“I thought I would rather die than walk through the front door of The New York Times in a dress. I thought, I’m going to have to get another job. Too embarrassing. Everyone would think I’m totally weird and I’d be stuck off in a corner someplace and people would gawk.”
If that’s how it goes, so be it. The mild, 51-year-old Times copy editor seated before me in this midtown cafe will soon be going to work as … Donna Cartwright.
“In the beginning of May, that’s when my male social self is gone. That’s it. Sayonara . I’ll wear slacks cut for women, different shoes, mid- to low-heel, and I’ll let my hair down. As I become more comfortable, I’ll start wearing whatever I want to wear. That will happen in the next six months to a year. I think I’ll look like a tall woman, with big hands and big feet.”
“Any remaining doubts?”
“What women do you admire?”
“Martina Navratilova. Ellen DeGeneres.”
“What kind of crap will you have to deal with as a woman?”
“I think women have to fight harder to be taken seriously. I’ve already noticed it when I’m driving [dressed as a woman]. Some men drivers seem more likely to cut you off, drive more aggressively. There’s a greater physical insecurity. In my neighborhood, people didn’t really catch on at first, but I think they’ve made the connection between the tall woman and the longhaired guy. In July of ’96, I was coming home from work, not dressed as a woman, and it was about 10 o’clock at night, and there were three guys hanging out by a church next door to where I live. They appeared to be drunk, they were. One of them spun around and planted himself in my path. As I approached, he said either ‘he’s a woman’ or ‘it’s a woman.’ So as I stepped around him, I felt his hand brush my arm-he was trying to take a swing at me. He said ‘fucking queer’ and his buddies were pulling him away and, with apparent sincerity, apologized. So even queer-bashing isn’t quite what it used to be.”
On March 11, the future Donna Cartwright went from floor to floor at The Times and tacked up several dozen yellow sheets of paper: “In the 21 years that we have worked together,” the memo began, “we have shared much hard work and many rewarding experiences. I am writing this now to inform you of a significant change in my life that will affect our relationship … After much reflection and inner struggle, I have decided to resolve a longstanding conflict in my life by beginning to live full-time as a woman, starting in about two months’ time. If this ‘trial period’ works out as planned, I intend to have sex-reassignment surgery sometime next year.”
In the cafe, over a grilled chicken sandwich and a Rolling Rock, the copy editor said, “I didn’t know until I was 40 that this was who I was. I knew that there was a gender issue in my life, I knew I had something in common with people who were transgendered. I knew there was some kind of affinity when Rene Richards went through her struggle to play tennis. I felt supportive on more than simply a level of principle.”
All those dates with women had gone nowhere, really, and there was no marriage, no children. Sexuality was “a complicated issue.” After a lifetime of feeling “shy,” “melancholy,” even “morose,” the Times editor was deeply struck by In Search of Eve , by Anne Bolin, and other books on transsexuality during a solo vacation in Florida three years ago.
Next came the therapists, the social workers, the specialists, the “spellbinding” presentation at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center. Then … walking around the neighborhood in a dress, wig, mail-order women’s eyeglasses … Yeah, this is me … this is the face I want to present to the world … Electrolysis, estrogen, anti-androgens. Told the parents (“not happy with the idea”), told Times managing editor Bill Keller (“helpful and accommodating”). It was agreed that the future Ms. Cartwright would use the men’s room for now, before a private one could be set aside.
“Will you miss being a man?”
“What about your genitalia?”
“The physical process is quite painful, messing around with your soft tissues with a sharp knife, you know? They use the tissues to make new structures; some of it gets disposed of, but it’s almost like the existing sex organs are essentially inverted.”
“They make one, yeah.”
“What about The Times ?”
“I think it’s going to be the buzz of the office for the next few weeks, then somebody’s going to get a promotion or whatever and that’ll push this off page 1.”
The Monica Diaries
Continued excerpts from several hundred loose pages, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, which were dumped on The Observer’s front stoop and labeled, “The atached (sic) is my story, the story of a white house intirn (sic), in my own words, not that bitch Linda. ML.”
August 5, 1997, 11:28 P.M.
I was at the pentogon and i’m typing up this thing or whatever for this dumb general and i’m wearing the blue dress that L. calls my wonder-boob dress and there’s the orange envelope for me and Creepo’s writing and it says Come see me as soon as you can … so i’m like what am I, his little slave ?? so I go to WH and betty’s like He’s in there and i give her the look that says as if I did not know this?? And he’s in there standing by the window and he’s like Hi Mon how are you? and i’m like fine Sir which always makes him crack up a little and he’s like I have a meeting in 10 minutes but they can wait with you looking so good and he sits back in his chair and starts unbuckling and so I sort of sit on the desk and say We need to talk … and he’s like well is something wrong in your job?? and i’m like nooooo, silly-about us … and he’s like Well, what about us? and i’m like, Well, we need to talk … and he’s like, Yessss? and so i say, You know-really talk? and he’s like, Mon, we are talking … and i say Yes, that’s true, but we’re not really talking, you know? and so he’s like What do you want to talk about? and I’m like, Us … and so he says, Go ahead, but i have this meeting … so i say we need to talk now about how he never shares his feelings?? and I have feelings too?? and we must grow or die which is what that book that L. gave me said, but now i’m feeling like a dope cause i’m starting to cry which is not in the plans and he stands up and looks in my face and says Mon I care very deeply about your feelings and he’s got his hand on my shoulder and I think he’s going to hug me and give me the comfurt but I feel his hand pushing me down and I say Wait I need more talking and he’s like Well talk is what I do all day I love the way you and I have the deeper connexion and I hear the L-word in there but I realize he did not actually say it as meaning he loves moi and then he says Mon we know each other sooooo well we don’t need to talk and then he says something about sounds of silence which I guess is from that poetry book and I see he does have a point but then I think about what L. said about why don’t I get the pleasure and the stuff she said about the two kinds of female orgasms and so I say why don’t you ever at least take me out to dinner?? we could say its just business, and he’s like Mon i’ll try to work that out one day soon i promise and i’m like well good cause I still get hungry ya know? and he’s like well want me to have betty order you something? and I can tell he’s getting pissed cause his face is all red and his jaw has that twitch so i’m like no i’m not hungry never mind and he sits back down sorta pulling me down with him so my face is in his lap his belt buckle is like ice on my cheek so I give the BJ and after he’s like Mon you made my day with all these meetings you are the fresh air and i’m like What-ever, so he’ll know its my turn to be pissed … but he gets no hints just buckles up and takes me to the door his hand on my elbow and I say Next time can’t we just sit and talk? And he’s like yes, let’s do that, and I say promise? And he’s like sure and then I drop the bombs and say oh by the way, I told my dad about you!!! … and Creep looks like he’s about to wig out so i say Just kidding! And he gives this little laugh the one that, to be frank, gives me a goosebump, so I came home and Mom’s in a town and she’s on the couch watching TV and she’s like So did the leader of the free world ask you to marry him yet?? and then she bursts out laughing and i’m like Mo-om! and I go to my room and I call L. and she says she has to call me right back, so I have time to brush my teeth first …