Edgar stared blankly back. How could I explain to this man of limited mental ability the value of $3000?
I looked in Clara’s direction, the manager of the group home where Edgar lives.
Her voice was painstakingly patient. “You can’t go spending that much on what you don’t need.”
Edgar’s perpetual smile didn’t waver. He wears that same closed-mouth grin no matter what the circumstances. It is impossible to tell from his round fleshy face anything about his feelings.
“I have three hun’red and eigh’een thousand dollars,” he answered proudly.
I tried to make my voice just as patient as Clara’s.
“Edgar, do you understand that money needs to last your whole life. You’re forty one. You could live into your 80s or 90s or even older. How will you pay for your food and where you live?”
“I c’n work. I do, you know.” He glances at Clara, proudly. “I clean trash from the park. Mr. Archibald says I’m good at it.”
“That’s not enough money to live on,” Clara told him. “And you won’t be working forever.”
Edgar’s smile didn’t fade. “I get my gover’ment check. Every month, I get my gover’ment check.”
Clara looked at me helplessly, and I felt a heavy weight of responsibility. If given a choice, I would definitely not have been the trustee of this fund. My father, who started the practice I inherited, did the accounting work for Edgar’s grandfather’s auto parts store. When he died and all his debts were settled, the remaining money, according to his will, was placed in trust for Edgar’s benefit. When my father retired, I ended up the trustee.
I decided to give it another try. “When you pay for something, you want to get your money’s worth, see? $3000 can buy a lot. To spend it on something like this is … not responsible. Do you see?”
I didn’t think Edgar did see, because he just continued grinning at me. I felt impatient. I bill at $320 per hour, and the cost of this meeting was coming out of his trust. I didn’t want to waste time, but I couldn’t figure out a way to wrap everything up efficiently.
Edgar answered me. “I wam’ be beau’ful. Like Ka’ey Perry.”
Clara spoke up. “Edgar, you need to listen to me. You’re a large man. You have broad shoulders, and a deep voice. I’m not sure why someone like you would want to look like Katy Perry, but you simply never will be beautiful. $3000 laser treatments to remove all the whiskers from your face are not going to make you beautiful.”
Edgar answered. “Lisa says all women are beau’ful. If I can be a woman I can be beau’ful.”
Clara shook her head. “Edgar, you are a man. You can’t be a woman.”
“Lisa used ta be a man. Now she’s a woman. She’s beau’ful.”
I looked questioningly at Clara. “Lisa?”
“It’s someone he met,” she explained. “I didn’t know about it. That lady Gwen that drives him around, I guess he told her he wanted to be a woman. Gwen introduced him to this Lisa. She brought him to some kind of support group before I got wind of it. I’ve left orders not to allow her to visit Edgar, but I think Gwen arranges for him to see her.”
“Lisa is my friend,” added Edgar helpfully. “She says I can be a woman. She says lots of people do it.”
Clara turned to Edgar. “Lisa may have done this, but you are not her. Some men, I guess, once they put a lot of work into it, can make themselves look like women. That doesn’t mean you can do it. People at the house won’t understand. People can be really cruel to men who try to look like women.”
“My friend Billy is at the house. He wouldn’t be cruel. He says if I wam’ be a woman I should be a woman. He says I can be beau’ful. I wam’ be beau’ful like Ka-ey Perry.”
I looked Edgar in the face and tried to make my voice sound as serious as I could. “Edgar, I’m not going to approve this money for laser treatments. You will be disappointed. You will not look like Katy Perry. You will look like yourself without whiskers.”
Edgar kept grinning. For all I could see, he didn’t understand a word of what I said. I waited for some response from him. Finally he felt compelled to give one. “I have three hun’red and eigh’een thousand dollars.”
“And I have the responsibility to make sure that money is spent wisely. Spending three thousand dollars for laser treatments to remove your whiskers is not spending the money wisely. I don’t care what your friend Lisa says, you will not look like Katy Perry. You won’t look beautiful, or even like a woman at all. I can’t approve the use of this money in that way. Do you understand?”
No response from Edgar, but I knew I had gotten through to him. The grin was still there, but I detected a sadness around his eyes. What I had said had sunk in. I felt terrible having to deliver this news to him, but there was no way I was allowing him to waste his grandfather’s life savings.
I turned to Clara. “Mrs. Jenkins, thank you very much for coming out today. I know it was an imposition, but I wanted you here to help Edgar understand.
“Oh, it’s no problem, Miss Stevens. Thank you for looking out for Edgar. You’re a truly good person. Let’s go, Edgar.”
She motioned to Edgar to stand up and leave my office.
At this moment Irene stuck her head into my office.
“I’m sorry, Cath, I know you didn’t want to be disturbed. There’s a woman out here who’s insisting upon seeing you now. She says once you hear what she has to say, you’ll be glad you saw her.”
“Ok,” I told her. We’re done in here. I’ll meet her out…”
I was not able to finish the sentence. The door was pulled open by a tall woman standing behind my assistant. Her hair was flawlessly coiffed and she was professionally attired. Oblivious to the rudeness of her gesture, she advanced past Irene and held out her hand.”
“I assume you’re Cathryn Stevens,” she announced. “I’m Lisa Leitner.”
I had no choice but to shake her hand.
She quickly glanced around the room, taking in the occupants. Seeing no empty chairs (Clara and Edgar still stand near theirs), she leaned back against the edge of my desk.
