After living 57 years as a macho man, veteran Philadelphia police officer Maria Gonzalez will retire as a middle-aged woman.
"I was a terrible fisherperson," says Gonzalez. "They'd come back with all kinds of shit. I came back with nothing."
During this time he frequently donned his sisters' clothes when they were out, which was often. Gonzalez had been caught once, at 5 years old, when his younger sister saw him wear a dress. She was so young he succeeded in distracting her. But from that point on an unexpected footfall sent him into action, discarding a sister's clothes for his own pair of pants. He rarely wore makeup, fearful a trace of red lipstick might remain. When he did, he scrubbed his face raw afterward.
The emphasis transsexuals place on dressing as the opposite sex perpetuates the myth they're fetishists. But mental health experts say those who suffer from gender identity disorder focus on cross-dressing because it's the most available means of changing their gender.
As Gonzalez experimented, he retreated from normal social life. There was a woman named Marie, a family friend he called an aunt. He walked to her house every day after school for a year.
Marie was heavyset, single and never married. She sat with the teenage Heladio in her tidy two-room apartment and drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and watched TV talk shows. One day he showed up and found her dressed to go out.
"I have a doctor's appointment," she said. "Walk with me."
Turned out the appointment was for Heladio. The doctor asked him to explain his reluctance to spend time with other children. He told the doctor nothing of his desire to be a woman. The next day he arrived at his aunt's house as usual and rang the bell.
"I'm busy!" she hollered from a second-floor window. "You can't come in."
"The doctor told her to force me to go with my friends," says Gonzalez.
At 17 he met a girl he found attractive. He dove into the relationship and married her. Another myth of gender identity disorder is that it correlates with sexual preference, but the two bear little if any direct relationship.
"There are many variations," says therapist Angelo Pezzote, who works in New York and runs the website askangelo.com. "Sexuality is very fluid."
Many male-to-female transsexuals sleep with women before and after surgery, essentially becoming lesbians. Others might identify as a homosexual man before and heterosexual woman after surgery. A significant number find their sexual tastes shift.
"Some can't imagine sex with a man when they are men," says Pezzote, "but after surgery that's something they want."
|Smiley face: In old pictures of herself as a man, Maria Gonzalez doesn't grin like this.|
Gonzalez didn't cross-dress at all during that first marriage, though he told his wife once during sex that he liked to dress in women's clothes. In the moment his wife treated the confession as dirty talk. Later she confronted him. She didn't seem to question his sexuality so much as his sanity.
"She didn't accuse me of being gay," says Gonzalez. "She knew better, 'cause I was giving it to her pretty good. Man, I was poundin' that pudding."
This is surprising talk from today's Gonzalez, a matronly looking woman who dresses in conservative female clothing and looks like Barbara Bush without the budget for pearls. But after 57 years of living as a man, the old language is still there-the language of a man who overcompensated for his desire to be a woman by retreating into sex, drinking and police work.
The tension created when he revealed his desire to dress in women's clothes never dissipated, and there were other factors that led to an eventual divorce.
At 21 Gonzalez was now a single cop. His face and masculine haircuts bothered him. His penis seemed an unnecessary appendage that created a mess and splattered the toilet when he stood to urinate. He rarely used the mirror unless a woman called him good-looking. Then he'd stand in the bathroom and stare at himself. "What the hell are you talking about?" he'd think. "What is it that you see?"
PW's 2015 Gift Guide
Dinner with Luke Palladino