More than 7,000 students were at John Paul Jones Arena this weekend – collecting a diploma from the University of Virginia. Among them, Dallas Ducar who had two previous degrees from UVA. This one was especially meaningful – marking an academic and personal triumph.
Dallas Ducar had a bachelor’s in philosophy and cognitive science and a master’s in nursing when he began working toward the title of psychiatric nurse-practitioner. To achieve that goal, he’d have to study and to confront a secret he’d kept since the age of three.
“There was a persistent and insistent desire to dress up in women’s clothing," he recalled. "Wearing female clothing literally in the closet, even catching myself in daydreams and wishes and praying that I would one day be waking up and be female, and this was a consistent desire throughout childhood and adulthood.”
He struggled to repress those feelings – played high school football and joined a fraternity, but denying this fundamental part of his personality caused anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Psychiatric problems are common in people who feel they were born in the wrong body.
“The rate of suicidal ideation is about 50-60%," Ducar says,
"and completions are very high, especially without familial and social support. What we do see, though, is with support those numbers go back to the national average.”
Ducar began to meditate, to unpack and accept his feelings and to correspond with other trans people online.
His girlfriend was accepting – encouraging, and he decided to make the transition from male to female. His parents were shocked at first, then worried about the future.
“I grew up as a white male, and they worked hard for me to have what they envisioned as a good life for me," she explains. "I was beginning to take a step toward transition, but they viewed it as putting myself in a more vulnerable spot.”
Mrs. Ducar feared the news might kill her parents.
“She once said, ‘You cannot tell your grandmother or grandfather. If you tell them, they will have a heart attack!’” Dallas says.
So during visits to the family’s home in Phoenix, Dallas had to be careful.
“It was almost like a reverse Mrs. Doubtfire. There were times when I would come home initially, and I was on hormones, I was growing breasts, and I had not more facial hair anymore, longer hair up top, and I had to put it in a baseball cap and walk in and get my deep voice on, and it was really funny sometimes.”
And when grandma showed up one day without an invitation it was scary. Dallas was in her room, wearing a dress. She had no boy clothes, so it was time to fess up.
“I walk out, and she just gives me this big hug and says, ‘I love you,’ and days later my grandmother proposes that we go shopping, and we raided Macy’s!” Dallas remembers.
With a new wardrobe, she returned to UVA where the nursing school also proved supportive. She learned to walk and talk like a woman.’
This fall, she’ll start work at Mass General’s Transgender Health Program where she hopes to do research and help others through the challenge of transition.
“I’ve been able to make it, been able to survive, but not only that, been able to flourish, and that’s the same desire I’d want for any of my patients is not just to work toward survival but really authentically being your whole self, to move forward with optimism that the future can be better.”
And on her wall she may display her most meaningful diploma – the first two issued to Dallas Michael, but the latest degree awarded to Dallas Michelle Ducar.