Esteemed Colleagues,

Over the past few months, you may have heard or noticed that I appear to be involved in some intriguing personal changes. I’m writing you to tell you that yes, the rumors are correct, as that there is a part of me that’s quite complex, perhaps more complex than I may have let on in the past.

I have had a lifelong struggle with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), which means that while I was born a male, I’ve always felt I was female. People like this are called transgendered or transsexual. Having finally sought professional help and having been officially diagnosed with GID, I am finally taking steps to resolve this conflict via changing my sex and eventually living my life as a woman. Even though this may seem perplexing and odd to you, it has been equally perplexing and vexing for me over the course of my life. However different this may be, it is something I absolutely must do in order to maintain my mental and physical health.

The origins of GID are unclear — theories range from in-utero hormone levels to differently-developed brains, from environmental factors to sociological factors. GID has nothing to do with sexual orientation or whether you’re more feminine or masculine as a person. But it does have quite an impact on your psychological development, building barriers between the world and yourself in order to protect this secret being the most isolating one. Using my natural curiosity and research ability, I myself have sought out all the information I could over the years, reading books, blogs, scholarly articles, news stories, and memoirs. I have attended support groups, sat one-on-one with therapists, talked with and corresponded with others. What I’ve learned is that GID never goes away, but instead gets worse through time. The only thing you can do is eventually do something about it, and that’s precisely what I’m doing.

And it’s working: I feel whole for the first time in a very long time, and am eager to see how this wholeness continues to develop. I have also begun exploring ways to intersect my scholarly interests in rhetoric, argumentation, technology, and economics with (trans)gender issues, and am increasingly excited about the possibilities, from identity theory to the uses of new media to facilitate change.

Having told something like 150 colleagues, students, and friends, I’ve learned a lot about the way people react and about the questions they have. No, it’s got nothing to do with homosexuality. No, it’s not a mental illness. No, one doesn’t necessarily choose to have surgery. Yes, it’s something I must do. (You get the idea.) It’s ok if you find this incredibly weird or absurdly funny–I promise you that I’ve felt all of these things about myself over the years. What I want from you isn’t pity, but tolerance and acceptance. If you feel otherwise or are uncomfortable with my decision, I will understand; even in this event, I do expect to continue working together on committees and other departmental activities professionally and effectively.

Being academics, I know you’re all quite capable of figuring out what this all means and doing your own investigations as to transgender issues. If you would like a good starting point, I would recommend a memoir called She’s Not There, by Jennifer Finney Boylan, head of creative writing at Colby College in Maine. With a few exceptions, Boylan’s book is basically my life story–like me, she is an English professor who transitioned from male-to-female in her 40’s, and has a supportive wife and two boys. If you’re interested in an excellent (and recent) criticism of gender, I would recommend Julie Serrano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, which is a nice companion piece to any Judith Butler, who has a new collection of her writings just out from Routledge called Undoing Gender. This phenomenon isn’t limited to male-to-female transsexuals: Jamison Green, a female-to-male transsexual, has a terrific book called Becoming a Visible Man. If you have religious or spiritual questions about this thorny state in which I find myself, I have discovered a whole body of literature dealing with spiritual and even biblical approaches to transgender issues, the best of which is Trans-gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith by Justin Tanis. I have many, many other resources, as well, if you are interested.

The specifics of my situation are these. My family knows and is incredibly supportive–we are committed to maintaining a happy, loving family, and I think we’re going to be able to do that. The university chain of command knows and has pledged unconditional support for this transition. I myself have been taking hormones to change my cognition and physiology for over a year and I plan to start living and working 24/7 as a woman some time this summer. I will be changing my name some time this year to Joyce, a name I’ve used for my alternate personality since 1980, but I will continue using “George” as either my middle or my last name (I’m fond of it and really hate to get rid of it). I understand it will take some time to get pronouns and names right, and I’m not one of those kinds of people who will get all bent out of shape if you slip. If you’re making an effort, that’s fine with me, at least for this first year (after which I’ll give you reminders about my identity). Finally, I will be on academic leave next schoolyear, so I won’t be in the face-to-face classroom from May 2008 through August 2009, and that’s time I intend to spend finishing up a couple of research projects and also working with my family on issues related to this transition. However, I will be keeping my administrative duties–in the office, in select committees, and online–I’ll resume my normal face-to-face duties in September 2009.

One Response to “Letter To Colleagues”

  1. […] facts, I would empathize with her. If this were her first time encountering Joyce, long after my disclosure letter in the spring and the farewell to George, followed by a long summer of absence, I would be the one […]

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