By Terri Schlichenmeyer, November 2016 Issue.
One, as they say, is the loneliest number. It’s no fun to go somewhere by yourself, to be half a couple, to go solo. Two’s company, three’s a crowd, four’s a party and in the book Dear Mom and Dad, You Don’t Know Me, But … by Georgia Lee McGowen, sometimes, you’re not really alone.
George and Georgia were born on the same day, but no one knew it for years. They were not twins, but two parts of a whole child whose parents thought they had a son.
When George was a child, the family moved around a lot, which perhaps made him an introspective boy with a good imagination; still, there were times when he didn’t quite understand what was inside him. He was fascinated with his mother’s clothing and shoes, and furtively wore them when the rest of the family was out of the house. He loved girls, but was a bit confused by his love of girly things. He wasn’t homosexual, but there was something different about him and when “Georgie was alone, he inevitably found himself wondering why he wasn’t like all the rest of the boys his age.”
Throughout his adolescence and young adulthood, George seemed to forget about those differences, however. He went to college and was somewhat of a ladies’ man. When his college sweetheart became pregnant, he married her and had a family, left college and ultimately achieved his dream of becoming a ranch hand.
He divorced, married again, and battled addiction to drugs along with his second wife.
But something happened in the middle of his second marriage: the alcohol and drugs allowed his inhibitions to be “stifled,” and his feminine side surged. His wife, who was initially supportive, eventually considered his new obsession “disgusting” and so, once again, George had to hide his interests.
But there was no way to put this cat back into the bag, and Georgia became stronger by the day. They – George and Georgia – hated the dishonesty but they were happy when their wife finally embraced her “girlfriend …”
Though it is readable and offers a unique look at how one individual came to accept their “dual-gendered” life, there’s no denying that Dear Mom and Dad, You Don’t Know Me, But … is rough.
This Valley-based author’s story is set at a time when being different, gender-wise, even in the smallest way, was frowned-upon or even dangerous. The timeframe of this book is good, and quite eye opening, but the story is way too long and terribly loaded with inconsequential details.
Readers who can forgive the flaws will be rewarded with a story that’s alternately sweet, quaint, sassy and empowering. If that’s the kind of book you want, then this is the one.
Local author recounts gender journey in autobiography
During the summer of 2007, Georgia Lee McGowen (pictured) began working on her autobiography.
In preparing a compilation of previously written essays and articles for publication she realized this manuscript would mean absolutely nothing without what she describes as “the backstory.”
After a year and a half of “hit-and-miss” progress, the back story was published as Dear Mom and Dad, You Don’t Know Me, But … and serves as an account of the author’s journey from George to Georgia, and the coexistence of both identities.
Echo caught up with McGowen, a 29-year Valley resident who began a gradual transition from male to female at age 63, to find out more about her journey, her book and future plans.
Echo: What was your goal as you embarked on this project?
McGowen: I had two goals in mind. The first was to help the [cisgender] people of this world understand the compelling and omnipresent nature of a gender identity that doesn’t match the body a person is born with. The second goal was to help people who are struggling with a gender identity that doesn’t match the body they were born with [and relay] that acknowledging one doesn’t necessarily require denying the existence of the other. Aside from the decision about which one becomes the dominant personality and lives in the body which matches that personality, mutual acceptance and acknowledgement of each other is critical to a happy and productive life.
Echo: Why was it important for you get have your story published?
McGowen: As a devout Christian, it’s incumbent on me to utilize the talent or talents (in my case, one talent) to help other people. The one conversation I never wanted to have was, when arriving at the pearly gates, to be asked what I had done with that one talent I had been given and have to say that I buried it in the sand for safe keeping. Secondly, I genuinely believe that what I have written is important for all people to read so that when they see someone whose physical body obviously doesn’t match the clothes they are wearing … they will have compassion for that person and treat them accordingly.
Echo: How do you identify today?
McGowen: I consider myself dual-gendered although the rest of the world considers me a trans woman … My reason for that is confusing to some people. I fully realize and accept that there are many people in this world who genuinely feel they were, and therefore probably were born in the wrong body. I know quite a few that fit that description to a T. They have no male emotions, identity or personality at all and have no doubt about their gender identity.
