Dear Debbie,

I realized within the past couple of days that we do not need to be Facebook friends in order for me to say, “Thank you.” In fact, what I am about to thank you for took place 53 years ago. In the grand scheme of things, I suspect you don’t even remember me.

We met less than a year after my mother died. We “went together” probably for only 3 or 4 months. The first event I remember is the Ides of March dance. We danced until “I’m Gonna Wait ‘Til the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett. That’s the way every dance back then ended.

I couldn’t believe we were dancing together. You were very cute and I was very awkward. I still have a photo of our attending some type of prom. You had on a very pretty white dress and I had on a silly tuxedo. I was 15. I think you were 16.

As nice as all that is, it is not what I want to thank you for.

You bought me a tiny (too small for me) t-shirt that said “Choo-choo Charlie.” You were the very first person to call me Charlie instead of Chuck. I had always felt that Chuck didn’t suit me very well. I have been Charlie ever since that day. Charlie is softer. Charlie can be either male or female. Being named Charlie allowed me to shift my thinking about myself as a victim of abuse to someone other than that victim. The victim’s name was Chuck. Charlie was a survivor. I became consciously aware of that several decades later in therapy when I began to process what had happened to Chuck and to embrace my childhood PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Another thing you helped me to realize was that I was liberal, both politically and socially. That was quite the contrary to the rest of my family. The pressure at home was to “toe the line”; to believe Nixon and hope he would win the election over Kennedy (1960). I was inspired by both Kennedys, John and Bobbie, and I grieved over their assassinations. You helped me to realize that I was more like the needful in society, even though I was from a solidly middle class home.

One of the most appreciated gifts you gave me was to awaken the poet in me. My poetry was better than good but not great. I would struggle for days with words that expressed my truest feelings. I would read Khalil Gibran and Rod McKuen and surpass them at times with my word-craft. Remember Gibran and McKuen? They were popular in the 60s. They informed my form but not my substance. I have rued the time I spent as an undergraduate because my colleagues thought my poetry was too erotic and should be destroyed. A professor in the junior college we both attended saw talent in my words and encouraged me to write. (He was my first gay friend and I realized that there was nothing to fear or despise there.) I ultimately destroyed my words and have never been able to recover access to those deep places in my heart and mind.

All of these things I am grateful to you for came together within the last few years when I became aware via therapy that I am gender dysphoric. Being female in heart and mind rather than male and 1) allowing myself to embrace this as well as 2) taking hormone therapy has liberated me more than anything else.

So, thank you, Debbie. You represent a major turning point in my life, one that has led to my healing these 5 decades later.

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