- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Last month, after Rep. Carl Wilson announced he will introduce a bill to ban transgender teenagers from having sex reassignment surgery, the Grants Pass legislator admitted he had not yet knowingly met a transgender person.

Elaine Walquist decided to be his first.

A 64-year-old retired teacher, Walquist spent most of her adult life living in “stealth” after having the surgery in 1980. Last week, in an hour-long meeting both parties called friendly, Walquist experienced something new, too: It was her first time telling a stranger her story.

Walquist grew up in Michigan, the second of four children. She was a skinny, honor-roll student who loved Broadway musicals and spent prom night reading a book. The morning of her 13th birthday, she began wishing she would wake up a girl. She wished every year until 1980, when she was 28 and had saved enough from a job working at a hotel.

Legislators weren’t talking about women like Walquist then. There were no advocacy groups lobbying states and insurance companies to cover transition-related procedures.



When she began taking female hormones and going through lengthy, painful electrolysis procedures, she did so alone.

In 1977, Walquist told her family members she was “transsexual,” the word most commonly used then. Her parents accepted her, she said, but never wanted to know details. They didn’t come to the hospital during her surgery, and they didn’t want to see the results. They never again discussed who she dated. She didn’t tell them about the department store workers who kicked her out of dressing rooms or the men who yelled slurs as she walked by.

After her surgery, Walquist went to college and became a public high school language and history teacher. After that, she felt she never could tell people the whole of her life.

“In Michigan, I could not tell me story at all,” Walquist said. “It would have cost me my job.”

Walquist said she had a good, if not an easy, life: She was a nationally ranked table tennis player who trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. She became foreign language department chair at her school.

When she retired in 2012, she decided to start over. Walquist moved to Portland last year, intending to become more involved in advocating for less fortunate LGBT people.

She saw a good opportunity, she said, when she read about Wilson’s plan to propose legislation banning teenagers from using the Oregon Health Plan to pay for sex reassignment surgery.

Because the age of consent for all medical procedures in Oregon is 15, Wilson said a 2014 decision to offer Oregon Health Plan coverage for transgender-related medicines and procedures could allow teenagers to make life-altering decisions they might later regret.

The Republican legislator said he hadn’t, as far as he knew, ever met a transgender person.

Walquist thought medical professionals, not politicians, should determine who gets health care coverage and what it covers. And she thought Wilson should at least meet one openly transgender person before introducing his bill.

“Being a teacher, I wanted to educate him,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to change his mind. But I wanted him to meet someone who was a good representative for the trans community.”

They met in Wilson’s Salem office last week, both confirmed.

Walquist said she explained the difference between gender and sexuality to the legislator. She shared her life story with Wilson and explained how sex reassignment surgery works.

Wilson said he doesn’t comment on personal meetings he has with constituents. He still plans to introduce a bill directed at 15- to 17-year-old transgender kids.

“But I do want to say that it was a great conversation and an enjoyable time,” Wilson said. “While I’m sure we will disagree on some political concepts, I know we will enjoy mutual respect.”

Walquist agreed.

“I thought he was great,” she said. “He was really friendly, very gracious.”

She left him with a photograph of herself and signed it, with a wink, “from your favorite transsexual.”

___

Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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