What does your average corn-fed midwesterner or southerner know about men and women who feel trapped in the wrong body, or even men who dress up as women? Oh sure, we’ve read and seen the World According to Garp, and Johnny Depp was almost fetching in pink angora as Ed Wood. Mrs. Doubtfire? Ru Paul? The Lady Chablis? And then came Brandon Teena’s story in Boys Don’t Cry.
But it still isn’t something that comes up at the usual church picnic or softball gathering or even around your average water cooler.
So when Ace hired a staffer who had spent most of her life figuring out this confusion, we were just as curious (and probably ill-informed) as the next guy. We’d read about these stories, of course, in our big city sister papers, but we’d never had a story like this walk through our door.
She was always open, even eager to talk about her childhood, her multiple tours of duty in Vietnam, her past marriages, her kids.
And when she recently resigned to take a job in the midwest that allows her to be closer to her children, she left behind a a disk labeled, “My Writings.” With her permission, and with a great deal of condensing and compressing, the following is her story-spanning nearly 50 years, an entire career in the military, marriage, parenthood, and an ultimately successful quest to be the person she always wanted to be. –Editor
BOYS DO CRY
Paul or Paula? It’s been a Long Strange Trip
by PAULA COFFER
I first started feeling different at about five years old. The incident I recall was when a little boy down the street named Chris was laughed at by others because his mother dressed him up as a little girl all the time.
And so I began the process of learning to keep my mouth shut when I wanted to express my own ideas of how nice that would be to be a little girl instead of a little boy.
Then at about nine years old, I began experimenting by wearing my sister’s clothes. It was easy for me to gain access to my sister’s wardrobe as most of it was on the her bedroom floor and my mother had declared the place condemned and left instructions that the door would ALWAYS remain closed. Her clothes were a little big as she is five years older, but I managed. Wouldn’t you know it though, just as I started to really get into it all she quit high school and got married and took all her clothes and makeup with her. How selfish!
I’ve got to tell you that wearing my mother’s clothes was not nearly as fun and the only time that I could get into them was after she had thrown them into the dirty clothes hamper.
Then things sort of went on hold until I was thirteen when my life started this really weird, confusing spiral.
My family had suffered a financial setback, and after living with my grandparents for a few months, we moved to the countryside where we could rebuild an old home and grow our own food, both animal and garden. With three teenage boys at home why not give farm life a try, right?
Anyway, as I crawled into puberty in total innocence I began to get chastised by my peers for lack of “development.” Little did those little twerps realize that my hair wasn’t growing because my mom’s razor worked just fine, thank you. By this time my mother had her dresser in the back bathroom by my bedroom and as it was somewhat isolated I had ample opportunity to try on clothes and sleep in her undies. I only came close one time to getting caught and that was when I was taking a bath and someone banged on the door and in a panic I threw a bra behind the bathtub and forgot to retrieve it. My mother asked me if I knew how it got there and I answered no, of course. She just stood there for what seemed an eternity before she walked away. I’ve often wondered if I had answered yes if my parents would have let me have a sex-change, or at least let me begin living as a girl. I could dream.
The remaining high school years were uneventful. I allowed my body hair to grow its natural course while I periodically experimented with my mother’s makeup and occasionally wore her underclothes. The only exciting thing during these years was wearing panties under my blue jeans.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Home life wasn’t too pleasant, so upon high school graduation I joined the Navy. I excelled in boot camp as I was out to prove to myself that I was just as much of a man as the next man, and maybe even better.
After boot camp I returned home and lost my virginity. At 17 I felt the need to exert all my manliness and clumsily proceeded to make love to one of the “loose” girls that I knew. That girl still has a special place in my heart.
After I conquered the bedroom, I left for Chicago and the Great Lakes Navy station for school. I was there for five cold fall and winter months where you stay covered with clothes or blankets to keep warm. We slept four to a room and used a community shower. I think being 17 and slight of build allowed me to get away with shaving my body hair. This time I left the pubic hair and started to grow a mustache to make outward appearances as passable as possible because I was beginning to realize that these people might care if I was different.
