America’s founders declared the pursuit of happiness to be an unalienable human right, on a par with the right to life itself. Despite an underlying streak of Puritanism, Americans usually accord a measure of tolerance and respect, if sometimes reluctantly, to citizens who dare to pursue their dreams.

This American attitude helped me find the courage to pursue my own lifelong dream: to live in the world as a woman. At age 45, I was an outwardly masculine man, married to a woman and the father of two children, so my desire to undergo sex reassignment probably seemed crazy to my family, friends, and coworkers. Yet they accepted my decision to pursue my dream; and it turned out to be the most satisfying decision of my life.

I had dreamed of becoming a dancer as well as a woman, and I pursued this dream, too. Physically I was unsuited to either role; but with time and effort I became more adept at both. After years of jazz and modern classes, I finally discovered ballet at age 57. Now, at age 65, I take ballet class nearly every day, with great enjoyment if not great skill. Moreover, I have found a home in the Seattle dance community, among supportive and nurturing friends who care more about our shared love of dance than about my current or former gender. After the reverence at the end of ballet class, my teacher will sometime say to me and the women around me, “Very nice work, ladies.” Then I feel proud and grateful: to be a woman, to be a dancer, and to be an American.