ANNAPOLIS- Face scowling and hurling contrary questions, Delegate Emmett C. Burns, D-Baltimore County, showed little mercy on the witnesses who testified in support of a law protecting gay and lesbian rights last week, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Then Alyson Meiselman took her turn at the House Judiciary Committee witness table. Poised and confident, her cheeks were dabbed with a little blush and she wore a brown tweed skirt and pastel green sweater. A flowery neck scarf added a stylish flair.
“I am a conservative Jew, a private pilot,” Meiselman said. “I am an attorney… And, I am a pre-operative male to female transsexual.”
After Meiselman finished her tale of being kicked out of her son’s Boy Scout troop, seeing her client list dwindle to zero and being denied access to restrooms, the legislators were visibly stunned.
“I have to say, I’m getting thrown for a loop,” said Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, breaking the silence.
“You have moved me more than anyone else here,” Burns added.
Meiselman may have moved the lawmakers, but the measure remains on shaky ground. Yet telling her story in such a public way was a personal milestone for Meiselman that was 48 years in coming.
Born in Washington in 1951 as Alan Meiselman, she was raised in the Montgomery County suburbs as one of five children in a civic-oriented, conservative Jewish household.
As a young man, Meiselman loved electronics and fixing cars with his dad. He dated girls, ran track and played softball at Springbrook High School and the University of Maryland-College Park, where he earned a sociology degree in 1973.
But every birthday, he had the same wish: “Dear God, tomorrow, when I wake up, please make me a girl,” Meiselman recalled.
From age 3 on, he would steal moments alone to luxuriate in his three sisters’ wardrobes. Only then did he feel he was his true self.
“When you look in the mirror and what you see doesn’t match what you think, it causes you to be sad,” Meiselman said.
After college graduation, he worked at a Prince George’s County facility for emotionally abused children, beginning a long career of children’s advocacy.
“I saw that children’s rights were being violated,” Meiselman said. “I thought, they don’t need a social worker, they need a lawyer.”
He met a woman named Joan in college. Their parents knew each other and a shared interest in jewelry making made them fast friends. They married in 1978 and had three children, now ages 17,12, and 11.
Never forgetting his mission to help children, Meiselman enrolled in Potomac School of Law in Washington and established a private family law practice in 1979.
He earned national recognition for his expertise in international family law and also became adept at settling disputes in arbitration that were referred to him by Montgomery County judges. Meiselman said he settled 95 percent of those cases.
Until last April, the Meiselmans appeared to be a typical suburban family. But to Alan Meiselman the rare moments alone wearing his wife’s clothes left him increasingly dissatisfied and deeply unhappy.
Meiselman sat down with his wife and told her he wanted to live as a woman. Joan cried for days, mourning the loss of Alan. But soon, she realized that Alan never really existed.
“It became very obvious to me that this wasn’t a death,” Joan Meiselman recalled. “I don’t have to lose this human being, this person. I love her for the person she is as a partner. I hope we can continue to be there for each other as partners for the rest of our life.”
“I would say that since we dealt with her feelings about things, we’ve gotten much closer and calmer and a lot happier with each other.”
The couple’s 17-year old daughter similarly took her father’s announcement in stride.
“Honestly, it’s not that big of an adjustment,” she said. “It’s just a slight alteration. There is actually a lot more communication between us now.”
After hours of therapy and family discussions Meiselman bought a wig, a purple, flowered sleeveless dress, and a pair of size 7 women’s shoes. Doctors also prescribed women’s hormones.
“Everything clicked immediately,” Meiselman said. “The part of me that was missing was now present.”
For practical and legal purposes, Alan Meiselman, the male, became Alyson Meiselman, the female. The operation that will turn her into a biological woman will happen this fall.
But the transformation took a toll on Meiselman’s career. Some lawyers filed court pleadings alleging Meiselman was mentally unstable. And the mediation cases that had previously been referred in abundance dwindled to nothing. She now has no clients.
While her children are accepting and supportive of the woman they call “Dad,” the teasing at school was at first very cruel. Meiselman was stripped of her position as a troop leader for her son’s Boy Scout group and the family often gets harassing phone calls. And when Meiselman drove with his daughter to visit colleges, a police officer at a rest stop on I-95 refused to let her use either bathroom.
The public nature of her profession meant everyone knew about Meiselman’s transformation, so she was eager to come forward to support the gay rights bill, which has gained a high profile since Gov. Glendening has vigorously supported it.
But Meiselman took a brave step by exposing herself to the public when she appeared before the legislature, said Jessica Xavier, a spokesperson of It’s Time, Maryland!, a 60-member transgender group that documents harassment and violence against members and lobbies the state legislature.
“Anytime anyone comes out and puts a human face on this phenomenon, they take a huge risk,” Xavier said. “She’s a very courageous woman.”
Xavier’s group has documented 20 cases of physical assaults, harassment, and job discrimination over the past five years. But attorneys won’t touch the cases because the law doesn’t protect these individuals. If Maryland passes the sexual-orientation discrimination bills it will join Minnesota in providing the best protections in the nation, Xavier said.
Despite Meiselman’s moving testimony, Delegate Burns, a minister, won’t vote for the bill. But Meiselman sees a victory in bringing to light a world that Burns, and other lawmakers otherwise wouldn’t see.
“Let me ask you this,” Burns said at the hearing. “Are you better off today than you were before?”
Yes, she said. “I cannot express how much better off I am emotionally,” Meiselman said. “My children have accepted me and I’ve freed myself from a lifelong struggle.” -30-