You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Sandi Smith had everything a career woman could want, including, at least until very recently, a penis. Born as a male, Sandi hasn't been in a men's room in two years. Her physical appearance is that of an early-middle-aged businesswoman. Throughout her transformation, she has continued to financially support her former wife and four children. She also has continued to pursue her demanding career with a large local high-tech company. Last week, Sandi traveled to Trinidad, Colorado, the nation's center for gender jumpers, to fulfill her dream of becoming an almost-total woman. She had sex-change surgery last Tuesday. The transformation has been achieved in full view of the world, an act of what probably has to be described as courage. Sandi, a trained engineer who applied an engineer's discipline to her sexual about-face, changed her gender without changing her job or residence. One day, Sandi was one of the guys at work. The next day, one of the gals.

She makes it seem almost simple. When the time came for her to become a woman, Sandi broke down the process into small segments, then went about solving her problem step by daunting step. Though she's still sorting out her emotional evolution, she speaks of her feelings in a straightforward style. Her gender was a problem; she has found a solution.

Sandi aspires to become a pioneering woman in a man's world. At work, she hopes to maintain a feminine presence in a male-heavy field. Off the job she hopes to pursue a "career" as a national figure in what she calls the "gender community."

If it paid better--if it paid at all--Sandi would like nothing better than to become a professional transsexual. She is proud to spread the word about her newfound womanhood to college sociology classes. She edits a local newsletter for the "community" that regularly features prominent photographs of her smiling face. But because of her ex-wife and their young kids, and because of potential damage to her hard-earned professional status, Sandi agreed to speak to New Times about her life only on the condition that almost every specific detail of it be blurred. She would allow neither the name of her employer nor a specific description of her work to appear in print. She discouraged New Times from interviewing her ex-wife, children or co-workers. While entertaining the possibility of an eventual appearance on a national television talk show, she would not allow her photograph to be taken for this article. Sandi Smith is not her real name. "I really view the surgery as being a cosmetic thing," Sandi said before she left for surgery. "People ask me, `How could you do something like this? How could you go there and have them surgically remove and modify things?' Obviously they're not re-creating all the organs, but they are creating the external appearance. A lot of people I've talked to say that it does give you a lot of satisfaction knowing you are complete externally. Internally, you're in about the same condition as someone who's had a hysterectomy.

"I want to have surgery as soon as possible, because I feel that after that point then I can actively be the woman that I feel I am inside. I am a woman, I know that." DAN SMITH GREW UP in Syracuse, New York, a carpenter's only son and the oldest of five kids. When his parents split while he was in his mid-teens, Dan briefly became the head of the household. He left home at eighteen to attend college in upstate New York.

After two years, Dan began to shop around for a place to finish his degree. "One song changed my life," Smith says. "It kind of made a decision for me at one point. It was called `California Sun.' I liked that song so much, I thought, `I'm going to do that. I'm going out there.' Three schools would accept all of Dan's transfer credits. He picked the one with the highest mean temperature and moved to Tempe. "It was a temporary thing at first," Smith says. "I wasn't planning on staying here. I just wanted to get the four-year degree."

Smith today describes those years at Arizona State University in the late Sixties as "a real party." Still, he managed a B average and met his future wife. "I guess you could say I had the normal number of girlfriends, both in high school and college," he says. "Maybe a little more than normal, I don't know. I had both male and female pals, more female pals than males. Not as steadies or anything, but I always enjoyed relating to females. I felt very close to women. I could relate to women."

After college, Smith went to work for a small electronics firm and got married. By 1974, Dan was on a career track at a much larger firm, and he and his wife had begun to make babies. "Obviously, I tried to be male," Smith says. "I tried very hard in that role, and I did all the normal male things, like cutting wood and doing all the heavy work and being the breadwinner and bringing home the paycheck. But socially and emotionally I was not comfortable in that environment. "I was the authoritarian figure in the family. I didn't like that. I didn't like being the one who got things done, so to speak. I saw myself emulating my own father, and I didn't like that, but I felt that that was the way it was supposed to be. The husband, the wife, the children. That it's put together to be the perfect environment for the children. Everything revolved around the children, and at times I felt that their needs came over the parents' needs." By the early Eighties, Dan had distinguished himself at work, publishing several professional papers and registering his name on a few technical patents. Meanwhile, a profound dissatisfaction was eating away at his marriage. "I was becoming, oh, I guess you could say, a bitch," Smith says. "Bitch is a good word. I couldn't deal with the slightest problems. Everything was getting to me." Because of the anger, Smith felt himself slipping away from his family. "It got to the point where I felt that I was on the outside," Smith says. "They were there, and I was on the other side of the fence. I couldn't deal with the day-to-day activities, even.

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Dave Walker