Thursday, March 16, 2017

Think You Know About Transgender People? Meet Michaela West, Surgeon, Father, Grandfather

Michaela West

Transgender Surgeon

I was almost 60 years old when I transitioned. I was a husband, father, grandfather, and a successful academic surgeon at a major research university. Why did I wait so long? I don’t have an answer. Why did I transition at 60? That one’s easier, because I had no other choice!
I was always “different”. As a 6 year old boy I recall wishing that I’d been born a girl. But the world of the late 50’s and early 60’s was very different. There was no discussion of gender, or even sexual orientation. True, there were places like New York City or California, where brave individuals pushed social, gender and sexual boundaries, but it wasn’t happening in Wisconsin where I grew up. As I grew older I knew about “transsexuals”, the politically correct label at the time. However, those people were labeled as having a mental disorder. Who’d opt into that diagnosis? Not me.
I distracted myself by being a good student, a hard working surgical resident, a devoted husband and father. If you’re busy enough meeting the needs of family and patients you don’t have time to think about yourself. So I didn’t. However, my gender dysphoric feelings never left and increasingly weren’t even kept at bay. Almost 10 years ago I finally admitted that I was who I was. I was a transgender woman! When those closest to me recognized that I seemed to be on a trajectory to fully transition I countered that it would be too hard, I’m too old, I could lose my family and friends, I have too much to lose professionally. But I also knew that if I was 20 and knew what I know now, there’s no question what I would do. So I did the most selfish thing that I’ve ever done and transitioned from male to female.
I was right. I did lose my job. I lost the person closest to me and I almost lost my children. I’m a superbly trained emeritus professor of surgery with a lifetime of experiences who’s unemployed for the first time since I was 14. It was the right choice for me. It was my only choice, so really it wasn’t a choice, but I’m finally happy with myself! I remain optimistic about the future and envious of the younger generations who shouldn’t, and don’t, have to wait so long.

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