Becoming Michelle: Marathon Is Metaphor For Trans Woman’s Journey

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Friday, 13 April 2012 05:11

Becoming Michelle: Marathon Is Metaphor For Trans Woman’s Journey

Written by  Sam Baltrusis
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When Michelle Figueiredo revealed her laundry list of New Year’s resolutions to her group of friends in early 2010, they were flabbergasted. And no, it had little to do with the fact that she planned to go through with the last stage of her transformation from male to female. 

“I made three New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of the year,” she recalls, marveling at how far she’s come in so little time. “I vowed to lose weight and get healthy, to do my best and train for and run a marathon, and to book my surgery and have it by the time I turn 40.”

After some encouragement from her friend and SpeakOut Boston colleague Grace Buchanan, Figueiredo set a goal to run the BayState Marathon in Lowell on Sunday, October 17. Since making the decision to train for the 26.2-mile race in early ’10, the 39-year-old hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve been training since March. Before that, I never ran anything in my life,” she says, adding that she could “barely run a fever” before signing up for the marathon. “I started losing weight. At the beginning of the year I weighed 355 pounds. I lost weight between January and March and then I started walking. I was out of breath. Then I started running a little. And it just took off from there. It’s been a monstrous effort and I’ve lost 105 pounds so far.”

Figueiredo continues, “My friend the other day laughed, saying that ‘I can’t believe your first ever road race you officially entered into is a marathon. Most people do a 5k for their first.’ It’s quite funny.”

While her friends were initially shocked, they weren’t entirely surprised. After three decades of struggle, Figueiredo has finally become comfortable in her own skin. Michael has become Michelle.

“The marathon is definitely a metaphor,” she muses. “It’s a condensed version of my life, overcoming a lot of things and getting to where I am now.”

Figueiredo, who’s scheduled to undergo the surgery a day before her 40th birthday in late January, says she identified as female at an early age. “I’m a trans woman and it has taken a lot of time, since I was four, for me to accept that,” she adds. “In the ‘70s and ’80, there was no context. There were no characters on TV and if we did see them, they were usually addicted to drugs, sad and lonely. It wasn’t until I was 24 when I met my first trans person and the proverbial light bulb went off. It took me 10 more years.”

In 2007, Figueiredo met with a therapist and continued sessions for one year before starting hormones. As she moved forward with the transition, the Cohasset native began opening up to her family and friends. 

“Coming out at work was probably the scariest because I was there for seven and a half years,” she says, adding that her employer—State Street in Quincy—was extremely supportive during the transition process. “Deep down, accepting it within myself was probably the hardest. I didn’t want it to be true. There was the potential of being ostracized and picked on. There was a moment when I realized that I’ve got to be true to myself and that I can’t let the world dictate how I live.”

Figueiredo’s mom, who recently passed away after suffering from diabetes, was the 39-year-old’s strongest champion during the transition process. In fact, her mother’s strength motivated her to push forward and train for the marathon. 

“I think about her and her bravery in the last three years of her life,” she emotes. “Seeing that strength that she exhibited has really spurned me on to do what I’m doing now and to run this marathon. Part of my course takes me by her cemetery everyday and I blow her a kiss and I say, ‘I miss you mom and I love you and I wish you could see me today.’ But, I know she can.”

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