Getting used to the new name, and especially the new pronouns, has been the hardest part for Mo's friends and colleagues.
As 'she' gradually becomes a 'he,' Mona (Mo) Goringone of two full-time staff at the Lesbian Community Cancer Project and a well-known part of the LGBT communityis transitioning into Lawrence Goring, an FTM transsexual who is finally beginning to live in a body that reflects his authentic male self.
'I don't think there was a time when I identified as female,' Lawrence says. 'Ever.' In his late teens or early 20s, Lawrence remembers: 'I was thinking, OK, I am drawn to women, I'm femaleI mean, my body says I'm female, even though I never felt femaleso I must be a homosexual. That's the term I used, 'homosexual,' because even 'lesbian' didn't feel right to me.'
Lawrence says, 'I figured, anatomically or physically, I can't change anything. I've just got to live my life with people making the assumption that I'm a lesbian. I didn't feel a strong desire like, 'I've got to get out of this body.' I just felt like I had to come to terms with living in this body.' Fortunately, he adds, his body type, though female, has always been more muscular and not so feminine, so he didn't feel 'that uncomfortable.'
Laura Goring, Lawrence's bisexual partner of five years who recently had her last name legally changed from Hawkins to match his, adds, 'Lawrence has spent most of his life being 'mistaken' for a man anyway.' Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who has worked in the queer community, including trans, for years. She used to facilitate a trans group through Howard Brown Health Center and now facilitates a group for 'FTMs and people born female but who identify more as masculine.' Laura says, 'Some trans people will talk a lot about body self-hatred. They are disgusted by the fact that they have breasts or they want a penis and don't have one. They feel and look too female for themselves.'
Lawrenceas Monanever really had that problem. So why transition? Why not just be a butch lesbian? 'I didn't identify with the term 'butch,'' he explains. 'I felt male.' Lawrence describes the difference between the two as one of self-identity. 'Women who are butch still see themselves as female,' he says. 'I didn't feel like my gender should be female. I felt masculine. I felt male. Female didn't fit. It was almost like wearing a mask, like trying to impersonate someone.'
'I am not fearful'
This movement toward removing that mask worries Laura a little, mostly in terms of acceptance by people who believed Lawrence was something he was not, i.e., a woman. Laura turned to Lawrence during the interview, 'You have been part of the gay community and found a place in it. To change one's gender, and to tell people that you have felt differently than how they have always seen you, means you have to come to terms with the possibility that that community may reject you. That's one of my biggest fearsfor me and for us and for you. We have found comfort in the queer community. We're not part of the straight world. But now, have we become a straight couple? Have you become a straight male?'
Lawrence responded quickly, 'I don't think I'll ever ... I don't see myself as a straight male.'
'The world will,' Laura answered.
Lawrence paused and said thoughtfully, 'I am not fearful. There will be some people in the community who will be very supportive, and there will be other people whose world will be turned upside down. I can't do anything about that. But I'm not fearful. I have to keep things in perspective. Anytime you make a change, people are going to get on board and support youor not. I don't want to worry about that.'
So far, Lawrence has been fortunate in that area. Everyone he has toldexcept for a few members of his family who are still struggling with the changehave been mostly unsurprised and completely on his side. Even LCCP, a traditionally lesbian-focused organization that very recently added transgendered to the population served by its mission, has expressed its full support for Lawrence.
'The feminist fight against injustice, which gave birth to LCCP, understands that bodies are at the heart of the battleground,' says Jessica Halem, LCCP's executive director. 'As such, transfolk and lesbian feminists are natural allies in the struggle to access just, affordable, and supportive care for our bodies. Lawrence's transition, his experiences, and knowledge gained will do nothing but strengthen the fight of LCCP.'
'She'I mean 'he'
The biggest hurdles are the pronouns. Everybody, including Laura, slips into using female pronouns now and then. 'I'm not offended,' Lawrence says, 'because I know that people close to me are transitioning with me.' He describes the pronoun shifting as 'walking in two different identities. Some people know me as female. Some people know me as male. And some people are trying to get with the transition, so we're all shifting together. I still respond to bothbecause it doesn't do any good to make people more uncomfortable by constantly correcting them.'
Lawrence feels sure that, as the hormones begin to have more of an effect, and 'my physical form starts to change, people will see more male characteristics and qualities in me, so the shift will become easier.' He explains, 'You see with your eyes first, and then it registers.'
Race as well as gender
It has taken Lawrence some time to get to this point. In his early 40S, he is not as young as most people who opt for transition. Waiting has been important for him, he says. 'I know who I am. Although I've always recognized that I was male, it's taken me a while to get to a place, to an emotional space, where I recognize that now I'm ready to transition. I had to learn some life lessons first.'
Those lessons included the strength Lawrence would now need to face being perceived, not only as male, but as an African American male. 'The way the world sees me and relates to me,' he says, 'is going to be totally different. There's a whole different set of issues that come with being African American and male. And I've got to learn how to live that life.'
He is becoming aware of what it's like to deal with other people's fear of Black men. 'People put so much into maleness or masculinity,' he explains, 'and they think that it holds this power. And they think it's often something to either fear or respect in a different way than they do females.'
The decision to go public
Lawrence and Laura decided together to 'come out' in a newspaper article. When asked why, they both cite political as well as personal reasons. The couple emphasizes that because most FTM transsexuals are able to pass successfully as men, they usually disappear into the larger community after transitioning. As a result, trans men are harder to spot; it's easy to believe we don't know any. So, part of Lawrence's and Laura's motivation for using a public forum is to increase trans visibility.
On a personal level, this kind of publicity is excruciating for Lawrence, who tends to be a private person. But the idea of a newspaper article appealed to him, he says, because 'people are going to talk anyway. And we want to exercise some kind of control over how we transition. We want to do this in such a way that people don't feel like they have to go behind our backs and say, 'Did you hear about such-and-such?' Let's just put it out there now.'
So that's what they're doing. They know Lawrence is already ahead of the game, compared to so many other transgendered individuals. Laura says, 'I've had too many of my FTM clients lose everything and everyone in their lives. I can only imagine how much more difficult that makes a transition like this.'
When asked what she hoped people's response would be to the news about Lawrence, she said, 'They don't have to understand. But they also don't have to judge.' Apparently, so far, so good.
NOTICE: The names in this article were changed in April 2013 due to a change in employment of one of the subjects.