MS. REBECCA SHEIR
But first, changing your identity by changing your gender, Peter Fay was a regular contributor to "Metro Connection" for years offering recommendations on arts events around the region. Then, on November 30th, 2007, listeners to the program heard this.
MR. DAVID FURST
As of this broadcast, Peter will no longer be known as Peter, but as Colleen.
This was, of course, former host, David Furst.
Joining us now to talk about this is Colleen Fay. Should I say, welcome back or welcome?
MS. COLLEEN FAY
Either one, I'm glad to be here. It's the same person. I've changed the outward appearance, but the inner reality is the same. I am what is called a transsexual. Now it means that the outside reality matches the inside reality.
See, on the outside, Colleen Fay or Peter John Fay grew up male dressed in male clothing, had short cropped hair and as a lifelong lover of music, lent a rich baritone voice...
...to various church and synagogue choirs.
That's the opening part of the 23rd Psalm.
Colleen that is beautiful.
Well thank you, even though I got some of the words wrong.
I didn't notice. My Hebrew is a little rusty. But even if Colleen or Peter looked and sounded like a man on the outside...
My inner life was as a woman.
And Colleen's suspected this double life pretty early on.
I had glimmers. I had inklings of things from the time I was at least three or four.
She recalls one particular glimmer at age seven when her twin sister, Eileen, was a flower girl at a wedding.
And I remember her trying that dress on. I can see it to this day and I was so jealous. Talk about a vicarious pleasure, that was fabulous.
Less fabulous however was the need she felt to keep her inner femaleness, if you will, a secret. Part of it was the times. See, Colleen grew up in the 1950s.
There were no resources, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists or counselors. Oh, my gosh, it was the Dark Ages.
Then there were her parents, a middle-class church-going couple raising four children in Long Island, New York.
My parents, God bless them, would not have been able to encompass this. It was so much a non-starter that there was nowhere to go with that.
But even after the Dark Ages of the '50s, Colleen kept living this secret inner life. She actually was and still is attracted to women. She even married twice and had four biological children with her first wife.
It was a way of living. It worked a long time. But when it fell apart, it surely fell apart. It crumbled.
Would we call that a breaking point, an a-ha moment?
It's like an uh-oh moment. The feeling that all of those underpinnings holding everything together are being pulled out and I've got to do something drastic or else something even more terrible is going to happen.
Which is why in September 2007 at age 63, she sent her closest friends and family an e-mail announcing she would be transitioning from Peter to Colleen.
And my daughter called me up the next morning and she said, do you mind if I still call you dad? And I said, you can call me anything you want. She's subsequently become a mother. She has two little kids. They call me Grandma Colleen. There's probably a conflict brewing when one of her children is going to ask, momma, why do you call Grandma Colleen dad? Well, I'll let her work that out.
And Colleen says a lot of people in her life have had to work stuff out since receiving that e-mail.
Because when you transition, everybody who knows you has to transition, too. They have to re-write the little book in their head that has your name on it. And they have to scratch off that name and write a new name on that little book about you. And they have to go back and change all those pages.
That's been relatively easy for some like her daughter, but for others, it's been more difficult.
I've an older brother and he said he's fine calling me Colleen, but he has a problem referring to me as she. And my feeling is nobody ever died of a pronoun. The pronoun police are off duty. Don't worry about it.
Not that Colleen's life has been worry-free since the transition. She can't afford gender reassignment or facial feminization surgery, two procedures often undertaken by individuals going from male to female or M2F as it's called. So despite Colleen's dirty blond wig, her lipstick, her women's clothing, her jewelry, she'll be the first to tell you she's not exactly, you know, feminine.
I'm tall. I'm, how do we say this politely, mannish. I look more like, hum, Julia Child than Brittany Spears.
So when she walks down the street, rides the bus, shops at the grocery et cetera, more often than not, she gets stares.
What are politely referred to as the man in a dress stares, you know. Or it's the little kids saying, mommy, mommy, mommy what's that man doing there?
For the most part, she ignores it or simply smiles back. But sometimes she says it isn't just her appearance that throws people, it's her voice, especially on the phone with strangers.
At one point, I was ordering women's clothes and I talked to the person. So it was Colleen Fay? Yes. Is that Ms. or? I said, yes, it is Ms. Okay, yes, sir. I said, no, it's Ms. Colleen Fay. Yes, sir. And no matter what I said, if I said I was a chorus girl at Radio City Music Hall adjusting my fishnet stockings, they would still say, yes, sir. It was very funny.
But life isn't always so funny Colleen says, or so easy.
I wish it were easier, but it's not. And sometimes when you're not having a good day, it's a little hard and you just have to take it.
And yet despite the pain, the awkwardness, you know what, she says it's worth it, giving up that double life. She still lends that deep baritone voice to a handful of choirs.
If you don't mind my standing there in a skirt and a blouse and singing in the baritone section, that's fine.
But otherwise, Colleen Fay is finally someone she always longed to be, herself.
I said to one of my sisters a couple of years ago when it was going on, you know, your brother is still here. But there's just more of her now. I kept a secret for 63 years. So now there isn't any secret. I'm Colleen, how do you do?
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