I, on the other hand have had numerous circumstances, some of which I share in my book, when that part of my soul that belongs to George springs to the surface of my mental makeup in most dramatic and definite ways. The fact that I have transitioned physically and legally does not for a second mean that I believe the judges gavel or the surgeon’s knife have eliminated George’s spirit or emotions any more than I was a figment of his imagination for most of our life. Bottom line? He got the use of this body for 60 plus years, now it’s my turn.
Echo: Is George still around? If so, what’s the relationship like between Georgia and George today?
McGowen: I think I inadvertently answered part of that question already but I will add this: George was always and remains a gentleman which means that if I need support from his set of emotions or even physical defense I will have it.
Echo: You once said that at your time of transition you did not have any transgender role models. In what ways do you think your journey might have been differently if you had?
McGowen: I honestly don’t know how it might have been different if I had, had a transgender role model. I might not be so egotistical as to think that I have it all figured out better than anyone else. But then I really haven’t met many trans people who have had a mentor, although I’m sure many have had mentors. I was asked early on who my role model was for who I was expressing myself to be and my answer to that was my wife first and Julie Andrews second. I truly wanted to be someone my wife would be proud of and she was in my estimation a lady. Julie Andrews is in my opinion also the epitome of a lady.
Echo: Since your transition, have you found a community of individuals you identify with?
McGowen: I identify first with the people in my church, which is made up people from every ethnic, gender, sexual identity and age group imaginable. Though outside of that group I am more comfortable with the lesbian community, than the gay community. I suppose that I inherited a trait from my parents that I am eternally grateful for – that is a love of all people …
Echo: Do you participate in any local meet-up, social or support groups?
McGowen: My support group is my church, New Foundation Christian Fellowship. As far as local meet up groups go I have not participated in any organized “meet up” groups. In the last 15 years I have made literally dozens of friends at my home away from home, the Cash Inn Country on McDowell. I do occasionally attend Transgender Harmony when my work schedule allow me to. Editor’s note: Transgender Harmony takes place on the first and third Saturdays of every month at Casa de Cristo, 1029 E. Turney Ave. in Phoenix.
Echo: In what ways do you think social media has helped the trans* community gain visibility?
McGowen: Absolutely it has been a huge help. For the first 15 years after my existence within George’s psyche was recognized the connection I had was with Tri-Ess International [an international social and support group for heterosexual crossdressers as well as their partners, spouses and families; tri-ess.org] as a result of their appearance on “The Phil Donahue Show.” When I first became involved there was no social media. We had to rely on word of mouth and advertisements in traditional media … There was a point when social media began to emerge when person-to-person interaction was on the wane, but now it appears to be making a comeback as people get over the initial thrill of social media and realize that there is no substitute for personal face-to-face interaction. Today, social media is the main source for establishing personal contact with others of like mind.
Echo: The Pentagon lifted the ban on transgender military service and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton just announced that Phoenix will be the first city in Arizona to provide transgender-inclusive health benefits – did you ever think you’d see these milestones in your lifetime?
McGowen: I hoped but didn’t know if I would ever see it happen. I just felt that if I took it on myself to be as visible and approachable as possible that I would at least be helping to bring that day closer to reality
Echo: At one point you were holding seminars to help educate students – is that something you’re still doing? Why is this important to you?
McGowen: Yes, I still speak to as many groups as I possibly can … The second item in my PowerPoint presentation is a discussion on why I feel it important to increase awareness of [trans] issues.
The preservation of families is one of the most important factors in my mind. although, again with social media now becoming a primary source of information I don’t get as many requests as I used to. Also with increased visibility and acceptability more people in the trans community are making themselves available to educators who want input from our community for their students. I encourage the audience that if they, themselves or someone they know is struggling with their gender identity, to figure it out now. Love is not going to make “her” or “him” go away. Don’t wait until they’re married and have children to figure it out.
The preservation of lives is also important. The suicide rate in the gender identity community is horrendous. Get help. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. And it’s important to accept who God made you to be.
Echo: What message would you send to any transgender readers, specifically late bloomers (like you call yourself), who are in the process of coming out later in life?
McGowen: If you have raised your children and you can cope with the potential loss of your marriage, then by all means get on with it. But, don’t expect everyone in your life to be overjoyed, because some, possibly many of them, won’t be the least bit happy about it. The person you’ve shown to the world is the person they have come to know and love. They will very possibly feel as though you are killing their friend.