I was born and raised in Southern California — Long Beach, to be specific. I lived and worked there from birth until I was about 20. My first radio job took me to Jackson, Wyo., and I’ve never looked back.
OK, I’ve taken a few peeks, but I never moved back.
When I think of my childhood, I smile. I was raised by two parents who loved me more than anything in the world. (I know this because they told me — a lot). I lived within bike riding distance of the beach and spent much of my free time on or in the water. I had some good friends. Other than my nagging sense of identity, being that of a young girl and not a little boy, I was a happy kid. Except for puberty. That REALLY sucked.
I went to Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach. I was a member of the Class of ’76. Back in March of this year, I saw a notice that our 40th class reunion was scheduled for Aug. 6 in Long Beach.
Initially, the thought of showing up for this terrified me, like it does for so many of my transgender friends. Many of the kids we knew in high school either tormented us, or we worry that if they knew we had transitioned, they would either reject us at best or ridicule us at worst.
I decided to test the waters. I posted a picture of me on the reunion Facebook page with a caption that read: “You may remember me as ___ well, I’m now Leslie.”
The responses from people I went to school with were so warm, affirming and even congratulatory that it literally moved me to tears. Their love also inspired me to call Southwest and book airfare to L.A. for Aug. 4 for Katie and me.
We arrived in Long Beach on Thursday afternoon. The temperature was in the upper 70s with a cool breeze. I felt like I was home. Katie had never been this far south in California, so a tour was in order. Before going to our hotel in Seal Beach, we drove by the house I grew up in. I stopped in front and the tears started. It looked the same, but with a lot of TLC. The window in what was my old bedroom faced the street. I could see the spot where my dad would park his car, on the street, toss his suit coat across the hood of his car and shoot baskets with us when he got home from work. I wanted so badly to knock on the door and ask if we could come in … but I didn’t. My old neighborhood … it’s still there.
The next day I drove Katie around to my old haunts and we walked on the sand and waded in the ocean. We had lunch with my daughter who had come down from Phoenix. Then Friday evening, there was a cocktail reception at The Boathouse, a restaurant/bar on the water. On the patio were dozens of my old classmates. I donned a name tag and mingled. I was welcomed with open arms.
I saw a girl I’d missed so much. Her name is Shelley and I’ve known her since I was 4 years old. We were inseparable.
It felt SO good to reconnect to something that is a big part of me, yet separated by my transition. Leslie has no connection to any of this … HE did.
Turns out, Leslie has been accepted as one of the gang. A couple of the guys I went to school with had some questions and made comments like “You got balls.” To which I responded “Not anymore I don’t.”
The next night was the actual reunion. It was at the Long Beach Yacht Club, poolside. It was a gorgeous setting. We walked to the registration table to get our name tags. Mine had my senior picture on it, with “Leslie McMurray” for my name. I SO appreciated that. I was grinning from ear to ear and as I looked to my right, there was a table with pictures, names and candles. These are my classmates who had died. It about sucked the wind out of me. I was fighting back tears as I read the names. The radical swing of emotions swept over me like a wave. I was really struggling to hang on.
Then I heard the squeals of “Leslie!” as girls I went to school with ran over and wrapped me in hugs. These were girls that I SO wanted to be a part of when I was in school. Not in a dating sense, but in a social sense. I ached to be in those clusters of girls just talking, hanging out. As I looked around me, I was in a cluster of several girls, just talking and catching up. It took 40 years but it was no less sweet. I still fight tears just thinking about it.
There was no rudeness, not even a hint. My classmates made me so proud to be a member of the Class of ’76. Their hugs, genuine interest and welcoming of Katie into our group was a gift I can never re-pay.
I have since re-connected with many of them and I never want to lose touch again. We drove by the old house on the way to the airport and took a few pictures. I am SO glad I posted that picture and gave my classmates credit for accepting someone who had changed a little … I suppose we all have.
And that’s a good thing.
Who says you can’t go home?
Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2016.