Nearly three years ago Camille Hopkins traveled to Montreal for sex reassignment surgery, a giant step on the road to becoming a woman.
At age 57, the city employee formerly known as Gregory Hopkins has become a leader in the effort to educate people about gender variance. Hopkins will be the first to admit her life has not been easy.
>Where do you find your strength?
In the company of my friends, in music and in solitude. My level of activism is so intense at times that I need to step into those quiet moments. I might immerse myself in a book.
>Do you retain the same personality traits you had as a man?
Certainly. It's just that my essence has been repackaged. Outgoing. Sense of adventure. Sometimes a bit too serious. I believe the world will get better. I have to have that belief because when I talk to those kids in college classes, I'm planting seeds that years from now they can gather when they're in positions of influence.
>Does anything about the woman who has emerged surprise you?
Yes. I used to be somewhat fearless, but now there is a fear that as I walk in the world of women, I am susceptible to sexual assault, rape, people taking advantage of me in other realms where they would not have before. I have gone car shopping and salespeople talked to me like I was some kind of an idiot. They think I'm interested in the size of the glove compartment when I might be interested in the cubic displacement of the engine. Same thing with electronics.
>Is dating tough?
Yes. In some cases I'm upfront about who I am. In my case I'm so out, I find it difficult to be anonymous. Sometimes, I think people date me because they are curious. The majority of trans women find it difficult to find a guy who feels comfortable. I'm a little fearful that I'm going to experience a lot of loneliness, at least if I stay here in Buffalo.
>Is Buffalo trans-friendly?
Buffalo is a wonderful place. People are friendly, but it still has this Midwest mentality that tends to embrace conservative values, and individuals like us tend to push the cultural boundaries of what it is to be men and women.
>Describe your style.
Jeans, sweaters, comfortable shoes. It's anything but drag queenie, which some people expect. I wear clothes that any ordinary woman might. There's no transgender line of clothes.
>You seem very comfortable.
As you learn to feel more comfortable in your skin, you have more interaction with the world. I am lucky I have this ability to move among men and women, and not be stared at as a freak or be called a name that's not complimentary. I've had to develop a thick skin. Some people tell me what I have done earned me a place in hell.
>What has this whole experience taught you about yourself?
I'm a much stronger person than I ever imagined. I never thought I would be able to find the strength to do this. I knew since I was 7 years old that I was not like other boys, despite the apparatus I was carrying around. It took decades to understand I could do this. Nowadays, there are role models out there. I can be a role model to some kid who's struggling with an internal identity issue.
>What do you do for fun?
I like theater. Buffalo has a great theater scene. I go to as many concerts as I can, sometime in bars like Nietzsche's. I saw Ani DiFranco there when she was just a teen.
>There must be many activities to get used to.
Well, I have to shave parts of my body I haven't before. And shoes? Oh my goodness. Heels are definitely a challenge. Frankly, I don't mind the shoes because I've been told I have really good legs. I guess I like being complimented on my looks. Sometimes I'm not pleased with what I see in the mirror, but I'll go with it. I'm not going to obsess about it.
>Do you feel like a natural woman?
It's become second nature. I just go about my business and I don't have to think about what I'm doing. It's like the training wheels are off. If we don't live our lives for ourselves then what is the point?