I’ve sung on stages for thousands of people, been nominated for Grammy awards, and given birth to two beautiful daughters, one of whom I tragically lost. But now, after months and indeed years of thought, consideration, and soul-searching, I have come to a very significant landmark in my life.
Over the years, I have contemplated many times if and how I would talk publicly about the fact that I have always thought of myself as “a man in a woman’s body” and that I have never identified fully—or honestly, at all—with being a female. It’s never been a secret, and for many, it may have seemed evident, but I have also never forced the topic on anyone. Now I feel I must claim my reality: I am “coming out” and acknowledging myself publicly as transgender.
I have close and cherished female friends, with whom I share precious and intimate moments. I have deep, affectionate relationships with my male friends. I was married for 22 years. I have immense gratitude for the ultimate opportunity to have physically and naturally birthed my two children and been a mother. All of that notwithstanding—I have never felt like a woman.
This fact is not something I recently uncovered from the depths of my psyche. This is a fact that I have known from my first conscious thoughts and memories and I’ve lived with it every single moment since. I knew I was a boy before age 4 and was terribly confused—and later horrified in puberty—knowing that I had been “born wrong,” as my mother would say.
As a young child, I prayed every night for years that I would wake up in the right body. I raged against being female as a teen and young adult, turning to drugs and alcohol and staying clear of sexual encounters with both men and women. I researched everything I could about a “sex change” in the early 1970s. There wasn’t much info or support back then, and I abandoned the idea. I lived as a woman but presented as masculine as I could to feel somewhat comfortable in my own skin.
I was fortunate as a young musician to have had the opportunity to work with such greats as Elton John, who hired me to sing background vocals on his Rock of the Westies tour in 1975. I went on to do two more tours with Elton and sang background vocals on his hit single Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart, and we remain good friends today. I also was in on the early days of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue, and worked with producer and songwriter Bob Crewe (think Jersey Boys), who showed me the inner workings of recording and the music business itself.
My musical career went on from there. I sang on the Grease movie soundtrack and released two solo albums, garnering two Grammy nominations, before bowing out of the business for what turned out to be a decade to raise a family.
I got married in late 1979 and had two children. As I got older, I became less eager to feel like an outcast and toned down my attempts at being masculine (some would chuckle at this assertion), wanting to fit in more socially for my kids as they grew up. But of course, that didn’t change the way I felt. My (ex) husband was well aware of my feelings before and all through our marriage and never questioned their validity. We just dealt with it.
As soon as my daughter Reid was of age, and I felt it was appropriate, I revealed my story to her. She didn’t flinch. She had, since puberty, railed at me and questioned why she didn’t have a normal mother who could show her how to put on makeup, who she could share jewelry with, and who wouldn’t just sit in the man chair at Victoria’s Secret while she shopped.
So now here I am in 2012. Reid recently turned 30 and has a family of her own. My younger daughter, Jessie, has been gone for 16 years—she died at age 11 from cancer in 1996—and I’ve been single for a long time. My 1999 album, Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth—10 songs written from the depths of my grief in the first two years after Jessie’s death—ironically put me back on the map as a singer, songwriter, and performer. I’ve been working, both in my career and for charity, ever since, writing songs, recording several more albums and performing regularly.
All of this has given me time, space, and opportunity—the chance to look deep inside and acknowledge who I really am. I’ve had incredible opportunities and experiences both creatively and to be of service in the world. And at my age, I’ve passed the point of living my life—the rest of my life—for anyone else. So I am now free, and feel free, to explore what has been my reality for over 50 years.
Being transgender simply means that your brain says you are the opposite sex of what your body physically is. It is not the same as being gay or lesbian—it’s not about sexual attraction. Most people just know their own gender, without question. I’m a girl or woman. I’m a boy or man. You don’t think about it for a second. You just know.
For those of us who live across the gender divide, reality is very different. We can’t reconcile the two. And that’s pretty damn serious when society says we must. I’ve managed a “workaround” and done pretty well. As I have mentioned, I have no regrets. But it’s ultimately not the truth. And if I have tried to do anything in my life, it’s to be authentic and tell the truth.
What I do about all this, I’m not entirely sure. I have been in therapy for quite some time now with one of the top gender therapists in New England. In addition, I have two knowledgeable physicians with whom I have confided and consulted. I have also spent a long time now researching gender issues and dynamics from all aspects: medical, physiological, psychological, emotional, and social. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the wealth of information that is now available and amount of study that has been done on this subject in the past 30 years.
Still, there are so many questions. How should I be addressed or introduced? Will I be “she” or “he,” “him” or “her”? I’m not sure when or how that will happen. It will come when and if it feels right to me. Unfortunately, the world’s perception of gender is binary: That there are only two genders. For me and millions of others who fall somewhere in between, this binary system just doesn’t work.
What about my career? My work? My music? Will I be able to continue singing and performing? Will anyone book me to perform? Will I be publicly ridiculed or shunned? The answer to all is that I don’t know. What I do know is that my need to feel right and at peace with myself now is more important than my career. Doors will surely close; my hope is that others will open.
Let me say clearly: this is not about me now wanting to suddenly “be a man” (think of me stating this emphatically and somewhat comically with a low voice). Will I dress more in more “manly” clothes? Walk with a more masculine gait? I’m not sure that’s possible. At my age and with my life experience, I have become comfortable with who I am on the inside, spiritually and emotionally. I’m just me. This is, again, about me claiming who and what I am—with honesty and integrity. That’s it.
Though the timing is purely coincidental in terms of me, the recent transition of Chaz Bono from female to male has brought the issue of being transgendered further out in the open than it has ever been. His courage, honesty, and openness have thankfully created a broader awareness of this condition, sparking more curiosity and deeper conversation. And despite the inevitable hate and fear that comes with anything of this nature, that’s all good. Though our stories and processes (and outcomes) may be very different, I hope to follow in his footsteps and advocate for others like us.
I know that my “revelation” may bring more questions than answers for some people. What I want to say loud and clear in this essay is that, no matter what, who I am and who I’ve been in this world and in my life will never change! I have the same heart, the same soul, the same personality, the same passions, desire, talent, quirks, shortcomings, the same past experiences, and the same LOVE as always.
Members of my family and friends with whom I’ve spoken about this have asked me first about my daughter Reid’s feelings. Reid was the first person to whom I confided my thoughts about this transition, last year when I realized that I finally had to face my own core issue. She immediately encouraged me, with tenderness and love, to follow my heart, and we agreed that I should seek professional counsel. She told me she would support me through whatever scenario unfolded. With all she has been through in her life, her compassion and understanding go way beyond her years and she never ceases to amaze and impress me. Our discussions continue. I will always be her (and Jessie’s) mother.
My ex-husband Dan (to whom I am very close), my siblings, and a few other close friends and relatives are processing all this in their own personal ways and in their own time, but are also supportive and care only about my ultimate happiness.
I’ve been encouraged all my life to try to “explore my feminine side,” and I’ve done that to the best of my ability. Now it’s time for me to explore my masculine side. This experience is for me. Am I now somehow going to negate, ignore, reject, or forget all that I’ve learned, lived and experienced as a female? Absolutely not! I believe I was put on this earth, in this life, to experience all that I have, as a woman. And as challenging as it’s been, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. It’s just time for me to fully be my authentic self.