The room was quiet and cool despite the unusually warm spring evening; I had been talking for about twenty minutes. There were around thirty students, millennials mostly one or two in their forties. They were told I was to give a talk about entrepreneurship as some in the class had mentioned aspiring to own their own business. I wasn’t really an entrepreneur; I didn’t create or start a business. I was a business owner, I owned a sign franchise. I purchased an existing franchise and at the time had owned it for over ten years. I had prepared a thirty-five to forty minute talk. No PowerPoint presentation, no stats, no “I reached the mountaintop” speech, just me telling a story, asking a question and sharing some insights.
The time had come to ask that one important question, “what are you willing to do, lose or give up to make your dreams come true, to be successful or to own your own business. Believe me, to do any of those things you are going to have to make hard choices, make sacrifices and be willing to do what others…, forget willing, do what others don’t want to do because its too hard.
I few years back I said yes to an opportunity to speak to a class at an ITT Campus in Albuquerque. Sara the Marketing Director of a health care system taught this class and she so happened to be a customer of mine. She explained that this class was designed to teach students how to market themselves from creating their resume through the interview process. There were a few students whose ambition was to own their own business. She wanted me to give a talk about owning a small business. I ended up giving that talk a few more times.
I had two weeks to prepare and had no idea what I was going to say. My friends would never describe me a quick-witted. I have to mull over things to say. I decided to be me, give a talk as if I was talking to my employees about my life, how I got here and what I had learned along the way.
It was a warm May evening; I drove up at 6:30pm to the lyrical prose of Eminem echoing from one end of the parking lot and the all to recognizable signature guitar licks of Angus Young on the other end. I walked by a few cliques and found it amusing that all conversation stopped as I walked passed. I wore an Italian cut medium brown suit with a soft purple tee shirt and copperish brown leather shoes. I wore my hair down and straight. I figured showing a little style would help convey the message. Class was to begin at 7pm. I found the classroom, walked in and greeted Sara who happen to be talking to few of her students. We ironed out the details, when I was supposed to speak, where was supposed to stand, and whether to expect Q & A after I finished.
After roll call and a brief overview of that evening’s lesson and assignment Sara introduced me to her class. The class was a mix of Latino, White and Native American about sixty-five percent male. I stood in front of the class and thought maybe I should have worn what I usually wear to work, jeans, sport coat and a white button down shirt. I started with a saying I’d heard years prior. “A business owner is someone who works 5 to 9 so they wouldn’t have to work a 9 to 5.” I heard crickets; why did I say yes?
I didn’t know what to expect but I knew the fastest and easiest way to connect with people is to tell stories. We all like stories and these students were no different. They didn’t know who I was and most of them probably didn’t care. I had to connect and connect fast. They had to know I was them thirty years prior and if I could do it they could do it also. Maybe I should have worn jeans.
The talk really centered around one theme, what are you willing to do, lose, or give up, to reach your goal, whether it was to be a business owner or a CEO. To be successful at anything, whether it is sports, music or business you are going to have to be committed. You are going to have to make hard decisions and sacrifice. You are going to have to work weekends even if your business is a Monday through Friday gig. You are going to lose family and friends due to your work schedule. You will miss occasions like birthdays, anniversaries and parties. You might lose a marriage, your kids and your dog. Understand everybody you come across, read or hear about who is successful and enjoying the fruits of their labor worked hard and either lost and/or gave up things along the way. The question I asked the class “what are you willing to do, lose, and give up to be successful?
When I sometimes sit in silence and contemplate I think about that question. To transition and live a full life as a trans woman I had to ask myself that question. What was I willing to do, lose, and give up to live as my true self? Transitioning genders is not easy, was I willing to start over, be on hormones the rest of my life, face discrimination and possible violence? Was I prepared to lose family and friends, jobs, privilege and my past? Was I prepared to give up on my marriage, on the dream of happily ever after, to be alone, to be vulnerable, and to be looked at and treated as a woman?
Why did I wait sixteen years to transition? Why did I think I couldn’t pull it off? The simple answers are ego, fear and the unwillingness to do what I needed to do; to lose what I thought I had, and give up on a promise I made to the one I loved the most. Instead of transitioning I shared my life with a beautiful woman I now call my best friend; we made a house a home and filled it with lovable four legged creatures we call our kids. We grew a business, we were part of a community, worked, ate and drank with wonderful friends I miss dearly.
Thinking back was I giving a talk to a room of strangers or to myself? Sure I was doing all right, I had everything I needed, a business, a wife, kids, friends and a good standard of living. I was out to my closest friends and family, and had the freedom to be myself at home and would go out in public when she needed to be. Underneath it all was “her”, she was the thing. She was the bridge I needed to walk across, the door I needed to open, the story I needed to tell and the art that needed display. There I was giving a talk about having the guts to do what needs to be done, the willingness to lose what you have and the strength to sacrifice and there I was playing it safe.
Some might say I had it good, why fuck it up? Trust me I didn’t fuck it up, until I had no other choice. Gender dysphoria is a bitch and I kept it at bay for a great many years. Gender dysphoria is like a drug to an addict, alcohol to an alcoholic and a panic attack to a person who suffers from anxiety. It is always there; it’s a fight everyday to keep it down. On good days it was easy on bad days all I wanted was to runaway and be her. There is no better cure for gender dysphoria than to transition into your true self.
Do I have regrets? NO! Do I think about shoulda, woulda, coulda? Sometimes, but I always come back to this, timing is everything, it was time. I didn’t plan it and I didn’t see it coming. The moon, stars and all the planets were aligned. She had the courage to do what needed to be done, the willingness to lose what she thought she had even though she gained more than she lost and the strength to give up on a promise that probably shouldn’t have been made. I think he needed to finish what he started. Once the business and properties were sold and Albuquerque was in the rear view mirror he was done. It was time for her to start her life.