“I’m sorry to barge in like this, but Bill McDevitt called me and told me that Edgar was here.”
“Bill McDevitt?” I asked.
“He lives in the same group home as Edgar.”
“Billy is my friend,” Edgar added helpfully.
Lisa looked at Edgar. He made eye contact. Somehow, he interpreted her gaze at a question. “They say I can’t be beau’ful.” The melancholy was leaking into his voice.
She turned that gaze toward me. I found it piercing in a highly uncomfortable way, like I was being accused of doing something we both know I did. I needed to remind myself I did nothing wrong and that I did not have to answer to her. Her gaze continued to pierce, and I had to say something.
“What exactly is your interest in any of this?” I challenged.
Her voice was equally assertive and challenging. “Edgar is my friend. We look out for each other. Now kindly tell me what is happening here.”
“It would not be proper to comment. There is confidentially involved.”
“Whose confidentiality? Edgar’s?” She turned to Edgar. “Is it OK with you if Ms. Stevens tells me what’s been said here?” After he nodded eagerly, she turned back to me. “See? No confidentiality problem. So spill.”
At this point I was tired of arguing and frustrated that Edgar was incurring bills for my time he couldn’t possibly understand, bills against his own trust fund. It was time Lisa was put in her place.
“OK. I’ll tell you. Edgar here has an idea in his head that he can become a woman. Apparently that idea was put there by you.”
What happened next surprised everyone. Lisa tilted her head back and laughed heartily. It went on what seemed like forever, before she looked over at me.
“You think I put the idea into Edgar’s head?” She turned toward Edgar. “Tell Ms. Stevens how long you have wanted to be a girl.”
“Since I was li’l. I wan’ed to be a girl when I was a li’l boy. I remember.”
“And how long have you known me?”
“I know it was the day after Christmas. Miss Gwen was driving me home after that Christmas par’ee at the center. I told her I wam’ be a girl like Ka’ey Perry. She said I should meet a friend. That was you.”
She turned back to me. “OK. Edgar’s wanted to be a girl since childhood, but only just met me three months ago. Still think this whole thing is my fault?”
That piqued my temper. “This whole thing is ridiculous. Look at him. He’s a big hulking guy. He’s going to look ridiculous in women’s clothing. Everyone will make fun of him. He wants to spend a ton of money on things that won’t benefit him. Are you going to tell me that he knew about laser treatment before you told him?”
Lisa shot back without hesitating. “Edgar has a right to know what treatments are available to her.”
“Did you just call Edgar a ‘her’.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
Once again she turned to Edgar. “Do you mind it when I refer to you as ‘her’?”
“No,” he answered gleefully. “I like it.”
I shook my head. “How can he even know what he wants?”
“Do you know what gender you want to be?”
“Then what makes you think Edgar doesn’t? Because she’s got special needs? You think because she’s got special needs, she doesn’t know what gender she wants to be?”
I threw up my hands in disgust. “You’re filling his head with all kinds of dreams that can never come true.”
“Why can’t they come true?”
“Look at him him. He’s not a woman. He’s got stubble. He’s got muscles. He’s got a hairy neck. He’s a man. You obviously have no idea what people can be like. They can be very cruel.”
“Ms. Stevens, let me tell you what I do for a living. I’m a lobbyist for Congress. I’m paid to get the attention of men and women who have thousands of people also wanting something from them. I have a VERY good idea of what people are like.”
I calmed down a bit. Staring down this alpha female would not work. Time for logic. “Spending thousands of dollars on laser treatments is a waste of money. He’ll never become a woman and we both know it.”
“Thousands of her dollars. Hers. Not yours. And you’re right about one thing. She’ll never become a woman. Because she already is one.”
“Now come on. Anyone looking at him can tell he’s a man.”
“You don’t understand. Let me explain something to you. Womanhood is not a privilege that you EARN by how look, how you sound, or how you act. You can’t dole out womanhood to people you think have the intelligence or social savvy to do it ‘properly.’ There are no requirements to look or act a certain way, no minimum standard of femininity to meet in order to be permitted to be female. Womanhood is something that happens inside you, and if your insides are female, it doesn’t matter what your outsides are. It is your right to be female, to be who you are. And it’s your right to live as a female and to do whatever is in your power to turn yourself into the woman you know yourself to be.”
I tried to speak, but she didn’t even stop to take a breath. “And furthermore, trying to keep her from being the person she knows she is, is cruel in ways you can’t possibly understand. Forcing someone to live as the wrong gender is abusive. No other word for it. It crushes the soul. Ask anyone who has been made to go through it.”
Again, I tried to speak. Again, I found no to space to fit in a word.
“One more thing, Ms. Stevens. You WILL cut a check for Edgar to do laser treatments. Today, if she wants it. And if she wants further treatments, you will give her access to her funds, for hormone treatment, breast augmentation, and even sex reassignment surgery if she asks.”
I found my voice. “What makes you think you can tell me what to do?”
“Ms. Stevens, withholding medical care from someone with a disability is not only immoral, it’s also a crime. And make no mistake, gender transition is a medical necessity. Courts have said so. If you deny her access to this treatment, you will be paid a visit by a group of folks called Adult Protective Services, who take withholding medical care very seriously. You’ll find yourself spending a whole lot of time that can’t be charged to that trust fund. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide what to do.”
I have to admit it. Edgar, or Katy as she calls herself now, actually looks quite good in a dress.