The Day a Ninety Year Old Told Me to be “a Betty”

Be a betty

I am a 63 year old transwoman who is three years in on hormone replacement therapy.  When I was younger there was a huge lack of understanding, education, and role models in people who are transgender. I was confused and misguided and when I finally realized the truth about myself.  I was almost 60 years of age.

I struggled with alcoholism all my life and I was able to finally embrace it and own my recovery from it and in doing so, I saw my life had purpose and meaning. I was surprised when my head cleared and I began associating with other people who shared this disease and were living sober and were happy people!

Through these people I learned to begin to think differently and look at things differently. I began to find I had courage inside me that I never thought I had. I went through therapy. I attended a group for male survivors of sexual abuse. I joined a group of people who are transgender. I really worked on myself. I was sent to a doctor in Santa Cruz along with a letter from my therapist stating I had met all the requirements for beginning hormone therapy. She gave me two prescriptions, one for estrogen and the other for spirolactone which is a testosterone blocker.

At this time of my life I was having trouble finding work in my new profession as a caregiver/home health aide and it was very frustrating. I have come to believe that when I do all the right footwork amazing results happen. The day I took my first dose of hormones my cell phone rang. It was a woman who had seen my flyer I put up at the Carmel Foundation stating I was available for caregiving work and she asked if I would be interested in coming over to meet her mother. I told her I would be happy to.

Her house stands on a corner lot in Carmel just two blocks from the beach.
I parked my car and got out. I went through the rickety old gate and immediately noticed there were a couple of bird houses, one on the side of the house and another up in a tree. I have always loved birds and I collect bird houses. When I was younger I had wanted to be an Ornithologist. I also had wanted to be a Nun. I once told a friend this and they laughed saying I could have been the flying nun! So right away I felt a connection to this old house with the wood shingles and reddish paint on the window trim.

The door opened and a lovely woman with a big smile came out and greeted me. She introduced herself and told me to please come in and meet her mother. Inside the house everything appeared very old yet there was a warmth to the interior. She guided me to the living room where I saw this very sweet looking older woman with white hair sitting on the couch with her feet up on the coffee table knitting a scarf. She smiled at me. “Josie this is David. He came over to meet you.”

Right away she looked puzzled and she leaned forward and put her knitting down.
“David?” she said. ”David? Why did your parents name you David? You should be a Betty!”

I laughed, I was surprised at what she had said to me and I was trying to figure out what to tell her. I looked at her daughter who was smiling at me and it felt right to say “Josie I have no idea why they named me that but it’s been an issue with me…”

“Well I should think so!” she agreed.

The three of us sat and talked and found we all had some things in common. Josie grew up in Pasadena, California and I had lived there many years myself. Her daughter had been born in Gloucester, Massachusetts and I was born in Boston. Eliza, the daughter lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico and had been there for two months working with Josie and decided help was needed as Josie was dealing with dementia.

I spent a few days with Josie and it was clear she needed someone with her 24/7 and I worked out an agreement to live there with her for five days, 24 hours, with weekends off.
I also disclosed to her daughter that I was a transwoman who had just begun hormones.
She just lit up! She told me she had a cousin who was transgender. Here I find a job doing what I love and taking care of a woman who sees me as a woman. I began my transition and my life was far better than I could have ever dreamed.

Josie grew up very privileged. Her paternal great-grandfather was Gustavus Swift, the founder of a major meat processing company, and her maternal grandfather was Arthur G. Leonard, president of the Chicago Stockyards. He had built a beautiful big home right on the water at Eastern Point, Gloucester, Massachusetts which at some point a big storm had damaged it so badly they had it torn down. The property there is still owned by the family but only the Gatehouse still stands and Josie’s younger sister occupies the Playhouse next door, and another sister lives further up the road.

I began developing a deep bond with Josie. Her daughter returned to Santa Fe and I had yet to meet her two sons. One son is a photographer and was up at their ranch in Wyoming and the other son is in Rwanda coaching a bicycle team, he was the first American to ride in the Tour de France and he won the Race Across America back in the1980’s.

Josie was an Alpha Female and did what she wanted. She walked with two canes or used her walker. Every day at 5:00PM we had a fire in the fireplace and she wanted to go out and bring the wood in herself, forgetting she couldn’t do it carrying canes or pushing the walker. I was able to keep her dignity by letting her put the logs in my arms.

She always wore wrap around skirts and she thought any woman who wore slacks was suspect of being a lesbian. She seemed to be preoccupied with lesbians.

One time I was running through the house with a load of dirty laundry in my arms and she was sitting on the couch, knitting, which I called her office because she sat there and knitted all day and I stopped and kiddingly said to her, “Josie! We should go get drunk!”
She looked up at me and said, “I’d rather get laid.” and winked at me.

After dinner and her ice cream cone we would sit and talk and she disclosed things to me that were very personal. I felt honored she told me these things. Before bed time I would get her nightgown and place it over the fire screen to warm. She encouraged me to get in my nightgown and sit and knit with her. At first I wouldn’t because A. I didn’t own a nightgown and B. I didn’t know how to knit.

She taught me how to knit and went to Macy’s with me to pick out a nightgown.
We had a great time sitting and knitting in our night gowns at night or as she said, ”Shitting and knitting. She appreciated me helping her undress and get into her night gown. She would look down at her breasts and remark about her nipples. “I nursed three children.” she’d say. “Did you nurse yours?”

“I didn’t have children Josie.”

She really liked me tucking her in bed and giving her a kiss on each cheek and a hug.
I would then go to the door, turn and smile and say “Goodnight”, and go upstairs to my room and get in bed and read as I listened to the waves crashing at the beach. One time as I leaned down to kiss her she said to me “Lets hug like lesbians!” I laughed and hugged her, went to the door and smiled at her and as I turned to leave said “Lez be friends!”
I went upstairs, got in bed, and heard her door open.

“Are you still awake?” she called up to me.

“Yes I am” I replied.

“Then get on down here and lez get on it!”

I laughed. Ninety years old and she still has “it” on her mind. That August her grand daughter was getting married at the family estate out on Eastern Point and she began worrying how she was going to introduce me to everyone at the Yacht Club.

I had not quite decided what my female name was going to be so I hadn’t chose one yet.
We flew to Boston and the wedding had been moved up a day because Hurricane Irene was heading up the coast. We missed the actual ceremony which was held down by the water in the pitch dark with clouds of mosquitos all around. Both her sons had driven us from Logan up there, then jumped out of the car and ran down to the beach to catch the end of the ceremony leaving Josie and I in the pitch dark falling all over the patio furniture on her sisters back deck.

The ceremony ended and a mass of humans began coming into view out of the darkness as I held Josie up so she wouldn’t fall over. We were driven over to the Yacht Club and people began making toasts and one of her sisters made a toast to Josie in honor of her 90th birthday. Josie got up and thanked the 200 odd guests then had me stand up and introduced me as David. “This is David and HER parents had wanted a boy and that’s why they named HER David. She should have been a Betty!”

Everyone raised their glass to me and said “Welcome!” I was very surprised at such a warm welcome.

Josie has passed away now, and I miss her.  She was a character, but that is not why I tell her story.  I am telling you this because this dear woman afforded me the opportunity to be ME.  While I am not actually “a Betty”, I AM a Dana, and I do not have to pretend to the world that I am a David anymore.  Thank you, Josie, my angel.