Tranny Regret

Do transsexuals get a second chance in the great gender-identity sweepstakes?

When he woke up in the hospital, Berke was furious. He wanted to be dead, he says. He picked up an IV stand and wrecked the hospital room. When he got home, he found that his computer and his X-box games had all been stolen. All the photos of Michelle he had saved on his computer were gone.

That's when he traded in his Nissan Altima for a Harley. He rode around for three days, "ready for war," he says. On the third day, he pulled up to Calvary Chapel and burst through the doors with a picture of Michelle in one hand.

"This is who I used to be, and I was happy to be her," he announced. "And this is what I've become, thanks to Pastor Bob."

Michael Berke became Michelle in 2003
C. Stiles
Michael Berke became Michelle in 2003
A year and a half later — after an evangelical intervention — Michael reemerged.
Courtesy of Michael Berke
A year and a half later — after an evangelical intervention — Michael reemerged.

The pastors sent out three young men to pray for him. But when Berke began talking about how he couldn't believe Jesus rose from the dead, the conversation ended, he says.

"That's when they asked me to leave," Berke says. "I go to church, of all places, which should have been a sanctuary. I felt my life was in danger. And they turned me away. I was just like, 'Fuck this world. Fuck everything. I don't give a shit.' "

He went home, kicked in the door to his oven, and had a mental breakdown.

Karen Doering, senior counsel for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in St. Petersburg, says Calvary Chapel was smart not to comment for this article. They may be in some legal trouble.

"The church absolutely could be liable if they engaged in counseling and did not abide by professional standards of care," Doering says. "It's unconscionable and outrageous that church authorities would prey on an emotionally vulnerable person who has mental-health issues and deliberately exacerbate her already low self-esteem."

Also rallying behind Berke is Mark Angelo Cummings.

"God has nothing to do with this," he says of gender-identity issues. "These are individuals in the church, interpreting a belief system. They don't realize we all don't come with a little manual in a little box. There's a lot of shades, and we're just being who we are."

Calvary Chapel and the doctor who performed the corrective surgery should be penalized, Cummings says.

"They're messing with people's lives," he says. "They're not qualified to do what they're doing."

On a recent Friday night, Berke is handing out raffle tickets at the entrance to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He's not an alcoholic, but these are his favorite meetings. He's content to be at the door, greeting people and making jokes as they enter the conference room.

"Welcome to the meeting," he tells each guest, breaking off a red raffle ticket. Some give him hugs and kisses, and everybody's happy to see him.

It's been almost a year since his psychological breakdown. In that time, he's been taking pleasure in his Harley, riding with a bunch of bikers who barely know him. There's not much talk with his biker pals, he says, because nobody can hear above the engines.

Berke's mother and sister once again refuse to talk to him now that he has become Michael again, saying it is a mark of his poisonous instability.

He's been attending AA meetings almost every day. Although most of the people don't know Berke well, they know that he was once Michelle. And they miss that spunky redheaded Amazon. Berke misses her too — her attitude, her fearlessness, her ability to be the center of attention.

"If Michelle had never walked into the church, she'd probably still be here today," Berke says. He believes she would have eventually gotten sexual-reassignment surgery and lived out the rest of her life as a woman.

Sometimes, Berke says he's angry, and he thinks of taking legal action. "They warped my mind," he'll say. Other times, he says he knows they had good intentions. He occasionally thinks about going back on hormones — just to feel more feminine. Although he says he doubts that Michelle will ever reemerge, he insists she will always be part of him. "I'm a true Gemini," he says. "Michelle's my twin. I just let her out of the box for a little while. She's still with me."

After the AA meeting, Berke follows the crowd back to Koffeeokee. He gets a cup of coffee and makes the rounds with acquaintances. Ben, the one who once found himself unwittingly attracted to Michelle, is parked at an outdoor table with his friend Jason. Berke sits, and soon the conversation turns to what's next for him. Ben, though he doesn't know Berke all that well, seems to have nailed it.

"I think Michael is quite capable of morphing into different things," he says. "I think he's almost done with the biker thing. There will be another incarnation. It'll have to be something different and shocking."

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