How George Michael became Japanese art to me

The passing of George Michael hit me hard, at least when it sank in.

Most everybody hates their voice when it’s recorded and they hear it played back. Despite spending a decade in radio, then doing voice over work for nearly three, I’m no exception, but it wasn’t always that way.

I used to sing opera. I had, by all accounts, a beautiful baritone voice that could sing bass and tenor parts, alike. I sang at weddings, funerals, and with the occasional glass of wine could be persuaded to sing a Latin or Italian aria in someone’s living room, which thrilled them and me both.

My radio career was successful, too. With the passing of George Michael, memories of an

Dani and Stacy back in the day

old flame came rushing back with such force, I couldn’t stop crying in the newsroom last night. This old flame, Stacy, was so in love with George Michael, I used to thrill her with dedications of his songs while on the radio. “This song goes out to ‘Stacy Mashburn’ of Iberia ( I used to record you on the radio as I went to bed) I still have all those tapes in a box. I’ll have to get them out and we’ll listen to them together sometime,” she texted today.


I’ve recently hated on my voice for a reason that may or may not surprise you, depending on how well you know me or how much you’ve hung out with me lately. That deep baritone creates a dichotomy that most people can’t wrap their heads around. It sounds unnatural coming out of an otherwise female face, and it causes me to have to come out as transgender to people, on a nearly daily basis.

I’m not alone. Many transgender women are bothered by the same thing. Their voices don’t match their feminine exterior. Many pursue “vocal feminization” from voice coaches, and some have corrective surgery to raise the pitch of their voice. Admittedly, I’m considering surgery, as well. It’s not a done deal, but I am considering it. No doubt this will cause some of my ex-girlfriends disappointment. Many of them laid their heads on my chest while I read, talked or sang them to sleep. It’s an intimate experience, and if you haven’t tried it, you should.

But I digress. My voice, especially when I get misgendered by someone on the phone, creates a frustration for me that can sometimes ruin my entire day. Indeed, with going through this sort of transition, many things have power I wish I didn’t hand over so readily. A well-meaning piece of advice from one person, or a slip of the tongue from another, can send me into an emotional tailspin.

If you’re a transgender female, you can relate. If you’re a transgender male, you may not be able to relate as well, at least if you’ve been on testosterone for long. The male hormone is incredibly strong. It’s what causes a young boy’s voice to change. If you were a soprano as a child like my cousin was, it’s painful when your choir director tells you you’ll no longer be able to be a part of the boy’s choir you love so much. Unfortunately, female hormones do not have the opposite affect. No dose of estrogen or progesterone will raise my voice. Without some sort of action or medical intervention, I’m stuck with the deep, resonate voice I used to take pride in, and which many others celebrated.

Dani and Stacy at a call center where we met

When word of George Michael’s passing came in a phone call from a coworker last night, I was initially fine. This coworker needed help conforming his death. At that second, it was just another item of news we needed to confirm, then put into context with reaction from the musicians and stars who knew him, posting to social media. When it became apparent we were ready to report and confirm his death, my mind rushed back to that radio booth from which I sent dedications of love to Stacy. I sent her this text, “His last Christmas 😢,” a reference to the Christmas song he wrote, produced, and released while he was still part of the duo Wham! with Andrew Ridgeley in 1984.


Stacy’s response was filed with emotion, and remembering it s I write this, has brought tears to my eyes once more. He meant so much to us. He was a huge part of our history.

Recently, I followed Maddie Kelly on Twitter. She’s a brilliant young Aussie, and in her profile she’s linked to a TedX talk she gave called “Kintsukuroi: finding beauty in a broken world.” In her TedX, she talked about the Japanese art, also sometimes called “Kintsugi.” It’s a wonderful tradition where the Japanese take broken pottery and use lacquer filed with gold to glue broken pottery back together. The philosophy is meant to treat the repair of broken pieces as a history of the object, rather than to hide it.

I don’t yet know if I’ll try to alter my voice to match my exterior or mind, but I’m applying Kintsukuroi to the part of my life that is broken, with the passing of a pop icon who forever glued Stacy and me together.

What are you willing to give up?

