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On Happiness

I’ve always known I was fortunate for many reasons, but since transitioning, for the first time, I feel fortunate.


I read and heard many things before beginning my transition about the impact on those who are prepared—job performance improves, dysphoria can abate, depression can subside, but I was least prepared for happiness.


Yet a funny thing happened about 18 months into presenting authentically full-time—I became happy.


My perception of the world has fundamentally changed, as if I no longer see in black and white but now see the entire color spectrum, ranging from infrared to ultraviolet. I think of myself as seeing beyond the color spectrum because, as I’ve thought through my transition and lived it, I’ve found some maladaptive behavior falling away but have also tried, with a measure of self-awareness, to retain adaptive behaviors.


My focus and ability to live in the moment have improved without intrusive thoughts about gender. Indeed, gender intrudes far less now than it did pre-transition. I may think about issues like those discussed in these essays, but gender doesn’t interrupt my train of thought, like clockwork, every 2 or 3 minutes. When alone and at rest, I’m happy. And I now readily and easily smile and laugh.


My enjoyment of stories, whether told in books, movies, plays, or music, has been amplified. For so many years, I struggled to find contentment in small things, and now it so often comes to me unbidden, without effort.


I listen to young, mostly female, singers like Demi Lovato, Halsey, Lorde, Grace, Bea Miller, Hayley Kiyoko, Alessia Cara, and Andra Day. In their lyrics, I hear such hope—a tolerance and faith in human beings that comes so naturally that it fills me with wonder. I went to Best Buy to pick up a pair of $30 earpods to replace those I’d worn out, and the happiness that the replacements brought me, in the parking lot, moved me to tears.


My Kindle remains my most prized possession and many of my favorite authors remain the same, but it’s no longer mostly an escape. Rather than E.A. Arlington’s Richard Corey resonating most with me, it’s Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. My love of reading, instead of being desperate, is now passionate.


I have become a better lawyer because I have abandoned the white-knuckle approach and enjoy the immediate task. Like the surgeon I’d most trust, I not only care for our clients, their employees, those invested in them, and outcomes but also have a zest for my craft. An excellent brief, argument, or cross-examination now brings me joy.


In June 2016, we won an appeal for Alan Levan and BBX Capital. In the spring of 2017, we had the privilege of trying the claims against him in front of a jury. After a six-week trial, the jury took less than six hours to find that neither he nor BBX Capital was liable—in fact, the record established that the financial institution reported about the risks and effects of the financial crisis in 2007, almost a year before the rest of the world. There have been other wins, but, in part because of those clients’ support for my transition, none as hard fought and meaningful.


I have developed wonderful friendships, particularly with women, and particularly with my best friend who has only known me presenting authentically. At the end of 2016, her husband suggested the three of us go to New Orleans for New Years Eve, and they helped convert the setting of one of my worst nightmares into one of my fondest memories.


Even my conversations with strangers now open up new possibilities now that I’m comfortable in my own skin and in public. For example, I was sitting on a plane from New York to Miami next to an impeccably dressed man reading the Economist, which I’ve always adored. We began talking, and apparently he was in high-level management with a company responsible for running airports, including the Charlotte airport. He complained that he thought it silly they needed spend money on additional restrooms to comply with HB12; he said they were happy to do it to keep people safe; but it seemed wasteful. I responded: “Well, you never know, the law could get struck down or repealed.” I’m not certain he ever knew I was trans.


My wit has sharpened and I’ve met many people who I would have never connected with while dysphoric and depressed. For example, when traveling for work from Charlotte to Austin, I walked up toward my bulkhead, window seat to see a flight attendant help the gentleman seated in the aisle find the outlet, which located inside the back of the armrest. I thought the outlet’s location strange but nothing else, so he sat, I sat, and then I threw my bag at him and asked him to put it in the overhead. When the flight attendant asked what we wanted to drink, we both asked for water, and he said: “You may want to put your water in front of mine because I’m visually impaired and don’t want to stick my hand in it.” I thought: “Damn it Grace, you just threw your purse at a blind guy.” So began one of the more interesting conversations of my life—safe in conversation with a stranger, I reciprocated some of his personal disclosures and, late in the flight, volunteered I was trans. About thirty minutes later, he asked: “Well, I’m visually impaired, so can you tell me what you look like? Are people staring at you?” Ever the drama queen and loath to let an opportunity for a joke pass, I said: “They may be staring, but not because I’m trans. Since you’re visually impaired, I’ll be completely honest with you: I’m really f---ing hot.” And we both laughed, hard.


My relationship with exercise has changed into again, one of joy and appreciation rather than the best among unpleasant alternatives. About two years after my transition, I began kickboxing classes in Miami, picking up on the boxing lessons I’d taken years ago in New York City with Jimmy Fusaro.


My muscle memory returned before my fitness, and I was a bit too enthusiastic at the beginning. I woke the morning after my second workout with a pounding headache and lightheaded. I thought it likely nothing, but went into the emergency room, given that hormones increase the risk of blood clots. I wound up in radiology getting whatever X-rays were appropriate. There, the radiologist asked: “Are you pregnant?” I said no. He asked: “Are you sure?” Feeling unwell and a bit snippy, I responded: “It would be difficult for me to be more certain I’m not pregnant.” He dropped it, and, on reflection, I was mostly grateful that he knew not whether I’m trans.


Indeed, because I’m more openly trans than most, I’ve met three different trans people who I didn’t read but then disclosed to me. You may think you’ve never met a trans person. You’re almost certainly wrong.


I’m a private person, and to write these essays and publish Defense of an Other brings under my legal, chosen name brings certain risks—I will likely receive hate mail, will likely be threatened, and may be targeted. But it’s important for every trans person reading these essays to know that none of these things happened before publishing these essays or the book.


And I will risk taking a step backward from exposure to that negativity, if a single person transitions more successfully at work by adapting and improving on the strategies I deployed or, even more importantly, if a single person guts it out and refuses to commit suicide until they get the help required and then find happiness.


I’m still in transition and hope to always be in transition, as I seek to improve my ability to read, listen, think, write, and speak. More importantly, I’d like to form a loving romantic partnership. No matter your gender identity, I hope the same for everyone reading these essays.


As for Matt Durant’s story in Defense of an Other, there but for grace go I.

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