My Life as a Transgender Politician

There's not much about me that isn't known. I've been involved in politics for many years—from supporting candidates to raising money—but when you file for office, you are no longer a citizen. You are a public figure. That changes the dynamics of everything in your life. I had to accept that once I filed to run for Aurora City Council, I would immediately become not only of local interest, but of international interest too.

You can count on two hands now how many transgender people have run for office, but only need to use a couple fingers to represent how many have won. I knew this going in and I had to be ready for just about everything.

Still, it's extremely rare that I receive negative comments. Almost never. Yes, there is sensationalism and small groups of people who have a problem accepting things they don't understand, but major changes in attitude have come in the last five or six years. Cable channels like Discovery, MSNBC, HBO, they started getting involved in transgender life and exploring what was going on factually, not sensationally.

There are national implications to this race. I look forward to everything from here to November. I think there's going to be a lot of eyes on this race. The local paper, The Aurora Sentinel, did an online poll to gauge the feeling around someone like me running for city council. Roughly 60 percent of the people said it didn't matter as long as the candidate could do the job. It became apparent that I was not just running for election, but also representing a group of people who are really a minority among all groups.

I'm running on Aurora issues, but equal rights are a basic fundamental of society and government. My city is a wonderfully diverse city; in our school system, there are 86 languages spoken. To say I'm going to run on a specific little issue—you can't. Equality is a basic fundamental right that everybody has. My platform is trying to control the development and focus on redeveloping old Aurora and the subdivisions that have been built over the decades.

But I've always been involved and interested in how our laws work, how we govern. I've followed politics closely, talked about it by the water cooler intensely. Then, once I stopped working and transitioned, it dawned on me I was in a position to do something. I did not consider running for office, but I did get involved in local and state races—knocking on doors for candidates, and explaining what his or her city issues were. I had a passionate interest in the same issues: development, water rates, jobs, creating a world-class city. After a while, various people said, "Why don't you run for office?" And I did.

It's incredibly important for me as a politician to be honest, and probably something we need right about now. Trans people living their lives pre-transition are living as someone they aren't. When you transition, you're saying, "Here I am." You can't get anymore honest than that. Trans people learn to be the most incredible actors on earth for survival. What's uncommon is actually saying, "I can't live this way anymore," and going into transition. I held off for as long as I could, but once you learn, it's very difficult to pretend anymore.

I transitioned at 52, so it took me that long to find out exactly who I was. For those of us who are older, the information was not available when we grew up, so we didn't even know what we were looking at because we were lacking that education. Plus, you try to be something you aren't so you're accepted by your family and friends. Most trans people work really hard at that. When I finally reached a point where I got enough information about what I wanted, I said, "Boy, well … " and that's when I started living my real life.

I decided I wasn't going stealth after my transition. You know, where you do the surgery and all the work on your face, then slip into a different life and not let anybody know? I was never going to be able to do that. I realized it's a new era, we're in a new world now, and I'm going to be me. It's probably the best thing I've ever done. When people meet me, they don't meet somebody who's projecting a separate image. That makes a big difference when I talk to big groups, they don't have to guess—what they see or hear, when they shake my hand, or hug me—they actually know who they are meeting. It works out well because I'm tall, and when I walk in a room, I get attention.

People still grapple with pronouns on occasion. Some people who knew me before still have a problem, but it doesn't bother me a lot. The longer you know somebody, the harder it is to change. The only time I have a problem with it is if someone uses it a nasty way.

Still, transition is an extremely difficult decision. Going into this you better know that everybody else you know has to transition too, but they don't have the luxury of having spent years—decades—preparing for it. It's very hard for family and friends. The emotions are very, very deep. I cried for a week when I told my wife. The boys were in there 20s, and it affected them very, very deeply. I was still their father, but repackaged.

My relations with my family are OK now, but it takes time. They have to go through a lot of adjustments. We're good friends now. In fact, today I was over working at the old house fixing one of the computers.

In the other part of my life, I was also in hardware and software for the aerodefense system, and before that, the U.S. Air Force, where I was a sergeant. I lived most my working life as a fairly high-level engineer, fairly important and an expert in many fields. Now, I'm not. You go from the top of the heap to the very bottom, and it's an eye-opener as to how our culture works. I couldn't run for office and do what I'm doing if I hadn't gone through what I did before. I learned how to run meetings, how to be forceful—I have something a lot of women wish they had—the ability to be in a meeting and control it, speak up. It's just not taught to women in our culture.

I am a mechanic. I like building car engines. When I go to the parts store now, I'm treated as though I don't know what I'm talking about. Even if I write it all down they still question me: "What's the year, the model … "  The old me was an expert and the people behind the counter would ask me about things they didn't know. Then as a woman, the same people wouldn't even accept my word.

As far as how that translates into politics? I have to be much, much better. I have to work harder, I have to raise more money, this is just a fact of life. People have no clue what transgender people are. They've heard this or that, but the knowledge about who we are has not been out there. Thanks to things like "Transamerica," people are finding out this has always been around. It's like a woman running for office has to work harder than a man. It's the way things are.

I know discrimination now, and as a white male, I didn't. I've been in meetings where I have not been called on. It's very frustrating, but I'm not a wilting flower, so they eventually hear: "Hey, I'm here, and I have something to say."