What are you willing to give up to get what you want? Imagine you have a diamond in one hand and a fist full of gold in the other. You’re sitting in the sun on the hottest day of the summer, you haven’t had anything to drink all day, there’s a glass of water right in front of you, and you’re surrounded by people who each have a glass of water. Are you willing to drop the diamond to pick up the glass? What about the fist full of gold? You can sit there until you die of thirst; until the others around you lose hope or get bored and move along; or until you can give up something to save yourself.

In some ways, life really boils down to making choices of this sort. At some point, you have to make a choice about what you’re willing to give up or how long you’re willing to wait for circumstances to change, before you can move forward. Maybe it’s a compromise with a spouse, or time spent learning to make yourself more marketable in your career. Something has to change before other things can happen. The glass isn’t going to raise itself to your lips, unless you know some magic I don’t. Yes, you can wait to see if the circumstances change, but there’s no guarantee anything will.

I’m sure you can imagine your own scenario. Maybe you want a promotion, but aren’t sure what to do to get it. You won’t get promoted until you figure out what you need for the promotion, and then devote the time to improving a skill or learning something new. Of course you can simply wait for a new position to open up, but there is no guarantee a better candidate won’t come along and leave you sitting in the same salary bracket.

Maybe you’re stuck living somewhere you don’t like because of a job or family. If you don’t want to wait for some change in your circumstances, you either need to make some choices or you will sit there until someone else makes the choices for you.

For me, the glass of water was transitioning from male to female. Throughout years of conditioning from society and and me repeatedly confirming my own fears, I convinced myself I would lose everything if I transitioned — my children, parents, sister, job, career, home, then end up on the street, forced to do horrible things to survive. For me, this was reality. They were myths, but they were my truths. I wasn’t about to let go of any of those valuable things to pick up my glass of water! They were all too valuable to me. A chain of events had to take place for me to get into a different mindset where I was willing to risk those things to transition.

One of those events in the chain was me hitting rock bottom. I was in a dangerous place. I began to flirt with the idea of ending my suffering in the most selfish of ways. I never attempted suicide, but there were times when it seemed like a viable option. Ending my life, I reasoned, would be easier on my family and friends than for them to see me as miserable as I was. I was guided into counseling by my physician, and I decided to be honest with my therapist during my first appointment. The actual therapy, the process by which I began to see the elements of my life from a different perspective, was the next logical event in the chain.

Another set of events were me seeking out other transgender people. I didn’t know any in Atlanta, so I reached out to the ones I was exposed to through media. One was Kristin Beck, the retired Navy SEAL. CNN aired a documentary on her and I read her book. Another trans person was comedian, actor and all-around renaissance man, Ian Harvie. I began to read about Kristin, Ian and others. I began to see these people, like the incomparable Lavern Cox, as success stories. Transition hadn’t been easy for any of them, but they each did it and were still living, with families, successful in their careers and in life. Learning about these people began to chip away at the wall of excuses I had built around myself like a protective shell. They were excuses I made thousands and thousands of times over, each time I thought about the possibility of transition.

Last night, I told a friend that I estimated there were tens of thousands of times when the possibility of transition popped into my head, but would then remind myself of all the reasons I couldn’t, not the least of which were my kids. I knew I could never forgive myself if I lost my kids by making, what I saw at the time to be, a very selfish decision to transition. My friend asked if I’d ever written about it. I’ve alluded to this before in writing, but I’ve never explicitly written about how tough it was to know I needed to transition, yet would consistently convince myself it wasn’t an option. It was a near-daily occurrence, and some days more than once. I was tortured by having to live a lie, but I thought my only other option was to lose everything.

There were other events in the chain, but I finally got to a point in December 2014, where I had debunked enough of the lies I used as excuses, to pull the trigger. I had begun a few months prior to seriously consider a transition. The more I chipped away at the wall of excuses, the faster the wall seemed to crumble. By the end of that December, I was willing to risk it all. I was finally in a place where the possibility of risk was dwarfed by the positives of living an authentic life. I began to have an increasing faith in the people who loved me — my kids, other family members and friends. I began to believe, even though there was a chance I would lose them at first, they would eventually come around.

I wish I could say it was completely perfect. There were hiccups. It was so incredibly difficult to tell my loved ones about the changes ahead of us. I was terrified of hurting, disappointing and alienating them. Some of them were surprised, some confused, some had questions I could easily answer, while a couple are still left questioning.

