During the Persian Gulf War, Hibdon was a TOW gunner, manning anti-tank missiles with the 3rd Brigade, 24th Infantry Division. On one occasion, heading north through Iraq, his unit approached an Iraqi convoy that had just been hit hard by Hellfire missiles. Hibdon caught a glimpse of incinerated corpses.

"Their flesh was dripped like wax into a puddle from the heat of the missiles. I remember the whiteness of bone. I don't think they were combatants; I didn't see any weapons." She pauses and then adds quietly, "I think about that a lot."

After four years in the U.S. Army, Hibdon was released from active duty in late 1991. He returned to St. Louis and found steady work with the carpenter's union. Living by himself, he began to secretly wear women's clothing around the house. Then disgust would set in, and he'd throw the garments away.

A four-year-old Tom Hibdon in a wig.
Courtesy of Rachael Amratiel
A four-year-old Tom Hibdon in a wig.

Dr. Friedman refers to this as "binge-and-purge" behavior. "It becomes a cycle. It's very common."

Loneliness during these years drove Hibdon to RFT's personal ads. Through them, he met Karen. They dated for only a few months, married in September 1996 and moved into a house in south St. Louis. A couple years later, while Karen was pregnant with her son, Hibdon came to her one day with something to confess: He was a cross-dresser.

"I said, 'You're joking, right?' I was shocked. He was super-macho; he was built. He had huge arms. He was a good-looking guy; he had a military haircut."

Exploring blogs and websites on the couple's first computer, Hibdon discovered transgenderism and felt something click. "All of a sudden things started making sense," Amratiel says. "But I didn't want to accept it about myself."

Nor did Karen accept it. She got upset and demanded that Hibdon stop cross-dressing, which he agreed to do in the hope of appeasing her. She never thought the issue would resurface. Hibdon would frequently become fixated on a topic, she says, such as metalworking, diamonds or wine. He'd learn everything there was to know about it, then grow tired of it and move on.

"As far as the cross-dressing, I thought it was just another thing he'd get tired of."

Tom Hibdon began to amass a small arsenal of weapons in the early 1990s. He'd been a crack shot in the service, earning the distinction of expert marksman, and later, as a civilian, made frequent visits to a shooting range. "I was really good," boasts Amratiel. "And it seemed like the macho thing to do."

Some guns were gifts from family members; others came by way of trading with work colleagues. At one construction job in the late 1990s, he met a man who sold him a hand grenade for $15.

Karen insists that a deep paranoia drove her husband to collect guns. She says he referred to the police as the Gestapo and feared the government was conspiring to strip the citizenry of its weaponry. "He used to say we were coming to a civil war, and he wanted to be prepared."

Amratiel dismisses this as hyperbole. "It's true I don't trust the government. I think the police can do whatever they want and get away with it. But [Karen] is trying to make me out as some kind of militant whack job."

Once his daughter was born and the young family relocated to House Springs in 2001, Hibdon started writing a novel. On weekend nights he'd hole up in his garage and type up a story inspired by the sci-fi fantasy writers he'd read in high school. The novel was supposed to be the first of a nine-part series titled World of Tantaria.

In 2006 he finished book one, Nine Sisters Succubi. It would've run about 350 pages in standard paperback. He never published it, but copyrighted it with the Library of Congress. In the book a male named "Amratiel" and a female named "Ildeya" give birth to a girl called "Rachel."

Karen says that on Halloweens when he'd go as a female, friends would marvel at how convincing Hibdon's feminine body language was. One year on an outing to a haunted house in downtown St. Louis, the security guard mistook him for an actual woman, asking "her" why "she" wasn't wearing a costume.

Sometimes, when Hibdon's daughter played dress-up, he helped do her makeup. After a while he grew bolder and played dress-up himself, wearing androgynous clothing, such as spandex pants. All the while, he refused to believe a sex change was necessary. "I thought, 'I don't want to be a woman, I just want to pretend like I'm one.'"

Then, in late 2006, Hibdon had a fateful encounter at a monthly meeting of the St. Louis Gender Foundation, a support group for "gender-questioning" adults. He noticed a 58-year-old female transsexual sitting by herself. He approached her and asked why she had waited so long to get sex-reassignment surgery. The woman responded that she took the plunge only after her terminally ill wife passed away and her kids were through college.

"She just had a look in her eye, like she regretted waiting so long," Amratiel says. "And I made a choice that whatever I was going to do, I needed to do it. I didn't want to wait that long. I didn't want to have that regret."

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