I never knew and the service treated me well if I performed well. I was good at my job. In 2001, I was serving my final year of commitment, and then 9/11 happened. I was assigned to Headquarters Air Force (Air Staff we call it). I was at a meeting in nearby Rosslyn, VA when the aircraft crashed into the Pentagon. By the next day, life had changed. What kind of person leaves the service after 9/11? The next ten years were busy beyond description. I had no time to contemplate gender. I pulled a total of five combat deployments during my time in the Air Force.
In 2012, I was out of the military, depressed and tired of living. I was getting my affairs in order (appointment for a will, cleaning out my personal stuff, etc.), as if I had a terminal disease. I had a plan and I had a timeline. It’s funny how fate intervenes. I know this sounds hokey, but I had just had my Last Will notarized, I had cleaned out years of accumulated possessions and papers and was packing items to be left to loved ones—each in a separate box with a letter—all planned with military precision. A only had a few more days of work to complete,“getting my stuff in order.” I was watching a movie on TV with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, called Joe vs. the Volcano. (Did I mention I love Meg Ryan? She’s the woman I always wanted to be.) Meg Ryan’s character was discussing suicide, and Tom Hanks’ character responds with, “If you have a choice between killing yourself, and doing something you’re scared of doing, why not take the leap and do the thing you’re scared of doing… see what happens?” It was as if he were speaking directly to me. I can’t explain why I was so afraid of living a truth or why those simple movie lines helped me screw-up the courage to try to live as myself. The next day, I made an appointment at the LGBT clinic in Washington, DC, and within a few months, I was prescribed estrogen and testosterone-blockers.
I remember few weeks after starting estrogen, walking to work in the morning and feeling a sense of peace that seemed distantly familiar. I was looking up at the clouds and discovering objects in their shapes. It hit me — the last time I felt this way was before that day I got into Mom’s lipstick. I could see the arc of my life, reconnecting with that little girl.
A year later, I was ready to live full-time as a woman. I shared my transition plans with my boss — a month later, I was let go due to “contract funding issues.” But it was time for a change. I had my GI Bill. I began a graduate program in Women and Gender at George Mason University. I have just finished my first year and am just starting on my thesis. My research area is trans studies, focusing particularly on immigration issues and incarceration of transgender persons. I’ll finish my MA in Fall 2016 and will be applying for a competitive, fully-funded PhD program at the University of Arizona which recently established the first transgender studies program in the nation (wish me luck!).
More importantly, I’ve been living as a woman for over two beautiful years. My marriage didn’t survive my transition. Neither did my relationship with my Mother, my brothers and most of my pre-transition friends. But I have my son and our relationship has become something precious to both of us. Sure, he was a bit “weirded out” by my transition, but when the dust settled, our relationship got stronger and deeper as I was more present and genuine with me. I was now able to directly connect with others, as myself; no longer playing a role that felt so false. My family has grown large and beautiful, even if they don’t include any of the family members I started out with. I used to describe myself as a trans-woman, as if I always needed the adjective because I could never fully be the noun—as if being a trans woman was some sort of “halfling.” Somewhere in the last couple of years, I simply became “woman,” who just happens to be trans.
Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “One is not born, but becomes a woman.” She’s right. I’ve become a woman. And it feels empowering, vulnerable, frightening, joyful… in equal measures. But most of all, it just feels right.”
2015 has been an impactful year for the transgender community. Please tell us how 2015 has impacted you being a trans* person.
“Our last trans rights march in DC saw a huge turn out of trans allies. It felt wonderful to march along side trans and cisgender friends. I became co-chair of the Northern Virginia Trans Allies (under the Northern Virginia Pride umbrella) last year, and our membership quadrupled from the previous year; largely as a result of allies turning their attention to trans rights. The historic equal-marriage ruling by the Supreme Court has created space for the LGBT community and supporters to address transgender rights.
As a result of the growing change in public perception of transgender, I have been emboldened—able to strategically identify as transgender, in appropriate forums, rather than hide behind “passing privilege.” It is so wonderful to be able to speak, write and share transgender issues in my grad program and at professional conferences; and before social and political groups. But social progress is never uncontested.
A few weeks ago, I was heading to the ladies restroom and saw a man with a worried look outside the door calling to someone inside. It was a father, checking on a young daughter, worried about her but too embarrassed to go inside to check on her. I told the worried dad that I’ll check on his daughter. So I met 4-year old Hannah, trying to wash her hands but not able to reach the soap or faucet. So I helped Hannah wash her hands, dry them and I walked her outside to her waiting dad. He thanked me and they walked away. Only after they turned the corner did I think about all the reactionary rhetoric about “men in women’s bathrooms” and bathroom legislation restricting gendered public facility use to that shown on one’s birth certificate. I realized that I was the one those reactionaries were characterizing as “predators.” I felt a little sick inside.
Media representation of trans persons has increased dramatically. From drama, to reality shows, to transgender men and women gracing the pages of magazines. That increased representation of transpersons, is bound to bring the haters out of their closets; and maybe that is one measure of progress. People hate what they don’t understand. (Trans) Author, Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote, “my mother always said, you can’t hate someone if you know their story.” Our stories are multiplying in the media. it is becoming harder for mainstream American to stay ignorant of trans issues or to continue to de-humanize us. But reactionary “haters” are increasingly visible. We still have a long way to go; until we’re safe in public spaces, secure in our jobs and housing, and afforded equal treatment.
Perhaps the single most empowering phenomena is the thought that in the foreseeable future, no child will have to grow into “the wrong body.” Public acceptance, to include the institution of medicine, may allow trans kids to mature into an embodiment that “fits” and “makes sense” to their internal sense of gender. Perhaps in a few decades, there will be no trans men or trans women as we currently know those terms — only children who come to adulthood consistently living a gender that is real and authentic to them — thanks to enlightened parents and medical practitioners who honor and support a child’s gender affirmations.
As for me, it gets easier to speak at political gatherings—such as the county school board considering protections for transgender students. Opposition groups bused in well-dressed, vocal “haters” from out-of-county/state to the Fairfax County School Board hearing. It was an ugly scene of anti-trans shouting and signs and one of the more frightening moments I experienced (the proposed protections were enacted). I speak to social and church groups on trans equality, and recently spoke to medical students heading to internships, on the subject of transgender. And I can see myself, in just a few years, teaching college students, theory, experiences, and issues of transgender because those topics are critical to understanding gender, social inequality and social justice. It’s not easy being a woman, and harder still to be a trans woman. But it is who I am—and I feel so grateful to be that woman. It’s been a long time coming and I feel so grateful to march, to speak, to lecture for equality. But mostly, I’m at last, finally grateful to be alive.”