In 2016, Jim Basel made one of the hardest decisions ever — he was ready to save his life. After years of contemplation, Jim finally stepped into the spotlight. He decided to begin his journey and transition to become a woman. Jim had spent over 65 years as a man and now Laci Marie was ready to emerge.

Jim had thought about this scenario for decades. He remembers being five years old and feeling like a girl. He would try on his mother’s high heels, just like any other child playing dress-up. But Jim says now, “The big difference here was that I didn’t want to take the heels off. They felt good and natural.”

While most little boys fantasized about their future endeavors — becoming a fireman, astronaut or boxer — Jim could only wonder why he was trapped in a boy’s body with a girl’s mind. His future was elusive. Jim needed time to figure out his place in the world.

Jim was born in 1947 and raised on a farm in Pinconning, Michigan. He was the oldest of three boys and had loving, attentive parents. His family attended the local Lutheran church. Jim knew early in his life that he was different and had to push down feelings of despair. He understood his place in society and assumed the role of a sports-loving boy. Jim energetically played football, basketball and baseball. In his conservative community, talking about his true feelings would have meant instant rejection or worse. Jim decided to soldier on and on, and on.

Jim hoped beautiful women would save and change him. So, he dated the prom queen in high school. He was in choir and band, and continued with sports. But Jim never felt comfortable in his own skin. College was no different. Jim attended Central Michigan University where he continued to seek out female relationships to blend in. He said that “I never truly felt intimate with women.”

Jim was married and divorced three times. He tried to play the game as best he could. The first marriage was very brief; they were young and incompatible. The second go around, Jim told his wife that he enjoyed wearing women’s clothing — being a "cross dresser." She was compassionate. Jim said their marriage was more like a friendship, and after 16 years they went their separate ways.

As the saying goes, the third time is the charm, and marrying again certainly seemed like it. Jim told me she was beautiful and intelligent — they built a life together for 23 years. Jim hoped and prayed that his wife would change him. They had two children. Jim continued his secretive life while thoroughly enjoying fatherhood. He was very proud of his family.

In 1998, Jim became the principal of Berkley High School. My oldest son Todd was about to graduate. My other sons, Chad and Eli, would also have the pleasure of Jim’s principalship. At the time, I was substituting at Berkley High school in the morning. In the afternoon, I taught at CASA (Center for Advanced Studies and the Arts), a consortium of six school districts that included Berkley.

In January 2000, Jim called me at home and asked if I’d like to teach English in the mornings at the high school. They needed another teacher and my schedule fit the bill. I told him I had to think about it since my current arrangement of teaching part time was perfect for my schedule and the family. But then I realized I was up for a challenge and wanted more out of my career — I took the position.

In order to make my new adventure in teaching work, Jim gave me a first hour planning period — no students until second hour. He also allowed me to arrive 15 minutes late, or longer when needed. This was a generous act on his behalf. Jim knew my daughter Lindsay was disabled and that she would be picked up at different times each day for school. Jim said as long as I made up the time after school at CASA, the situation would work out — and it did until I retired in 2020.

As a principal, Jim was very personable, charismatic, and had solid connections with the students. Jim also had a booming laugh that was irresistible. The students adored and respected him. Jim was a visible presence in the hallways, never sequestered in his office. He brought about desired changes in the school. Jim would say he wanted “to create a culture — a community of learners, leaders, and high achievers.” An added bonus were his stirring commencement speeches each year followed by singing a song while playing his guitar. He was not your typical principal.

Jim left Berkley High School after seven years. His contract wasn’t renewed, and he told the superintendent that he wanted a buyout. Jim was at the point in his career when he would receive retirement benefits as well. He was then off to seek out new horizons. Jim accepted a position and spent seven years at a Muslim school in Detroit. He then substituted in West Bloomfield before serving as director of a Montessori school in Ann Arbor. He started to collect social security benefits along the way and then decided it was time to contemplate his next move.

In 2016, Jim wrote a letter to his wife. He explained his desire to transition to become a woman. He was finally accepting himself and ready to stop “grieving over a life he couldn’t have.” Jim hoped to wait until the kids were out of college to transition, but his life now depended on telling the truth.

