In a wide-ranging interview that touched on everything from bras to bathrooms, a transgender woman who hopes to meet her grandchildren living in The Dalles quipped that she’s transparent about being transgender.
Kim Mason has spent a lifetime living with secrets.
First was the dawning realization during her childhood in Roseburg — she was a boy named Tim Mason then — that she was trapped in the wrong body.
Then, in her early 20s, she had a two-year affair with a married woman that produced a child. But both of them tacitly agreed that the child would never know who her real father was. Another secret.
Years later, that agreement was cast aside and her daughter, Alyssa Adams, who was by then a teenager living in The Dalles, reached out to Mason in 2007.
Their relationship quickly grew, but Adams only knew she had a dad named Tim who lived in upstate New York. But in reality, Mason had begun living as a woman three years earlier, in 2004, and did what she called “reverse cross-dressing” when she visited Oregon as Tim.
An accomplished saxophonist who was ranked the second best sax player in Oregon her senior year of high school, Mason was part of a blues band that began having local success in the music scene in Buffalo a few years ago.
On Christmas Eve of 2012, Mason sent Adams a youtube clip of her band, without comment. Adams, sitting in the drive-thru at McDonald’s and staring in confusion at her phone, was left to piece together her father’s final secret: Tim/Kim was a woman.
Now, Mason, who just turned 49 yesterday, has two grandchildren in The Dalles she’s never met. Living on disability – she has a lupus-like autoimmune disease and significant nerve pain in her extremities – she doesn’t have the funds to come to The Dalles.
But she has a big wish for her 49th birthday — to raise enough money through an online funding campaign at fundmytravel.com — to come to The Dalles to finally meet her grandchildren, now ages 3 and 5.
Her funding campaign can be found at: fundmytravel.com/campaign/YqB9l3grzB. It is titled “Grandchildren complete the circle of love—by Kim Mason.”
Just last week, fundmytravel.com made Kim’s request a featured campaign on the front page of its website. By Thursday afternoon, she’d raised $380 of a requested $2,499.
Mason has a hard-won sense of humor about her situation, and refers to herself not as a granddaddy, but a “trandaddy.”
But Adams calls Mason “Grandpa Kim” and there’s a practical reason for it.
Her children already have a Papa Bill — her stepdad — and Grandpa Ross, the man Adams grew up thinking was her real father.
Now, with a third person in the mix – who is transgender no less – Adams said, “How do you explain to a 3 and a 5-year-old that you have a third dad? How do you explain biological? They understand step.”
But Adams is wholly supportive of Mason. “It’s beautiful. It’s amazing. I wasn’t offended by who she was. It was kind of fricking cool, actually. I’m a weirdo, I’m a freak. I start conversations with: ‘I have three dads and one of them’s a woman — beat that.’”
Adams added, “I have a different story than anybody else and it’s a beautiful one because it’s a story of love and family and truth and the power of that.”
The whole journey, she said, is still teaching her about tolerance and unconditional love. “Jesus didn’t come spend those 40 days walking around telling us to love everybody except Kimberly. ‘Love everybody except her!’ No, he said to love everybody. And if you do it you’re going to have a great, beautiful life.”
Even so, it hasn’t been easy to change “him” to “her” and “he” to “she” and “Tim” to “Kim.”
“In just the last few months I have been able to start calling her ‘her,’ and it’s out of respect and love. The holding back is not in the sense that I’m not ok with it, and blah blah, it’s just hard for me to wrap my brain around it. My brain doesn’t accept it. For a long time when I tried to say ‘her’ or ‘he’ or ‘Tim’ it just wouldn’t even come out. I only found out that Tim existed when I was 15, and now Tim doesn’t exist and it’s Kim. And the hardest was how to talk about her to my kids.”
And that’s when she just blurted out Grandpa Kim one day as she asked her son Timothy if he wanted to talk to Mason on the phone, and the moniker stuck.
Adams wants Mason to come visit, but is nervous. “It’s just fear of the unknown.” She’s a planner who likes to figure out contingencies, “and this is one that I’ve just gotta wing it. And I want it to happen. I need it to happen. Whether it happens now through this campaign or for another reason at another time, it’s gonna happen. I have faith in that.”
