T ransgender A merican
V eterans A ssociation
New life, new name, new gender
By Lisa Redmond, lredmond@lowellsun.com

LOWELL -- More than half a century of emotional pain came to an end when Janice Carney opened her eyes on the morning of Feb. 25, 2001, in a Colorado hospital.

Carney, born John Joseph Carney, vividly remembers waking up on her 51st birthday, after eight hours of surgery, and seeing her best friend holding a birthday cake with a single candle on it.

"It was the beginning of my new life," Carney says.

A surgeon removed Carney's male genitalia, which Carney describes as "toxic waste," and reshaped the tissue to medically turn Carney from male to female.

Carney admits the pain from the surgery was "horrible," but says the result was a dream come true.

Carney, now 57, sits in her Lowell apartment, wearing pink Disney slippers with matching pink nail polish. For the first time, Carney says, the outside of her body matches what she has always felt like inside -- female.

A second surgery in 2004 added more cosmetic changes. The surgeries cost $22,000, for which she paid.

Carney has changed her name legally, from John to Janice. And she changed her legal gender, from male to female.

Knew at a young age

He was born John Carney in 1950 to Irish Catholic parents, one of six brothers and two sisters growing up in the Boston area. From a young age, Carney remembers gravitating toward her sisters' dresses and dolls rather than her brothers' toys.

Carney's late father, an abusive alcoholic, was not so understanding. Neither were his classmates.

By age 10, Carney says, "My desire to wear dresses in public was beaten out of me.''

But as Carney grew older, it was hard to keep the urges silent. While still a teenager and in high school, drinking became a way of trying to muffle the screams from within.

One drunken evening, Carney and a friend spent the night bar-hopping in Somerville. Carney says he was acting too effeminate for the neighborhood and paid the price -- a mouth filled with blood and a scar on his chin to remember it.

After graduating from Somerville High School in 1969, Carney joined the Army rather than be drafted. Carney was assigned to be a battalion mail clerk in Vietnam, delivering mail and military orders to the front lines.

During one of those deliveries in 1970, a bomb exploded near Carney's truck. Carney suffered a broken back, hearing loss and post-traumatic stress disorder, which still haunts him today. Carney was shipped back home after 366 days in Vietnam.

He earned a full military disability pension, but unemployed and addicted to alcohol and drugs to numb his unhappiness, Carney admits, "I was a mess."

He worked odd jobs during the day and then worked as an escort at night. Men would hire him to dress up as a female and have sex.

"The funny thing is that I'm not gay," Carney says.

Disgusted with his life, it was during that time that Carney was doing a lot of drugs. In his life before surgery, Carney admits he also attempted suicide.

Carney met a girl who needed a place to stay, so she moved into his apartment. Things were platonic at first, then turned romantic. Several years later, they married and had their first child.

'Huge awakening'

With a son in his life, Carney threw out all his dresses and decided to act more masculine, a "purging." He got a job working on the Boston docks. After five years, Carney left the dock job and began working for the U.S. Postal Service.

Two more children came. It was an American dream, married, with a solid job and a house in Hull. He was happy on the outside, but miserable on the inside. Carney's drinking increased.

After 15 years with the post office, Carney says, post-traumatic stress syndrome kicked into high gear and led to a number of hospitalizations. He left the post office on a disability retirement.

By that time, Carney and his wife had become estranged, separated and, years later, divorced. Carney says it wasn't the closet cross-dressing that broke them up. They simply grew apart.

Carney moved into an apartment in Malden. Alone for the first time in years, Carney says he felt a "huge awakening."

One day, Carney went to Goodwill. He donated all his men's clothes. And bought three bags of women's clothes.

"I was 45 and I felt like a little kid," she says.

Carney says he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and stopped drinking. Then came the gender-corrective surgeries. For the first time in years, Carney was smiling.

But her gender change was bittersweet. Carney admits she was shunned by her family.

A family's shock

After the first surgery, Carney says her mother and one of her sisters wouldn't or couldn't speak to her. Too much confusion and misunderstanding about gender identity, she says.

"Most transsexual families don't get it," she says. "My mother didn't talk to me for a year. It hurt."

They have since reconciled.

Doris Carney, 85, admits she was shocked at first about her son's decision.

"Years ago, you didn't hear about this kind of thing," she says.

Sometimes, Doris Carney slips, saying "John" instead of "Janice."

It's hard for a mother, she says. But Doris Carney admits deep in her heart that she always knew her son was different.

"In the last two to three years, I understand it more," she says. "It's just normal for Janice, and I've never seen her so happy."

Carney's children -- a son, 27, and two daughters, 22 and 21 -- have trouble grasping their father's new gender.

"At first, my son was petrified because he thought this might happen to him," Carney says.

Carney has written a book, Purple Hearts and Silver Stars. A quote from son Shaun appears on the dust jacket: "I do not understand what you are doing, but it seems to be working. You are not full of anger and yelling or raising your voice. I do not get it but you are happier and more calm than I have ever seen you."

Finding peace

Hormone treatments have given Carney breasts, but have done nothing to reduce her beard or lighten her deep voice. It takes a close shave and some makeup in the morning to complete her look.

She tried voice lessons but decided she's just fine the way she is.

"I think I look good for a woman my age," she says, grinning.

Carney has embraced her life. She describes herself as a "transgender, lesbian, disabled veteran." She educates people about "transgender issues," gender issues including transsexualism, cross-dressing and transvestitism.

She has written poems, rants, essays and short stories direct from a "Trans-Woman's" soul. She has been featured in two short documentaries Transjan -- A True Transgender Story and Finding Peace.

Carney moved to Lowell from Florida in June. Around that time, Lowell drew statewide media attention when three Lowell men were accused of attacking a transgendered man walking along Bridge Street.

Carney initially questioned her move to Lowell.

"Gay-bashing is a sport in America," she says.

But Carney admits she has never had any problems on the streets of Lowell, other than a few odd looks.

"For the first time in my life, I am comfortable in my own skin," she says. "I really feel pretty blessed."

Carney is looking for a long-term relationship, with a woman. The man born a woman inside loves women.

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