September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago

My previous post was a macro post - the big picture, so to speak. Drilling down to the personal, to my life ten years ago.

I was out in the Chicago area on Sept 11, 2001 for an industry conference out by the airport. Not sure if I flew out early that morning or the night before; I was safely on the ground in a rental car when the first tower was hit, I was listening to the local NPR affiliate. I was running out to an office supply store or pharmacy to pick up a cell phone charger, where the news was buzzing - I called my pilot friend Robert as I heard the news, "turn on CNN, some moron flew into the World Trade Center". Thinking it was a small private plane and nothing more than an accident, I imagined he'd be interested. As we talked, he conveyed to me "that was a lot bigger than a Cessna"; we made have been on the phone when the second plane hit, and he clicked off to call his brother who was employed on Wall Street.

Still unaware of the magnitude of things, I continued to my trade show; the conference quickly faded as we gathered around a few television sets to watch the unbelievable news. By lunchtime, it was clear that we were living in a different world; I returned to my hotel room. I remember hearing rumors that the Sears Tower or Hancock Tower in Chicago had been targeted; I remember looking up cautiously at each plane that flew overhead inbound to O'Hare.

I ended up stranded in Chicago for most of the week - waiting for airports to open. I withdrew from industry peers; spending time online, calling friends and family, watching the news in my hotel room, fretting about the cost of the hotel. Finally, I sought out a local gay bar, "Temptations" in Franklin Park which is now closed, where I sat at the bar and watched the news with a handful of locals - just seeking human contact. A couple of days later, I gave up waiting for the airports to open, and set out for home in my rental car, figuring it was easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. It took me two days to get home; I made a big loop around the city. I am sure the rental car agencies had a couple of months spent untangling the mess of relocated cars from that week.

In hindsight, that week was a turning point for me personally. Although I had yet to admit it to myself, I was mid-transition between genders - still legally and working as a male, but looking much more female. Yet I had not really mapped out a formal transition plan; I was freelancing, playing it by ear. Years later, one of my clients who was also at the conference reported being asked "Why is that woman (me) wearing a man's suit?". And though I had not packed for clubbing or venturing out, a pair of jeans and a tee shirt were sufficient to put me in the female category over at the bar that week.

In the aftermath of the attacks, my annual trade show trip to Chicago (November 2001) was cancelled, and business / business travel dried up significantly. So I was able to spend the next 12 months holed up in my consulting office, working remotely, mostly out of sight of my clients and customers. A year later, in the fall of 2002, I begged out of the trade show again - because my affect was clearly too feminine to pass as male. I realized that, although I feared the impact of transitioning on my career and livelihood, not transitioning was having the same affect. So I rather quickly set a transition date (January 1, 2003), and continued to stay out of sight, not wanting to reinforce my male gender that close to transition.

This time I told my main client what was up; they had me out to their west coast facility in January 2003 to do some training as the new me. It was, in retrospect, a very kind and generous gift to my insecure self; their "nothing to see here, move along" attitude set a positive tone for almost all of my clients.

I know that a lot of folks had post 9-11 career or life crises. Many trans persons decided to find a support group, seek counseling, etc. That was not the case with me; I had been on this path for a good decade prior to 2001. But in some ways, the terrorist attacks of 2001 opened the doorway for me to take the steps I needed to take. The post 9-11 slowdown made my transition a lot less complicated and a lot more inevitable.

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