This is Me 

Stories from three transgender women who renamed themselves

In a small, crowded courtroom, the judge called forward Matthew Ray Bailey. Bailey stood up from the first row of seats and approached the bench, wearing a wavy blonde wig, a purple sweater, a black skirt with black tights and small heels.

The judge asked if the name change was a way to evade debt or criminal charges.

"No, ma'am," Bailey's feminine voice responded.

"Then your new name will be Fiona Ellen Kilfoyle," the judge said, gavel in hand.

Kilfoyle turned around with a smile--and the hint of a five o'clock shadow--on her face.

She walked back to her seat, taking the hand of her wife.

Four weeks prior, as part of the procedure to change her name, Kilfoyle had published her intention to do so in the legal notices of Boise Weekly.

The reason given: "to right a terrible wrong."

'To Right a Terrible Wrong'

In her earliest memories, 35-year-old Kilfoyle fantasized about being a girl. The feelings followed her throughout her life, until nine months ago when she felt so unhappy she quit her job and started seeing a therapist.

As she started truly accepting herself as a woman, she knew she had to tell her wife. The couple has been together since 1999, but this was Kilfoyle's best-kept secret. She never admitted it to herself, let alone her wife.

That was a rough night. She drank a lot.

"That's the paralyzing part of a lot of this," Kilfoyle said. "You just don't know how people are going to react at all."

Most marriages don't survive the transition. Kilfoyle was "pretty much lit" by the time she managed to cough it out.

"'I have something to tell you,'" Kilfoyle remembered telling her wife. "I was being really serious so she was like, 'Oh my God, what?' So I just had to let it out really quick, like tearing off a Band-Aid."

It was tough to say, let alone hear: Your husband of more than 12 years isn't a man.

"She said, 'Are you serious? Is this for real? Do you actually mean this, or is it some kind of joke?' It was emotional," Kilfoyle said. "We hashed it out for quite a while."

But Kilfoyle's wife--who declined to be identified or interviewed for this story--decided to stick with her. Then they set to work on choosing a name.

Kilfoyle charted out her genealogy, selecting her great-grandmother's name, Ellen, for her middle name. Her wife made lists, looking up names by year. Kilfoyle couldn't pick a name that was too recently popular. Nor did she want to pick the name of someone she already knew.

"That would be really awkward, right?" Kilfoyle said. "Or you're looking at names and you're like, 'I dated her. That's a little weird.'"

She ultimately picked Fiona after another distant relative.

Kilfoyle started on hormones and testosterone blockers shortly after. She noticed a change in her taste and smell. Her skin softened. Her mental process changed.

"It's like a fog cleared in my head," she said. "I felt less driven by my testosterone. I feel a lot better."

The next step in her transition: dressing the part.

She had to create a whole new style for herself so she started from scratch at consignment stores. She loved throwing away all her ugly, boxy male clothes. Kilfoyle likes thick tights that make her legs look more feminine. She likes simple patterns and light floral prints.

Matt wore a beard as "armor." Fiona paints her nails midnight blue.

"Matt's dead," she said. "Matt is dead."

Kilfoyle became a woman everywhere but her office--a software company in an office tower downtown. She's worked as a computer programer for the business for six months now, but the constant shifting of personas wore her down. She'd leave work, go home, change, spend an hour putting on make-up and go out again--even if it was just to run to the grocery store. She had a pact with herself: to never let herself go out as a man.

The hardest part of switching back and forth for work, Kilfoyle said, was speaking. She spent so much time training herself to speak differently, with less resonance and with a lighter pitch. But having to go into work and speak like a man again made it hard for her to internalize her new voice and etch it into her subconsciousness.

Finally, the day came. On Feb. 11, 2014, she approached the judge's bench and legally became Fiona Ellen Kilfoyle. She took the day off work, leaving the evening before as a man with a slightly receding hairline and returning the following morning, a woman.

'I'm Transgender'

In the back corner of the courtroom that same day, sitting tucked in a large, black trench coat, Joshua Walton waited for a similar summons. After the judge spoke, Joshua turned and headed back to her seat as Jessica Walton. Her long red hair tufted out of a braid down her back; but, other than that, her appearance could fall under either gender.

After she left the florescent-lit courtroom, Walton thought about her dad. That's what spurred her to do this. She said she'd never felt quite right in her skin.

"That's the one thing I regret," Walton said. "Not coming out to him. I think he just wanted to know what was going on. He was more concerned about me being happy than me being gay or straight. He's my dad. He wanted me to be happy. I loved him, he loved me."

Walton was in the military the last time she heard from her dad. She joined the Air Force hoping it would leave her no choice but to adopt a more masculine identity. She waited for herself to "man up," but it didn't happen. Her dad was a private military contractor himself and spent time in Iraq, where he saw the kinds of things that give people PTSD, and eventually drank himself away.

