Monday, January 14, 2008
Meet Vicki Estrada. She's a San Diego businesswoman and she used to be named Steve.
My interview with Vicki took place in December, and it was historic because Steve Estrada was a guest on These Days two and a half years ago when he announced that he intended to become a woman. Since then he has had sex change surgery and facial "feminization" work. He's even had voice lessons to make him sound more convincing as a woman.
Steve was definitely a person of high standing in San Diego. He was the president of Estrada Land Planning , a landscape architecture firm. He had been involved in politics for many years as an urban planner and civic visionary. If anyone had a lot to lose, from the stigma of a sex change, it was him.
Now, Vicki says she has not lost anything, aside from the burden of knowing she was living a male life that she didn't want to continue. Her firm's clients have continued to do business with her. She remains well-connected to City Hall. While her mother is still getting used to the idea of the sex change, her two kids and her father were supportive of her decision. In fact, her father actually accompanied her to the clinic that did the gender reassignment. (Her two children, by the way, still call her "Papa.")
I look at my relationship with Vicki as one that's also undergone some change. I can't say that Vicki has ever been a close friend of mine. But the fact that she told the world that she (then he) wanted to be a woman on my show makes me feel that I've played a role in the drama.
And who am I? I am a married, straight white male with two kids who tries to be honest and open minded. Yet, accepting transgender people -- in fact, accepting the very notion that you can discard the gender you were born with -- has been a challenge. It seems easier to understand same-sex attraction than the earnest feeling that one is living in the wrong body.
What I think I've learned from Vicki is that it is possible to make such a monumental change, yet remain who you are. Vicki says she is the only transgender person that most of her friends and family actually know. One reason for that is a lot of transgender people go underground. They have the surgery, leave town, and try to start a new life, passing as a member of the opposite sex.
Vicki said she could not leave her old life behind . There were too many people she would miss and too much to give up. As a result she's had to put up with some people being uncomfortable around her, not knowing what to say, and in some cases being downright mean. I guess if she can accept that, she's not asking much when she asks us to accept her new life as a woman.