Guy Rosen, once a champion wrestler and Pittsford, N.Y., businessman,
gave up his marriage and spent $70,000 in surgery and expenses for electrolysis,
hormones and counseling to become Donna Rosen.
The Rev. Ken Fox shocked a community that respected his 25-year career
helping the homeless by speaking publicly about now living life as Kaye.
Linda Nichols persistently felt something wasn’t “right” and
believed for more than 20 years that she must be a lesbian. Ultimately
she determined the problem was her gender. She became Tyler Carver.
Most people don’t understand why someone would want to change their
gender. Some reject the whole idea as freakish or sinful.
People who are transsexual — who want to live permanently as the
opposite sex from their sex at birth — risk losing everything: family,
friends, career, reputation. They face judgment and ridicule from loved
ones and strangers, and often must defend such an intimate decision. The
essence of who they are comes into question.
“I’m the same person I always was,” says Fox. “It’s
just presented differently. I still care about people. I still love to
help people and things of that nature. I’m still the outgoing person
I always was. I just no longer have to be on guard the whole time.”
Getting to that point can be a long, dark battle. “The physical change
of changing clothes is very simple, and that’s what people see,” says
Fox. “It’s the inner person that’s where the struggle
is, because there’s so much prejudice ... against this kind of thing.
I wouldn’t want to wish it on anybody.”
Yet they say that living as the gender that matches the core of their being
is the only way they can be at peace.
Kaye Fox is now experiencing a more comfortable life, as opposed
to the painful existence as Ken (inset) prior to beginning gender
Fox no longer has contact with most of her six children and seven grandchildren.
Her gifts are returned unopened; one daughter instead had a brother walk
her down the aisle at her wedding.
Transsexuals are treated like modern-day lepers, says Fox, who first talked
publicly about her gender transformation in 2002 in local television interviews. “I
lost everything,” she says. As much pain as the decision has caused,
Fox says, “Would I do it again? You bet. I’d do it earlier.”
Fox, 60, began life as Kaye about 18 months ago. Hormone pills redistributed
fat, triggered breast development, made her skin smoother and caused hot
flashes and night sweats.
A wig — usually one with long brown hair and bangs — covers
what used to be Ken Fox’s bald head. Nail polish, rings, light makeup
and women’s clothes complete the look. She now helps lead Rochester
Transgender Group, a peer support group, and considers herself a gender
Ken Fox knew since the age of eight that he was different. At 11 or 12,
he won a Halloween costume contest dressed as a girl: “I think that
was one of the defining experiences for me. It felt so natural and it felt
In his 20s — married and working in Rochester — he felt that
something was drastically wrong. He tried filling his life with other things.
He volunteered at the Open Door Mission, serving the hungry and the homeless.
He became a part-time minister, then took over the Mission, transforming
it over 25 years from a one-employee, $11,700 operation to a $3.5 million
enterprise with 40 staffers.
“I maintained that facade, that Ken Fox facade, and inside of me
was all turmoil,” says Fox, who struggled through years of alcohol
He had been crossdressing in secret since his teens. In his 40s, he would
buy and wear women’s clothes while driving to and from business conferences
out of state.
That continued until 1997, when his wife found women’s clothes in
his suitcase. The family confronted him. Except for his 90-year-old mother,
Hazel Stevens of Greece, they viewed his behavior as sinful and wanted
nothing to do with Ken or Kaye Fox. “We’re all God’s
children,” Stevens says. “And since he’s relieved and
happy after many years of anxiety about himself, I feel I agree with him,
as he’s thoroughly looked into it with doctors. He’s still
the same thoughtful, intelligent person.”
Fox hopes to reunite with other family members someday. Fox sought therapy,
took psychological tests and was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the term
preferred by transsexuals and some psychological professionals for a confusion
or discomfort about birth gender. The reasons for such confusion remain
unclear, but scientific theories point to genetic, physical and hormonal
“Finally, it had a name,” Fox says.
