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Triumph of Determination

by Denny Meyer

Zander Keig is a highly educated helping professional, Coast Guard veteran, and middle aged teddy bear of a mustachioed man with a full beard and kindly eyes.  He's earned three masters degrees, and has enough experience helping veterans and others to deserve medals and awards.  He was named this year's National Association of Social Workers (NASW) California Chapter Social Worker of the Year.  So, you'd be surprised perhaps to hear that he was a once a troubled incorrigible teen aged girl who dropped out of high school.

This is the story of his triumph and determination to achieve self realization and so much more.

Zander Keig is a first generation Latino of Mexican heritage whose father emigrated here legally.  He was raised speaking English within the Mexican-American culture, near the ocean in Southern California.  They had a fairly good way of life, his father having been an engineer.  But Zander's childhood was traumatized early on with a medical catastrophe at the age of six when he was struck with paralyzing encephalitis resulting in years of rehabilitation in order to learn how walk, talk, read, and write again.

Having survived and triumphed over all of that, as a young girl he realized he was a lesbian at the age of thirteen and, puberty being what it is for some of us, Zander went wild to the point that he was placed in a group home, attended an alternative school and was repeatedly suspended until he eventually dropped out of high school.  What a miserable difficult childhood straight out of Charles Dickens drama.  And like a Dickens drama about a girl who overcame adversity to become a successful man, Zander found the inner inspiration and strength of character to put himself on the path to maturity.

First, he joined the Coast Guard.  As almost any vet knows, boot camp and service will help you grow up very fast.  It worked.  It took a while to get where he is, of course.  It required a lot of determination.  Life as a Coastie was miserable and wonderfully exiting at the same time; a not unusual military experience.  He loved the boats, and training as a fireman and maritime enforcement.  But there was also the servile life as a lower enlisted person, cleaning heads and all the other fun things that make you love your senior NCOs.

After his service, he went to community college, worked various jobs, cooking, learning to massage, and going through eight long years of repeatedly appealing his VA disability claim for an injury while serving.  All that work paid off and he was granted VA Vocational Rehabilitation Educational Benefits.

Then he went to college and earned his first degree, a BA in Interpersonal Communication (1999), followed by a Masters Degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution (2003), another Masters Degree in Theology - Comparative Religion (2004), and finally a third Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work (2012).  In between all of that advanced education, he worked at Job Corps with at risk young adults as  a career transition specialist, at the CA Employment Development Department as a veterans employment development specialist, with medically discharged veterans who completed VA vocational rehabilitation, and was a 2000 Census Bureau recruiter and 2010 Census Bureau recruiting supervisor.  And now, as a highly educated middle aged man, he has been a clinical case manager with the VA, and later with DoD.

But wait, there's more!  In between doing most of the above as a woman, he was a lesbian activist, as if anyone doing all that could possibly have any spare time!  After having been named 'Ms Gay Pride' at the age of 21 in 1987 while still serving, he became co-president of the Gay Student Union @ his community college.  Later he started two Lesbian Avengers chapters -leading guerrilla actions, protests, disruptions, and dyke marches; and was also a Queer Nation Cell Leader (you go!).

Then at the ripe old age of 30 he saw a documentary about being transgender, and a light lit up in his head.  That also took years to bring to self actualization.  But for Zander, clearly, nothing can stop him once he decides to do something.  The film, You Don't Know Dick, Courageous Hearts of Transexual Men (1997),  wasn't quite an epiphany, he noted.  That took another year until he saw a book,  Body Alchemy; Transsexual Portraits (1996), with before and after photos trans men.  Already androgynous, Zander began to wonder if he could live life as a self-actualized man.  So many aspects of life loomed into clarity as he imagined being able to go into the restrooms and walk down the street without being harrassed by strangers.  It took eight years, of considerable discernment, but eventually he embarked on a medical transition. 

 Along the way, he met the woman of his dreams, while they were both attending the same seminary, and they fell in love and married.  At that time, their marriage was totally routine, as he was already a male; legally.  As an added bonus of his transitioning, he was able to focus on transgender issues in many of his graduate papers

Some people simply have blessed lives.

Zander Keig, a happily married middle aged male clinical social work case manager, has achieved self fulfillment.  But, don't imagine that it was by blessed luck that he got there.  It wasn't at all easy.  He started out, as a seriously troubled teen who could have ended up in prison or dead.  As smooth as the story above may seem, its just a summary of a very long struggle and a lot of hard work and determination to become the man he is today.   Anything is possible, but it takes more than just wishing.

For more on Zander's life and work, including his many publications and media pieces, please visit his website www.zanderkeig.net

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