By KJ Philp, November 2015 Issue. Meet the rest of the Class of 2015 here.
“Once upon a time, in a place far, far away – called Canada – I was a little boy. My name was Robert. And I did all the usual things that little boys do. Except for one thing. When I was alone I used to like to dress in little girls clothes. And I dreamed of being a girl. And in my heart I knew I was Bobbi.”
This is the short story, entitled “I am Humpty Dumpty,” that Dr. Bobbi Lancaster shared at HRC Arizona’s 11th annual gala Feb. 28, after receiving the organization’s Individual Equality Award.
In the story, Lancaster goes on to describe her decision to conceal her true identity while she continued her life as a husband, a father and a physician.
“Then finally one day, several years ago, I broke,” she said. “And it took luck, it took Lucy, it took family and friends, psychiatrists, medications, counselors, two psychologists, and it took all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
In 2010, Lancaster underwent gender reassignment surgery and came out of the closet as a transgender woman.
“When I sat down with my employers to discuss transitioning at work, it did not go well,” she recalled. “In spite of my extraordinary work performance, I ran head on into very strong resistance. It was painful. I lost my jobs. It was financially a catastrophe for my wife and I. Her income has pulled us through. It is still a struggle.”
Coincidentally, 2010 was the same year another trans golfer filed a lawsuit against the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and as a result, the rulebook’s so-called “female at birth” requirement was rewritten.
As someone who not only grew up golfing, but experienced great success in the sport, that change caught Lancaster’s attention.
“With my unexpected free time, I picked up my golf clubs again,” she said. “I quickly found out that I still had considerable skill, even though I was in my 60s, and was allowed to compete against women by the USGA and the LPGA after I complied with their gender policies.”
Lancaster missed qualifying for the LPGA Tour. But in 2013 she turned professional and played on the Cactus Tour. Then, through a string of events that followed, Lancaster stumbled upon a new hobby: activism.
“[Today], I am working as hard as I can because I know what it was like to hide and to suffer,” she said. “And the transgender community has so many hurdles to climb, especially the young people. I have to help. I am a caregiver. I was lucky to have survived my journey.”
Web-Exclusive Q&A with Dr. Bobbi Lancaster
Echo: What was it like growing up in Ontario, Canada?
Lancaster: My early days in Canada were magic. I was in love with the outdoors. My Mom was a farm girl. I worked every summer on that family farm. I felt connected to the soil and growing things. I understood the weather and crop requirements. I have always had a vegetable garden even to this day. I studied insects and was in love with butterflies. I loved helping people, especially neighbors or the disabled. I learned the importance of hard work. I had a paper route. I collected pop bottles and returned them to the store for cash. I was so proud to be able to help my parents pay the bills even when I was in grade school. We were poor. I also learned that my community cared about what was best for the community. Individual wants were of lesser priority.
Echo: Tell us about how you initially discovered your love and talent for golf.
Lancaster: Concerning golf, my dad introduced me to the game when I was 9 years old. He made me some starter clubs. He was too busy to teach me. I imitated the best players. I became a caddy and won the Caddy Championship when I was 14. I felt like I had a special talent then. Also, playing golf meant that I was outdoors observing nature
Echo: What did golf mean to you then? What does golf mean to you now?
Lancaster: Back then, golf was fun. How good would I become? Would I be the best player ever? People were in awe of my swing. My victories made my parents so proud. Then, after much golfing success, I had to put my clubs away and concentrate on being a good husband and parent and physician. Golf at this moment in my life is just a way to relax and connect with friends. I enjoy everyone marveling at my skills still. But I am a shadow of what I once was as a competitor. I play hurt all the time. Golf is a metaphor of my life now. The best is over and I am just hanging on.
Echo: You attended McMaster University for undergraduate and M.D. training (where you were one of the region’s top collegiate golfers); in what ways did your medical background help prepare your for your gender journey?
Lancaster: My science background helped me explore the fundamental question for me. That is, why did I feel like a girl and know I was a girl all my life even though I was born a boy? I had access to the best medical libraries. I read about all the studies that have explored the issue of being transgender. I have read about all the theories, most of which have been abandoned. Darwin’s ideas have heavily influenced me. In the end, I have come to the following conclusions … Being transgender is not a sin, period. It is also not a psychiatric condition. Thankfully, that notion has at long last been abandoned by the medical community. In the end, we are just part of the genetic variation in nature that creates a spectrum of gender identity. When you add the genetics and hormonal elements that interplay in early, in utero life, some of us definitely have a sense of self that agrees with our anatomy. And some don’t, like me. And there is everything in between. Lets call it the gender spectrum. Trust me, it is very uncomfortable to feel like your brain’s sense of self does not agree with the rest of your anatomy. There are autopsy studies and MRI studies that reveal the brain of a transgender individual actually does not look like their assigned gender. It looks like the brain of the gender they identify with. I could go on and on. There is so much more to know.
Echo: Was there a defining moment when you knew the Valley was YOUR home/community?
