Catching Up With Colleen Fay (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Catching Up With Colleen Fay

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:09:32
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

13:09:47
As of this broadcast, Peter will no longer be known as Peter, but as Colleen.

SHEIR

13:09:53
This was, of course, former host, David Furst.

FURST

13:09:54
Joining us now to talk about this is Colleen Fay. Should I say, welcome back or welcome?

MS. COLLEEN FAY

13:10:03
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.

SHEIR

13:10:16
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...

SHEIR

13:10:41
...to various church and synagogue choirs.

FAY

13:10:46
That's the opening part of the 23rd Psalm.

SHEIR

13:10:46
Colleen that is beautiful.

FAY

13:10:48
Well thank you, even though I got some of the words wrong.

SHEIR

13:10:52
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...

FAY

13:10:59
My inner life was as a woman.

SHEIR

13:11:00
And Colleen's suspected this double life pretty early on.

FAY

13:11:04
I had glimmers. I had inklings of things from the time I was at least three or four.

SHEIR

13:11:10
She recalls one particular glimmer at age seven when her twin sister, Eileen, was a flower girl at a wedding.

FAY

13:11:15
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.

SHEIR

13:11:27
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.

FAY

13:11:37
There were no resources, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists or counselors. Oh, my gosh, it was the Dark Ages.

SHEIR

13:11:49
Then there were her parents, a middle-class church-going couple raising four children in Long Island, New York.

FAY

13:11:55
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.

SHEIR

13:12:10
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.

FAY

13:12:23
It was a way of living. It worked a long time. But when it fell apart, it surely fell apart. It crumbled.

SHEIR

13:12:35
Would we call that a breaking point, an a-ha moment?

FAY

13:12:37
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.

SHEIR

13:12:55
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.

FAY

13:13:06
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.

SHEIR

13:13:32
And Colleen says a lot of people in her life have had to work stuff out since receiving that e-mail.

FAY

13:13:37
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.

SHEIR

13:14:02
That's been relatively easy for some like her daughter, but for others, it's been more difficult.

FAY

13:14:07
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.

SHEIR

13:14:21
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.

FAY

13:14:43
I'm tall. I'm, how do we say this politely, mannish. I look more like, hum, Julia Child than Brittany Spears.

SHEIR

13:14:55
So when she walks down the street, rides the bus, shops at the grocery et cetera, more often than not, she gets stares.

FAY

13:15:01
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?

SHEIR

13:15:11
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.

FAY

13:15:24
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.

SHEIR

13:15:56
But life isn't always so funny Colleen says, or so easy.

FAY

13:16:01
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.

SHEIR

13:16:13
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.

FAY

13:16:23
If you don't mind my standing there in a skirt and a blouse and singing in the baritone section, that's fine.

SHEIR

13:16:28
But otherwise, Colleen Fay is finally someone she always longed to be, herself.

FAY

13:16:35
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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