Bobbie Zenker wished she were a girl when she was a preschooler.
“I can remember cross dressing from as early as age 10, but I repressed it,” she said. Then a boy, she was one of a Roman Catholic family of five children: three boys and two girls.
Their father was a rageaholic. His unpredictable, violent behavior reinforced the church’s interpretation of human sexuality.
The then Robert Zenker did everything he could to fit in. He received a bachelor of arts degree in 1980 from the University of Dayton in fine art and photography and came to Montana, where he ran the St. Labre Home in Ashland.
After earning his law degree at the University of Montana, he eventually was elected Madison County attorney. He jettisoned the Catholic Church and became a Protestant fundamentalist, married and fathered two children.
People saw him as a successful man. But inside, he struggled constantly with the longing to be a woman.
During this part of his life, Mr. Zenker continued to attend church. He prayed with his whole heart to have his sexual identity issues removed, but they never were. He was dying, both emotionally, and from his drinking.
“That was definitely a period of time where I was so demoralized,” he said. “I couldn’t reconcile my public life with the female underneath. I’d just say f___ it and get drunk.”
He quickly passed from problem drinking to addiction to alcohol.
“My wife would say, ‘Do you think you might have a problem with alcohol?’ I’d agree, but I didn’t quit. The problem was, I never met a drink I didn’t like.”
Finally, in 2005, he’d reached the jumping-off place. It was either take action or go on to a better end. He decided to transition from male to female. With that step came relief as well as sobriety.
The move from man to woman took two years, and included psychological evaluations and counseling. Though she says it was the right choice for the new Ms. Zenker, it was not an easy path.
“All of the old had been cast aside, but the new hadn’t manifested,” he said. “It was a place of unknowing. My useful life as a man was over.”
The now Roberta Zenker had to hold on. One night she went to sleep clutching her grandfather’s rosary beads. They were still in her hand when she awakened the next morning.
“I now know that each of us have our own personal journey to God. My God tells me, ‘I love you, too.’” Roberta, or Bobbie, attends an accepting Methodist church. “I have a much broader spirit than I ever did. I start with the premise that God is. In the end I believe that each person finds his own way to God. Our souls are the place of God in us.”
Ms. Zenker finds it strange that most people have no trouble accepting physical repairs for people born with a birth defect but reject transgender surgery. She believes that her internal female identity was with her from birth.
“God created my soul,” she said. “My parents created my body when they had sex.”
She was surprised to find that she had trouble finding work in her profession though she’d been highly successful as the Madison County Attorney.
“It was a two-year process, sending out hundreds of resumes,” she said. “I didn’t expect that.” She now works as an advocate and attorney at Disability Rights Montana in Helena.
Another smaller problem: changing all of her licenses and I.D. “You work through it one document at a time. I started the day I got my name change. Social Security was easy. I couldn’t change the name and gender marker on my birth certificate, though. The state of Maryland (where she was born) doesn’t allow it.” Her hunting license now says Roberta Zenker as well.
While Bobbie Zenker is peaceful with her decision to transition, others in her life were not. “I lost male friends, but most of my female friends were very supportive.”
Her two sisters thought it was neat that they had another sister. But after seven years, her younger brother still won’t talk to her.
Heterosexual men often find issues of male sexual orientation threatening. But there are biological reasons for the variations. Transgender males often have a genetic condition called Kleinfelter’s Syndrome. Instead of an X and a Y chromosome, they have one or more XXY combinations.
The more of those combinations, the more feminine characteristics, often accompanied by sterility. Other people have SRY, a gene that attaches itself to the long arm of the X chromosome, making them true hermaphrodites, people who are equally male and female.
Still others are intersexual: people born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male. Some are female on the outside, but have male organs internally, or vice versa. Some have genitals that are in-between the usual male and female types.
Others have, as Bobbie Zenker did, psychological conflicts around their gender from birth.
Computers have allowed the mapping of human DNA, but researchers have only started to uncover the mysteries of how all those thousands of genes interact. Add the influence of environment, culture and parenting, and the possibilities become endless.
In the light of current scientific knowledge about human sexuality, to view sexual orientation as a moral issue is arguably the true sin.
Bobbie Zenker is now an attractive woman, at peace with her decision to transition from male to female.
“When I see pictures of myself as a man, I think, who is that person?”
To find out more about Bobbie’s journey, you can purchase “Trans Montana: A Memoir of Transformation in Body, Mind and Spirit.” The book is available from Amazon in paper and on Kindle.