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Life Arts    H4'ed 7/7/15

"No! Maybe? Yes!" - Not Just a Transgender Memoir

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GAS: When I received my MA in Counseling Psychology in 2009, I chose to continue to work days in the tech world and also worked two-three nights each week at a substance abuse clinic where I interned. Over my six years at the clinic, I had both individual clients, and facilitated treatment groups. I found a great deal of excitement when I facilitated and taught the psycho-education groups for first offender drunk drivers. Here in Massachusetts, anyone with a first OUI violation is mandated to take a 32-hour alcohol education class. For the past six years, I have probably taught 400-500 people in these classes. I learned to teach the required curriculum of the state's program and add a good deal about relationships in these classes. I found that this part of "Grace's curriculum" often had a strong impact on many of the attendees, as they got to learn more about themselves, rather than being told they were bad people for getting an OUI.

When my tech job was eliminated in 2013, I created a consulting company called Gender Variance Education and Training where I go into organizations to help trainings at all levels if and when someone chooses to transition gender in the workplace, a school or organization. For a number of people, I may be the first trans person they have ever met, so it is important that I present as knowledgeable and professional.

Now, with another "reinvention" as an author, which is so exciting, I have also started a speaking business and hope to go into colleges and talk about living your true life, and authenticity, which is much more than just an issue in the transgender community.

Each day is a new adventure and is very exciting.

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JB: I like your attitude! How did your own transition in your workplace go? How did you prepare your colleagues?

GAS: Thanks. I had taken four weeks off from my tech job to have and recuperate from FFS - Facial Feminization Surgery - and they held a training session for about 200 people the week before I returned. I wrote a six-page letter to give a personal view about my journey and also provided a FAQ within it (a copy of this and other letters I wrote are at the end of my book). The day I returned to work as Grace, I remember parking my car, reaching the door and momentarily freezing before I opened it and walked up the stairs to my office, which had a brand new nameplate on it that said Grace Stevens.

For the first time, I left my purse under my desk and went to my boss's office to introduce myself. It was amazing that first week. So many people came by and told me how brave I was and how great I looked. The most amazing thing was a woman I did not know came by and shared that she was trans but no one here knew this! Many women came by, invited me to lunch and told me it was so much easier to talk with me than it used to be.

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It was a large campus and not everyone went to the trainings, so there were a few awkward/funny moments as time went on but, overall, my transition at work was a great experience and I had many teaching moments.

JB: I'm so glad. It most certainly didn't have to go so well and all workplaces are not as supportive. How does the recent Supreme Court decision supporting same sex marriage play into all this or doesn't it?

GAS: The SCOTUS decision, although not related to transgender rights or even an inkling about gender identity and expression, is of major importance to the idea of just letting people be who they are and let them live and love whoever they want, with all the rights and blessings of the government which, we learned as youngsters, is instituted of, for and by the people.

What is much more important is all the great work being done in the present administration supporting trans rights and removing any restrictions on transgender health services from insurance coverages for federal agencies and suppliers. This is the work of many great organizations that is culminating in saving the lives of many people. There is hope for many who have been hopeless for so long.

JB: That is important. I wasn't aware of that. Your book is out now. What kind of feedback are you getting?

GAS: The feedback on my book has been wonderful. I was not certain whether the framework of telling my story from the voices of the little girl and little boy that have always been inside me would resonate with people, but it appears to have done so both inside and outside of the trans community. Since I also jumped between my personal story and what I learned along the way, it is very different than and something more than most memoirs.

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Within the trans community, feedback has been that I have articulated some feelings that people did not know how to explain. Also, numerous people have bought multiple copies to give to their friends and even therapists to help explain what that are feeling. This is amazing and so fulfilling. Outside the trans community, I have received much feedback that my journey to return to school at age 58 has inspired people that it is never too late to reinvent yourself.

Getting this feedback is like being in a great and wonderful dream....I keep pinching myself to see if I am awake!

JB: Lovely. What haven't we talked about yet?

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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