Amratiel's mother spoke to Milton just hours before he died. "He professed his love for Rachel," she says. "It hit me really hard. I so loved Keith. I was really looking forward to them making it a permanent thing."

Amratiel says she had an argument with Milton the morning before his death. Upon hearing the news, she says, "I wanted to jump off a really tall building onto something really hard. I felt overwhelmed."

What most attracted Amratiel to the Gathering United Methodist Church on McCausland Avenue was that she didn't feel like everybody was staring at her.

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

"The Bible doesn't answer the question of how to deal with someone like Rachel walking into your church," says the Rev. Matt Miofsky, pastor of the Gathering. "But what Scripture is clear about, over and over again, is that Jesus was a person who wasn't uncomfortable hanging out with people on the margins of society."

Amratiel is sometimes joined by her mother, who has fully accepted her child's new identity. "Thomas was such a hard person to be around, whereas Rachel is an absolute, total sweetheart," Nancy says. "I couldn't ask for a better daughter."

Amratiel's stepfather says the emotional gulf between Tom and Rachel is vast. Whereas Tom used to boil with fury, Rachel will melt into tears. She's also more compassionate, he adds, and enjoys the company of others far more than Tom ever did.

Amratiel herself has felt her mood stabilize since she began taking Cymbalta six weeks ago to treat depression and anxiety.

She believes she's been railroaded by a biased criminal justice system. "Trans have it rough," she posits. "We're the most discriminated group in America right now."

Her legal troubles over pistols, rifles and a live hand grenade shouldn't be viewed as typical for transgendered individuals, stresses Dr. Donald Tarver, a former San Francisco health commissioner who now specializes in transgender therapy.

"They're no more inclined to be prosecuted for criminal behavior," he says. "In fact, the opposite may be true because, given their history of being harassed, teased and oppressed, transgendered individuals tend to be fastidiously avoidant of infractions that will draw more attention to their lives."

Amratiel believes her ex-wife feels profound shame for having married a transsexual and, as a result, is trying to ruin her new life. "I just wish she'd leave me alone. I want to be allowed to be me without having to fight to do it."

Karen, for her part, still has a restraining order against Amratiel and doesn't want herself or her children associated with her in any way. Karen still uses masculine pronouns when referring to her ex-husband. "He's a monster," she says. "Everybody's afraid of him."

Amratiel has dated various men but says it takes a special guy to love a woman in her situation. Some have even asked her to go out target shooting, but she has no desire.

"I'll put it to you this way: If I got into a firefight, I could still hold my own. But I'm just not interested anymore."

Rachel Amratiel wore a black skirt suit to her sentencing on November 5. Seated in the tenth-floor courtroom of the Thomas F. Eagleton Federal Courthouse, she appeared calm and at one point whispered that if she had to go to jail, she's "going to go with dignity."

Only her mother, Nancy, showed up in support. A handful of courthouse employees trickled in to watch. "I can't tell you how many sentencings I've done in this building," said Amratiel's lawyer, Matthew Radefeld. "But every time we come in the courtroom, Rachel draws a crowd."

When U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel entered, both attorney and client approached the podium. Radefeld argued that Amratiel, who has pleaded guilty, should not serve prison time.

She's not a menace to society, and besides, Radefeld added, she has unique medical needs — the aftereffects of the sex-change operation — that confinement might not easily accommodate.

Twice a day Amratiel must insert a dilator fitted with a lubricated condom into her vagina for an hour to prevent it from closing permanently.

Still, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeannette Graviss insisted she be punished for possessing an unregistered hand grenade and recommended 27 months of incarceration.

"I am a completely different person than I once was," Amratiel told the judge. "My goal is to be a productive woman that supports her family and to live a peaceful, godly life that will influence others to do the same."

Finally, Judge Sippel ruled that Amratiel must serve eighteen months behind bars, but gave her until January to surrender herself to authorities. By that time, he said, her medical condition, now being monitored by the VA Medical Center on North Grand Boulevard, will be under control.

The court adjourned. The only sound in the room was Nancy, sobbing. Amratiel glided over to her, her own cheeks wet with tears, sat down and wrapped a big arm around her. "It's OK, Mom," she said softly.

Exiting into the hallway moments later, Amratiel gazed out the window toward the riverfront below. With a smirk she muttered, "Well, this is going to be interesting."

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