After living 57 years as a macho man, veteran Philadelphia police officer Maria Gonzalez will retire as a middle-aged woman.
A partial tally of Gonzalez's family relationships goes something like this.
Her father died perhaps a year before she made her announcement. Armchair psychologists may see significance in that timing. Gonzalez doesn't. "Believe me," she says, "at that point I wouldn't have cared what he thought."
Her mother seemed to accept her announcement till the news went public. Then she sent Gonzalez a letter that began: "On Nov. 8, 1946, I had a son ... " Their relationship remains strained.
Gonzalez and her wife are still in the process of obtaining a divorce, marking theirs as one of this country's few legal same-sex marriages. "I hear from her whenever she needs something," says Gonzalez. "And that's okay. We spent 32 years together. I'll always love her and need to know she's all right."
Her daughter sends an occasional note but finds it difficult to speak with her on the phone. "She came with me and helped me find this place," Gonzalez says of her three-room apartment in the Northeast. "I think she just needed to know I was going to be all right."
If she ever sheds tears, they flow most freely over her family. "It's very natural, what I'm feeling," says Gonzalez. "Sometimes I wanna go home. And I can't. And I have to live with that."
Gonzalez has few friends. She says she's attracted to men now but also understands she may never enjoy another romantic relationship. "I was heterosexual before, and I'm heterosexual now," she says. "But it's hard for people like me to find anyone who'd be accepting."
When she's not at work she tends to her apartment, which she keeps neat and tidy like her Aunt Marie's all those years ago. When she goes out, she's mostly left alone and unremarked upon. But sometimes she runs into trouble.
For a while a Rite-Aid cashier taunted her. "She'd try and call me to her register," says Gonzalez. "She'd say, 'Sir, sir. Over here, sir.'"
The third time she did it Gonzalez spoke to a manager. "You should reach out to your human resources person for some training," she told him. "People like me have rights."
She hasn't had the problem since.
Her dreams have changed. The nightmares she used to have about getting caught in women's clothing now revolve around never having had the surgery at all. "It's awful," she says. "I wake up and everything's back the way it was."
Sometimes she dreams she's back in her garden. Nothing happens, and perhaps that's the best part. She just sits among her flowers. Perhaps most tellingly, after decades of attending meetings, she came out to her AA group.
"Alcoholics Anonymous," she told them, "you can go to the meetings, but if you don't really change it's not gonna work. And the biggest change I made, obviously, is the one you see now."
Some got it, smiling at her broadly. Others missed her reference entirely. Later, an old retired cop approached.
"I gotta ask you," the guy said, "how do you work this? When you come home, do you take off your police uniform and then put on your girls' clothes?"
"No," said Gonzalez.
"What do you do?"
In years past, such an exchange would've seemed impossible-a source of shame and fear, but Maria Gonzalez smiled as the old cop stood mystified and blinking in the light.
"Herman," she said slowly. "I'm a female."
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