Lancaster: I have lived in the metro Phoenix area since 1991. But it did not feel like home. I missed small town Ontario. But around 2000, Lucy and I moved to the small community of Gold Canyon. We were finally in the beloved Sonoran desert. We had neighbors, I started to volunteer extensively, I wrote articles about nature in the local newspaper and I cared for them as their family physician. The town was small enough that you felt like you knew everyone and you made a difference. Then I became ill and neighbors helped me so much. That is when I knew that I was finally home. I was a valued, beloved member of the community. I became an American citizen in 2002. That was the moment for me that I knew I was really home.
Echo: In 2010 was a big year – not only did you undergo gender reassignment surgery, but another trans golfer filed a lawsuit against the LPGA. How did you feel when you found out the organization voted to allow transgender athletes to compete?
Lancaster: Yes, 2010 was a big year for me. After years of counseling and hormones I had gender reassignment surgery and came out of the closet. It was beyond a great relief to be finally rid of the body parts that I felt never belonged on me. It was also beyond stressful with regards to my marriage and family and friends. And, when I sat down with my employers to discuss transitioning at work, it did not go well. In spite of my extra ordinary work performance, I ran head on in to very strong resistance. It was painful. I lost my jobs. It was financially a catastrophe for my wife and I. Her income has pulled us through. It is still a struggle.
Echo: From your perspective, how significant was the rewrite of the rulebook’s so-called “female at birth” requirement to golf?
Lancaster: [When] I was allowed to compete again … They required that I must be at least two years post surgery and they wanted to see that my hormone levels were the same as a genetic female my age. I passed their tests. I was excited to be able to compete again. And I quickly found out that I could overwhelm women my age with my power even though I was rusty competitively. There were complaints. So I quit competing in my age group. I did not think it was fair. And they certainly did not feel it was fair either. I ended up handicapping myself and I chose to compete against young elite professional players more than 40 years my junior. They live and breathe golf. It is their life. And I could still beat half of them. And I was at best just putting in a half hearted effort at golf because I was busy trying to work and cobble together a medical career and income again and deal with so many other transition-related issues. At least I felt I did not have an unfair advantage now.
So, why could I still compete at my age ? Well to be honest, I do not feel that the hormones and surgery really diminished my leverage and my power. My puberty and the resultant testosterone conferred on me a skeletal structure and muscle mass and leverage that surgery and female hormones just can’t undo. And it has not diminished me much. The thing that diminished me was my age. I was always a better, more powerful player than my male buddies, and I still am today in spite of my gender change . In golf, like most sports, power is everything. I have similar thoughts about fairness in most other sports. I think some handicap system should be contemplated across the board. In the end, as individuals come out sooner in life and declare they are transgender woman before puberty, they will be treated with puberty blockers. They will never go through puberty and gain the skeletal structure and power that, in my opinion, can never be satisfactorily reversed. They will not have unfair advantage over genetic woman. The field will be level. The issue will go away. Of course this is all my opinion. It begs for good research.
Echo: What other efforts are you currently involved with?
Lancaster: Because of HRC, I am becoming involved in the local HRC Steering Committee. I also am involved and supportive of one n ten, ONE Community and Competitive Arizona. I have met with the local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to express my views. I also applied and was accepted in to this years Valley Leadership class where I hope to improve my speaking and leadership skills, and meet and make new friends. I also just completed an in depth interview with Mike Lacey, former owner of the New Times (read “Trapped” here). I am also involved in an upcoming transgender documentary with students from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.
Echo: Of all the things you are involved with, what do you find the most fulfilling?
Lancaster: I have other interests too. I am passionate about nature conservancy. My wife and I rescued wildlife for several years after going through training. I volunteered at the Phoenix Zoo and Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. I volunteered at the Phoenix Art Museum as a docent years ago. I wish I had more time to play the piano. I have self published two books.
Echo: Tell us a little-known fact about yourself, your golf game or your personal life.
Lancaster: I participated in a Monarch Migration study several years ago. I ran all over Gold Canyon with my net. I caught and sexed and tagged and released Monarchs. I have always been nuts about butterflies.
Echo: What would you consider your greatest feat?
Lancaster: My greatest feat was saving a trapped cactus wren from the vent of our kitchen cooktop hood. It is a long story
Echo: What’s the best advice you could pass on to others?
Lancaster: First, you have to pursue your passion. It is usually something you were nuts about when you were young. Pursuing that will be your best bet for enjoying your life and creating a legacy. It does not matter what it is or how much you will make. If you love it and do it well, everything will follow. Next, after you get your life going, (you know, put your oxygen mask on first) I hope you will concentrate on others. Concern yourself with their plight. Help where you can. Teach where you can. You will experience something unbelievable if you just try to be more caring and empathetic. Lastly I hope you will be loved. But you have to be prepared to do the work.
Echo: If you could summarize your efforts and experiences in 2015, what would you say?
Lancaster: I am most proud of the care I have provided to thousands of patients over the past 37 years. I am most proud of the teaching I provided to countless medical students, interns and residents. I am most proud of my marriage. It survived my transition. Lucy means everything to me.
Echo: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Lancaster: I will be over 70 then. Probably doing interesting things like I am doing now. There is one thing that I have learned from observing my patients over the years. Life is precious. It can literally change in a second and all can be lost. People just don’t know how fragile we all are. I do think about the future but my main focus is on tomorrow and how I will make sure it will be the best day ever.