From straight to gay to trans: a doctor’s memoir
by David-Elijah Nahmod
Editor’s note: This interview was featured in the September print issue of OutSmart magazine, before the death of Dr. Danielle Kaufman. OutSmart was sad to learn that Dr. Danielle Kaufman, formerly Dr. David Kaufman, was found dead in her Santa Rosa, California, home on Monday, September 30, 2013. Dr. Kaufman was fifty-three years old and was working as a radiologist at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa. Cause of death is not yet known. At the time of her death, Dr. Kaufman was working on a second book that would have detailed her coming out as transgender and settling in to her new life as a woman. “Danielle’s passing is a major loss, not only to her loved ones, but to the trans community,” said Jack Kusler of Addicus Books, Dr. Kaufman’s publisher. “Trans people face unemployment levels more than double than what was seen by the general populace during the Great Depression. But even after her transition, Danielle’s successful medical career continued. The trans community has lost an important voice and role model that could have given them hope.”
For many years, Dr. David Kaufman was a somewhat happily married man. He loved his wife, and their children, but something was missing. In his late 40s, the doctor had to face the truth. He told his wife, Cathy, that he was gay. Her response astonished him: she came out as a lesbian.
In Untying the Knot: A Husband and Wife’s Story of Coming Out Together (Addicus Books, addicusbooks.com), Dr. Kaufman recounts his journey and his attempts to “fit in” as society expected him to. He describes with candor his awkward attempts at dating—and sex—with women he wanted to find attractive, and then with men as a newly out gay man. He also looks back with affection on a marriage that was more of a close friendship, a friendship that continues to this day. Dr. and Mrs. Kaufman went from being spouses to best friends. They were instrumental in supporting each other’s coming-out process.
But the book is also sprinkled with hints of an even bigger revelation: a few years after coming out as a gay man, the doctor transitioned to female. Now known as Dr. Danielle Kaufman, she spoke to OutSmart from her home in Santa Rosa, California.
David-Elijah Nahmod: Was there ever any hesitation on your part in sharing such intimate details of your personal life?
Danielle Kaufman: I started writing as a form of journaling to help me cope with everything. Eventually I realized that I was writing a lot, and that it was looking like a book. Ultimately, what motivated me during the later parts was the feeling that I have an important message to share with the world, both within and without the LGBT community. The message is that [LGBT people] are all normal, functional human beings. There’s nothing weird or bizarre about us. We can and should feel proud of who we are. Too many of my LGBT brothers and sisters still feel shame for who they are, and we absolutely should not.
Did Cathy, your children, or other relatives read the book?
Cathy thought it was okay. I don’t think my older kids have read it yet—Cathy won’t let Alex, age 16, read it yet. My father, who was an English professor, thought it was good. My mom, who was a high school English teacher, thought it was good. I thought it would be too racy for her, but apparently it wasn’t.
The book is about coming out as gay, but not about coming out as transgender. When did this second realization come to you?
I talk about my transgender realization in the epilogue because it happened later. I had always fallen back on the assumption that I couldn’t be a woman because I didn’t know anything about female stuff like makeup. Since the first time it hit me, the feeling hasn’t ever really left. Transgender issues run rampant through my past—particularly my childhood. I understand now that I was one of the many people who believed that a person’s gender identity comes from their birth gender. Now I understand that I am female and that what I need to do is learn how to live this and do it. It’s very hard, but it’s a gloriously cool thing!
Since you had already come out as gay, was coming out as transgender easier for you?
With being gay, I pretty much flipped out and spent three years trying to get used to something that seemed, while undeniably true, superficially hard to accept. The trans thing was immediately obvious to me when it hit me. It took me all of about two days to come to terms with it. I’ve really always known it was true—I was just in denial.
My father sent me a wonderful Christmas card that said right on the front, “To my daughter.”
Cathy’s response has been more muted. She’s having a hard time getting used to all these sweeping changes in me, having known me intimately for twenty-five years. I can understand that it’s hard for her, but this is who I truly am.
Do you consider yourself “straight-identified” as a woman?
Yes, the part of the first epiphany—that I’m attracted to men—I got it right. The mistake I made was assuming that I’m a man and therefore a gay man. I feel attraction for women, but that’s normal for a straight woman. We normally notice other women and feel a pull towards the ones that seem attractive. I struggled with attraction to women all through the gay thing. Now I understand very clearly what’s going on: I don’t want to have sex with a woman—I want to have sex as a woman.
What do you hope readers will get from reading the book?
That there’s nothing wrong with LGBT. We’re all equal members of the family of humans.
David-Elijah Nahmod lives in San Francisco. His eclectic writing career includes LGBT publications, monster magazines, and the Times of Israel.