Beijing trans woman guides others through the transition

PEORIA – Dana Garber has always identified herself as a woman.

The idea was crystal clear to the longtime Beijing resident, until the world stepped in and muddied the waters. The first time it happened was Garber’s first day of school. His kindergarten teacher made him use the boy’s bathroom.

“I walked into the girls queue,” Garber said recently sitting in his Planned Parenthood office in Peoria. “The teacher grabbed me by the hand and pulled me out of line and said, ‘No, honey, you’re a boy, you have to go to the boys’ bathroom.’ I didn’t understand that, and everyone was laughing at me. I was humiliated and went to the bathroom, and I literally had a stomach ache.

Garber came home early from school that day. Her mother explained the situation after coming to pick her up.

“She said, ‘Well, honey, you’re a boy. Boys ‘and girls’ bodies are different. You can’t go to the bathroom with the girls, you have to go to the bathroom with the boys, ”and I kind of accepted that,” Garber said.

It was the first of many instances where the world forced Garber to play an uncomfortable role. At that time, in the early 1960s, there were few options for people who did not identify with their assigned sex at birth. It was considered a mental health disorder and could lead to institutionalization. Doctors believed he could be “cured” with therapy.

“The mental health community has changed a lot over the past 50 years,” Garber said. “They recognized that gender identity disorder is a stigmatizing term, and they started calling it ‘gender dysphoria,’ which is an incongruity between your mind and your body. They also realized that you can’t cure gender identity disorder … it’s a condition they can treat. So what’s the treatment for gender dysphoria? It’s a transition. ”

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Although it took over 50 years for Garber to begin the transition, now at 63, she is living a life consistent with her gender identity. She is also helping others on this journey through her role as the Transgender Health Program Admission Coordinator at Planned Parenthood.

“Once I became a happy person, I became so excited I wanted to help everyone,” said Garber, who was offered the job shortly after Planned Parenthood, in downtown L Illinois, began offering gender-affirming hormone therapy in 2016.

“I do interviews with new patients to find out what their needs are and what their goals are,” Garber said. “We explain how the program works, and what to expect from hormone therapy, and they sign the consent forms… After that we give them a prescription and they come back in 90 days and we do a checkup and some They come back. every 90 days until we get them a stable dose where their labs are in the perfect spot. ”

Hormone therapy may be inaccessible

Gender-affirming hormone therapy isn’t a walk in the park. Given to men and women as part of gender affirming care, it is a powerful therapy that helps people develop physical characteristics more consistent with their gender identity. Garber was thrilled when she started to see softer skin and less body hair, but she also experienced mood swings.

“Hormones hit me for a loop. Those first six months are hell, ”Garber said. “I had everything on the SPM list except the rules.”

The hormone therapy and gender-confirming surgery Garber underwent in 2018 are not easy things to do. But for her, deciding to make the transition was a matter of life and death. After living as a man for 55 years, Garber went through a difficult time – a time when depression led her to thoughts of suicide.

In no time, Garber divorced after 27 years of marriage, lost her 20-year-old son in a car accident, and was forced to retire after downsizing at the Powerton power station, where she had worked. for 35 years.

“I found a good counselor in Peoria and saw her for a little over two and a half years. We talked about everything, my relationship issues, my gender identity, my grief. There was just a bunch of stuff on my plate, “Garber said.” She finally said to me one day, ‘You know, you figured it out yourself, you just needed validation’ … His recommendation was’ You just have to try this. There is nothing wrong with dressing up, trying to live in that gender role. If that’s not good for you, go back to where you were. If it’s good for you, keep going. I wasn’t even a transvestite back then, I was about 57 years old. So I said OK, and started dressing in the fall of 2014. ”

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Garber also started visiting gay bars in the area where she met other LGBTQ people. She was quickly adopted into a loving and supportive community.

“I met a person who was a member of the Peoria Transgender Society in Diesel one night. I was at the bar, and this person walked up to me and said, “Hey, are you trans? And I said, ‘Yeah, why?’ I turned around and it was a trans man. … We started talking, and he told me about the Peoria Transgender Society. I did not even know that it existed. So I started going to meetings. It was very enriching to meet other people like me, ”Garber said.

Through this group, Garber heard about a weekend event in Oklahoma City – an outing that would prove to be pivotal in his trip.

“It was right after I got dressed for the first time (as a woman). I went to a few bars in Peoria when it was very late at night, and I was hoping no one would see me,” Garber said with a laugh. checked into this event, and knew it would be good for me. I contacted the organizer and I said, “I’m scared to death,” and she said, “Honey, all of us started like you. The girls are going to love you. Come here and go. a good time. So I went, and I left all my boy’s clothes at home. I dressed and I put on makeup, and I went through Missouri and Oklahoma, and I stopped and I took some food and I went to the bathroom, and I was terrified. But when I got there I had so much fun, I felt so good. I decided on the way. back that once I had enough clothes I was going to (start dressing like a woman) full time, and I never looked back.

Help others in their journey

Garber’s experiences are useful when she mentors others. Her clients come from all over central Illinois and as far away as Missouri. Her oldest client is 74 and has dressed in accordance with her gender identity for years. They recently decided to start hormone therapy. And while Garber can’t treat anyone under the age of 18, she does occasionally get to speak with young people who question their identities. She recently spent time with an 11-year-old girl at a community festival.

“That kid said, ‘Can I go for a walk with you?’ and I said ‘You have to clarify this with your parents first.’ They were okay with that. She was talking all the time. At the end of the day, I came home, gave my card to her mother and said, “If you need help, to find counselors to take her to, I have a list of trans counselors around here that I can put you in touch with, “Garber said.” The mother said she hoped it was a phase and that ‘She would come out. I said, “Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. … Just back her up. If she comes out, there isn’t.” has no harm. And if it doesn’t, you will probably need to provide some support. ”

Although community support for trans people has improved in recent years, there are still many challenges that people face.

“Most of our problems revolve around disparities in employment and income. Gender identity and expression are protected classes in Illinois, but you know as well as I do that if an employer looks at you and doesn’t like you, they’ll find a legal reason not to hire you. or to fire you. And this is a real problem for the community, especially the black community. Mostly the black trans community, trans women, ”Garber said.

Discrimination is everywhere, from the workplace to family and home, and lack of understanding can lead to mental health issues and, in some cases, addiction. Homelessness is another problem. Trans teens can end up on the streets after talking to their parents.

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Overall, however, Peoria isn’t a bad place to be LGBTQ, Garber said. There is a strong LGBTQ community providing support, and the availability of medical services has improved in recent years.

Garber has seen a lot of change over her 63 years, and she is happy that transgender youth are growing up in a more tolerant world, where they are more likely to find support. Although it took Garber over 50 years to live as a trans woman, she says she would not change the past.

“Everything I’ve been through has made me who I am now. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing if I could. I have a wonderful daughter who loves me and my family accepts it pretty well. When I came out of my parents at 55, they were in the early 80’s, late 70’s. My dad is 90 now and my mom is 85, and I’m closer to my mom than I am. never have been, ”she said.

The fact that Garber is happier than before has helped convince a few reluctant family members. The transition helped her dispel the cloud of anxiety and depression she had lived in for many years.

“I had to change my life if I wanted to stay on top of the earth – it really was that easy. It was a life and death decision for me. And I’m glad I chose to move on because I’m still here, and I’m happy now. Better late than never.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or [email protected] Follow her on

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