Interview with out pianist Sara D.Buechner

By Helen Polychronakos


Sara Davis Buechner

4. Transitioning : a difficult process

--When did you make the decision to transition?

I can't even say I made the decision. It was made for me, you know? After my divorce, which was in my later twenties, there was a period of therapy and increasing allowances, saying I'll wear this at home and experiment. I was terrified to go to "tranny" bars in NYC at the time. "Trannies", as they call them...many people still unfortunately call them "trannies".

Around that time, I think it was November 1996, I went to see my manager or maybe to a rehearsal or something on the east side of Manhattan, and then I had to cross Central Park to get to the west side. And while I was crossing that park on this beautiful, beautiful autumn day, I felt so... tired. There was this big rock where people sit. I sat on that rock and I looked at the sun and it was like, you know, I don't want to turn it into a religious thing, like the words of God or anything, but something in my head said, "Look, you need to go there," and I said out loud, "yes, I am going to go there".

Around Christmas time, I took my parents aside and said, look, this is what I'm going to do with my life. And they thought I was crazy and they were very upset. My brother, who's a biochemist, knew some people at John Hopkins University, where they have a kind of gender research clinic. And they pooled some money together and they sent me to see this guy. This is maybe the saddest, most horrific part of the story, that this guy, he interviews me, and then gives me this test which is supposed to take three hours. It asked questions of gender stereotypes, like, "Did you like to play with dolls as a child? How much? Very much? A little bit?" These idiot, idiot questions. And I did this for about 30 minutes, and then I got to the question that said, "When you were a child, did you want to grow up to be a garage mechanic?" And I wrote, "Who the fuck in their right mind would grow up to want to become a garage mechanic?" [LAUGHS] I couldn't believe it! That was 1996. My jaw dropped. I mean, who wrote this test? When? In 1948?

This guy, this doctor then didn't give me the dignity of a call. I was 36 years old. He called my parents and told them that I was just having a midlife crisis and that they shouldn't be too upset about it.

When I returned to New York I found a proper therapist. There were a lot of hoops. A lot of walls. I have to say, thank god, that times have changed. There's a transgendered female-to-male trumpet player at UBC who's become a good friend and he transitioned at age 14. His parents were A-Ok fine. It was a very smooth transition, and I'm jealous! [LAUGHS]

--Can you tell me about the transition process? What was it like and how long did it take?

Being transgendered is still classified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The process was seeing this therapist for a period of months [in New York]. She wouldn't even bring up the subject of hormones. She just kept asking about childhood traumas.

Finally, behind her back, I went to the Gay and Lesbian Centre in Greenwich and they made me wait about 3 weeks and then started giving me hormones. I went to see her, this therapist, and I said, look I'm sorry, but I've been waiting and I'm frustrated and I've started to do hormones now.

I said, "Why are you resistant to start transition?" And she said, "Well, I never had a client with so much to lose." She was looking at me as someone who was successful with a high-paying salary…or, I should qualify, high-paying for a musician.

But she was completely missing the point of how desperately unhappy I was, how it had become hard just to play the piano. I felt so resentful every time I had to put these concert tails on. It was heavy like a suit of armour or something. I hated it.


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