I felt an awful lot of confusion and bitterness as to why I couldn’t be a woman or at least look and act like one. The best way I know to explain why I ever did anything like shave or apply makeup or wear women’s clothes was that the strongest most obsessive-compulsive inner feeling that I have ever had came over me to act and do because it was “right.”
I had these feelings and acted on them no matter how wrong I knew them to be by the standards that our society has set. I just couldn’t stop. I tried to overcome them by doing ‘manly’ things. It just never worked for long. I would often lie awake at night and wonder if there was a vitamin deficiency in my diet or if this was a punishment for some sort of wild and imagined SIN! The torture and hurt I experienced was excruciating and the worst part was there was absolutely NO ONE I could talk to about all of this. I would overcome suicidal thoughts with denial and being manly. This would work for awhile until my obsessive-compulsive inner feeling attacked me again.
Nobody knew about my secret life, and I was assigned to an aircraft carrier on its way to Vietnam. By the time I got to Nam my hair had re-grown on my legs and chest and I was ready to become a hero like the rest of the ship’s crew. By this time I was 18 and was expected to be wild and loose with the women in the port, so I was-I mean, who knew if you were going to be alive tomorrow?
Life on the carrier wasn’t too dangerous but ‘myself’ started reasserting itself. Eighteen of us slept in this small compartment on canvas beds stacked three high. So as my desire to rid my body of its offensive hair became stronger, my apprehension grew with the sure knowledge that I would be found out and made fun of and court-martialed out of the Navy. Finally I shaved anyway. In Nam it was extremely hot and I just know that the guys in the compartment knew because I would wake up with my sheet thrown off my body due to the heat. I guess no one said anything because I never made any homosexual advances toward anybody.
During a locker inspection one time I thought that I was caught for sure as I had no time to hide my wig, makeup and clothes. When the Chief got to the locker in my workspace, he just looked at me and said that there was no need to look in my locker as I was the Petty Officer in charge of the work space. Did he know?
In and Out
My first outing was after that first cruise to Nam.
I was in San Francisco and happened to buy a gay magazine. I found an ad where the guy said that he was interested in meeting people for companionship and good times, so I called and made an appointment to meet at his house. I went back to ship and dug out all my makeup and wig, stuffed them into a shopping bag, and off I went. As soon as I arrived at his apartment, I rushed into the bathroom and put on my makeup and wig and just sat there on the toilet trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Finally, I exited the bathroom and presented ME for the first time. He didn’t laugh, say I looked good or stupid, or anything.
Then he said that this was not exactly what he had in mind.
When he finally told me that what he wanted was a gay sexual encounter I told him that I was not gay but that I would try anything once. He turned me down.
All I remember feeling is how ugly I must look to him and everyone else. I cried as I stripped my makeup off and packed everything away. On the way to the trolley I pitched everything into the garbage and swore that I would be normal from then on.
Marriage and Suicidal Tendencies
My answer to it all was to go back home, get married with the goal of fathering a child, and hope that I would die on my next cruise to Vietnam. By this time I am barely 19, so being a young war hero in my small town USA was something special, and finding a super good looking girl willing to get married on short notice was not difficult at all. We married and lived together in Oakland, CA for a few months. Strange marriage though because I was out at sea for 10 to 40 days at a time. We never really got to know each other, and it seemed that she always had some ailment that prohibited sexual relations. She was a lot wilder than I, involved with grass and hash, and in general she was a party animal where I have always been a loner and protective of my privacy. A girlfriend of hers moved in – bringing a year’s supply of birth control pills – and I had my first experience with hormones. I told my wife that I thought they were hers and had thrown them out as I wanted her to get pregnant.
Being a total novice and not understanding what birth control pills could or could not do for me, I basically overdosed on them and felt terrible for a couple of days. I can still remember the horrible headache and stomachache and telling my wife how bad I felt but just didn’t know why.
The ship was put on 24-hour notice to deploy to Vietnam, and off I went while my wife went back to our hometown to wait for the return of her sailor. The marriage lasted six months.