Jim’s brothers were the next in line to receive the news. One brother, John, was accepting and the other, a pastor, was not. Jim has reached out many times, but the relationship is broken — there is no communication. Others were not exactly receptive to Jim’s new life changes. When discussing Jim’s plans to transition with his elderly parents, he was blessed to find unconditional love and compassion.

In May 2016, with a heavy heart, Jim moved out of their family home and into an apartment to begin anew. On July 18, 2016, Laci emerged and life as a full-time woman began. She introduced herself to the world on August 4 — Instagram was the messenger.

Laci’s true self came into bloom when she started to take hormones in 2016. The next step was a face lift, cheek implants and then lip enhancement. In 2017, Laci had breast implants. At this point her guilt, shame and pain finally faded away. The last surgery was vaginoplasty — a gender affirming, feminine affirming surgery to create a vagina. Lacie told me that she didn’t want any girl coaching — she wanted Laci “coming out naturally.” She lost 70 pounds in the interim and could actually dream as a woman and “see Lacie in her mind’s eye.”

But learning the intricacies of feminine care is no easy feat at 68. Walking in heels, putting on pantyhose, applying makeup and simply choosing the right outfit can be daunting for any woman. Most have years to master this feat and hopefully look their best. Laci had to create her own style, and this was done by trial and error. Laci commented, “it’s a long journey.” People have questioned her makeup and clothing choices. Laci’s response is simple, “I can wear a lot of makeup because I want to. I want to be me.”

Laci has been fighting a never-ending battle to inform people about being transgender. Her spark is definitely there; however, the flame is not always ignited. She feels lonely at times, but this trailblazer keeps moving forward. Says Laci, “I am trying to educate people just like when I was a teacher and a principal. Many people are not open to the transgender community. I tell them that my life has been a blessing. As Jim, I was a better person — more loving and compassionate. Laci was inside of me all along and brought out my best self. The curse is that I spent nearly seven decades keeping my true identity as a woman deep in a vault in my soul."

“This isn’t a choice — it’s about life or death."

Last year, US News reported that “more than 50% of trans and non-binary youth across the U.S. have seriously considered suicide in the past year.” There are also alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety in the trans community. The rate of suicide for trans adults is 45 percent. Jim was no stranger to these statistics. He attempted suicide twice and had a nervous breakdown. Therapy for a year was instrumental in the healing process. Then joining a support group at Affirmations, a welcoming space for the LGBTQ+ community, was the key to acceptance of his true self.

There are those who consider the desire to transition is a psychological disorder — one for which intense therapy should be the fix. But, according to Dr. Bakker at the University of Liege, Belgium, “We now have evidence that sexual differentiation of the brain differs in young people with GD (gender dysphoria), as they show functional brain characteristics that are typical of their desired gender.” This research indicates that neurological differences occur in early life.

Jim is a perfect example of this study. As a child, he never felt comfortable as a male. No amount of therapy could help Jim from his thoughts and feelings. Laci was Jim’s saving grace.

Unfortunately, transgender people have a difficult time finding long-term employment. Continuing as a principal or teacher in an educational setting was out of the question. Inroads have been made but society is still a day behind. Laci wanted to work, and she finally found a job at a grocery store bakery. It was fun, but the job didn’t last long — Laci needed more.

She then turned to her passion — music. Laci had played professionally for twenty years and sang at 120 weddings. So, the natural course of action was to create a life surrounded by the things she liked most. Laci then found acceptance in two mainstream churches and joined their choir, Bible, and prayer study groups. Laci commented that she “feels God fueling her dreams and empowering her to live her life with purpose and with joy.”

After a 48-year career in education, Laci saw no reason that her transition should put the brakes on being an educator. She started her own business — Laci Speak & Sing. Lacie specializes in speaking engagements, personal cabarets, and gospel songs, to name just a few. She has shared her personal journeymore than 32 times in the past six years — at schools, universities, churches, and businesses.She just wants to help others, especially the next generation.

“I’m going through a personal resurrection and Laci is a gift that God has given me. Now I love who I am — mind, body and soul. God has a plan for me touching hearts, opening minds and building bridges of greater understanding. Like anyone else, the transgender community just wants to love, to be loved and live our lives joyfully.”