“Dad, are you a girl again today?”

Published on: 11 October 2021

Raymond Starren’s alarm clock goes off at four fifteen on the morning of November 11, 2019. Even for a morning person like Raymond, that’s early. To get ahead of the commuter traffic between where he lives, in Almere, to where he works, at APG in Amsterdam-South, he usually gets up at five o’clock. On this particular Monday morning, however, he needs more time to get ready for the workday. His coworkers at Asset Management are going to meet ‘Evelien’.  ​​​​​​​

After showering and shaving, he carefully applies his make-up. Then it’s time to get dressed. He has multiple pairs of trousers, turtleneck sweaters and suits hanging in his closet. Today he will be choosing a different outfit. Two weeks ago, he went shopping with some female friends to find a suitable outfit for this special day. He ended up choosing a long, black, floral-print dress and a black cardigan with the same colors. Classic and business-like: that best describes the style. And he got a pair of No Stress black heels. Once he has put on his wig (shoulder-length blond hair), he is ready for the drive to work. Today, Raymond’s APG coworkers are going to meet Evelien for the first time. He’s not that nervous. Come what may, she thinks, as she gets into the car.

Raymond must have been around 3, when he first began to suspect that he was “different”. “I already liked certain girls’ things at that age. I liked dressing in my mother’s clothes, which were much too big, of course. But although some kids know that they were born in the wrong body early in life, for me that was less clear. I also had a boyish side: I liked roughhousing and enjoyed playing soccer.”

Once puberty hit, those feminine feelings kept coming more to the foreground, though. But they did not lead to a clear “this is what I am”. There was still a lot of doubt. At the time, simply denying those feelings seemed like the easiest path. “And that’s what I tried to do, literally for decades.”

“I could finally be myself”

He met his current wife at the beginning of 2000. They soon started to make plans to move in together in Maastricht. For Raymond, that was the right time to break the long silence about his secret feelings. They were planning to build a future together. She had the right to find out about that other part of him. He was very happy when she responded with understanding. He was given all the space he needed to explore his feminine side. His wife’s approval felt like liberation.
​​​​​​​“I became the chairperson of an advocacy group for transgenders, got photographed as a woman for a photography show, organized meetings at the COC in Maastricht. I could finally be myself.”

In 2008, many things changed in Raymond’s life. His wife got pregnant and he was offered an interesting job at APG Asset Management. A job that was interesting enough to say goodbye to his hometown of Maastricht. They moved to Almere and their daughter was born there.

“Those events certainly made me think. Can I really do that to her; go through life partially as a woman? Is that not confusing for her? Will people tease her about that? And how will people at APG react? The Asset Management world is generally experienced as pretty masculine, after all. Sometime during that period, employees were also asked to identify any secondary positions they may have. I didn’t want my volunteer jobs to come out in the open, so I decided to completely stop all my transgender activities and public expressions as a woman.”

“I didn’t want to say goodbye to Evelien”

Three years after the birth of their first daughter, they had another girl. Raymond played his traditional role as father, husband and male coworker during the day. Only after the kids were asleep at the end of the day would he give himself permission to be a woman. He would change his clothes and stay awake until deep in the night, behind closed curtains, to hold on to that feeling of being a woman for as long as possible. “I didn’t want to say goodbye to Evelien.”

After a while this became mentally and physically exhausting. “At the beginning of last year, I really felt that if I kept hiding my feelings any longer, it would be the end of me. I decided to seek help from Stepwork, a GGZ (Dutch Association of Mental Health and Addiction Care) association that specializes in helping transgenders. At the same time, my wife and I decided to share my feelings with friends, acquaintances and also our children.”

Raymond remembers the tension he felt when he was going to tell his daughters. They were ten and seven at the time. “My oldest daughter is quite sensitive. I really feared that it would be hard on her. However, the reactions to the talk were 100% better than expected. My youngest daughter initially accepted it in a carefree way. My oldest daughter also didn’t have any problem with it. Of course, it took some getting used to, to actually start seeing their dad as a woman. It was especially my youngest daughter who needed some time for that. But by now, she is completely used to it. Now she often asks me in the morning: ‘Dad, are you a girl again today?’ She even helps me put on my make-up.”

People suffer most from the suffering they fear. “But the hurdles I had foreseen turned out to be not even there at all. Even my oldest daughter handled the whole situation with an incredibly sober attitude, contrary to our expectations. Her teacher asked me to come and talk about myself as a woman for a school project about diversity. I personally didn’t have a problem with that, but as a parent, I didn’t want to do anything that could make my daughter feel awkward. We therefore decided to decline. My daughter got wind of that and commanded me to come and do it. ‘Why be all secretive?’ she asked. Her classmates already knew anyway.”

All our friends and acquaintances also had a positive reaction. The next step would be to inform my coworkers too. “First I had a talk with the CFRO of APG Asset Management. I already had a relationship of trust with her. She also had diversity and inclusion in her portfolio. The next time we spoke, she asked me: ‘Wouldn’t you like to just come to work as a woman?’ That really got me thinking. What could happen to me? Why would I worry about coworkers who might have a problem with it?”
Many more good talks followed: first of all with her manager, but also with board members and direct coworkers. The talks and reactions were all positive. “And then my manager and the HR manager and I together plotted a course for when I would come to the office as Evelien for the first time.”

“They had no idea of the struggle I had been through to be able to stand there as a woman”

On that November 11th, Evelien walked into the office in Amsterdam at six-thirty in the morning. She was relaxed. “I was completely ready for the meeting with my coworkers. About seventy coworkers in my immediate work environment already knew that I would be coming into the office as a woman. I was not afraid of the reactions of other coworkers and people in the street. I knew from experience that most people react positively. I got laughed once by construction workers as I walked by. But I didn’t care about that. They had no idea of the struggle I had been through to be able to stand there as a woman. That knowledge and the feeling of inner balance is not something anyone can just rob me of. I just smiled and that seemed to be the end of it for them too.”

She didn’t get a lot of work done that day. Everyone stopped by for a chat. The reactions were heart-warming. “One said I was pretty, another one praised me for being so brave. And from my female coworkers I immediately got a sense of being welcome, that I belonged.”

This memorable day became the start of an initially weekly rhythm. “First I was going to the office as Evelien every Monday. After that, I added Thursday. When the corona crisis happened, that regularity fell away. Sometimes I was Evelien several days in a row, and then I was Raymond again for a longer period. My wife and I try to keep the right balance. After all, she fell in love with Raymond, the man. But she’s happy for me and gives me space to be myself. And, as much as possible, I try to be the partner for her that she fell in love with.”

The first important steps in Evelien’s personal search have now been taken. But not all questions have been answered yet. How much of a desire is there to go through the physical transformation into a woman? “In a process that is starting soon, I hope to get more clarity about that. For now, I am just happy about the steps that I have taken so far. It was meant to be. That’s what I thought when I was driving home again on November 11. I finally found peace.”​​​​​​​