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John Nemecek struggled with gender confusion from early childhood. Marrying at age 21 didn't change that confusion. Neither did raising three sons—all of whom are themselves now happily married. Four years ago, Nemecek's Internet search of a medical site matched the symptoms he exhibited: gender identity disorder (GID). "It was an awesome experience to realize something I'd been dealing with all my life had a name," Nemecek says. A therapist, endocrinologist, and a counselor all later confirmed the diagnosis.

In 2004, Nemecek began taking female hormones, a process that will last his lifetime. However, there will be no sex reassignment surgery. Nemecek is staying with his wife, Joanne, and they recently celebrated 35 years of marriage.

Nemecek, 56, may now feel he has more clarity about gender identity, but much ambiguity remains. Nemecek's driver's license says "male," but on credit card applications, Nemecek writes "female." Since John and Joanne wed legally, their marriage isn't illegal, even though it appears they are in a lesbian union.

In 2005, Nemecek's employer, Spring Arbor University, learned of John's plans for a court-approved change of first name to "Julie." Afterwards, the Free Methodist-affiliated school in southern Michigan cut Nemecek's pay and reduced job responsibilities. Eventually, Spring Arbor decided not to rehire the business professor and associate dean when Nemecek started wearing a wig, makeup, fingernail polish, and earrings on campus. Nemecek was a 15-year veteran at the university, located in the small town of Spring Arbor, a conservative, churchgoing community of 2,100 people.

After the university's action, Nemecek filed an employment discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity ...

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In the Magazine

February 2008

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