Dallas Police Department’s first transgender officer says she has been accepted by fellow officers, officials
Nineteen years ago, Mike Smith attended police academy alongside Joe Grabowski.
Today, as a sergeant for the Dallas Police Department, Smith supervises Officer Deborah Grabowski.
But Joe and Deborah aren’t husband and wife, brother and sister, or father and daughter.
Deborah Grabowski, 42, is the department’s first known transgender officer, having undergone sexual reassignment surgery in May.
But Smith said that for him and others who work with Grabowski out of a substation at Love Field, little has changed.
“To me, she’s the same person as she was 19 years ago,” Smith said. “We get along the same way. I treat her just like any other police officer. “
Grabowski said she’s thankful for that.
She’s witnessed horror stories from around the country involving transgender people being fired and the like.
Although Dallas has an ordinance, passed in 2002, prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, Grabowski says she was fearful when she came out. But with the support of the city, she began living as a woman full time in 2006.
Grabowski, an 18-year veteran of the force, sat down with Dallas Voice recently to talk more about her experience.
Dallas Voice: Since coming out, you’ve shied away from the media. Why is that?
Grabowski: “I just didn’t want this to reflect badly on the department or any of my coworkers or any of my neighbors. I didn’t want this to become any type of sideshow issue that somebody would laugh about or something like that. But I figured I’ve already transitioned and I’ve been living as a woman full time for about a year and a half now, so I figured I would say something and maybe it might help somebody.
Dallas Voice: When did you first notice that you identify as a female?
Grabowski: It’s always been an issue since as far back as I can remember from early childhood. Growing up I did my best to suppress it. I had a sister. I always used to wear her clothes, and my mother and my sister would always catch me wearing them.
I really kind of did my best to emasculate myself in activities to see if I could try to cure myself. I was a volunteer firefighter, an EMT, I was in the Air Force Reserve and I became a police officer. It was a relatively new phenomenon back then, and I thought I was crazy. I really did. I thought they’d lock me away in a rubber room or something.
Dallas Voice: When did you finally come out?
Grabowski: It wasn’t until about about 1995 after I came back from the Oklahoma City bombing. I went up there with my reserve unit. My best friend from New York died, and my father died about a year after that. I started to really suppress my gender identity by drinking heavily and came to the realization that I better either get help or continue down the road of just drinking myself silly.
I went to a therapist in Denton and I started to develop more of an integrated person with myself as a female. I would go out cross-dressed on my weekends and do all my shopping and stuff like that. After doing therapy for a while I finally decided I’m transgendered and I started saving money for an eventual surgery. The only thing I wanted to do first was retire from reserves and the Air Force before I actually did anything, and I did that in 2005.
Dallas Voice: How did you go about notifying the city?
Grabowski: I contacted Bob Gorsky. He’s an attorney with our police association, and I told him I wanted to transition on the job. I was fearful at first, because I knew the policies were there and I didn’t think they would come after me or anything like that, but I was still a little bit scared. He approached the chief through the city attorney’s office, and the chief said we don’t have a problem with it whatsoever. There was an officer in Richardson who had come out previously, and he [Gorsky] gave me the number to contact her. She didn’t have that many problems transitioning there, so I just made it happen.”
Dallas Voice: So the city was supportive?
Grabowski: They really were very supportive of me living full-time as Debbie. I didn’t expect otherwise, but there was always that fear in the back of my mind that pitchfork-wielding mobs would chase me out to my car or I’d be set ablaze, but that didn’t happen. It really didn’t. It’s really been quite a smooth transition, and that’s really what I wanted.
Dallas Voice: How did your coworkers react?
Grabowski: I came out during detail one day and said, “I’m transgendered, I’m going to transition on the job, and if anyone has any questions over it, just come up and ask.” People were a little bit surprised. They had no idea. I’d never been married or anything like that, and I lived home alone with three cats. I don’t know what they thought. I was pretty unassuming. I just kind of showed up at work, did my job and left. Of course we’ve had our turnover of officers since then, but the attitudes haven’t changed. Everyone’s been very supportive.
Dallas Voice: How about the general public? Has anyone noticed?
Grabowski: The first week I started working full-time as Debbie, a citizen called up and said, “What’s your policy on officers in drag?” And my sergeant goes, “No she’s not in drag. She’s preparing for sexual reassignment surgery.”
Dallas Voice: Do you think of yourself as a role model?
Grabowski: I never really have seen myself as a role model, but if someone can get a positive story out of this and use me as an example, yeah. I’ve really been lucky. Maybe I feel as though I have to let somebody know that there are actually good stories, that there are people who do make it through this.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 12, 2007