One night in September 2011, when Walton was on the other side of the country serving her four years, she got a call saying he was in the hospital. A couple hours later, she got another call. He was gone.

She bought a plane ticket the next day and thought about how she didn't get her chance to come out to him. To tell him that every night she came home from her military work, she wanted to scream in frustration. That she spent every day thinking, "X-more years, X-more months, X-more days," until she could get out and begin her transition.

She finished her term of service and started her transition in January 2012. Step one: She let her hair grow.

Today, Walton is 25 and a student at Boise State University, studying computer science. She lives with her mom, her sister and her new niece. She likes playing videogames.

She picked her name because it started with a "J," like her original name. It came down to Jamie or Jessica, and Jessica sounded more feminine to her. Now, of course, she realizes that almost every female born between 1980 and 1990 shares her new name.

Getting her name legally changed wasn't a big deal to Walton. She started going by it two years ago, so the trip to Ada County Courthouse wasn't much different than paying a speeding ticket.

"I didn't go out and get cake or anything," Walton said. "Just feeling that weight lifted was good enough."

She changed her driver's license, the title to her car, her bank accounts, her Social Security card, her student account and half a dozen more documents. When she publicized her decision to legally change her name, Walton's reason was simple: "I'm transgender."

Still, she said being able to say her name doesn't feel like a lie anymore.

"I open up my license and it says my name now," Walton said. "It's those little things. I go down to look at my debit card and it says Jessica and I think, 'Whew, that's me now.'"

Walton worries the hardest part of her transition is yet to come.

"I'm not able to find a job," she said. "I'm not exactly the most passible. They see Jessica on my resume, and then I walk in. I'm worried about what's going to happen. All I can do is try my best."

She held up a brown paper napkin to her cheeks as tears slipped out. She apologized twice. She's filled out applications for fast food chains, Wal-Mart, Costco.

Another sting came from her sister, who hasn't dealt well with her transition.

"'Why are you doing this?'" her sister asked her. "'You're not a woman.'"

In those trying times, Walton again remembers her father.

"I would have been happy to say, 'Hey, this is me. This is how I feel,'" she said. "And he wouldn't have understood, but he would have been supportive."

'Personal Preference'

"I don't know why I chose Emilie," said Emilie Jackson-Edney, who transitioned more than 10 years ago. "It's always been Emilie."

Jackson-Edney is 65 years old now and devotes her life to protesting on behalf of Add the Words at the Statehouse--the movement to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination by adding the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

She retired from a career at the Ada County Highway District 10 years ago and became co-chair of the Add the Words campaign. She also spends her time visiting classrooms at Boise State, sharing her experiences as a trans-woman and working to broaden understanding and acceptance. She's tall but soft-spoken and wears dark pant suits, often with a signature bright yellow scarf.

The first person she came out to was her daughter, who grew up with skateboards and piercings and dreadlocks. Jackson-Edney figured her daughter would be a good barometer to how people would accept or reject her. The two went to dinner at a nice steak restaurant by the river and shared a bottle of wine. Then, Jackson-Edney just broke down.

"I told her, 'I'm going to tell you something that's going to shock you,'" Jackson-Edney said, remembering the conversation. "'Not long ago when you were doing laundry, you told your mom you were really glad she started to get some nice lingerie instead of wearing those big granny panties all the time. Well those weren't your mom's. Those were mine.'"

Her daughter never seemed to have much problem accepting her father's true identity, but the same wasn't true for Jackson-Edney's wife and son.

Standing in the kitchen one day, Jackson-Edney's wife told her she didn't want to be a lesbian. Their marriage of 37 years crumbled and her wife left feeling betrayed and bitter.

"I think I was a good husband and a good father and a good brother and a good lover," Jackson-Edney said. " I tried to be the best man that I could be, but it was living an uncomfortable lie."

More than an uncomfortable lie. Jackson-Edney called the dawn before her transition a life-or-death situation. She was so unhappy living as a male with a female's brain, she contemplated suicide--knowing exactly how and where she would do it. That scared her, but it's not uncommon among transgender people. The rate of attempted suicides among transgender people is 41 percent, according to the American Psychological Association--a rate 25 times higher than that of the general population.

But how could she change everything about her most basic identity? She worked in a "testosterone-heavy" environment and grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church. She was even a deacon in that church.

"They wouldn't let me through the side door let alone the back door today," Jackson-Edney said.

Her son stopped talking to her the day she got on the plane to fly to Thailand for her transitional surgery seven years ago.

"I know I'm dead to him," she said. "That disappoints me."

But despite the losses, Jackson-Edney said her life has grown. She can't walk into the Flying M Coffeehouse without hugging at least three different people. She enjoys an overwhelming amount of love and support from her friends today.

And she uses her experience to help other transgender people and advocate for LGBT rights.

