Collins taught freshman composition and continued to work in the computer lab while pursuing his master’s degree. “Then I decided I didn’t want to write anymore. I had philosophical reasons for not wanting to add to the mass of analytical writing involved with literature. I started taking incompletes, getting F’s. Just dropping out. I wasn’t teaching anymore. The Web position opened up. I started working here full-time just about the time my marriage was falling apart in 1997. I’m pretty happy. Workwise.”
Collins said he hasn’t yet sorted out what happened in his marriage. “I was unhappy, and I didn’t know it. I wasn’t being honest with myself. I always thought of myself as a very self-evaluative person. I met my wife and we fell in love and we got married. It was a wonderful relationship. I kept telling myself it was a wonderful relationship right up until the point where I said, ‘I want to be anywhere but here.’ I fell in love with somebody else.
“It was almost like I woke up one morning and said, ‘Oh my God. Who am I?’ My wife was saying things like, ‘Where are you going to get a job?’ And I was thinking, ‘I’m happy where we are right now. I know we’re not saving any money. And we’re not close to buying a house. But this is a wonderful life.’ When we started out, we were hippies. By the time we broke up, she wasn’t a hippie anymore, and I still was. She’s not a bad woman. She’s a great person. I just don’t think she was the right person for me.”
How would Collins’s life have changed had he been born a woman? “I think that my concept of myself might have been more limited if I’d been born a woman. What I was capable of, what was possible for me. My mom’s a nurse. She wanted to be a doctor. My sister is also a nurse.
“I think high school would have been very different,” Collins said. “My perception of what girls and boys did in high school was that the boys chased and the girls were chased. As a shy boy, I didn’t do a very good job of chasing. But as a shy girl, I could have gone out there and not had to be the aggressive one.”
According to Collins, his life path during college depended on which class and instructor he was taking. “After I took my first logic class at Palomar,” Collins explained, “I took a knowledge and reality class. You question your universe, your values, things like that. That instructor was very instrumental in the way I started thinking about myself. I like to tell people that at that point, I was no longer my parents’ child. I became my own person.
“Philosophically, I would have been the same person as a woman if I had taken the same classes that I did as a man. The way I rebelled as a man was that I withdrew from society. I said, ‘This is not the society that I find valuable. People are motivated by money.’ In order to deconstruct society as a woman, I think I might have been more likely to take over. I would have been even more of a feminist. I would have been even more politically active. I might have gotten a degree to prove to the world that I could.
“I still think I would have gotten my degree in literature. Teaching is very close to my heart. I think I would have been a teacher. Which would have been ironic as a revolutionary woman to take the accepted woman’s professional role as a teacher.”
Collins paused to consider his marriage again. “I might not have married as a woman,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine a relationship that’s not with another woman. Also, I think I would have been much more interested in maintaining my autonomy.”
During his marriage, Collins and his wife didn’t have any children. “In fact, I can’t have any. I’m fixed,” he explained. “When I was 22, for our anniversary, we decided I would have a vasectomy. My wife had been on birth control since she was about 13, and she was 23. We said, ‘These chemicals [in birth control pills] are not good for you, so we’d like to look into some other form of birth control.’ Surgery for a man is much less traumatic than it is for a woman. And I’m mostly still happy with that decision. If I’d been a woman, I probably would not have gotten fixed. Physiologically, the surgery is so much more traumatic for a woman.”
Unlike David Robitzek, Collins admits to wishing he weren’t a man. “Actually, a lot,” he said. “I think that women are really fascinating. If I were a woman, I don’t know if I would be heterosexual. I don’t know if I would want to hang around with men because most men are jerks.”
Collins finished his interview by imagining he would trade places with the writer Gertrude Stein. “I think Gertrude Stein is probably the coolest woman I know of,” he said. “She lived her own life according to her own rules. She was an amazing writer, just an amazing brain.”
From San Marcos, I traveled south. On an upper floor of a downtown high-rise, I sat across from another man in another corner office. Although his name appears etched in the wide glass doors that lead into the law firm he heads, “Mike” preferred to remain anonymous. We looked out across San Diego Bay to Point Loma and the sea before he began to talk.
“I’m a trial lawyer,” Mike said. “Our practice is almost exclusively business litigation. I don’t do any personal injury or malpractice.” Somewhere in his 50s, Mike had the muscular build and weathered face of an aging athlete. On the afternoon we spoke, winter shadows crept across the room and played across Mike’s face as he shifted or waved his hands or drew pictures in the air.