I first saw Clover in Dayton; it was impossible to not notice someone, IN DAYTON, adorned with extreme black eye liner and lip-gloss, a floral crown, chiffon dress, striped leggings, Doc Martens, countless body piercings, heavy black eyebrows AND…a 5 o’clock shadow. Before the bus to Denver boarded, she gathered her belongings and headed for the Women’s restroom. This fascinated me. Not because I thought it was wrong, but because I wondered how other women would react to her walking through that door. Would they complain? Call security? Ask her to leave? And I also thought: how often must she deal with such indignities. My education in transexualism had begun.
Other than some small talk waiting to board the bus, we never spoke until sitting together on the 10-hour segment from Kansas City to Denver.
Clover’s a nickname. Her legal name is Jacqueline. It took her more than a year to get her name changed legally. It wasn’t the name change that was the issue. Clerks at the Motor Vehicles Bureau and other government agencies repeatedly refused to identify her as female. This, despite having the necessary paperwork acknowledging more than a year of hormone replacement therapy, which legally qualifies her to identify as female. When I asked what her birth name was, she refused to tell me. “I was never really that person,” she said. “So that name is irrelevant.”
Clover was the youngest of four children, and the only male child born into a strict Christian household on Cape Cod. Her father was ecstatic because he was the last male in his family lineage and desperately wanted a son to carry his name forward. Clover said that she knew she was different when she was five or six, and the feelings only grew in intensity as she got older. But she never said anything because she lived in fear of how her family, and father in particular, would react. In fact, to fit in with her family and be accepted, Clover attended the same Christian church, joining her family and church friends in demonizing gays, transsexuals…anybody who, like her, was different.
By 13, she began to turn the corner in accepting her true identity. She first came out to friends. Then, at 16, she sat down with her parents. They rejected her. Completely. Her father labeled her an abomination and threw his only son out of the house. Clover spent a lot of time on the street. If she was lucky, friends would take her in, but only friends with parents who did not hold beliefs as extreme as those of her parent’s. She was able to get into Tuft’s University, but had to quit after a semester as she battled depression.
I asked about Caitlyn? Was it a good thing for transsexuals? “On some level it was good because it raised awareness of the transsexual life,” she said. “But Caitlyn is not the new normal for transsexuals. She’s never known what it is like to be unable to find work. She’s never had to worry about having a place to live or having some government clerk refuse to acknowledge her gender. Or attempt suicide like more than half of us will. It’s a difficult life for those of us who make the choice to live honestly. It’s even more difficult for those who are too afraid to come out.”
As the bus pulled into Denver, I wished Clover luck as she started her new life. I asked if she ever spoke to her parents. “I talk to mom once in awhile,” she said. “But it always feels weird.” She paused for a second, and then, with a smile continued: “And the last time I spoke to my father,” she said, “was when I called to tell him that I legally changed my last name. Then I just hung up.”
You go. Girl!