Friday, March 29, 2019

Sleep Well Jeanine

My friend Dr. Jeanine Ruhsam died the other day.  She was an avid skier, and just finished a run on her favorite slope, when she collapsed.  Lifesaving efforts proved ineffective, and she was declared dead at a nearby hospital.

I met Jeanine in January 2009, on my second might out as Sophie.  She’d come to Angela’s Laptop Lounge at Shangrila to spread the word about a brand new Transgender conference.  She was tall, thin, stylish, and well spoken.  And I was really new and taking my first steps into a new world.  Frankly, I was scared as hell, and she was so well put together, I was intimidated.  However, she took time to speak with me, and welcomed me to the community.  We spoke briefly that night.  I admired her drive and spirit.  I bought her a drink.

Jeanine, Keystone Conference 2016

Jeanine was president of a Harrisburg based organization called Trans Central, and they’d organized the Keystone Conference.    At that first Keystone Conference, there I sat with maybe 80 other attendees, listening while Jeanine spoke to us as peers- as family.  I was so scared when I arrived, yet by this time, I'd found my courage.  (Donna Rose was the Keynote speaker- that was the first time I met her.)

She spoke about beginnings- about how every journey has one, and that many in the small dining room (only one of the three available- now the conference packs all three) were just beginning our journeys.  I was one of them.  She also spoke about Community.  How all of us were part of something larger- that everyone here Understood what we all felt.  Some would call that socialistic, but it was True.  For many of us, me included, it was what we needed to hear.  I'd grown up thinking I was alone: a freak.

I never forgot what she said, or how she made me feel.

The person who checked into that hotel that week, was not the same person who checked out.  That's because of the conference, yes, but mostly because of what Jeanine said.

I saw Jeanine occasionally over the years, usually at conferences.  She was at SCC in 2013, and we talked a bit about my situation at the time.  She encouraged me to persevere.  Essentially, it was a pep talk.  I really don't remember much about it, as I was in a haze of Pain and confusion, but I remember she knew about my situation, and took the time to sit down with me and talk.

With Jeanine, Vanity Club dinner, SCC 2013

Eventually, she earned her PhD in American Studies from Penn State, and she encouraged me to continue my education.  At that time, I was working for Penn State Great Valley, and was deep into planning my "coming out."  Jeanine drove over an hour down to GV, and we spent hours determining what a transitioning Penn State employee would need/want from the University.  PSU didn't have a plan in place, so she was developing one.  We spoke often during that time- planning, negotiating... laughing.  As it happened, days before I was going to sit down with my supervisor at PSU about transition, I was promoted at the book store, so Dr. F wasn't told.  Instead, I focused on my transition plan there.  However, I knew that Penn State now had a transition plan for Transgender employees, and they had it because of Jeanine.

She also twice served as president of Vanity Club, which is the transgender service sorority.  Her tenure was before my time, but those who were there remember her service fondly.

With Jeanine at the first Keystone Conference, 2009

Jeanine had so many friends- some of whom knew her for decades.  They obviously knew her FAR better than I.  In the end, she was like a friend and coworker to me, having worked as we did on that policy. 

But Jeanine made me feel Included.  She made me feel like I Mattered.  That is a LOT.  I'll never forget that she was there when I needed her to be.  And she was there for so many others as well.

Rest well, Jeanine.  May the four winds blow you safely home.


  1. I'd met Jeanine several times over the years. Her courage was amazing. She always seemed so grounded in her thoughts and approach to life and other things. May she rest in peace

  2. We are shocked and saddened by Jeanine's sudden death, but I have to say that, if I have a choice, I'd like my last memory on earth to be a joyful one, such as completing a run on my favorite slope.