Mesa Professor answers inner voice

Janna Braun

Professor Gary Holton reveals her new identity as Katie.

Jennifer Karnan

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Professor Gary Holton has been teaching speech communications at Mesa College for 21 years. At 46, she feels she has always been a woman living in a man’s body, and this semester, she’s taking action to set that woman free.

“This is not a secret,” Holton proclaimed. “This girl is done with closets.”

Holton sent an e-mail to Mesa College faculty and some students on Oct. 12, informing them that she has been undergoing a gender transition from male to female over the past year. As of Nov. 3, her name will be legally changed from Gary Holton to Katie Holton. Professor Holton plans to emerge as Katie this semester. In the meantime, in light of the sudden change, Holton encourages students and faculty to call her whichever name they are comfortable with.

“All I ask is the same professional and respectful treatment I have witnessed over the past twenty years,” Holton said in the e-mail.

Professor Holton is renaming herself Katie in honor of her late grandmother. Her dad is amazed because he gave her his first name and now she is giving up his first name and taking his mother’s.

“Her name was Katherine and I have a very vivid memory where she would introduce herself as Katie, ‘Call me Grandma Katie,’ and people called her Katherine,” Holton said. “She wanted to be a Katie but the world said she was a Katherine. I want to be a Katie but my body and the world are telling me that’s not who I am. But it is who I am.”

To legally change one’s gender in California, one must have surgery to permanently alter gender characteristics. According to Holton, there are some judges that are “old school,” meaning they require genital surgery to be done. While Holton is uncertain whether she’ll undergo the more drastic surgeries eventually, facial surgery and hormones are in the forefront for her transition into womanhood.

“Anything that is fake feels uncomfortable,” Holton said. “Wearing the falsies feels uncomfortable.”

During Winter Break this year, Holton plans to travel to Boston to undergo facial surgery for a more feminine face. This will include narrowing her jaw, shaving down her brow bone, a brow lift, and work on her nose.

“I’ve met people who, as soon as they could talk, would say, ‘I’m a boy,’ even though they didn’t have boy parts or vice versa,” said Holton. “I’m finding that that’s actually not as common as I thought; that for a lot of people, it’s not an absolute. And in my case, it wasn’t.”

Coming out to herself a little over a year ago, Holton says that since the realization of her gender identity, a lot of feelings and occurrences from the past are beginning to surface and make sense, such as remembering certain interests and identifying with certain characters in movies and not knowing why.

Holton feels she hasn’t been living full-time. Most days, at least at Mesa, she “presents” as male, in what she refers to as “Gary mode.”

“I feel like I’m a woman dressed as a man,” Holton said. “I’m at an awkward stage where I’m not confident that I pass either way. As a woman, I’m insecure. But it’s incredibly freeing that I don’t have to try to pass as a man on campus. If I don’t behave or look like a man, because I’m out, I don’t have to worry.”

Professor Holton has two sons, 9 and 14, who are slowly becoming accustomed to the idea of their father as a woman. Holton’s 14-year-old is starting high school, and Holton doesn’t want him to be the kid whose dad is transitioning.

“He’s going through puberty while I’m going through puberty in reverse,” said Holton. “And my 9-year-old still thinks girls are icky and he’s gotten relatively comfortable with me. He just wants to know the rules. So consistently, when I’m not at their school functions or at school, I’m Katie.”

Holton’s transition from male to female is awkward, but most of her concern is for her boys. She wants them to remain comfortable with her as a person and as a parent and embrace her as she wants to present herself. The family is evolving together.

“It’s been a struggle for them, and I keep telling them, ‘It’s OK to feel like it’s weird, it’s statistically weird. It’s quite unusual,” Holton said of her sons’ adjustment. “I’d be OK if they called me Daddy for the rest of my life. Because I’m not their mom, their mom earned that.”

Professor Holton is grateful for the outpouring of support she has received from colleagues and students at Mesa, and looks forward to her transition.

“I have great role models in terms of powerful, confident women that have earned people’s respect. So I can think, ‘How would Constance Carroll behave in this situation?’ ‘How would Rita Cepeda behave?’ ‘What kind of woman am I going to be?'”

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Mesa Professor answers inner voice