Jackson-Edney's not fully happy with the process of a legal name change in Idaho, though. She said a simple record search can out a person who has buried their past. Idaho is one of only five states that won't create a new birth certificate--it'll only amend the name, but never change the original gender marker.

"There are things I think are nobody else's business," she said. "People can use your old name to have power over you or invalidate you."

Jackson-Edney also doesn't agree with the public notification process required when changing one's name--the process Kilfoyle followed when she announced her name change in the pages of BW. Jackson-Edney said the court hearing itself is fine; a person can swear under oath that they're not changing their name to evade debt, but she sees little point in publicizing it. (Jackson-Edney's published name-change notification stated her reason as "personal preference.")

"It can be a real safety issue to publicize your name change in the Statesman or the Weekly. It shows both your old male name and your new female name," Jackson-Edney said.

Monica Hopkins, executive director of ACLU of Idaho, agreed that the name-change process should be private. She called California a good model; the state allows for a person to petition to have the court proceedings related to his or her name change kept private, because she said California legislators recognize the potential for violence against transgender people.

"Of course, our legislators don't often look toward California as a model for Idaho to replicate," Hopkins said with a sharp laugh. She said she fears the public process of a name change and easily obtained documents like birth certificates could be used for "nefarious" reasons, and may keep a person from ever transitioning.

"What people don't realize is you may actually have within your neighborhood, community or workplace, people who have successfully transitioned, living and working next to us every single day as productive Idahoans," Hopkins said.

Because of that success, she added, statistics of transgender people are hard to track. They don't always want to identify as transgendered--they want to be seen as the gender they feel they really are.

Jackson-Edney is one of the few who speak out for transgender rights, but even on the back of her business card, she quotes Luinne Moongazer, a blogger, to describe her own womanhood:

"I did not transition to be a 'real woman'--that's a useless concept, and a fairly sexist/transphobic one. I transitioned to be a woman, my kind of woman, the kind of woman I want to be, and that involves expressing myself as I am, as a whole person, in ways that break gender stereotypes as much as 'caters' to them."

"[My male] name is part of my history and part of my past. It's not really who I am," Jackson-Edney said. "But I always wished I would have asked my mother what she would have named me if I had been a girl."

'The Transition Never Really Stops'

In recent editions of BW, five more legal notices appeared from transgender people seeking name changes. Neither the Division of Motor Vehicles nor the Ada County Courthouse keep track of how many legal name changes they administer for gender identity, but the Williams Institute of the University of California estimates there are 700,000 transgender individuals in the United States.

Licensed counselor Kristine Kirsch, whose office overlooks the Boise River through cheery, bright orange drapes, has been in private practice for three years. In that time she's grown to specialize in transgender issues.

"I had one transgender client, and then I had 40," Kirsch said.

She said she sees everyone from 6-year-old boys who dance into her office as princesses, wanting nothing more than to wear sparkly shoes and tutus, to people in their 50s and 60s who have spent their lives in the closet.

"Generally when people come here, they're throwing up. They're nervous, they're scared. But them just being here is one of the huge first steps," Kirsch said. "I think it's huge to sit with someone who sees them for who they are, who calls them the right name, who uses the correct pronouns."

Kirsch's work begins long before the legal name-change process. She starts with promoting self acceptance and getting her patients to start talking to their friends and families--though that's often one of the hardest parts.

"It's tragic how many people lose connections when they reveal who they are. It is so sad and incomprehensible to me how people can turn their backs on family and friends," she said.

After some emotional stabilization, Kirsch helps her patients start hormone therapy, though there are only three physicians in the Boise area who handle the bulk of the population. Kirsch said she reached out to every endocrinologist she could find, "and they all said, 'We don't handle people like that.' It's so disheartening. So ugly."

After the steps of openly communicating about their gender identity, Kirsch uses the next several months to help her patients cope with experiencing emotions in a new way. When her transwomen clients are ready, she takes her patients shopping for women's clothes. She also holds support groups for newly transitioned people, where she brings in makeup artists and stylists and body language experts to help her patients feel more confident.

"The transition never really stops," Kirsch said. "I think we hope for that day when someone looks in the mirror and thinks, 'I'm good,' but it doesn't happen the day they dress and it doesn't happen the day they go to work or the day they get their names changed."

Kirsch said being transgender isn't something that anyone would chose.

"When you see the wreckage and the carnage and the pain, it's a tough go," she said.

But Krisch said she's never met stronger people.

Kilfoyle will continue working on her marriage, keeping it alive despite it being a little "weird" right now. She'll correct anyone who misses a pronoun at her office and she'll keep adding to her new wardrobe.

Walton plans to be taking classes again next semester, hopefully with a job to help her out. She'll play Pictionary with her friends from the LGBT community at Boise State and she's thinking about getting her hair cut a little bit for the first time in two years.

As for Jackson-Edney, she won't stop until the words have been added.

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