Learning her dad was a woman was “intense. That was hard. That was a really heavy ball that got dropped on me on Christmas Eve out of nowhere.”
Adams had Googled Mason’s band, Randle and the Late Night Scandals, and saw Mason’s name.
She texted Mason, saying, “Is it a gimic or is that who you are?”
The reply: “That’s who I am. My name’s Kim.’”
Adams bawled her out for not coming out sooner.
“I said, ‘I’m kind of hurt that you didn’t tell me. You especially could’ve told me when I was naming my son Timothy. I named my son after you, the least you could’ve done was told me that wasn’t even your name.’”
Mason explained, “When you transition you must be prepared to lose your friends, employment, and sadly also you lose a lot of your family. So now I had my daughter back, but I was not ready to lose her after losing so much already.”
Soon after they connected, Mason came to Oregon to visit her daughter. She dressed as a man, but had long hair.
Everybody commented how much they looked alike.
Adams’s mother, Geri Mackey – who had sworn Mason to secrecy about their child because Mackey was married at the time – said her daughter looked like Mason “from the day she was born.”
Growing up in Roseburg, Adams said “there had been different whispers here and there my whole life” that Mason was really her dad.
Then, one night when Adams was 15, her older sister encouraged her to quiz her mother.
“She did just admit it,” Adams said when she asked Mackey. “It was emotional. I wanted to find him.”
So she tried to track Tim Mason down, but had no luck. “Kimberly Mason was doing a lot, but Timothy Mason was kind of hard to track.”
She found Mason’s mom in the Roseburg phone book, but the woman refused to divulge his contact info.
Mason only learned her daughter was seeking her out when, on one of her regular phone calls to her mom, the mom, with ‘oh by the way’ casualness, mentioned toward the end of the call that Geri Mackey’s daughter had called seeking Mason’s number, but she, of course, refused to give it out.
Mason freaked out, and her mom told her to calm down, since she’d gotten the girl’s phone number.
They finally connected a week later. Adams, her mom and sister had gone to Clackamas Town Center to shop when the phone rang. Adams sat in the van for two hours and talked while her mom and sister shopped.
She began the phone call with something like, “So I hear you’re my dad.” They both cried, and began almost nightly phone calls, talking for an hour or two each time.
Mason told Adams that she had baby photos of her that she looked at every day. She recounted a treasured hug she got from her daughter when she was just 3-years-old and the two met at a community concert in Roseburg.
Adams said, “If you believe in kindred spirits. I don’t know this guy – girl – and just little by little I discovered pieces of myself that I’d been looking for. I wondered where they were, couldn’t find them anywhere else, and I found them.”
Mason flew out to meet her, and Adams convinced Mason to spill the secret to her parents and tell them they had a grandchild.
“So we drove down from The Dalles to Roseburg. It was probably the most awkward 30 minutes of my life and I’ve never spoken to either of them again,” Adams said.
Her grandparents have never reached out to her – not on birthdays, not even when she gave them two great-grandchildren. “A great-grandbaby named Timothy, I might add.”
“I wish I could make that part of the story prettier,” she said.
A few months later, Alyssa went to see Mason, and a scramble ensued in Buffalo as Mason had to remove all signs of her life as a woman from her apartment, and stress to her friends that they call her Tim.
Mason told Alyssa if she ever wrote a book about her life, that would be the funniest chapter.
But many of the other chapters would be much darker. (See related story.)
The Tim charade was a success. “He did a good job,” Adams said. “When I got to New York I started to pick up on some femmy, but I’m from Oregon. So he’s kind of femmy, maybe he was kind of bi. Whatever. Obviously man enough to make me. It didn’t even cross my mind.”
Their contact has cooled over time, she said. “There’s been some vacant periods. I go through stuff, he goes through stuff and we lose touch, but for the most part there’s at least been the bi-annual two or three-hour phone call.”
Now they stay connected via Facebook.
Adams knows not everybody will be as accepting as her. “I’m a good person and there are good people out there, but there’s rotten people out there also. They’re big babies.”