Officer switching genders after years of despair

? For most of her life, Jessica Renee knew something wasn’t right.

The 6-foot-tall Kansas City police officer and St. Joseph native was born David Joel, served in the Marines and the Navy and even was married twice.

But Jessica, who legally changed her name in September and agreed to speak to The Kansas City Star for a story published Friday – and only if her last name wasn’t used – said she still felt out of place as a man.

The disconnection – she later discovered her condition was called gender identity disorder – helped end both of her marriages and led to decades of self-doubt, despair and even suicidal thoughts, she said.

Since coming to grips with her condition and seeking therapy, Jessica has started hormone therapy and is saving up the $17,500 necessary for a sex-change operation, formally called gender reassignment surgery.

She also has come out to the police department, which in January allowed her to dress as a woman at work, including makeup and fingernail polish. Not that she’s lost anything when confronting suspects, even in topaz earrings.

“When I get loud, I sound like a man,” she said. “It throws the bad guys off. They can think whatever they want. I don’t care.”

‘Hyper-masculine’ job

Researchers estimate that one in 12,000 people in the U.S. is transgender. Yet activists say the law enforcement arena attracts more than its fair share of people with gender identity issues and estimate there may be scores of transgender officers.

Males who want to transition to females join the force as they try “to hide their feelings … by seeking a hyper-masculine occupation,” said Tom Whetstone, a former police officer and researcher in Louisville, Ky. On the flip side, females wanting to transition to males are drawn to a job that lets them express male behaviors, he said.

Whetstone said he’s documented 60 transgender officers across the country and contacted about 300 who may be.

The Transgender Community of Police and Sheriffs, or TCOPS, was formed six years ago as an international support group and has 110 core members and contacts with 600 more, most in the U.S.

Rough childhood

Jessica didn’t feel that community growing up. As a child, David envied his sisters being able to wear dresses and even tried them on when no one was around. His Marine sergeant father signed him up for sports, which he disliked and later quit.

David was picked on for being effeminate and had few friends. He joined the military after high school, got married and, for a time, thought he had overcome his difficulties.

But he was still unhappy and applied at several police departments, figuring being shot on the job wouldn’t be a terrible way to go.

He joined the Kansas City police force in 1996 and got remarried.

David learned about gender identity disorder on the Internet and saw the long and expensive path to becoming a woman. He had repeated affairs in a bid to force his wife to divorce him, but that only deepened his despair, as he felt guilty over hurting his wife.

But therapy – he spent months talking with a British therapist before he found a local one – helped him confront his condition and explain the situation to his ex-wife and his police superiors.

“It’s absolutely one of the most difficult things anybody can do,” said California police officer Julie Marin, who made the transition from male to female in 2001 and founded TCOPS.

Making the change

Last year, Jessica came out to Deputy Chief Rachel Whipple, the only female deputy of five, who said she would take it up with the police chief.

Meanwhile, Jessica changed her name, began taking a testosterone blocker and 6 milligrams a day of estrogen and replaced “man” clothes with female clothes. She also began learning about makeup and women’s fashion.

She also told her father, which was perhaps the most daunting.

“How do you tell your dad, a 30-year retired Marine, that his oldest son is actually his oldest daughter? I didn’t want to lose my Dad,” she said.

Jessica’s father, finally understanding his son’s childhood traits, welcomed her.

“I love you,” he told Jessica. “It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Obstacles at work remain. For example, the department wanted her to continue dressing at work as a man, writing her up when she forgot to remove her earrings and calling her pink nail polish “ostentatious.”

Her superiors changed their minds after she sent them a two-page memo in January, saying she wanted to dress according to women’s standards. Officials also set up unisex bathrooms in department precincts, as neither men nor women wanted to share.

The department wouldn’t allow officers to talk to the Star for the story.