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.
Growing up in conservative Roseburg, Kim Mason was then 9-year-old Tim Mason when she realized she was different. She began playing dress-up, and once fashioned an old yellow rain jacket into a skirt. She’d steal her mother’s lipstick and paint her toenails.
She was horrible at sports and “threw like a girl,” a cliché she hates because she knows many outstanding female athletes.
She hated PE and took up the saxophone just to get out of gym class. Her musical talent flourished, though, and today she is in a regionally known blues band in Buffalo, New York that opens for national acts.
A grade-school loner who really wasn’t bullied, she said, she rocked her band geek persona in junior high and high school and gravitated more toward friends who were girls. She preferred being in the friend zone.
But she also did extreme male bonding to compensate for her inner feelings.
She had her first sexual encounter in the role of a girl when she was 15. A few months later, the boy she’d dated committed suicide.
While she took that one risk that one time, she knew she had to deny her true self, or possibly risk death. “I grew up in a redneck town where any step outside the box would get you chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged on a timber landing.”
The pressure of that denial as she reached adulthood expressed itself in her self-destructive partying, and over-compensating with things like buying muscle cars.
“You go through many, many midlife crises, to compensate,” she said.
Her adult life was marked with a number of relationships with women — she felt immediate, intense connections that she said probably qualify as love at first sight. She was even married for a time.
Like her friend who killed himself, Mason had a nearly lethal case of self-loathing. As a teen, she remembers repeatedly stabbing a school photo of herself with a pin, repeating, “I hate myself, I hate myself.”
During Christmas in 2000, at age 33, she decided to kill herself.
At a family dinner with her parents, her brother, and her brother’s wife and her children, Mason heard her mother lament at the dinner table that, “I guess Tim is our only chance to have grandchildren now.”
By then, Mason had kept secret for nine years the existence of her own daughter, who was born after a two-year affair with a married woman, and who she could only watch from afar — at school functions and the like — as she grew up. (See related story.)
She’d also kept secret her realization that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body, and that on the weekends, she’d been going to the Portland clubs, where she was known as Kalifornia Kym.
She’d decided earlier she would come out to her parents that night at dinner, but hearing her mother’s comment — all the while knowing she had a child she couldn’t publicly acknowledge — made her feel like a failure. She went home, wrote a suicide note, put a gun in her mouth, pulled the trigger – and nothing.
“I do not know if it was just the cheap handgun I owned or divine intervention,” she said. “I believe the world was not ready for me to leave it yet.”
Since early adulthood, she’d worked as a chef, and then as a purchasing agent, all the while gigging on the side with various bands. While she’d gotten two talent grants her senior year and was a top high school sax player in Oregon, her father hated music, and she ended up studying electronics at Umpqua Community College.
So she had to not only squelch her sexual identity, but to a lesser degree her musical one as well.
In 2000, in her early 30s, she decided to move to New York with a female friend. She’d transition to a woman in Buffalo.
After mandatory talk therapy, she began taking hormones in 2004, and her already-high voice got a little higher.
Even so, she acknowledges her voice is still masculine. She could take voice lessons to change her speech somewhat, but then she thinks of the image of “the flamboyant gay man, but that’s not me either. I just like to be myself.”
If she had a do-over, she would transition sooner. While women taking hormones to transition to men can quickly develop body hair and a lower voice, men transitioning to women don’t have the same success.
Once the male voice box matures, it is hard to change it, Mason said.
But over about five years of taking estrogen, she developed B-cup breasts.
She sounds like a typical, relatable woman as she talks about wardrobe challenges. “The first thing I want to take off when I get home is my bra.”
She’s sensible about her other clothing choices. “I don’t do stilettos,” said the 5-foot-11 Mason. “I hate leggings because they’re hot.”
While she had a number of relationships with women in her years as Tim Mason, she mostly dates men now.
She’s upfront about her biological gender when she dates, though. “I definitely identify as transgender. I don’t try to pull off a farce that I’m a genetic woman.”
She said many murdered sex workers are transgendered people who didn’t disclose their biological sex.
As for the big bathroom debate that has shaken the country recently, Mason said it’s never been an issue for her. She’s always used the women’s restroom. “I never thought about it.”
She was part of a group of transgender women that formed a pool league at a local bar, and they all used the women’s bathroom. “There’s power in numbers.”
But, she’s flexible on the bathroom issue. “If there’s a line, I’ll go in the men’s room.”
Once, she was shopping and went into the women’s room to try on clothes. “When I came out, they had the whole thing barred off and closed, so they closed the whole dressing room because I went in there, and that was the only time I felt discriminated against.”
As a musician, she said she’s been heckled a few times, but doesn’t give it much attention. “I really just kind of tune out poopy people.”
Almost as soon as she joined her current band, Randle and the Late Night Scandals, a man in the audience heckled her. The lead singer jumped off stage, got in the man’s face and yelled, “‘Don’t you disrespect her or any other member of my band or I’ll take this mic chord and strangle you!’ Then she shoved him to the ground. And I was like, ‘Ok, I joined the right band.’”
Mason has a still-undiagnosed autoimmune disease that is giving her nerve pain in her extremities. She uses a cane, stands when she performs in the band, and swears she won’t become “a stool musician.”
As for how she would identify herself sexually, she would say she’s bisexual, but also likes to say that the notion of gender identity being just two choices — male or female – is far too limiting. She said the possibilities for gender identity should read more like a “Chinese menu.”
For instance, she said, “If you’re a transwoman dating men, is that still heterosexual? It’s confusing.”
Soon after moving to Buffalo, Mason began working at a trans-friendly international bank company in the mortgage division. She started dressing more feminine, and then began living full-time as a woman in 2004. In 2012, when she’d been there 11 years, the company sold to decidedly trans-unfriendly new owners.
Literally the day after the new company took over, her superiors began writing her up. She was fired four months later and spun into depression.
In 2014, she collapsed and fell down 20 stairs and ended up in ICU.
Confused doctors, seeing her listed as a female, even ordered a pregnancy test to see what was going on.
Then, right before they were about to release her, an alert cardiologist ordered an EKG, which found she’d had three heart attacks in the last four months. She was rushed to another hospital for quadruple bypass surgery.
The funny part of the story is she landed at the bottom of the stairs at the spot where her mail was deposited. As she was being hauled off on a stretcher, she grabbed a critical piece of mail – her acceptance for Medicaid coverage.
In 2007, she was finally able to connect with her daughter, and in 2012, came out to her. Mason also came out to her mother, but her mother insisted she not tell her father, who died in 2008 never knowing her secret.
When her brother found out, he disowned her.
But Geri Mackey, the mother of her child, has always been accepting of her, as has her daughter.
“What I really want to convey is how lucky I was that my family was accepting,” Mason said.
Her daughter’s acceptance is something “which I find remarkable with her growing up in Roseburg.”
Now, Mason has two growing grandchildren in The Dalles who she wants to meet. “They’re getting so big!”
She’s even considering moving to Wasco County, especially after hearing a Pride event is planned in The Dalles. It showed the town was more progressive than she imagined.
And while it would mean leaving her band, she said, “I’m at a point now where my family is more important than my music.”