It was OK because she wasn’t pregnant, and there was no fear of me getting killed in Vietnam anyway as the Navy wouldn’t let me ride the river boats this cruise.
I had been corresponding with another hometown girl during my third tour in Vietnam and really fell in love with the romantic thought of a girl back home to brag about and all.
While in Hong Kong I bought a wedding set that cost two months’ pay and was determined to give it to this girl of my letters. She turned me down the first time, but I was dumb enough to ask again, and she accepted. Neither one of us knew how to call off the wedding and still save face with our families and friends so we ended up getting married.
Within three weeks I was dressing in her clothes and putting on her makeup. One night as she was doing her nails, she asked me to put my hand out and she put nail polish on all five fingers. GOD I was in heaven. I thought I was going to die right there. In a short while, I went into the bathroom and painted my other hand and told her it was so they would look the same.
I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep, so I waited for her to go to sleep and slipped out of bed and into the bathroom where I made my face up and shaved my legs. By the time I returned to the bed she had awakened and wanted to know where I had been. She was not satisfied with my answer, so I told her all about ‘myself.’ She didn’t believe me so I turned on the bedside lamp and let her see me. As we had only been married four months, she believed me when I said that this would be the last time that anything like this would ever happen. That was the true beginning of my misery. In retrospect, I should have let her make my secret known and divorce me or have the marriage annulled because I’ll never be able to stop being me. But I was twenty-one.
I was going to college and she was working at a restaurant, so I had ample time to dress at home. My mother almost caught me one time when she unexpectedly came to the house and I had nail polish on. I hid my hands in my pockets and behind me for the entire time she was visiting. She looked at me oddly, but if she ever suspected something was amiss, she never said anything.
Being the serious type, college wasn’t the fun for me that it was for the party-ers. I carried an overload each semester and worked 30 hours a week as a janitor to be able to afford school. During this whole time, I had this terrific inner battle going on where confusion won more often than not.
In the Army Now
To help fight these “unnatural” urges and be normal, I joined ARMY ROTC. Military life was something that I was familiar with, and anyone associated with the military was considered manly and beyond reproach.
I graduated college as a distinguished military graduate and accepted a commission as an Army Finance Officer. My wife and I had been on rocky terms the past few years, and we kept trying to make it work and even had a son my last semester in college.
As I left for Indianapolis and the finance officer basic course, I went with the idea that I could somehow during this separation of four months make the necessary adjustments to meet the world’s expectations of a soldier, man, husband, father.
I did fairly well for about 45 days before I reverted to ‘myself.’
I was so disgusted that I even had an extramarital affair with an enlisted girl just to prove to myself that I was an unworthy person.
Just like every time before, I took the easy way out and lived with my inner turmoil while outwardly looking (for the most part) the healthy, vigorous male.
Here I am a second lieutenant in the Army, 25 years old, in my second marriage, unhappy with no outlook for improvement. Each way I turned I ran into confusion as to who I was and what my purpose in life was. Why did GOD put me through this? Was there some reason for it all? Why can’t I be like everyone else? I don’t know who to talk to or how to go about finding out if I’m the only one in the world like this or if there are others trapped like me. Just what is it that I am doing wrong that is causing me to be this way?
So this time I ventured into Mexico and purchased estrogen tablets from the local pharmacies, and did they ever look at me strange. After six months, the pharmacies in Mexico stopped selling the premarin to me and since I didn’t notice that big of an effect anyway, I stopped the hormone treatments and was unable to resume them for years.
Thinking that a change of scenery would give me a better outlook on life and make my marriage better, for the sake of our son I accepted an assignment to Germany. Once again, this was only good for a short time.
I think that as I got older, my ability to forestall the occurrences of becoming ‘myself’ got weaker and weaker… Perhaps it was the rationalization process that allowed me to maintain my sanity and accept being ‘different.’ Things kind of see-sawed along for about a year and a half until Christmas time, I wrote down exactly what I really felt about wanting to be a woman.
My wife took that letter back to the United States and after six and one half years of marriage she obtained a divorce and restricted visitation from my two children. So at 29 years old I had been married twice, had two fine sons, and still was as confused as I could be.
