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"I like when I look in the mirror. I like who's looking back," says Kelly Metzgar. Photo: Zach Hirsch
"I like when I look in the mirror. I like who's looking back," says Kelly Metzgar. Photo: Zach Hirsch

For Kelly Metzgar, being a woman is a work in progress

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As the New York legislative session came to an end, the LGBT community waited to see how lawmakers would handle the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, which would make it illegal to discriminate against transgendered people.

There are laws in New York State protecting people on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity, but not gender expression. For the seventh time, Republican leaders blocked GENDA from coming to the Senate floor for a vote.

"We're not asking for more rights. We're not asking for special rights. As I say in all my columns, we are only asking for equal rights, and equal protections as every other person enjoys," says Kelly Metzgar, an activist from Saranac Lake and a transgendered woman herself.

Kelly says she's been doing advocacy for a couple of years on the state, national, and even international levels - but she says the toughest battles have always been right at home: two divorces, depression, and hiding her true identity from her employer.

We first met Kelly last fall, not long after she first came out to her sister. Here's an update on her search for acceptance.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

Kelly and her friend, Susan Arnold, in Saranac Lake, NY. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Kelly and her friend, Susan Arnold, in Saranac Lake, NY. Photo: Zach Hirsch
On a quiet and warm Sunday afternoon in Saranac Lake, two women are sharing a table at the Downhill Grill. It's Kelly Metzgar and her friend from church, Susan Arnold. Kelly says she fits right in.

"I'm very comfortable. People don't pay any mind whatsoever. So this is fun," she says.

It wasn't always this way. Kelly was scared and confused for much of her life. Only now, in her mid-fifties, she's starting to live publicly as a woman.

"Just think of all that you were blocking! I think about that. For so many years!" Susan says.

Susan knew Kelly back when she was still living as a man. Both of them remember the moment last year, when Susan first met Kelly as a woman. It was at church on Christmas. Kelly signed the church address book, and Susan said she used to know the guy who lived in that house.

"You said that there was a gentleman who used to own it, and did I know him? And I said yes, he and I spent a good deal of time together!" Kelly says, laughing. She's in good spirits today – not just because she gets to catch up with Susan, but also because of some bigger things happening in her life. Kelly recently met up with some transgendered women that she knows from an online, international sorority called Vanity Club.

"It's been fun. I mean, it's really like a second coming out – to go somewhere and be totally accepted for who you are."

Kelly says she's been revealing her true, female self to more people in her life – like her hairstylist, more friends. Even her mother, who's "85 years old. Very committed to our Catholic faith," Kelly says. "And I asked her, so how would you feel if you had another daughter? It was just shock! There was probably dead silence on the phone. And I gotta say that she really surprises me."

She says her mother accepts her with some hesitation. Kelly says her mom still won't let her visit dressed as a female. She has to arrive as a man.

"There's going to be ups and downs. There's going to be bumps. But there's more ups than there are bumps right now – although, the big bump is right there!"

The "big bump" she's referring to is at work. Every day, Kelly goes into work as a man, and she wants to be able to present as – well, as herself.

"I think they may have suspicions or ideas, but they're also being polite and not asking. Which is fine too. Because the whole thrust of it is not to stand out, but just to be accepted, and go to work, and do your job, and get paid, and come home and be treated like any other woman."

Kelly says she is not looking into sex reassignment surgery, but she is ready to present as a full time female. But it's not so easy. She's scared of losing her job, because there are no laws in New York State that explicitly protect transgendered people. So for now, she's still a man at work. That means no make-up, no women's clothing, and no hairpiece.

Kelly asks if we can stop taping, and she takes off her hairpiece to show what she looks like at her job. It's so private that she doesn't even want the sound recorded. Her natural hair is dark and long, but a little thin at the crown. The recorder goes back on.

"I need to make some decisions, when I do go full time. Whether I continue with the hair piece, or I just go with my own natural hair."

She also has bigger decisions to make about the hormone pills she takes to be more feminine: "Two milligrams of estrogen, and 200 milligrams of a testosterone blocker. And I would like to double my estrogen level."

Kelly says she's been taking these hormones on her own for two years. She says these pills can be dangerous, and she's looking for a doctor who can supervise. But she says she hasn't found anybody in the North Country who can help.

"Why can't we have one doctor – I'm not asking for a whole boatload of them – why cannot we have one doctor in the entire North Country who would be able to take on someone who's transgendered?"

Even if she does find a doctor to help with hormones, she says she'll still have more work to do: coming out to more family members, coming out to her employer, and there's always the option of surgery down the road. Kelly says becoming a woman is just a work in progress.

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