Making Peace With the Past

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #096, Winter 2001.

by Monica Helms

Recently, my mother sent me a large box full of photos?photos from my past. She sent pictures of me from the age of one month to just before I dropped the bomb on her about being a transsexual, 46 years later. There were black-and-white prints of me as a young child, pictures of my grandparents, grade school pictures, high school pictures, and many of myself with my two boys and my ex. I had to laugh at one in which I stood next to the television at age one; the caption my father wrote was, ?Why don?t you turn on Uncle Milty?? Hmmm. That must have been my first exposure to a transgendered person.
I could not believe what I saw in the box. In some pictures I was clean-shaven, in some I had a moustache, and in others both a moustache and a beard. I had a shaved head as a young boy and while in the Navy, and semi-long hair in recent years. Could these pictures have actually been me at one time? They brought many memories flooding back. Yes, they were me. The box represented my past, my memories, my life, all neatly packaged for anyone to see.

I have been on this rock known as Earth for almost fifty-one cycles around the sun. In that time, I have visited over twenty countries, traveled through practically every state in the Union, been 40,000 feet in the air and 1,300 feet under the sea. My heart has been broken more times than I can count, and I have broken a few hearts myself. The rush of adrenaline remains fresh in my memory, remembering those moments when I cheated death. Twice I held a newborn child in my hands, and then had the privilege of watching that child grow to adulthood. Had I died at age 46, before my transition began, I would still have lived a full life.

After living four years as a female, my male past had become a blur?until I opened that box. The stark reality of those Kodak moments sparked the dormant synapses in my brain back to life. These frail photographs dramatically reminded me that I had a past, and it was not the past of a female. I had to deal with this sudden reality check. I felt I had two choices. I could ignore the box and become more and more oblivious to my past, or, the B option, I could make peace with my past.

I chose the latter. To accomplish this, I had to finally acknowledge that I did not start life as a female. The alternative would be to live on that river in Egypt. You know the one. Da Nile.

I am sure that by now readers are asking themselves, ?Why should I care what happens to her, or how she handles this?? There is no reason anyone should care about my struggles to come to grips with the past. However, wrestling with the past is a favorite pastime of many transsexuals. The way one handles it can make a huge difference in the way life progresses. To some, the past becomes a fifty-ton albatross around their neck. Others see their past as necessary to make their life as a new female or new male more rewarding. I had been bouncing between the two feelings, not truly settling on how I wanted to view my past.

I didn?t ask to be transsexual, but since I am, I plan on making the best of it. To me, that means I need to embrace the best parts of my past, using what I?ve learned to make my life as a woman more fulfilling.

I learned a lot about making independent decisions while stationed on submarines. Twenty-one years in various customer service jobs have honed my people skills and the art of negotiating a deal as a woman. Everything I?ve done has brought me to this point in my life, and those pictures finally made it obvious to me.

As transsexuals, we have to make decisions no one else on this planet has to make. Just deciding to transition can be the most momentous occasion, the one that scares the holy hell out of someone. How to transition on the job, how to tell family members, how to tell friends, whether to love or not, and what gender to love are all decisions we make in this crazy, mixed-up situation known as transsexualism. Should I staunchly hide my past and become stealth, or should I embrace my past? I?ve now answered those questions in a way that is right for me. I have made peace with my past.

My past came back to me in a box the other day. Carefully opening the lid, I heard it whisper to me, ?You have nothing to fear from me anymore. Be proud of who you have become.? I am proud. I truly am. And, as I stare at the baby pictures of my two sons, tears form in my eyes. I am proud of who they have become, too.

Monica Helms is 50 years old and lived most of her life in Arizona. Today, she resides in Marietta, GA. She has two sons living in Arizona, one 19 and the other 17. Arizona was where she started transitioning, nearly 5 years ago, and was also where she began getting involved in activism. Monica is currently involved in transgender activism both on the local and national levels. Send Monica e-mail at