Transgender resident says community has been supportive
August 26, 2016
Lots of people are apprehensive about attending their high school reunions. Memories of teenage angst and self doubt can resurface, even decades later. But for Cami Desiree, who will attend her 45th high school reunion next month, the event is especially complex. The last time she saw her classmates, she was Tom Richardson.
But, she says, closing the gap between her past and present lives is also liberating.
At age 63, Cami says she is happy with the way her life has turned out, although she has some regrets about not coming out as transgender sooner. It has been a long journey, but many friends and acquaintances from all across the country are just now learning that the woman greeting them with a familiar smile is the person they used to know as a man.
Looking back, she realizes there were indications her gender identity didn't fit into the traditional mold beginning when she was 8 years old and delighted in wearing her mom's clothes.
"I always knew that there was something different about me. I always felt it was something I couldn't share. I was raised in a very Catholic family … just the thought of this being found out was scary," she said.
And she did not fully shed that fear of being "found out" until earlier this month when she left Tom's wardrobe at home in the closet and went to work dressed as Cami.
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Until then — first as a firefighter in New York, then CFO for American Skiing Company, later as a local entrepreneur and, currently, executive director of Temple Har Shalom – she was Tom. Cami was a closely-held secret even from her spouse and children.
"It was hidden, very discreet. I had two kids. Life was just moving along. But it was something I knew was still there. It made me feel good when I was dressed as a woman. It made me feel like I was who I wanted to be," she said.
Five years ago, as LGBT communities across the country accelerated their fight for equality, Cami says she made a personal commitment to reconcile her two identities.
"In 2010, I decided I had to get real. I realized my wife is an amazing woman who deserves to know the truth and I had to take the risk she would potentially say 'it's not for me.' And it wasn't like it was a cakewalk, we had some serious discussions about what does it all mean, what was I doing."
Cami said she is lucky. “She is an amazing and loving spouse and I feel very fortunate to have her in my life.”
They are still married and working through the transition together, Cami said.
Cami also made the difficult decision to share the news with her two adult children.
"My kids were great. My son-in-law is somewhat conservative and they have two kids so I thought if this doesn't go well he could say 'you can't ever see the kids again.' That's what held me back for a while. Instead they said, 'why did you wait so long?'"
At about the same time, Cami and her spouse, who had homes in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts and Sarasota, Florida, decided to move to Utah full time. They bought a home in Kamas and worked in Park City. Tom became well known in the community through his Park City Locals Card and Summit County Beef and together, the couple also ran two small local businesses.
Then, in 2015 when Bruce Jenner, the Olympic decathlete, made his public transition to Caitlyn, Tom decided to introduce Cami to his close friends. In February, she and her spouse threw a party.
The response, she said was heartwarming.
Their friend Rob Schumacher was one of the guests and he remembers, "It didn't bother any of us. We were somewhat surprised, but we thought, 'That's just who he is.'" As far as Schumacher is concerned, "Tom/Cami, it's the same person. It doesn't feel awkward. We play golf, we have a good time."
Their friend John J.W. Wells who knew Cami as Tom for eight years before she transitioned, agrees. According to Wells, Cami confided in him about a year ago.
"There were some concerns that some friends would not be as accepting, but that's natural," Wells said adding, most people in Park City don't care if Cami wears a dress or men's pants. "Either way, he is just a dear friend," said Wells.
But it was still months before 'Tom' went to the office as 'Cami.' The transition announcement was carefully coordinated at the temple. In order to give congregants ample time to adjust, the news was first posted in the e-newsletter on Aug. 11. The next day she arrived at work as Cami.
Since then she has embraced her transgender identity full time.
"The simple answer is that it has gone very well. A number of people have reached out to me. They have been amazingly receptive," she said.
"Park City is a bubble. If you are looking for the best place to come out and be transgender, this is pretty good," she said.
During a recent outdoor concert at Deer Valley, Cami recounts how a stranger sat down on her blanket, leaned forward and confessed: "I am a Republican. I am from Texas. I am conservative. I'm Christian and I've been told I need to hate you." They ended up talking and parted with a hug.
Cami says the experience has also been positive outside of Park City. This week, while she was walking her dog along a side street in Kamas, a neighbor pulled up beside her and said, "I just want to tell you how brave I think you are."
As to that reunion with her classmates in Poughkeepsie, New York, Cami says some of the stress has been reduced. One of the organizers took it upon herself to email attendees a gentle explanation that their former classmate Tom is now Cami and she hoped they would welcome her warmly.
After her experience in Park City, Cami is confident that most will.
What does transgender mean?
Transgender refers to a person's gender identity. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of transgender is: "of, relating to, or being a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth."
Gender identity does not refer to a person's sexual preference, which means a transgender person may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.
Cami Desiree said if someone is uncertain about his or her gender identity or sexual preference, it is important to talk to someone. One place to start is the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City that maintains a counseling hotline and lists of additional resources. Go to http://www.utahpridecenter.org or call 801.539.8800
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