After living 57 years as a macho man, veteran Philadelphia police officer Maria Gonzalez will retire as a middle-aged woman.
They'd better-because the issue isn't going away. The group T-Cops (Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs) offers support and information to transgender law enforcement officers nationwide. Founder Julie Marin claims 150 full-fledged members and hundreds more who contact the organization for advice.
Transgender cops report a variety of reactions from their co-workers and supervisors after coming out, with their treatment depending less upon geography and the politics of red states and blue states, and more upon communication between transgender cops and their commanders.
"It could be better," says Marin. "But there are officers who go on and have success after coming out."
Marin has also banded together with researcher Thomas Whetstone to start work on a book documenting the phenomenon. Together they'll attempt to quantify the success rates of transgender police, offer suggestions for supervisors and also make clear why law enforcement needs to educate itself.
"What we're finding," says Whetstone, "is that transgender people do appear to be overrepresented among police officers."
In layman's terms, that means people who suffer from gender dysphoria are more likely to become police officers than the average member of the population.
Whetstone knows police departments won't welcome his findings, which support psychologists' beliefs that male-to-female transsexuals seek employment in hyper-masculine fields. But he says the feeling isn't mutual. Most transgender cops, even if they got into police work for all the wrong reasons, are glad they did.
"The bonds they form mean a lot to them," says Whetstone. "And coming out doesn't change that. They're cops."
Today Maria Gonzalez, 10 months after gender-reassignment surgery, describes herself as content. "I never used to look in the mirror," she says. "Now I can't pass one up."
With facial feminization surgeries and the like, a transsexual could spend $100,000 or more on treatment. Gonzalez has spent $35,000 to date. She hasn't undergone electrolysis, so she shaves carefully and wears a lot of makeup. She hasn't undergone voice-training lessons, so her speech remains masculine in pitch and cop-like-flecked with frickings and four-letter words.
"I'm under no delusions," she says. "I'm not trying to pass [as female] so much as feel good about myself."
Gonzalez underwent the most popular, most modern form of reassignment surgery-the penis-inversion technique. In this process the penis is hollowed out and the exterior tissue saved, to be tucked into a hollowed out cavity carved between the testes and the rectum. This vaginal vault is further extended using skin from the testicles.
In the past, doctors fashioned a clitoris from the urethra. But since the early '90s they've used more sensitive tissue from the glans or tip of the penis. Almost all male-to-female transsexuals report complete sexual functioning, including the ability to orgasm.
Gonzalez's recovery was wickedly long, which is typical because the surgery is so invasive. "It was almost a year before I began to feel normal again," says Gonzalez. "You're up and moving in a few weeks, but it's very hard."
A male-to-female transsexual's new vagina must be dilated up to five times a day at the outset, tapering off to once a day many months down the line. Post-op patients lubricate increasingly thick metal rods, which they insert into the vagina for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. "It's painful," says Gonzalez. "To this day I still feel some discomfort."
In the end, any physical changes mean more to Gonzalez on a psychological or spiritual level. And any pain has been worth it. "I just got tired of fighting so hard," she says. "I needed to make my outside match my inside."
The transformation also entailed tremendous loss, which isn't unusual for a transsexual. She's had a particularly difficult time with her wife and daughter, who she acknowledges must have felt a tremendous amount of shock at her revelation.
"There's nothing I can do about that now," says Gonzalez. "And that's the worst part. There are so many things I'd like to change about this, but I can't."
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4