I was also still afraid of losing my job. Turner Communications, which owns CNN, has a non-discrimination policy. While there was a lot of comfort in having that policy in place, there is no law in Georgia that would have kept them from firing me for being transgender. Most people believe lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are protected from being discriminated against or fired for being LGB or T. Most people are wrong. While there are some local protections in larger metropolitan centers and a handful of states, no such protection exists on a national basis. The law is different in each state. In most states, an employer can look you in the eye and say, “We don’t employ people who are gay or transgender.”

I was lucky enough to have support around me in the form of amazing coworkers who accepted me and all the changes that came along with my transition. I was lucky enough to have a direct manager with whom I felt comfortable to confide in before coming out, and who helped me to prepare how we would tell my coworkers, other managers and clients about my transition. She also helped with emotional support and encouragement during the time when I was very scared about how everyone would react. She made it clear that she was in my corner. I’m eternally grateful for her efforts, leading up to the big step.

Finally, I had an amazing support system around me. I’ve often said, “I have many friends who are fiercely-loyal and protective.” It’s not an understatement. Most people are lucky to have one fiercely-loyal friend in their lifetime. I consider myself incredibly fortunate and lucky to have many, many close friends upon whom I can lean and rely. They helped me through the thousands of times I bounced off my wall of excuses, only to pick up my bruised and wounded body and flail myself against the wall again. I hope they feel I’m there for them when they need me.

In my case, I only became willing to drop the gold and diamonds when my optics changed. In December 2014, when I looked at the contents in my hands, then at the glass of water and the circle of people around me with their own glasses of water, I saw something different than I had for years. It was as if I were seeing with a new pair of glasses. The pair of glasses I now wore represented all the things I had learned. They were the experiences I’d had as I went through life, learning how pointless it was to keep that wall of excuses around me.

I made the decision to transition, only after I looked at my surroundings with the new glasses and saw the faces of the people around me and recognized my friends. My fiercely-loyal friends were gathered around me to make sure my glass didn’t stay empty when I drank the water. I let go of the objects that no longer held the same value and took a long, quenching drink of the waters of transition. It tastes so good!

Choosing Happiness Over Misery

Four years ago, I found myself spending a weekend with unlikely friends in a small Kentucky town, 11 hours from where I was living at the time. A few years before, I had come to Kentucky from Oklahoma City with my friend Heather to meet her twin sister, Ashley. Ashley played soccer at Union College nestled between the Daniel Boone National and Kentucky Ridge State forests. This was one of several spur-of-the-moment trips Heather and I loved to take, and as they usually did, this one changed my life.

While there to meet Ashley on homecoming weekend, I met several other girls, with whom I fell in love. These girls adopted me, and I them, and I kept coming back with and without Heather to see them. I still go back, years after they’ve graduated, because I continued to meet new soccer girls each new year, and the process of making new friends repeats itself.

The trip four years ago, last week, was another of those reunions. It was a low key weekend, and we spent most of the weekend cooking, playing typical college drinking games watching movies. I loved my time with these girls. They knew who I was, and even though I sported a goatee at the time, they could see my female heart and mind. They accepted me as one of the girls.

In the moment, I thought about how fortunate I was to be in the company of young women who really saw ME. I was grateful for them and their deep love for me. I thought about my gratitude. At the time, I felt so trapped, and was miserable with what I saw as a no-win situation. I knew there was nothing I could do about being female, but not being able to express it. This feeling of gratitude because of my girls, was a stark contrast to the misery I otherwise felt.

At the end of that weekend 4-years back, I was feeling philosophical about what I saw as a choice to focus on the positives in my life, rather than the negatives. Indeed, I chose happiness simply by driving hundreds of miles to surround myself with positive friends. I wrote something about this juxtaposition and posted it to Facebook.

I’m going to take a short break and let you read it, because I think you can better see what I’m talking about:

I have had an amazing weekend with four amazing friends. We are unlikely friends. We live 11 hours away, and two are here from other countries. In thinking about how much I love these girls and how much they love me, I wondered how we became friends at all. We met over two years ago by chance of a decision I made to visit my friend’s sister whom I had never met at her college. Why are we such great friends despite only meeting a few times? Facebook and Twitter have something to do with it, but very little. In part, it’s because of shared interest and quality of character.

