Brenda Lana Smith R af Dwrote:Date: Sun, 02 May 2004
Sarah is the woman Wade was meant to be
Sunday, May 02, 2004
By Barbara Cloud
Do you see people in everyday life you would like to meet or know more
I have felt that way for several years about a former cashier, now in
customer service, at the Murray Avenue Giant Eagle in Squirrel Hill.
Her name is Sarah. That's what it says on the ID badge she wears on her
I can remember when it said "Wade."
A few years ago I was checking out my groceries, looking down at my
checkbook when I automatically said "How are you, Wade?"
Softly but firmly, she made the reply. "It's Sarah."
Somewhat startled, I looked back at the face, then the badge, and indeed, it
Wade Smith had become Sarah Wade-Smith. It was a gradual gender change that
most regulars at the store had surely been aware of, myself included.
But I wasn't prepared for the name change, even though I was aware Wade's
hair had been getting longer, makeup more obvious, polish on the fingernails
and more feminine jewelry.
Wade was now Sarah.
Ever since, I have wondered about her life, how she is treated, what makes
Like many transsexuals, Sarah realized when he was a young boy that he liked
to wear women's clothes. But also, like many in his situation, he fought it
and tried to conform. In high school, where it really got rough, he went out
with girls, played soccer and softball and joined ROTC, all in an attempt to
"I was always teased, I guess, for my effeminate ways," Sarah says, "and
what we do is we try to find ways to endure, to fit in. I was always looking
for literature to help me understand my feelings. I developed a great
imagination, and I read a lot.
"But there comes the day you hit the wall and you can't pretend any longer
just to please others."
The full name change came in 1999, and she selected the name from a book she
had never read, "Sarah, Plain and Tall." She kept Wade as a family
connection to her grandfather, whom she loved very much.
So, what's it like going from Wade to Sarah?
"Liberating," she says as we sit having lunch and a three-hour conversation
at Eat'n Park. She was born in Tennessee and majored in public
administration and history at the University of Tennessee.
She feels she should be doing more than working at Giant Eagle the past 10
years, but she is comfortable there and loves the diversity of the people
she meets. She has often thought she would like to run for public office.
"I was always an outsider. Even my interest in science fiction was
different. My one brother [she has two sisters and two brothers] told me he
often got beat up because I was so weird when we were younger. I think the
isolation is the worst part of trying to fit in and be what you are not. But
no matter, I was always the odd one."
She says that matter-of-factly. She just didn't understand why she was an
outsider, why she wasn't like everybody else, especially boys.
She told me she is 50, adding quickly, "But I look younger, don't you
Just like a woman.
Complete sex-change surgery was out of the question because of the cost. It
has taken a lot just to afford electrolysis and hormones, Sarah says. And
she loves clothes.
"I spend most of my time in the store uniform so I don't buy many clothes,
but I look for pretty things. I also like makeup, which surprised me. I
found myself enjoying putting it on and I think the reason for that was I
had to look in the mirror. And I would often think, gee, I'm pretty."
She never thought she was attractive as a man.
She goes to a salon for her haircut and color but otherwise maintains the
chin-length bob herself. "Oh yes, I use rollers and all that. It takes time.
And I love big, outrageous jewelry."
This day, however, she wore pretty but inconspicuous rings and a silver
chain with a single rhinestone drop around her neck. Her denim dress had a
square-cut neckline and short sleeves, revealing smooth, hair-free arms.
She's formidable at 6 feet tall and a dress size 22. It makes finding
fashionable clothes a challenge.
She changed the subject as she declared how lucky she has been.
"Incredibly lucky," she says, considering what she knows can happen when
intolerance rears its ugly head. Transsexual friends have been beaten up,
but the only violence she has experienced was when someone threw a Coke on
her when she was walking on the street.
There's the name-calling, too, but she has tried to develop a sense of humor
about that which, with support groups, helps her through the rough times.
She once took a martial arts class as a precaution.
"You know, as a guy, I was simply wearing armor," she says, "and the day I
finally came to work in women's clothes I was ecstatic. I always felt
unattractive as a man. I also felt vulnerable. I have found as a woman I
have much more self-confidence and I am often even more aggressive."
Talking with Sarah is a delight. She is well-read, funny, loyal to her
friendships. She has been in love and not had that love returned, and she
knows that pain. She knows how to be a friend. She knows depression. She
talks about her church and she quotes different well-known writers with
Her apartment caught fire a year ago so she is temporarily living with her
parents in the suburbs. But she prefers the city. Again, it is the
The best part about being female? She thought for a moment.
"I like the way women relate to each other. I have learned to value that
intimacy -- and girl talk. Men don't have that."
Lynda "Wonder Woman" Carter is her idea of a beautiful woman. So is Keira
Knightley, the young star of "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Pirates of the
Is Sarah happy? Despite the rough times she talks so openly about, she seems
"I'm certainly happier than when I was growing up. Than when I was Wade."
(Barbara Cloud can be reached at .)
©1997-2004 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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