In order for me to be able to even talk to my sons I had to attend therapy and have the doctor forward status reports to my ex-wife stating that I was harmless to my children. Even with those and other letters it’s been years since I’ve seen or talked to them. The therapy proved worthless on my part as the doctor had a heck of a time understanding English, and I spoke no German. But before I got into the spirit of it all, I tried unsuccessfully to get onto a professionally administered program of hormone treatments. I traveled to Frankfurt and set a date with a doctor for a sex change operation the following May. He wanted me on hormones for at least a year but was willing to accept me with only 10 months treatment. He wouldn’t provide the name of a doctor to prescribe the hormones, and I was unable to find one on my own so I didn’t start hormone treatment.
I got discouraged and reverted back to the male image. I started dating a German girl and enjoyed it as she was safe, that is, there was no intention of a serious relationship. But then I met an Army Nurse who made me feel like a real person for the first time in my life. Here was this woman who didn’t lean on me for support, a woman who was strong and really wanted to please me because it brought her pleasure. She seemed to really enjoy my attentions toward her and accept the relationship for what it was. We fit together so very well that it was inevitable that we get married.
I really thought that this time would be different. I was 30 years old, and we were getting pressure from the Army that if we wanted to be assigned together we had better get married and file all the appropriate paperwork.
The “professionals” said that my problems all stemmed from an abusive father and that I didn’t want to be a woman.
Still, even before the marriage, I began to spend time alone as ‘myself.’ I cried myself to sleep more than once wanting to stop but not knowing how. I wanted to call the wedding off to pursue my sex change appointment, but I didn’t know how. I did tell her that I was a transvestite (the only term I knew) but I didn’t place the proper emphasis on it and it was only a brief comment made during a tearful confession that she ignored. I didn’t push the issue because I really enjoyed being with her and talking to someone as my intellectual and social equal. The first several months we knew each other were full of travel and fun, then she underwent surgery that effectively stopped our sexual relations as infrequent as they were. Sex just disappeared out of our relationship. So six days after my thirtieth birthday I got married for my third time. We traveled to Denmark to get married and honeymooned in London, Bavaria, and the Canary Islands.
The date of my anticipated surgery came and went without me making my appointment, and we returned to the United States where I attended the finance officers’ advance course, and then the Army thought enough of me to send me to graduate school for my MBA.
I spent a small fortune on electrolysis, pierced my ears, and even went public once with a wig, dress, and makeup. My wife was ready to leave me. Once again, I went into therapy. Even though the psychologist was gay, he just couldn’t accept that I wasn’t happy as a male and really wanted to rid my body of its penis and develop breasts. Lucky me, I received orders to go to Korea and was able to get out of what I considered worthless therapy.
Going to Korea was a new start once again, but within three months I was up to my old tricks – only this time I was also able to begin hormone use again. Korea does not require prescriptions for hormones, and I was able to obtain both injectable and tablet hormones. I had no idea of what the proper dosage was but was willing to consume a couple of tablets daily or inject two vials once a week.
Just as my wife was ready to pack it up and return to the States, we adopted 6-day-old twins.
I didn’t completely stop hormones, but I didn’t use them on as regular of a basis as I should have. Having a full time maid and housekeeper helped to ease the burden of taking care of the girls, and my wife seemed to be happier because of them.
If getting hormones was this easy, then why not make them more effective and find an agreeable doctor and be castrated? I must have tried 20 doctors, to no avail, so I attempted self-castration.
I ended up at a local hospital trying to explain why my testicles were hanging out of my scrotum. I would have completed the job but didn’t know how to stop the bleeding and got scared after I pulled them free of the scrotum. Nothing more happened during the next two years, and I received orders for the Maryland area.
Prior to reporting to Maryland, I had to attend a six week school in Virginia. I purchased a hot wax machine and removed everything but the pubic hair. I also visited a sex therapist in the hopes that he would refer me to an understanding doctor for hormone treatments. He wouldn’t provide the referral but he did make me aware of a group of people like me. The group met at this old church in Virginia but I was only able to make one meeting. As time got closer for my family to rejoin me, I became more determined to make this a clean start and be “normal.”
