On our anniversary, I got the urge to start putting my feelings down on paper. I realized that I was a person who was lovable, somebody to be respected, and that this person can be shared with the world. So I started writing a poem and by the end of it, I realized that I was transgender.
At the time, all I could feel was an intense anxiety, about being exposed, being rejected, about not being accepted for what I thought was just natural and normal. I was afraid my wife would divorce me because she did not marry a woman. And I would not have faulted her, but she didn’t, because she loves me. She has been and still is my biggest supporter, staying with me in this marriage, knowing that this was not the person she married. But in many ways, I am that same person. That’s what she tells me, and that’s the person she loves and wants to be married to.
It was very difficult to come out to my parents. They’re the people required to give you unconditional love. They’re the ones who brought you into this world, so rejection from them would have, I think, been an existential crisis. I think they were right to be afraid that their child was going to be exposed to discrimination and harassment. It took me a while to explain that this is not a choice. It’s who I am, how I was born, and it was a change I needed to make in order to live my life. I think everybody had a point of shock and surprise and adjustment. Now my mom takes me shopping. It’s been fantastic, but I feel for those trans people who do not experience a success story like this.
After coming out to my immediate family in 2016, I spent three years planning my transition. I worked very carefully with a gender therapist to decide how and when to come out publicly, to set the framework mentally and emotionally to be able to handle the change, because the moment you make that decision — I am now a woman, call me she/her or hers — your whole world changes.
Had I not spent three years planning, things might not have gone as well. One of my biggest fears was that I would lose the years of training, my position within the hospital, my position as a director of this program, but none of those things happened.
The first person at work I told was my boss, Dr. Matthew Fink, who is the chair of neurology here at Weill Cornell, and he was immediately supportive and accepting and said, “I have your back.” And he did. And the hospital also had my back. And very quickly, I noticed that there was a wave of support for me and that there were more and more people I wanted to share this with. The Mobile Stroke Treatment Unit is a multicenter program within NewYork-Presbyterian involving two medical schools, Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and four hospitals. There were many people I needed to come out to.
The actual experience of speaking publicly for the first time as a transgender woman was rather transformational. It was at a recent Dialogues in Diversity at the hospital. As I spoke, I realized the commitment of respect from the audience and the support from the institution, and I was no longer nervous. I felt happy being the person I was, and for being able to share that person. It was an outpouring of respect, loyalty, and support.
Every human being deserves to be treated with respect. The healthcare setting shouldn’t be any different, and in fact, we should hold ourselves to the highest standard, to respect everybody who works in this institution, as well as the patients we treat. In this instance, respect means calling people by the name they identify as, by the gender they identify as, and treating them as they choose to express themselves.