From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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NORRIS: Today, our series the Hidden World of Girls continues with a story about transition from male to female. And a warning, this subject may make some listeners uncomfortable. The Kitchen Sisters, producers Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, take us to San Francisco for the secret and not-so-secret life of Theresa Sparks.

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Ms. THERESA SPARKS (Executive Director, San Francisco Human Rights Commission): My name is Theresa Sparks. I live in San Francisco. I grew up in the Midwest, outside of Kansas City. It was kind of a Beaver Cleaver childhood, you know, and I was kind of the Beaver. I was always a good student, your typical normal Midwestern kid.

My first wife was the love of my life. Six days apart in age, and we're born in the same hospital. And we actually live next door to one another. We got married and had three kids.

Mr. ADAM SPARKS: My name is Adam Sparks. I am the son of Theresa Sparks. I live in Overland Park, Kansas. It's always been a pretty traditional family, except for the obvious stuff, obviously. My dad is a guy's guy. You know, he was a dad dad. He wore snakeskin boots, had a Harley, had a muscle truck that has, like, 500 horsepower. We would do things like, you know, rewire the house to the main box. We always went and got a tool of the week. Saturday morning, you know, get up and go get the tool of the week.

Ms. SPARKS: People ask me when did I decide or when did I discover or when did I know? You always know there's something just kind of half a click off, but you're not even sure what it is. I've been dressing in female clothes secretly since I was a young boy. I would go out and I'd go to a Kmart or something and buy women clothes and then go to a bathroom of a service station and I'd change my clothes - it always had to be dark - and just drive around and have no contact with anyone. When I stopped at the stoplight, I would stop back far enough, so they couldn't look in my car and then go back to the service station and throw the clothes away. You know, I wasn't trying to fool anybody. In fact, I was petrified that somebody would see me.

Mr. SPARKS: There weren't really any signs. My dad engineered and built refineries, waste management recycling.

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Ms. SPARKS: I've coached soccer. I coached baseball. I was in the Navy. I had a beard, and I smoke cigars. Everything I could to try to push back this thing, keep it at bay. I think a lot of people in this situation, they believe if I just get married and have a great relationship, it'll go away. I could beat this thing. I had to bring this out into the open. And I remember both my wives saying, do you want to be a woman? And I would always tell them the same answer. I have no idea. You know, and in both cases, that resulted in destroying the marriages.

Mr. SPARKS: He kept it pretty well hidden right up until my brother was graduating in boot camp. My dad came to that. And his hair was a little bit long and wavy. And he kind of looked like Michael Douglas at "Romancing the Stone" or something. So we drive out to the cemetery to go see his brother and dad's grave. And that's where my dad told us. He was, basically, a woman in a man's body. You know, I started crying. My sister started crying. My brother just said get in the car and spit on the ground. And we just kind of left my dad sitting there in the cemetery.

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Ms. SPARKS: I went to Thailand and had surgery, gender reassignment surgery. Once you've completed it, you can legally change your gender on legal documents. Then I came back, and I had no relationship with anybody from my former life, whatsoever. All my people I had worked with had stopped talking to me. You know, my kids went through - the relationship was very strained.

Mr. SPARKS: I mean, I didn't speak to my dad after that day for a decade.

Ms. SPARKS: You know, I mean, it was like straight from the muscle truck and the Harley and the BMW to I'm selling everything. And I'm going to go have surgery on my genitals.

Mr. SPARKS: I kind of dealt with it like my father had just passed away.

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Mr. SPARKS: I don't know many how many years. My dad didn't have a job, but I imagined it'd be very pretty tough for a trans person at 52 years old to get a job.

Ms. SPARKS: I answered a job at one of the best-known female sex toy companies in the country - Good Vibrations. I went to work in their shipping department. I worked from packer-shipper to CEO of the company and ran the company for several years.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is the regular meeting of the San Francisco Police Commission.

I got involved in some political activities based on violence against transgender people. And at that point, I got totally thrust into San Francisco politics.

State Senator MARK LENO (Democrat, 3rd California Senate District): I am Senator Mark Leno representing the 3rd California State Senate District of San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma Counties. I first met Theresa Sparks when I was serving on the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. She was appointed by Willie Brown to serve on this human rights commission and was subsequently appointed to become a police commissioner.

Unidentified Woman #1: Last night, the city's police commission voted to make Sparks its leader, making her possibly the first transgender person to have...

Mr. GARY DELAGNES (President, San Francisco Police Officers Association): My name is Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. We have some difficult times at the beginning. We butted heads a lot in the first year. She wouldn't take any of my crap, and I didn't take any of hers.

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State Sen. LENO: When I was considering who my office would choose as our 13th Assembly District's Woman of the Year, it seems fitting that I would chose Theresa. And so we brought Theresa to Sacramento. A few nights later, Jay Leno decided to make note of this in his monologue on his late show. The joke line was something like leave it to California to choose a man as woman of the year. Theresa was above it. She's seen it all.

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Unidentified Woman #2: Welcome back, everyone, to the 38th Annual Pride Parade, united by Pride, bound for equality.

Lieutenant LEA MILITELLO (San Francisco Police Department): My name is Lea Militello. I'm a lieutenant with the San Francisco Police Department. I can remember the first time Theresa rode in that parade as a police commissioner with a LGBT cop. We have now about 250 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender police officers in our police department.

Unidentified Man: Here comes another grand marshal.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yay. This is Theresa Sparks, a lifetime achievement grand marshal, the first elected openly transgender president of the San Francisco Police Commission, that was in 2007.

Unidentified Man: And she's riding with her two daughters and Margaret Cho.

Ms. SPARKS: Normally, when people look at me, their first response is transgender until I talk. You know, I've taken voice lessons. I was with a voice therapist. I had surgery on my vocal cords, which could have left me without a voice. Finally, at some point, you just kind of give up. You know, it is what it is.

Mr. SPARKS: He was over at my sister's for Thanksgiving, so I just went over there. And that was the first time. My dad still talked the same. Still wearing jeans. They just were tight. You know, still had shoes on. They just happened to have 3-inch heels. Same hands, just wearing nail polish. Hair was red. It was almost like my dad was walking around, you know, in the wrong suit for 50-something years, and then finally was wearing the right suit.

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NORRIS: Theresa Sparks is now running for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Her story was produced by The Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jeremiah Moore.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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