By Ashley Naftule
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life,” Oscar Wilde wrote in his 1889 essay “The Decay of Lying.” The expression is a play on Aristotle’s notion of mimesis, the idea that art is an imitation of life (and life itself is an imitation of a higher, Platonic Ideal reality). Wilde flips the idea on its head: Life can and often does crib notes from art. Fiction and myth inspire and shape people, thus shaping the world into a reflection of our dreams and aspirations.
But where Wilde’s “anti-mimesis” idea really gets wild is when an artist begins imitating their own art. Such is the case with Arizona resident Kristina Bachman, a trans woman who underwent her transition at the age of 62.
“In 2013, I started to come out of my depression and see clearly what I needed to do; I just didn’t know how to get there,” Bachman says. “I started writing transgender coming-of-age fiction, and that served as a catalyst. It’s how I picked my name.
Bachman wrote three short novels and a story that she published on Amazon. It was while doing this work that she started to sketch out the outline of the woman she would become.
“I didn’t know who I was going to be,” Bachman explains. “I had toyed with the name Kimberly. My male name was Ken, so I wanted to stick with the initials. When I started writing, my main character’s name was Christina Bachman. And over time, I knew I had to become her.”
Before Kristina found her name, she had lived a very different life in the Valley. Bachman came to Arizona in 1983 while still working for IBM. She eventually quit IBM to pursue a new career as the head softball coach at Horizon High School from 1994 until 2003.
“I officially retired from Horizon in 2003 — I had some medical issues I needed to address,” Bachman says. Born with a heart defect, Bachman has had 17 heart surgeries in her life. She credits her retirement and the health issues she had to deal with afterward as being a major catalyst for pushing her to act on a desire that she had been struggling with for most of her life.
“From my earliest memories, I’ve had an attraction to the female lifestyle,” Bachman says. “The clothing and things like that. I buried those feelings, mostly through sports. And I just never had the words to describe it. I mean, we’re talking about the Sixties and Seventies: The word transgender was unknown. And we didn’t have access to the internet. So I had these compulsions that I couldn’t understand. I tried to hide them because I sensed somehow that they weren’t appropriate for a young man… When I got into high school and college, I started to get a little more understanding that there might be variations, but I still didn’t know where I fit in anything. And it probably wasn’t until college, and I started reading underground newspapers that I realized there was a terminology for it, and I wasn’t alone.”
Bachman built a family during this time in her life. “I went ahead and got married in 1974, thinking ‘well, you know, this will probably take care of itself ... I had kids — I have six grandkids now.” She experimented with cross-dressing in public, going out to drag shows with social groups like Cactus Rose. “Occasionally you’d hear the word trans, but they’d shy away from talking about surgeries. It was still taboo to talk about it back then.”
Bachman tried coming out in the '90s, which proved to be a tumultuous time for her. “I stayed married until 1994,” Bachman says. “‘94 was a very pivotal year for me: I left IBM, got divorced, and started trying to figure out who I was. I also started coaching then, but of course, nobody knew about it.”
Retiring from her coaching job, Bachman found inspiration in her own creative work. She began her late-in-life transition by adopting a persona that harkened back to a much earlier time in life.
“I think you’ll find with many transgender women, we come out, and we get fixated on a particular period in our lives,” Bachman says. “When I came out, I spent the next year being a 16-year old teenage girl. It was reflected in my wardrobe, in my attitude, in everything. It was a necessary experience for at the time, but I look back now, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, you were really something else.’”
For Bachman, finding help to get her through her full transition at the age of 62 was a challenge.
“I had five doctors who refused to see me when I started looking hormones,” she says. “Endocrinologists I called upon the recommendation of my insurance company. They said they just don’t treat people like that.”
One local organization that proved to be very helpful to Bachman through her transition was Glendale’s Advanced Image Med Spa. “There’s a lot of businesses that may treat you, but kind of with a cold shoulder at the same time. I was fortunate with the Med Spa: Not only were they supportive, but they were also willing to spend time with me and point me in the direction of things I could do.”
Bachman embraced the radical changes in her life with fervor. “These are the things that I was deprived of all my life. You know, the ability to wear nail polish and shave my body hair — I used to have to be careful about these things because of the nightmare of somebody exposing you. Particularly back when I was coaching, that would have ended my career in a very nasty way. But now I’m free.”
Kristina has been an active member of the trans community in Arizona. She’s served as a board of TransSpectrum of Arizona and also volunteered with One N Ten. She may be a “late bloomer,” but she’s eager to live the life she used to write about.
“I’ve never looked back,” she says. “It was a decision I had to do to survive. It was costly. It cost me a lot of friends. It cost me my daughter, who I’m hoping to reconcile with. My son has been pretty fine with it. It was a price to pay, but I’ve never regretted coming out, and now I live my life as Kristina, 100 percent.”