We all know people who are miserable. They are the ones who don’t have any real friends, because nobody wants to be their friend. Who wants to be around someone who is miserable?

Like most people, I’ve had reasons to choose misery. Like most, I have suffered loss and tragedy. I won’t bore you with details. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been sad, or even depressed. It means I didn’t let sadness and depression take hold. In each situation where loss or tragedy occurred, I made a conscious decision to make the most of the circumstances and simply move on.

I apply the same thinking when I make a poor decision. I’ve made much more than my share! When I realize I’ve messed up, I just make the best of it and move on.

Because of these conscious decisions, I believe I am happier. I believe people enjoy being around me, in part because of these decisions.

Despite loss and tragedy, I am the most blessed and fortunate person I know. It’s because I have the most amazing friends. Far too many to name. Friends I will cherish as long as I live. And I don’t hold back saying as much. Sometimes, I think they are taken aback by this unbridled announcement of love. Soon though, they accept it as just who I am. I truly do deeply love each one of them too.

Happiness is a decision. When bad things happen, I believe people choose between misery and happiness. Fortune follows those who choose happiness.

Here’s where the meat of this post begins. In the past two weeks, the themes of gratitude, happiness, frustration and “chips on shoulders” have come up with surprising frequency in conversations with various friends and coworkers.

Last night, a coworker remarked about how differently I come across to people I meet than other transgender individuals she’s seen on TV or met. She said she’s noticed that some trans people seem to have a chip on their shoulder or an axe to grind. It’s true, there are some who do seem that way. But I reminded her that my life was different than that of so many other transgender people. I have, not just a job, but a fulfilling and rewarding career. I also have an outlet with this blog, and with what I do in my career, that affords me the ability to educate people. Rather than feeling like I have no control over what my life is like, I feel like I can affect the outcome of my life.

Many transgender people feel both discriminated against and disenfranchised on a daily basis. It’s difficult to go through life when you feel like you don’t have a fair shot at it – when you are judged for simply being the person you are. Throw into that mix the lack of being able to do anything about it, and you get frustrated pretty quickly.

The conversation brought me right back to the choice between happiness and misery. I have to come clean. It’s not in my nature to be positive all the time, it’s something I’ve learned over time. There have been times in my life when I’ve been miserable. I was especially miserable when I believed I couldn’t do anything about being transgender. I believed it would be a selfish act to put my family and friends through the pain of even knowing I was transgender! How much more selfish it would be to actually transition!

Even post-transition, I get down in the dumps. Yes, I am thankfully employed by a company that fully supports me, but I experience discrimination and disenfranchisement outside of work. People say some nasty things under their breath in the grocery store. Some use male pronouns for me, deliberately. I’m in much greater danger of being assaulted because of my appearance. I am on the receiving end of mean comments on social media. I see several new negative things about being transgender in news stories, every day. If you focus on it, it drags a person down.

I’ve been fired before, my heart has been broken, people I thought were my friends have taken advantage of me, people have been downright mean to me, and I’ve been physically assaulted numerous times. I’ve experienced, and still do, things that would cause many people to be bitter and to hold onto anger. But several years ago, I discovered I had the ability to choose either happiness or misery.

Believe me, I’m not great at making the choice, still. I’ve had to practice. Also, I’ve surrounded myself with certain friends who simply will not allow me to throw a pity party. I’m talking about you Mary, Marisa and Artemis, among several others. These ladies won’t even give me a chance to complain, sometimes! Well, not much of a chance, anyway. These are the best friends a girl could have. They hold me accountable and don’t let me simply complain, without a solution.

Here’s where I get preachy, but believe me I’m preaching to myself, too. Admittedly, I spent decades in misery, feeling trapped, without seeing any way to transition. And it’s easier to make the choice to be happy with some negatives, than with others. There’s a big difference between focusing on happiness when you stub your toe, than it is when you lose your home to a natural disaster or a loved one to violence. But eventually, we recover to the point where can choose happiness.

I truly believe every single person has the ability to make this choice. Some are much better at it that others, like this writer. It’s not an easy thing to simply choose! And sometimes it’s really difficult to see any positive upon which to focus your energy, but I promise it’s there. Growing hurts, and learning is hard. Difficult things will always come our way in life. The one thing in our power is how quickly we decide to force ourselves to seek happiness and make that choice.

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