The American Psychiatric Association says an overwhelming desire to be,
or even an insistence that one is, the other sex marks gender identity
disorder. People with this condition are persistently distressed by their
Fox’s experience is common, says Pam Walter, a clinical social worker
in Perinton, N.Y., who’s worked over the past 28 years with hundreds
of clients with gender identity issues.
“If they could just live with it, they would,” Walter says.
But the depression, shame and guilt become excruciating. “You can
just hold it in for so long, and eventually you have to deal with it.”
Walter’s clients also see a psychologist and a medical doctor. Transsexuals
typically spend a year living as the new gender before they can pursue
Not all transsexuals seek surgery, however. It — like the counseling
and hormones — is not covered by health insurance, so it’s
not affordable for many.
Data from some European countries suggest that 1 in 30,000 adult males
and 1 in 100,000 adult females have sex-reassignment surgery. Some researchers
contend that as many as five to 10 times as many people experience gender
dysphoria as undergo the surgery.
Trying to blend in
Statistics show that more men than women have been treated for gender disorder,
but that may be because it’s easier for women to look and act like
men in our society.
Once known as Linda Nichols, Tyler Carver underwent gender reassignment
surgery at the age of 39.
As a child growing up in Irondequoit, N.Y., Linda Nichols played football
with boys, liked toy trucks and hated dresses. But a skirt, vest and knee
socks were part of the required uniform at Catholic school.
For Linda, who graduated from the all-girl Mercy High School in 1973, puberty
was revolting. Until then, “I didn’t know I wasn’t a
As an adult, the carpenter and painter wore loose-fitting clothes and was
often taken for a man. Other women in public restrooms would sometimes
say angrily, “You’re in the wrong place.”
At the age of 39, Linda became Tyler Carver.
Hormones — which he’ll need to take for the rest of his life — make
his voice deeper, his hips smaller and his muscles bigger. Carver grew
lots of body hair and the hair on his head thinned. “Shaving (my
face) for the first time was an awesome experience,” says Carver,
who now has a beard.
He wore an uncomfortable elastic strap to bind his breasts, when he underwent
a mastectomy and hysterectomy.
Another series of surgeries, called phalloplasty, could create male genitalia.
But, Carver says, “After working so hard to be authentic and genuine,
I didn’t want to add artificial things to my body. What makes me
male is the internal essence that I have.”
Gender vs. orientation
Boys who play with dolls and girls who play with toy trucks won’t
necessarily grow up to be gay, lesbian or transgender, says Dennis Foley,
a psychologist at University of Rochester Medical Center. He specializes
in gender and sexual orientation issues and is quick to point out that
those are two separate issues. Transsexuals can be heterosexual, gay or
bisexual; that sexual orientation typically doesn’t change.
His advice to parents and grandparents is to let children be who they are: “I
think children need to be supported in whatever ways they express themselves — as
long as they’re safe and not harming anyone.”
Tanya Smolinsky, program director at the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley,
talks about gender as a continuum. Look around at your friends or co-workers
and you’ll see a range of ways that people express their femininity
or masculinity, she says.
For some people, expressing their gender causes anxiety. Linda’s
distress was so severe she had suicidal thoughts.
As a teenager, she met some lesbians and wondered, “Maybe this is
what it is I am.” But finally, in her late 30s, when a 14-year relationship
with another woman ended, Linda underwent extensive counseling and decided
that she had to make the change or she would die.
“I feel like I aligned my outer appearance with my inner spirit and
essence. You’re not losing the person...you’re actually gaining
a more whole person.”
Life is good now for Carver, but he still is careful. He wears workout
clothes to and from the gym to avoid changing in the locker room.
Although he has had excellent medical care, he fears what might happen
if he were ever unconscious and needed medical attention.
