On a drizzly, dreary February morning in New Rochelle, Fran Sisco is having a Caitlyn Jenner moment. We’re not talking Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair in a lavish Malibu home, but the impact of the Westchester Magazine photo shoot taking place in Fran’s cozy-but-cramped living room is the same: a dream come true, a lifetime in the making.
“So many times before I came out fully, I had the fantasy of living full-time as a female. I prayed nearly every morning for acceptance and the ability to work this out with my family,” says Fran, a 66-year-old non-operative transgender woman. She was born Frank Sisco, to a family about as traditional as it gets: a big, multigenerational, Italian American Catholic clan all dwelling under the same Mount Vernon roof.
Enjoying what Fran calls “this culminating moment” with her 31-year-old daughter, Kelly, makes it all the more meaningful. “Kelly has tremendously empowered me,” Fran says. “She is walking the walk with me and accepting me fully.” The two share an easy camaraderie, laughing and joking freely, talking rapidly over each other. “I’m an only child; we have always been very close. If I didn’t accept Fran’s transition, I’d lose her as a parent, and I didn’t want that,” Kelly says of her father’s decision to live fully as a woman.
It’s a decision Fran made in 2011, after a lifetime of concealing a torturous secret existence. Fran recalls cross-dressing as early as age 10. It began shortly after Fran’s grandfather—the patriarch of the family, with whom Fran was very close—passed away suddenly. Fran sought an escape from grief “in a fantasy world, where anything was possible, even becoming a girl. I didn’t even understand why I liked it. When I looked at myself that way I just felt so much better,” she explains. As she got older, trying to conceal her true feelings, Fran embraced a fully macho life (“If there was a fight to be had, I was the one throwing the punch”), followed by periods of cross-dressing “binging and purging” for years.
But as true romantics like to say, “Love conquers all,” and so it did for Fran—at least temporarily. “When I first met Lorrie, I was so in love that it kept me in that male mode for a while,” Fran says of Lorrie Sisco, his wife of 43 years. But a year or two after the couple married, the desire to live as a female began to seep back in. Lorrie was tolerant in a don’t-ask-don’t-tell kind of way, and Fran would dress up out of view whenever the urge arose. Gradually, the urge became more frequent, and Fran began a double life: living as a woman in front of some friends, clients, and family members, while continuing to hide it from others. As an accountant with a home office, Fran recalls the stresses of having to remember which clients she could wear a dress in front of and which ones required a suit.
Kelly remembers occasionally seeing her father in drag, but, she says, “I didn’t know what transgender was then.” Today, she’s pretty nonchalant about the whole scenario, saying matter-of-factly, “I see only a change on the outside; inside, I still see Fran as my dad. Although some things have changed in how we present ourselves to others when we are together and how we refer to each other, we basically have the same relationship.” Kelly has embraced the transgender community in Westchester, helping out as a volunteer at The Loft, an LGBT community center in White Plains.
Support has come to Fran and Kelly from many sources, including some unlikely ones, like Fran’s parents, who she never thought would approve, and, earlier on, from a key pastor at Fran’s church. The one major absence, however, is Lorrie. Though she and Fran have remained married and are “still soulmates,” they are no longer romantically involved. Lorrie recently moved from the New Rochelle home the family had shared for 35 years to nearby Mamaroneck, though the three of them continue to see each other on a regular basis. “I’m still stuck on her,” says Fran of Lorrie, ruefully.
Despite this painful separation, Fran is steadfast in her mission to be a positive voice within the trans community, sharing her belief that being trans is a “gray zone” of sorts. “To me, being trans means retaining the best of my male past with the best of my female present and future,” Fran explains. She shares her message through volunteer and nonprofit work, as well as writing and performing as a stand-up comic and singer (songs include the bawdy “I Ain’t Givin’ Up My Bracciole,” which plays on Fran’s Italian heritage and desire to retain her physical, ahem, “manhood”). “My message is that it’s doable; the quality of life is better afterward,” Fran explains.“I feel now like I’m my true self.”