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Tranny Got His Gun

PHILADELPHIA – On the outside, Heladio Gonzalez was all toughness and swagger. On the inside, he was tormented. Gonzalez’ decision to live as a woman was liberating and agonizing. “I was really lost, I was really in limbo for a lot of years,” Gonzalez said. “I did my best to make it all go away, but I wasn’t very successful. I was pretty good at being a guy, but I couldn’t do it any more.”

His wife kicked him out of their home last year after he began spending more and more time dressed in women’s clothing. Then, on Jan. 6, he delivered a letter to his supervisor announcing his decision to live and work as a woman.

Officer Heladio Gonzalez would no longer be teaching firearms at the Police Academy. Officer Maria Gonzalez would.

His supervisor read the letter to Gonzalez’s co-workers the next morning. “He got very upset, it was like he was reading a death notice,” Gonzalez said. “The room got very quiet. It was terrible.”

For Gonzalez, a 36-year member of the Philadelphia police force, the declaration was liberating as well as agonizing. No more buying women’s clothing, then throwing them away, buying women’s clothing, then throwing them away. No more drinking to, as he called it, “self-medicate.”

Gonzalez, 57, is believed to be the first transgender officer in the department’s history. Since assuming a female identity, she has lost family, friends and colleagues.

She still loves her wife and misses their young daughter, but the subject quickly brings her to tears and she ends the discussion. But she has gained a new circle of supporters as she prepares for gender reassignment surgery.

“At first there were a lot of well-wishers, but then the reality set in. Some people have had a hard time … but they’re really trying,” she said. “There also were some who were completely disgusted and never spoke to me again. I expected that, and I’m OK with it.”

Her new friends include members of Transgender Community of Police & Sheriffs, or TCOPS. She’s heard from officers as far away as Hawaii and Australia.

Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said in a written statement that the department “will be supportive in this officer’s lifestyle decision.” A police union official did not return calls for comment.

On the “Domelights” Internet forum popular with some Philadelphia police officers, reaction has run the gamut, with some writers questioning Gonzalez’s mental health, others denouncing police brass for political correctness, and still others expressing total support for their fellow cop.

The department is ahead of many other employers nationwide in its support of Gonzalez but transgender people still have fewer on-the-books protections of their civil rights than gays and lesbians, said Lisa Mottet, a transgender rights attorney for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington.

“Traditionally there has been less awareness of transgender people, but that’s changing rapidly,” she said.

For example, 25 percent of the U.S. population currently lives in a city, state or county with a law on the books barring discrimination against transgender people – up from only 6 percent just two years ago, Mottet said.

In 2002, Philadelphia amended its fair practices ordinance to include “gender identity” in the list of groups protected from discrimination in employment, housing and city services.

By some estimates there are as many as 40,000 male-to-female transsexuals, or MTFs, in the United States, according to the International Foundation for Gender Education in Waltham, Mass.

Gonzalez, a stocky, self-described former “macho type,” is now getting hormone injections to change her shape and electrolysis to remove her facial hair. She’s also coaching her booming voice into a softer tone, growing her hair into a more feminine style, and undergoing psychological counseling as her sex-change operation nears.

She is connecting with new friends in the local transgender community, including Dee Hellerman, a transgender women who was a married man for 32 years and is preparing for her own sex-change operation.

“It’s really wonderful to see Maria growing in the way she is,” Hellerman said. “She’s confident, she’s happy … she’s blossoming.”

Medical protocol requires her to live full time as a woman and undergo hormone treatments for a year before a doctor will authorize the surgery. The surgery typically requires a five-day hospital stay, more than a week of postoperative care in a nursing facility, and up to six months of healing time. She wants to keep the date of her planned sex change private, but she expects to have had the operation by this time next year.

“I’m doing something I always wanted to do,” said Gonzalez, who expects to retire from the police force in about four years. “I just never knew until recently that I could go out and do it.”

 

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