COVER STORY: Need to know

Posted on 28 Apr 2011 at 7:54pm
FAMILY TIES | Gregg Spradlin came to Dallas to help his daughter, Jamy Spradlin, recover from her gender reassignment surgery. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Trans women talk about how to come out, when, and to whom

RELATED STORY: Femme X provides service to people learning to be women

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Perhaps one of the greatest fears that transgender people face is losing the love and support of family and friends when they “come out” about their gender identity. For transwoman Jamy Spradlin, honesty has definitely been the best policy.

“I don’t usually lie to people,” she said. “Covering lies is difficult.”

That policy has paid off for her.

Jamy said her father, Gregg Spradlin, who lives in Illinois, came to recently Dallas to be with her through her gender reassignment surgery.

Gregg didn’t think that was out of the ordinary. One of his children was having surgery. He’s retired and free to travel, so of course he was there for her.

Gregg said he was glad to help Jamy through her recuperation, but the best part for him was that they got to spend two weeks together.

“My relationship with Dad is closer than it’s ever been,” Jamy said.

And Gregg agreed, saying that’s because Jamy has been honest with him about who she is.

Although she has been honest with her father about her gender identity, Jamy is careful about telling others that she is transgender.

“I wait to tell people, let them get to know me,” Jamy said. “If they have their own preconceived notion about what transgender is, they’ll know me first.”

But there are no set rules about who to tell or when. In fact, Spradlin broke her own rule about waiting when she went to buy her first bra.

Jamy said she went to Victoria’s Secret where she found a saleswoman she was comfortable with and confided in. She said she had to be honest with the saleswoman and tell her that she had no idea how to measure herself for a bra or figure out what size she needed, because asking the saleswoman for that kind of help without any further explanation would be confusing: How could a woman Jamy’s age not know anything about bra size?

But Jamy also knew that other transgender women have been thrown out of stores for no reason other than who they are. So she was relieved when her saleswoman smiled, told her to come to the back and promised to get her fixed up.

Of course, that saleswoman was smart. She gained a loyal customer.

In the workplace

Dee Boydston is facing a different type of coming out situation: She was married 20 years and has a 19-year-oldc son, and recently passed a milestone in her life when she decided to live fulltime as a woman.

While her marriage is over, Boydston said, her son is completely accepting of her intent to transition.

Boydston works from home for a Fortune 500 company so transitioning on the job has not been a problem — until now.

“I’m at a point that I don’t want to flip back and forth,” she said.

Boydston communicates with other employees primarily by phone. She regularly talks to a company recruiter in Plano who recently suggested they get together for lunch.

And Boydston heads a team of employees who also work from their homes. The group will be getting together soon for a team meeting for the first time.

Both the recruiter and her team assume she’s a man.

So Boydston took her first step at work. Before they met, she told the recruiter, “I have to tell you something.”

She said the recruiter was totally accepting and their lunch meeting went fine. She’s hoping for the same acceptance from her team.

Marla Compton, who heads the transgender group GEAR at Resource Center Dallas, works for one of the largest banks. She said that the major banks tend to be transgender-friendly.

“But just because the company is transgender-friendly doesn’t mean the HR person is,” Compton said.

After applying for one job, Compton said the HR person was showing her around the office and introducing her to people she would be working with.

“Then I told her I was transgender and I never heard from her again,” Compton said.

But Compton thinks it’s important to be honest with employers so that everything from insurance to social security is filed correctly.

Dating and relationships

Dating and relationships present even more coming out challenges.

Compton said that while coming out is a personal choice, “I always tell the other person right off the bat.”

She said she has heard stories of people going out. Then the relationship begins to get physical and the other person finds out in the bedroom.

“That can be very dangerous,” Compton said. “I know of a person who kept it from a spouse for years — it was a very nasty situation.”

Spradlin’s advice is to be careful about where to come out. She said that many people meet in bars and come out where people are drinking. That might not be the best setting.

“Do it in a safe place,” she said. “A public setting but not when you’re in a position where you can be attacked.”

Compton asks herself if she feels safe and comfortable with the other person.

“That’s going to have a bearing on my choice,” she said.

But if she’s dating someone, she said she has to reveal her past. The other person will quickly realize something is missing when your past is left as a blank slate.

They’ll ask, “Why don’t you have graduation pictures? Childhood pictures?” Compton said. “If it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we have nothing to hide.”

Her best advice is to use common sense.

“There are men out there who are attracted to women who are pre-op,” Compton said. “So it’s case by case.”

But she described situations when she was in a club and could have gone home with somebody but didn’t.

“I was glad I didn’t,” she said. “Trust your instincts. Sometimes we overlook the warning signs.”

She said she doesn’t date someone — or go home with anyone — she’s not comfortable telling about her gender identity.

“If it’s someone who cares about you, your gender identity won’t matter,” Compton said.

Her experience with coming out to others is that it doesn’t faze some. She’s found others attracted to her more.

“Some admire what we have to go through,” she said.

The best therapy

Blair High, as CEO of a Plano-based corporation, was a bond trader responsible for billion dollar portfolios who had played football in school.

Today, High volunteers on the help line at Resource Center Dallas on Wednesday nights, giving information on transgender issues.

“The best therapy for anyone is to be yourself,” she said.

High said that sometimes coming out can be as bad as suppressing. “Some people call [who are] thinking of killing themselves,” she said. “They can’t stand it anymore.”

High recommends they come to a meeting and meet other trans people. She said sometimes they will come and just cry for the first 30 minutes they’re there.

Often, the calls High takes are from men who are married with children. She tells them to come out to their wives. She said that they should tell the spouse that they’re having these feelings and would like to go to some therapy.

High, who has been married for 18 years, said that’s what she did with her wife.

“It was not an easy thing,” she said. “It’s still an issue.”

High said when she told her wife that she was having these feelings and wanted to go to therapy, her wife thought that was great.

“As time went by and things were the same, it wasn’t so great,” she said.

But they remain together.

“We love each other,” she said. “We care about each other.”

Trans woman Pam Curry said she “gave up trying to hide years ago.”

She said she got advice from John Thomas, the first executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, who told her to “Be true to your cause.”

Curry said she stopped worrying about it and stopped trying to be perfect.

Because she’s so open about her gender identity, Compton said she gets lots of questions. She said she’ll answer most but is surprised when she’s asked graphic sexual questions, especially by someone she’s just met.

Those are people she puts at arms length, she said.

“But I’m proud to be a transsexual,” Compton said. “I’ll never hide from it.”

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