His legal troubles mounted when the federal district court in St. Louis found out about the grenade and later, in January 2009, charged Hibdon with possession of a "destructive" explosive device.

The government, though, would soon have to amend their documents and charge someone else for the crime. Less than a week after the indictment was issued, Hibdon was no longer Hibdon. He had gone to Thailand for a sex change.

Tom Hibdon was now a post-operative transsexual named Rachel Ildeya Amratiel.

Hibdon, at age fourteen, in a dress.
Courtesy of Rachael Amratiel
Hibdon, at age fourteen, in a dress.
Nancy and her daughter Rachel Amratiel.
Nancy and her daughter Rachel Amratiel.

Today, Amratiel is 38 years old and living in a small two-story brick home in Maplewood. She longs to start anew, to find a job and a partner to love. She bakes Communion breads for her Methodist church and says she's so focused on the present that many details of her old life as Tom Hibdon have fallen away.

But she does remember one thing about her former self: "I was a real dick before I transitioned."


Rachel Amratiel stands more than six feet in heels and still has the broad hands of a carpenter. Her fingernails are painted the color of her hair, hot-tamale red.

Seated outside Olympia Kebob House on a warm September afternoon wearing a boxy navy-blue dress that she bought at a secondhand shop, Amratiel describes the first time she "knew."

"I remember it crystal clear," she begins in her falsetto voice. She had been a six-year-old boy, Tom Hibdon IV, standing in the upstairs bathroom of his grandfather's house. It was nearly sundown and bars of sunlight came slanting through the window.

"I was asking myself, 'If I were a girl, what would my name be?' And just as clear as if somebody else was in the room, the answer was Rachel." She continues: "That was always a part of me, but I could never share that with anybody."

For one thing, young Tom Hibdon carried the name of his father, Thomas Hibdon III, who was killed in a car accident when Tom was a toddler. The family expected that someday, Tom, an only child, would pass on the name.

Tom's widowed mother, Nancy, moved herself and her young son in with her own father, who was thrilled to raise the child, having only brought up girls. "It was very important he was a boy," says Nancy.

But Tom was constantly picked on in school and beaten up for not being "boy" enough. Shy and withdrawn, he was taunted for being a sissy. He took clarinet lessons, and after a year, the instructor pulled aside his mother and joked that Tom must be one of twins. Sometimes you bring the good one, the teacher joked to Nancy, and sometimes you bring the bad one.

"Now that I look back," Nancy muses, "I can honestly see when Rachel was trying to get out and to show herself." At age twelve, she says, Tom dressed as a girl with makeup for Halloween. A couple of Halloweens later he went as a hooker, replete with tight skirt and fishnet stockings.

It was around this time that Nancy and her second husband, Ken, sent Tom to Hyland Behavioral Health Center in south St. Louis County after he'd grown too erratic for them to handle. (Both Ken and Nancy asked that their last names be withheld.)

"I never knew what kind of mood he'd be in," Nancy recalls of her son's teenage years. "Sometimes he was compliant and sweet, other times defiant and argumentative." After six weeks of inpatient treatment, Hyland officials released the troubled boy and said there was really nothing they could do to stabilize his behavior.

Fierce arguments erupted between Tom and his mother while he was a student at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School. Twice he ran away from home. Still, he managed to hold down some part-time jobs, such as a food-runner for the late-night breakfast buffet at Shoney's. On Saturday nights, men who'd gotten in free to The Rocky Horror Picture Show by dressing in drag would meet at the restaurant afterward and ravage the breakfast bar.

"They did not eat like ladies," Amratiel recollects. "I kind of thought, 'Maybe I want to do that.'"

Instead, his life took a more masculine direction. Although Tom began high school at an advanced academic level, he grew bored, and by his senior year, he was failing most of his classes. He decided to drop out and join the U.S. Army.

"I got tired of being thought of as a pussy all the time, and I had inner feelings about myself that I wanted to try to get rid of," says Amratiel. "Being in the military, I could get out of the house. I could toughen up and get to another part of the world."

Such behavior is not out of the ordinary for people in Tom Hibdon's situation, notes Helen Friedman, Ph.D., a St. Louis-based clinical psychologist who specializes in gender-identity disorder. "It's not uncommon for transgendered individuals to join the military, hoping it'll either kill them or make them a man," Friedman says. "It might kill them but it won't make them a man, because gender identity is hard-wired in the brain."

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