GEAR members credit Blair High with saving their lives with her down-to-earth advice and innovative programming
Although A.Z. said he felt completely isolated a year ago, he had it better than some people who come out as transgender, because he came from a loving family.
“I started feeling like I was a boy at age three,” he said. “I’m over 50 now.”
He said when he was a child, no one thought of gender identity. As an adult, he entered a lesbian relationship and thought that would work.
But, A.Z. said, he soon discovered, “No, that won’t work.”
For 10 years he was isolated. Then he found out about GEAR and it’s legal scholarship fund. A friend hooked A.Z. up because he had a legal background.
GEAR stands for Gender Education, Advocacy and Resources, a Resource Center program dedicated to “empowering transgender men and women through education, social occasions, outreach and medical services,” according to the Resource Center website. GEAR’s focus is on “increasing the well-being of all transgender people, their families and their friends.”
For A.Z., GEAR seemed like way to “give some money and be connected that way,” he said. “But I need to give back more and help Blair raise more money.”
“Blair” is Blair High, who runs the GEAR program and has turned it into one of the most innovative transgender programs in the country.
Several years ago, GEAR began working with a pharmacy to begin offering scholarships for hormones. Then High also connected with counselors to offer scholarships for counseling.
Working with Resource Center’s Nelson-Tebedo Clinic and two area doctors, GEAR began offering a monthly transgender health program that treats the whole person rather than one gender or the other and treats them without judgment. As obvious as that may sound, High said that sort of medical care is sometimes hard for a transgender person to find.
Last year, High teamed with attorney Katie Sprinkle to offer a legal clinic to address gender marker and name changes, as well as other legal issues most members of the trans community face. For those who can’t afford the fees, again High arranged a scholarship.
Recently, High got the idea of raising money to offer grants to assist with surgery.
“If I could just raise $25,000, we could offer top surgery to a man and a woman,” she said.
High said her main job with GEAR is to welcome people and help them explore who they are. Some are surprised that she warns people to take it slowly.
She said some people just want to jump right into it once they realize they’re transgender. She advises them to go out dressed as the appropriate gender first, then try living as that gender before rushing on to other things.
“It’s truly amazing what she’s done,” said Phill Scheldt, GEAR’s volunteer outreach director.
As an example of new programming, he said GEAR begins yoga classes next week. Regular yoga classes just don’t work for some members of the trans community, so High found someone to adapt it to fit the need.
“She not only finds what’s missing,” Scheldt said, “but finds someone who helps correctly.”
Because of the success he’s seen with her work with members of GEAR, Scheldt said he’s committed to help High raise the money she needs for new scholarships for surgery.
A.Z. said High’s advice, direction and leadership saved his life.
“I recently told my employer” that he is transgender, he said.
He braced for the negative reaction most transgender people get at work. Instead, A.Z,’s employer said, “Why would that be an issue?”
He feared his family’s reaction as well.
“I felt like a freak, afraid I’d lose my family,” he said. “When I came out as gay, they were devastated, but after 20 years, they were more accepting.”
He said his family expressed sadness that he has struggled with his gender identity for so long.
A.Z. described his life before coming out as transgender as living two lives in his head: “Constantly wrestling,” he said. “Always feeling something’s wrong.”
He said at GEAR, he met people who have experienced the same anxiety.
“I could begin talking about it with people who walked the same journey,” he said. “Saying the words out loud can be so freeing.”
He said he has new-found freedom as he moves from being a masculine lesbian out into the world as a guy.
GEAR scholarship winner Terry Allen called High revolutionary in changing people’s lives. Allen, assigned female at birth, has won three scholarships from GEAR, including one for hormone therapy enabling him to begin transitioning to male.
Allen began exploring his gender identity in 2011 and came out to family and friends in January 2013. It wasn’t easy going: “When I started coming to GEAR, I had a bipolar diagnosis,” Allen said.
He was unemployed, and felt unwanted and physically awkward. Then he started spending time with High and began volunteering at Resource Center, which turned into a job at there.
Allen said that because of his appearance and because he doesn’t “respond to social cues in a female way,” he often gets mis-gendered. He said he’s hoping High is able to offer the surgery scholarship this year, since such surgery isn’t covered by his insurance.
“Top surgery would monumentally be a relief to me,” he said. “It’s a huge expense, and I don’t have that sort of money. But it’s a necessity for me.”
Allen has laid out a time table for himself. He plans to finish his transition within three years.
But no matter what else happens, he knows he’s much healthier living as a man than he was living as a woman. He is no longer diagnosed as bipolar.
Allen said he’s accepted that some people in his life aren’t on board with his transition, but he knows he’s moving in the right direction.
“As you transition, people grow with you or they fall away,” he said.
Whether or not High achieves her goal to offer two scholarships for top surgery in the first year, both A.Z. and Allen have only the utmost admiration for High. After all, they both said, Blair High and GEAR saved their lives.
For more information about GEAR, contact Blair High at Resource Center, 214-528-0144.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 5, 2014.