This transgender woman lived a double life for decades, but not anymore.
This is part of a story series about the lives of transgender people. Read the introduction here.
To the rest of the world, it seemed like Becky Veal had a life anyone would want. She supported her wife and their three children, served in the U.S. Army, and worked as a union organizer and negotiator for much of her professional life.
But while she was living the life expected of the male gender she was assigned at birth, she felt like her mind was boiling, she says. The only way to relieve what she describes as the “pressure cooker” inside her was to check into a motel, lock the door, draw the curtains and dress in the feminine clothes that made her feel like herself for a while — even if she had to do it in the dark.
But it came at a cost, both financial and emotional, Veal says.
You never get ahead because you’re trying to keep two people going. I would take off work because that was the only time I could get away and not have anyone think anything of it. I never made a great deal of money, but I had to take time for Becky.
I was fighting a battle inside that no one knew I was fighting, and I didn’t even have a name for it. So I thought I was the worst person in the world. My self-esteem was at a low ebb most of my life, until I came out. I didn’t think I was worth much.
Veal knew from the time she was 12 years old that she wanted to be a woman. She didn’t know what that meant — after all, she says, there was no internet and no one to ask about it. So she kept it mostly to herself and called it cross-dressing.
When she got married at age 20, Veal’s wife found out about her cross-dressing within the first week. It wasn’t an easy conversation, but her wife accepted it and didn’t question it again during their 42-year marriage.
But what started with what Veal describes as a “late-night thing with a nightgown” didn’t end there.
“Over the years it kept snowballing and going downhill and the snowball kept growing,” she says. “It became something I had to do more and more often.”
Veal tried to fight her desire to live as female. It was during what she calls her “macho period” that she enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in both Vietnam and Korea before returning home. She considered joining the police department, but when she learned a background investigation would be required she gave up on the idea of that career, because she dreaded anyone finding out about Becky. She then worked at General Motors, serving as District Committeeman for the UAW in Flint for 12 of her 17 years there. She went on to other union organizing jobs, too, successfully negotiating major labor agreements.
But she could not let go of Becky, despite trying many times.
I would purge — throwing everything female away, telling myself ‘This isn’t right, I’m going to stop this.’ I was in a battle. I just wanted to be like everyone else. I felt I had the equipment to be a man and I should be a man. I thought wearing dresses and wanting to be a woman was so perverted. I just didn’t understand it. So I fought it. I told myself I had to do what’s right for my wife and kids.
It’s like being in the darkness your entire life. A little dark place you go to.
In 2008, Veal’s wife was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. Veal quit working to be with her wife, who died two years later. “It was devastating,” Veal says. “She was my best friend, my girlfriend, my soul mate. When I lost her, I lost everything.”
Veal purged all her female clothes once again and moved in with her daughter. About six months later, she found herself contemplating the barrel of the gun she used for deer hunting. But Veal knew deep down she could never do that to her family, so she woke up the next morning and did something else.
She decided it was time for Becky to come out into the light — and stay there. Feeling the need to do that on her own, Veal went to Missouri, where her family is from, using the excuse that she was studying her family genealogy.
Veal found a psychologist she connected with and came out to her during their first session. Veal asked if she could bring Becky along to her second session, to which her psychologist replied, “That’s a great idea.”
Veal’s memory of that day, August 11, 2011, is vivid.
I went out and bought a nice new outfit. I had to get up early and put my makeup on and get dressed. I grabbed my purse and my keys, and my hands were shaking. I was shaking.
I walked out of the house and I’m in the sunlight. This is the first time Becky has been out in public in the sunlight, not behind a closed, locked door — out in the sunlight. I told myself, ‘You’re never going back in the darkness’ and I meant that. I haven’t.
Veal returned home and started telling her family, which includes eight grandchildren, and most of them have accepted her transition. In fact, presenting as Becky has mostly been met with validation — including from the man who had been her best friend since the 8th grade. Veal told him about her transition over the phone, and when he laid eyes on her for the first time as Becky, he exclaimed, “My God, you’re lovely!”
But when he passed away just three weeks later, Veal knew she needed to expand her circle of friends, which she has done largely through activism. In addition to being part of the ACLU of Michigan’s Transgender Advocacy Project, she is the President of Transgender Connect (Flint Chapter) and the field coordinator for Transgender Michigan in Flint.
Not only has Veal found a new community of friends — she’s found a renewed sense of purpose in retirement, one that brings her great satisfaction: fighting for transgender equality.
I have a big mouth and I’m not afraid to use it. The only way we’re going to win this battle is to have visibility and to have our stories out there. Once you know me, how could you vote against anything that would benefit me?
Maybe we only want to use the restroom. Why are you putting me into a men’s room where I could get hurt, when all I want to do is relieve myself? Can’t you understand that I have to pee?
My advocacy is for my little brothers and sisters. What I’m involved in here will take years. Some of the young people in this movement today will be old by the time we get it done. I’d like to leave an epitaph that I did what a could for my community.
Veal knows the journey to equality won’t be a short one. After all, her personal journey has taken decades, and starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was only one step. She hopes to have sex reassignment surgery (SRS), if she can get her heart health under control. But if that isn’t possible, she accepts it.
Veal sees the beauty in herself now, and in the transgender community, which she says Native Americans have long referred to as “two-spirited.”
We are two-spirited. We’ve lived both sides of the fence. We know what it’s like to live in the darkness and to have fear and anxiety as a constant companion — you can’t even imagine the dreams I used to have. But for those of us who live authentically, we know what it’s like to stand in the light.
Not only does Veal feel better now that her hormones are in balance with who she knows herself to be, she feels like her advocacy and authenticity have given her a new lease on life.
“It’s so eye-opening when you stop living the lie and become who you are. It’s like the statement, ‘The truth shall set you free.’ It’s true, honey, and I’m vibrant. And I’m never going back in the dark again.”
Read all the stories in this series HERE.
[Photo courtesy of Becky Veal.]