I wrote this longish post as an introduction on a transgender group on Facebook. But I thought some of the rest of you might like to read it, so here goes...
So... who am I anyway?
As a child I was a misfit, but I didn't see the lack of fit as a gender issue because I didn't even imagine that was an option. When I was born, the word transgender was still over 20 years in the future. I liked some of the boy things; I'm a geek, so the building toys and electrical stuff was just fine, and I enjoyed games with running. But I was very uncomfortable with others. I hated dressing up and just thought it was about the discomfort and impracticality of the clothing, rather than wanting to wear something else. And I never stopped liking the company of girls as was expected of me in that time and place.
When I was 12 I moved away from the small Pennsylvania town and spent my high school years on Long Island. Things got a bit better, in part because by then it was 1969 and I was now living in a liberal area so the roles were looser. In a few years I went away to college and discovered the SCA, where everybody gets to do a lot of things that mainstream society considers inappropriate for their gender if they wish. (There is no stigma for men showing interest in cooking or sewing, or women who want to do armored combat, and everybody gets to wear pretty clothes.) I met the woman who would become the great love of my life. And for a long time, getting to be reasonably authentic in my primary hobby and my relationship was enough.
I first started considering the possibility that I was transgender in the 90s, once people started talking about it more. I experimented with a female persona on an early chat site. The name Shirley comes from that experience; I was known as Shirley You Jest, inspired by the joke in the movie Airplane (which doesn't use those exact words but does touch on the theme.) I discovered Kate Bornstein's books and read them avidly. Meanwhile, I finally married the woman I had first gotten involved with 20 years earlier and we had some discussion of the issue; transition would have been a deal breaker but she was willing to let me experiment more with my gender expression.
In 2005 I found Second Life, the online virtual world. There was no question in my mind that I was going to be a woman in that space. I acquired the name Marquez then; at the time you chose your last name from a list of available names, and I picked Marquez because I was studying Spanish at the time and was fascinated with Latin American culture. (As it happens, it also contains an echo of my past life first name but I wasn't thinking of that at the time.) I later also created a male avatar to see how the experience differed but spent at least 90% of my in-world time as Shirley.
I was in the closet in Second Life for my first three and a half years; only a couple of people knew of my real life gender. When I came out I sent a note to all my friends about living a Second Lie... but that wasn't quite right either though I didn't realize that for another year or so.
Then in 2010 my wife died. And everything changed.
The catalyst for thinking about real world transition was the announcement that the 2010 Second Life Community Convention (a real life gathering of people interested in the virtual world which sadly is no longer held) would be in Boston, where I live. My first thought was "I have to go". That was very quickly followed by "I have to go AS HER". I then went all-in; I not only signed up to go but also became one of the convention organizers, and committed to spending the entire three days living as Shirley.
That went well, so I continued with some additional experiments over the rest of the year: attending some conferences as well as taking some evenings out. In January 2011 I spent each of the four days of the Arisia science fiction convention in a different identity and wardrobe: my past life male identity, my SCA persona, Shirley, and a mashup of all three on the final day.
Later that month I decided to try going full time for a week, doing all my normal activities, not just special nights out: riding the T, shopping for groceries, going to the dentist, practicing with my morris dance team, and so forth. It was an enlightening experience that took a bit of time to process.
In March 2011 I decided to try another week. After seven happy days, I woke up on day eight and decided it didn't want it to end. I thought about it for a while and could find no reason why it should end. So the first thing I did after that was talk with my then girlfriend (who had been with me through the process and is still a good friend, but sadly is no longer my girlfriend and has moved to the other coast) about my decision. The second thing I did was log into Facebook and change my name, which is the modern equivalent of proclaiming it in the town square. Auspiciously that day was March 20, the first day of spring, an excellent day for a new beginning; that is the day that I count as my transition day because it's when I made the commitment to make it permanent.
Since then life has not been perfect, but it has been better than it was. I am happier being my true self and friends agree. I'm still part of the social circles and activities that I was in the past, in addition to finding new ones, and nearly all of my existing friends have accepted and welcomed the change. My birth family is another story and a source of some unhappiness; they still want me in the family but mostly don't acknowledge my proper gender. My sister is a happy exception; she has been supportive.
I refer to my "past life name" rather than my "dead name"; there are lots of people who knew my previous identity who are still in my life so I can't simply walk away from it. (If you're curious you're welcome to look at my profile; you will find my old name there as well as some pre-transition pictures.) Disowning that identity would also mean disowning the happy years with my late wife, which I will not do.
These days I'm a happy woman but not traditionally girly in every way. I'm a geek, after all. I still love board gaming and I will still fix your computer, I'll just look more fabulous while I do it.