Cohasset resident finally enjoying life after change to woman
By Nancy Reardon
GateHouse News Service
Posted Feb 03, 2010 @ 06:17 PM
It took almost four decades, but Cohasset resident Michelle Figueiredo is finally comfortable in her own skin and ready to start a new life.
Figueiredo, 38, said she wasn’t at peace with herself until about five years ago. But her story is much deeper than that. It’s about a woman who was struggling with self-image.
Born Michael Figueiredo, she spent more than three decades as a male trying to live up to other people’s expectations.
That was before Michael became Michelle.
“I’m at peace now,” she said during a recent interview about her journey as a transgender woman.
Figueiredo dresses, talks and, most importantly, identifies herself as a female. And she’s received strong support from friends and her employer – State Street in Quincy – during her transition.
Many transgender people aren’t as fortunate.
An anti-discrimination bill pending on Beacon Hill would change the state’s hate crime laws to include transgender people, and it would make sure employers can’t fire or overlook job applicants who are transgender.
Figueiredo has endured her fair share of verbal assaults, mocking and a close call with a near violent attack.
But she said she doesn’t let other people’s ignorance get to her. After all, she’s never been happier.
With two daughters, Figueiredo’s parents badly wanted their youngest to be a boy – and she knew that growing up. She also knew something didn’t feel right.
“I remember having confusion and not understanding it,” she said. “I wanted to do ballet with my friend who had pigtails and wore a tutu. But I learned the difference between girls and boys early on.”
Figueiredo said she displayed a strong “alpha male persona” almost as a survival instinct to protect herself.
“My family loved having a boy,” she said. “It made it harder to understand and accept yourself.”
She didn’t attend college right after high school, instead working at a deli in Cohasset for five years, getting to know many people in the town.
“I went about my life trying to be Mike because that’s who I was told I was,” she said.
But when she entered the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth at age 23, Figueiredo met people who were openly transgender for the first time. She remembers thinking, “Maybe I’m not alone.”
After graduation, she began to identify herself as a cross-dresser but hid it from family and many friends.
She took her degree in marine biology and headed to Alaska, where she worked for a short time on fishing boats as a government observer. Again, her protective instincts to appear as manly as possible took over.
After returning to Massachusetts, she moved into an apartment with a female friend in whom she started to confide her feelings. It helped, she jokes today, that the friend worked in psychology.
At the time, Figueiredo still considered herself a cross-dresser. Until a night about four and a half years ago.
She describes it today as the culmination of her life experiences feeling uncomfortable in her own skin and struggling with desires to act and behave differently.
She remembers talking on the phone to her friend, stopping her mid-sentence and in a moment of self-realization, declaring, “I’m a woman.”
On the other end, her friend responded, “It’s about (expletive) time!”
Nancy Reardon may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.