It’s an utterly dreary January night, and inside a community meeting room at First United Methodist Church in Southwest Portland, members of the local chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) are settling into folding chairs for their monthly get-together. A modest crowd of around 30 waits beneath the glaring ceiling lights for the evening’s two keynote speakers. Tonight’s topic: “Transitioning on the Job”—or, perhaps more to the point, how to come out as transgender in the workplace without losing your mind.
The crowd is made up of a few older gay men, gay teens paired up with their parents, and a smattering of men and women in various states of gender transition. More than a few of the burly, formerly male physiques are draped in anachronistic dresses from the early 1980s, clangy arm bangles, and costumey wigs (one recalling the muumuu-and-pearls-wearing title character played by Vicki Lawrence on the sitcom Mama’s Family). One female-to-male attendee is dressed in a green T-shirt and Carhartt work pants. She later tells the group that she’s worried about coming out as transgender to her boss—though it’s hard to imagine it will come as much of a shock.
Around 7 p.m., one of the speakers, Nicole Kintz, enters through the side door. She’s all smiles in a cropped khaki blazer and knee-length black skirt, red plaid scarf and slip-on black flats. Thin and trim, her formerly muscular baseball-player’s body has assumed a more lithe form. Her blue eyes are accented by dark eyeliner and light lipstick, and her brunette bobbed wig appears to be unfazed by the rain outside. Kintz exchanges some handshakes and hugs and, after introductions, assumes a teacherly stance at the front of the room.
“Wow,” she jokes, “this really is a church. No one is in the front row.” She’s instantly at ease, pacing back and forth, her French manicure highlighted by her expressive hand gestures. Seeing her up there is a little weird for me, not only because the last time I saw Kintz teach, she was a man, but also because of how familiar the whole thing feels. Her movements, her cadence, her corny jokes—they’re all Nick Kintz, my senior-year high school math teacher. It’s still him—but it’s not—but it is.
Kintz speaks for 30 minutes, then opens the floor for questions. Nothing is off-limits. Her childhood obsession with twirly dresses, her clandestine dress-up sessions, how she still loves her now ex-wife and her three kids, the pain of her divorce, her hormone regime, her penis (yup, she still has it), and, most important, what it was like to tell her boss last year that she’d be coming back from summer break to teach math as a woman.
“So … did anyone at work suspect you? Like, your students?” asks a straight-looking fellow in his 40s.
Kintz smiles. “Well, maybe Stacey can answer that.”
There’s an awkward silence, and then I realize she’s talking about me. “Oh, well … no,” I say, stammering. The floor squeaks with the shuffling of folding-chair legs. Everyone in the room has turned to look at me. “I can safely tell you,” I finally begin, “we didn’t suspect Mr. Kintz of being a woman. We thought he was a bit on the nerdy side. But a woman? No.” The line earns me a laugh from the crowd.
Kintz has time for one more question from the group. A small woman with close-cropped hair and thin-rimmed glasses stands up. She’s wearing a 1950s-style Western shirt and a name tag that reads “Probably Andrew.” “I want to say thank you so much for doing this,” she says. “I just wondered if you had any advice on coming out to relatives. I have to tell my in-laws and just don’t know how to bring it up.”
Kintz smiles again, and, with the same ease with which she ushered my recalcitrant brain through precalculus, says, “Just sit them down and tell them the truth. There’s really no other way to do it.”