So I threw away all my addresses and phone numbers for the group. I have really regretted that action over the past years. Once again the promise to myself was a hollow one as I will never be able to be totally male in mind or spirit. Once again, I began removing hair. First I went to a shop that would wax my body… As soon as the Epilady came on the market, I bought one and fell in love with it. Doesn’t work for the facial hair. I guess only electrolysis will work on the face…
My twins are now three and one half years old, my wife and I are 36 years old and I still have four and one half years before I can retire. My wife tells me that she has made the biggest mistake of her life by staying with me but does not want her mother to know she made a mistake or have her say I told you so. We are best friends but as she tells me, she doesn’t know how to treat me. Am I her sister, friend, or girlfriend? She tends to feel that I am not her husband. How much longer she will stay with me I don’t know.
When she realizes that I have been on heavy doses of hormones for the past year she may feel that she has to make her move. I am not sure how much longer I can live this double role but would like to stick it out for retirement. Meanwhile, I would like to meet others like me. I would really like to come out into the open with someone as I can’t do it at home. Who knows, maybe there is a wife out there who has some words of wisdom and would relate to my wife.
The twins are now six 1/2 years old, and I am still married and a Major in the Army with less than two years to retirement. My wife and I are 39 years old and living in Indianapolis. My ex-wife is beginning to hassle me for money to help support the two boys as she is now divorced and is denying that she and her husband had adopted the boys. I have talked to them for the first time in ten years. Unfortunately it has now been six months since I’ve talked to them, and neither one of them want to correspond so I am not going to force myself on them at all.
I have found a support group of people like me here in Indianapolis that I have been able to dress up with and meet socially for some very enjoyable evenings doing “normal” things. We go to a recreation room at an apartment complex, and just play games (Boggle, cards, etc.) in as normal a setting as any adult gathering could provide. The only difference being the people here are men dressed as women. I have made the commitment to myself to become more woman-like and have been on a doctor-administered hormone/drug treatment program for four months with some delightful results. In order for him to continue hormone therapy, I had to visit a psychiatrist and have him validate that I was indeed transsexual and deserving of hormone treatments. I had told the endocrinologist upon my first visit that the only reason I was visiting him was because I had been on a self administered program for years and wanted a medical followup and had just moved to the city. He received a letter from the psychiatrist and has elected to continue supporting me toward my feminization goal.
On my second visit after two months of treatment, the doctor felt that my blood pressure was too high and was being caused by the high level of premarin. His recommendation was to prescribe premarin accompanied by aldactone. He chose aldactone because it has a side effect in men of enlarging the breast while reducing blood pressure. I must tell you that one thing I have discovered is that while I am taking hormones my mind is truly at rest with itself.
I no longer have all those nagging doubts about myself of who or what I am, and I don’t have the confusion and inner conflict I had ten years ago.
My wife and I have come to a livable solution of being together. We never have sex, but on hormones I don’t get the urge anyway, which suits me fine as I’m asexual. We are intimate in that we hold hands, kiss, hug and just generally live together as best friends. She doesn’t make me feel guilty about who or what I am and has come to accept it. I continually thank her for being such a special person to me. We have come to the agreement that I do, in fact, have two separate and distinct lives of which she shares in only one. She allows me to dress up to attend my social meetings, and she is aware I have a post office box I use for corresponding with others. She is also aware of a small stockpile of makeup, clothes and books that I keep concealed from the children.
It’s wonderful that she can live with this other side of me without ridiculing me or attempting to change me into what she thinks I should be. I know that I am a disappointment to her and that if she really had a choice she would not have me the way I am. I’m sure that in her mind she has a life different from what we live that she would prefer, but then again for the both of us this life isn’t all that bad.
For my part I no longer hurt, and I do want to go on and live to see what tomorrow brings for me and my family. Ten years of marriage and I will forever be grateful to her for just being alive and with me.
A couple of years ago, I joined a computer bulletin board that I have access to through my computer and modem at work. It’s amazing that there really are people out there who are JUST LIKE ME.
