When Judy Bridges transitioned at her job in a manufacturing plant, the response was eye-opening in that no one batted an eye. Since then, Judy has joined the board of Live Open — an LGBT employee-resource group at Saint-Gobain, a company that “encourages employees and supporters of the LGBTQ community to be fully open and honest about who they are as individuals.”
PGN: Tell me about your beginnings.
JB: I was born in an itty-bitty suburb called Thousand Oaks in California. This was back in the ’60s. We were your quintessential atomic family. I grew up in a scientific household. My father was, and still is, a researcher so I grew up in the sciences, engineering. My childhood in Thousand Oaks is interesting because we were so far out, literally in a field, so you had a lot of freedom to just do things and explore on your own. I loved going to the library. At the library, you could read about everything. Unfortunately, as a curious child reading so much, I also learned a lot about how I was different and what that might mean to society. And I got a good idea of how society treats people who are different. So even at age 6, through this information, you learn certain things about society’s expectations in regards to gender and how one has to carry oneself to survive.
PGN: Indeed! So bookworm, what was a book that you read over and over?
JB: There are two, as a child there was Roald Dahl, “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It gave me a lifelong love of reading. Then there’s just the whole idea of owning one’s own chocolate factory and being in control of your own destiny. As for a book that I continue to reread now, it would be “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury. Every time I read it, I find something different, especially now as an older parent, having a small boy I find a lot of parallels as to how the father felt — wanting to participate in the exuberance of a lot of things but not feeling that it was appropriate because you’re a certain age. Which brings me to something very important to me; a beacon when I finally decided to transition. At the time, I was with another company and I was traveling all over the world all the time. There were some shakeups at the company and I came home without a job. Max was 4 at the time. I was really depressed and he came up to me and gave me the biggest hug ever and said, “Now you can spend time with me.” That makes you think about being a parent and what it means to participate in your child’s life. You have all these expectations from your child — you want them to be loving and caring, you want them to be a learner and to have empathy for others and you have to be a role model for your child. It became very clear in that moment that the only way I could do that authentically was to transition. And that’s what I did. And I have to say my life is so much better now.
PGN: When did you first realize that you were, as I read, “uncomfortable in your own skin”?
JB: Oh God, before I was six.
PGN: Hmm, I’m thinking of when you realized what it was. Like I knew the feelings I had long before I knew what they were or meant.
JB: I’d say I was in high school. I would go to the library and look it up. I knew I was transgender but didn’t know how to go about it and be safe. That was the ’70s, early ’80s when HIV/AIDS were coming into public view as the gay plague. But things crystallized for me when I read Kate Bornstein’s “Gender Outlaw.” That was the seminal book for me. I read that and I couldn’t believe how accurately she described everything that I felt.
PGN: A lot of trans people I know go through a time where they think they might be gay or lesbian before figuring things out.
JB: I didn’t go through that, but I was told it many times. It’s surprising, because you reach out to the lesbian and gay community and are met with, ‘Oh, you’re just confused. You don’t really know what you are.’
PGN: You mentioned your son, were you married at some point?
JB: I’ve been married for 30 years. I have to say that I’m probably the luckiest person in the world to find a partner who understands and has been supportive through all the ups and downs.
PGN: When did you first speak to her about your feelings?
JB: [Laughing] Well, we got married and she knew there was something different about me but she liked that. About five years into the marriage, I told her, and as you can imagine she took time to think and in the end, she came back to me and sat me down, looked at me and said, “So you made me wear the wedding dress!” And at that point, everything was fine.
PGN: Tell me a little about what you do now.
JB: I work for Saint-Gobain in a manufacturing plant. Right now I’m in a division that makes drywall. I manage a team of engineers and it’s a lot of fun. Because it’s such an international company, my team is made up of people from Romania, France, a person from Russia, Egypt — all over the place and I get to see all different outlooks on the world.
PGN: Tell me how the coming-out weekend came about?
JB: [Laughing] It took a lot of planning. I did a lot of groundwork to get people to know and understand what was happening. Friday we had an announcement made about what was going to happen so that people would have the weekend to process it. We had resources available for people to ask questions if they wanted. Of course, over the weekend, I was a nervous wreck. I was a mess.Then on Monday, I came into work and it was business as usual. I was greeted warmly and professionally and it’s been that way ever since. I am indebted to my coworkers at that plant. Because of the way I was supported, I didn’t miss a beat. It went extremely smoothly and was never an issue at all. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of helping a couple of other facilities with employees who have transitioned as well. They had similar success stories.
PGN: That’s wonderful.
JB: Yes, prior to that I was living two lives and I’ll tell you what, it is hard to keep track of both. I’d been living as Judy in the house since the ’90s and around 2011 was when I first started going out of the house. A lot of my family knew, but it’s a slow process.
PGN: It must be terrifying having to go out and be afraid that someone might recognize you on top of the fear of violence that could be directed towards you.
JB: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things that is so incredible about being able to bring your authentic self to your full life — personal and professional. So many things fall into perspective; you’re more confident at work, you’re more engaged in every thing you do, instead of worrying, “Am I still wearing something I had on last night or did I get all the makeup off? Now there’s an alignment and confidence like never before.
PGN: What’s the significance of the name Judy?
JB: Oh, wow. When I was a child and would have dreams, people in my dream would call me Judy. So when I chose Judy, it was to honor the dreams of that child. I’ll be very honest with you: there were times when I never thought that I would be able to live my true life. And it’s just … well, choosing that name was a way of honoring that dream that I had even at a young age.
PGN: How did you get involved with Live Open?
JB: After I came out at Saint-Gobain, I was asked to join the board of Live Open in order to provide a trans voice. The board members are absolutely amazing — we have every letter in the rainbow represented and since we can bring our authentic selves to the table, we’re able to have these open and frank conversations. I look forward to every conference call or board meeting — there’s always so much to learn.
PGN: Now for some random questions. A favorite movie line?
JB: It’s from the character Karen Richards in “All About Eve.” She says, “That cynicism that you refer to I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys.”
PGN: I can see why that would resonate. You work in a plant, which I’d imagine is noisy. What are your three favorite sounds?
JB: The first would be hearing my child singing in the bathtub, the other would be hearing grass being mowed. There’s a smell of freshly cut grass that’s associated with that sound and I’m immediately transported to a green baseball field. The final sound that I like to hear is the clicking of my heels on tile. If you talk to my friends, you’ll find that I’m very partial to wearing high heels and that sound is a reminder to me of how far I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished in my life.