In 1995, Tyrone “Tyra” Hunter — a transsexual dressed
as a woman but who had male genitalia — was denied lifesaving treatment
and mocked by firefighters in Washington, D.C., after she was rendered
unconscious in a car accident. The subsequent discrimination suit was settled
Feelings won’t go away
Growing up in the Buffalo suburb of Kenmore, Dave Rosen sometimes experimented
secretly with his mother’s cosmetics in the house’s one bathroom
while everyone else slept. It was exhilarating, scary and confusing.
But to everyone else Dave seemed all guy. High school linebacker. Champion
He mostly resisted the urges to explore his feminine side. After college,
Rosen married and settled in Pittsford from 1981 to 1996. He became a successful
computer consultant and ran a video production company, Advanced Video
Design at Schoen Place in Pittsford.
Yet it was as if Rosen was trying to ignore a strange lump in his body.
He hoped it would go away. “I had this ache, this feeling, this pain,
this discomfort, this frustration.... Eventually you get to a point where
you say, ‘I need to go to a doctor.’”
He flew to see a New Jersey psychologist specializing in gender issues,
who listened to Rosen’s story and told him he was transsexual.
“He went on to warn that this was not something that would go away,” Rosen
When Rosen told his wife his secret, “I think she got more sad than
anything. In the ensuing days she indicated that this had no part in our
lives together and that I needed to do whatever it took to fight it.”
But that approach didn’t last. After the family moved to Arizona
in 1996, Rosen began hormone treatment and alerted his new employer.
The company, which could have fired him because there was no protection
for transsexuals, instead decided to bring in a consultant from California
to help figure out how and when to present the issue to employees.
The consultant called for a three-month preparation. More than 200 hours
of painful facial electrolysis, at $55 an hour, took care of Rosen’s
beard. Meanwhile, Rosen was separated from his wife and son and overwhelmed
by this major life transition.
The day before the scheduled announcement at work, Rosen canceled the plans
and called his wife. “I went home and tried to be a guy again,” Rosen
says. Ultimately he concluded the real problem was that he’d let
other people be in charge of the transition.
Rosen hired a female image consultant — who’d never helped
a transsexual before — to help him learn how to walk, dress and act
like a woman. Rosen learned to deliberately speak in an upper register.
In February 1999, Rosen went to a mall dressed as a woman for a day of
firsts. “You have no clue how scary it is,” says Rosen, who
was then 40. “I went into the ladies room for the first time. I felt
so self-conscious and awkward and uncomfortable at first.” But the
day went smoothly.
After that, her face was reconstructed by a surgeon in San Francisco. Rosen
changed her name to Donna on her driver’s license and other paperwork,
even her school records.
Donna Rosen, above, after sex-reassignment, sharply contrasts with
the championship wrestler from high school days when she was Dave
After her sex-reassignment surgery in 2000, she was able to change the
gender on her passport and Social Security card.
Returning to work was incredibly awkward. Colleagues nonchalantly paraded
by her cubicle. They whispered, “Rosen’s wearing makeup.”
Co-workers were particularly concerned about which bathroom Rosen would
use, so she traveled to one two floors away, at the other end of the complex.
Eventually the work climate became so uncomfortable that Rosen quit. She
now lives in Texas.
Rosen’s sister, Judy Rosen of Brighton, N.Y., was initially shocked
but now accepts that her oldest brother is now Donna.
“It didn’t hurt me or my children,” Judy says. “All
that was required was for me to learn about it, to try to understand. I
would describe it as a birth defect that you can’t see.”
But it was more complicated for Donna’s son, Andy, who moved in with
Donna in 2002. At 16 and at a new school, he didn’t tell classmates
that the female parent he lived with was once Dad.
“At first, it was kind of hard to get used to it. I didn’t
talk to her for seven months,” says Andy, who felt like he’d
lost his dad. His parents were divorced lin 2001.
Andy saw that Donna was happier and that she lived a regular life.
He looks at transsexuals differently: “It’s not their fault.
They can’t help it.”