The former Paul Coffer, Jr. is now Paula J. Coffer, living and working in the midwest.
Dear Mr. Clinton,
Sir, I am a retired US Army Major and a Navy veteran. At 17, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy and subsequently served three tours of duty in Viet Nam and the Far East. Using the GI Bill to attend college I completed ROTC as well as my academic studies to receive a commission in the U.S. Army finance corps. For the next 16 1/2 yers I served in various capacities around the world… The Army leadership program valued my skills and talents enough to send me to a fully funded Masters degree program where I earned an MBA. My culminating position was with the DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Service) Indianapolis Center where I was the officer in charge of implementing the new pay system JSS for the Directorate of Military Pay… My final position was to lead the 400 persons responsible for paying the Army’s soldiers.
I retired in August 1994 and waited my required six months prior to attempting re-entry to the DFAS network. Knowing that I would forfeit 1/3 of my retired pay for the privilege of being a civil service employee I continued to pursue professional positions suitable to my experience, education, and proven abilities.
I have been found ‘not as qualified’ or ‘not best qualified’ for all positions applied for. The underlying reason that will never be admitted to is that I am a post-operative transsexual and the government does not wish to hire me as it may prove to be an embarrassment to them. I would contend that I am not an embarrassment to them, but rather an asset based on my experience and knowledge of the inner workings of the directorate of military pay.
I do not ask for your interjection on my behalf with the leadership at DFAS. Rather the purpose of this letter is to make you aware that there are many talented and experienced people grossly underemployed due to ‘hidden’ discrimination practices.
Given all things possible, I would spend my time teaching potential employers and government agency heads how to tap into a national resource of personnel that are talented, willing, and anxious to work. This group would work harder than most just for the self-esteem it affords them by allowing them to be productive in their chosen gender roles.
I have spent my time since retirement in traveling the country, approaching civic leaders as well as personnel within the transgendered community on how best to utilize this hidden group of talented people.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to share with you what one veteran is doing and continuing to do, for the American economy and social environment to overcome a hidden discriminatory practice that deprives business and government alike of skilled workers.
The condition that generally classifies the transsexual is gender dysphoria. MTFs (or male to female transsexuals) are more common than FTMs (or female to male transsexuals). According to Veronica with BGB (formerly the Bluegrass Belles, a support group) based in Louisville, there are a lot of misconceptions about transsexuals. “Most people think we’re freaks and perverts. We’re not. Mentally we’re in the wrong body. Even though the body says it’s male, the mind says it’s female.”
Many people also confuse transsexuals with cross dressers (usually heterosexual men who have no desire to be women, they simply enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing) or drag queens (male performers who dress as women). There are also “intersexed” people, who are those born with both male and female sex organs. This condition is often treated (somewhat controversially) just after birth with surgery and hormones.
Locally, BGB is both a social and support group 55 to 60 members strong. The group is growing, helping more and more people come to terms with their gender identity issues, which according to Veronica, “There are many more cases than most people realize.”
For transsexuals, medical recognition of gender dysphoria has been slow in coming, though it is emerging. However, there is disagreement as to whether the origins are physical, psychological, environmental, or some combination of factors.
For transsexuals who wish to make the transition from their birth gender to the gender with which they identify, the process is long, involved, expensive, and sometimes painful.
First, one has to attend therapy to determine that the individual is ready to make the transition. Most doctors will expect their client to keep a strict therapy schedule throughout the transition process. From here, hormone treatments are initialized.
Sometimes, physically, this is as far as the client may want to go. However, surgery is the next medical step, and the client must live as the opposite sex for at least a year (sometimes much longer) before the surgery can take place. This means a 24/7 life change.
All documents -bank accounts, Social Security registration, driver’s license, etc. – must be changed to reflect the individual’s new social identity.
Finally, there is the surgery. Health insurance, as a rule will not cover the high expenses, which can sometimes exceed $100,000.
About 10,000 people in the U.S. identify themselves as transsexuals, about 30,000 worldwide. Of those, approximately 10,000 have had the surgery to complete the gender transformation.