My dear friend Kendall Evans lived the later part of her life as an openly transwoman.
One of Kendall’s favorite stories was about when she decided to present herself as a woman to the men in domestic violence intervention groups she facilitated. On that day, Kendall put on one of her favorite dresses. It covered the fact she felt apprehensive, anxious, and afraid, yet she generated the courage it took to walk into a room full of men. As she stood before these men, in a sense naked and vulnerable, they rose to their feet and clapped for her. Kendall always told this story while shedding a tear or two—in gratitude.
Growing up in a large family, Kendall experienced a tumultuous and traumatic childhood. “I was the oldest of what eventually added up to ten children: five adopted, three step- and a half-sister. My father was physically and emotionally abusive to my mother, my siblings, and me. My mother was distant and controlling. She did not have the skills to acknowledge or meet my emotional needs. I learned that my needs were secondary; I was expected to take care of myself after everyone else was taken care of. I did not learn that I could say, ‘This is too much for me.’ I remember doing a lot of the childcare and housework. I helped raise my sister Janelle and brother Enoch from infancy.”
Kendall’s family moved constantly, which created economic chaos and poverty. He moved to 13 different housing situations and 11 schools before she entered ninth grade. Elementary school was not a place of respite from the trauma he experienced at home. “I was the class scapegoat in fifth grade,” he said. “Enduring daily mistreatment from all but one friend; it was hell.” During sixth grade, Kendall had a paper route in the mornings and delivered 100 papers. For three months, the money from his paper route was used to feed the family.
After eighth grade, Kendall was sexually assaulted and harassed at the summer camp near Montreal where his father worked. When the police arrived, they did nothing. The camp was run by a con artist. Kendall’s father found out about the scams and had gone into Montreal to expose them. Following this crisis, Kendall’s father was fired and the family spent the rest of the summer “camping” (homeless) on property owned by a church.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) influenced the choices Kendall made in his adult life. “I learned before I had words to bury my needs and feelings very, very deeply into my unconscious, to bury the awareness that I did not want my mother to literally or metaphorically hug me. I learned ‘high walls’ as a way of life.”
Kendall spoke of a time in his youth when he felt extraordinary privilege. “I got a full scholarship to an all-boys boarding school and as a result did not live at home, which saved me.” Kendall maintained excellent grades throughout that period and was always second in the class. Being first meant getting teased. As a result of his academic effort, he got into Harvard College on a scholarship. Kendall attended Harvard in 1967 and graduated Cum Laude in 1971. Kendall decided to continue onto graduate school and in 1981, and graduated with a master’s degree in psychology, paid for by grants from the National Institutes of Mental Health. “I was blessed with high intelligence and a good musical voice. Music has been and continues to be a nurturing ongoing hobby.”
Married twice, Kendall’s first marriage was to Laurie. He said, “We were madly in love but very co-dependent/enmeshed. I tried to make everything better. Despite Laurie’s extreme anxiety, I tried to make her OK and did half or more of housework and house-care planning. I sewed a dress, and other clothes, for her.”
Kendall divorced Laurie in 1978 because Laurie was physically and emotionally abusive. He credits what he studied in school for helping him to come to terms with the fact that he was in an abusive relationship. “Starting to do therapy at school as part of my training forced me to start being aware of how I actually felt, at least on the surface.”
A year after his divorce from Laurie was finalized, Kendall met Beth and they married in 1979. By 1981, Kendall had questions. “I joined the L.A. Men’s Collective. That’s when studying gender kicked into high gear for me. I participated in advocacy and social change activities with the organization now known as Peace Over Violence (POV) and volunteered on the Los Angeles Domestic Violence Council. Throughout the 1980s, I helped plan three California men’s gatherings that looked at men in terms of roles and behaviors. I became very critical of stereotyped male socialization and behavior. It was during this time that I began to experiment with less conventional clothing—but not much—because Beth, was disapproving. I was not happy, but I was trying to “make it work” in my marriage by being ‘a man."
When Beth and Kendall separated, he questioned his life choices. “I picked wrong twice and wanted to figure out why. It led to questioning my sexual orientation and identity. After several months, I attended a one-year ‘coming-out’ group at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center (LAGLC). Soon after, I began attending the Transgender Perceptions group at LAGLC. A year later, I started dressing in women’s clothes. Today, after two years of attending a therapy group for male to female transgender people, I now have lived fully as a woman for two-and-a-half years. I feel happy, at one with myself. I feel more whole. Before, I would look in the mirror and see a stranger. Now, I see me.”
Having learned to be aware of her feelings, Kendall said, “I had to adopt new patterns, to heal, and survive under altered environmental circumstances. Being emotionally shut down worked growing up; it did not in my adult life. I chose to be a therapist, which required me to become more self-aware.” Kendall said that in the last years of her life, she focused on self-care and accepting limits; such as the fact of only 24 hours in a day. She discovered that she’d had two divorces because she said ‘enough!’ and insisted her needs mattered. “I finally realized that I was only partly alive, and I needed to open up and change if I wanted to thrive. Ironically, I believe that surviving cancer and three other potentially fatal illnesses helped me both value life more and be less afraid of death or disaster. Also, I came to realize that life is harder than death. If you do not give up, you can work through almost anything. I had to take care of myself. I have been increasingly able to ask for help from therapy and support groups, and to be vulnerable in relationships. That change has come with a momentum of its own. Music, reading, and friendships, support my growth.”
By studying the Bible, Kendall became an agnostic. She said that she’d always felt connected to other beings: “maybe to everything. Period. That has always been true, even though I have also always felt somewhat separate. Music, helping someone, painting, appreciating a sunset or a cute baby, tasting good food, or similar experiences, keep me connected and alive even when I feel otherwise disconnected and separated from life. Since transitioning to living female, I feel solidly connected even when I am down, but I still feel nurtured by these experiences.”
Looking back, Kendall saw that the tools she developed while helping to raise her siblings were instrumental in learning the art of loving. She used these tools in parenting her own child. Kendall was also grateful for the way being in school expanded her talents and gifts and led to her work as a psychotherapist.
Kendall shared that she was “particularly pleased at being able to start a Domestic Violence Intervention Program.” Another Way: Stopping Violence and Abuse. Kendall has worked at Another Way Counseling Center since 1987, helping sliding scale fee clients and training interns. In the final years, she spent half her time supervising and teaching trainees and interns. She said, “I feel good about my work and look forward to each day. Truly, helping others, whether siblings or students or clients, has saved my life by giving me the opportunity to connect meaningfully.”
Thank you for all you have taught me Kendall. Rest In Peace dear friend.