By Joan Schweighardt
Bloomers Blazing is a regular feature at BLOOM, presenting interviews with (and stories about) people who found their life’s passion after the age of 40.
You could say that Emma Croft leads a perfectly balanced life. She has the snazzy job, working as a cloud ops engineer for Dun & Bradstreet. She has the sublime and rewarding domestic life, living on an alpaca farm in Massachusetts along with her partner, their dogs, some chickens, and of course alpacas. She loves to cook for small groups (she is one of those people who considers a guest list of twenty “small”); she does volunteer karaoke gigs, walks, and even Tupperware parties to help raise funds for Masonic charities, multiple sclerosis, alzheimer’s, etc. She writes two blogs, one called Thoughts on a Cloudy Day and one where you can read about and see photos of the adorable alpacas. So yes, life is good, and the world is a better place with her in it. But don’t think she hasn’t suffered her share of heartache to get where she is today.
Joan Schweighardt: Do you remember your first heartache?
Emma Croft: I started to sense something was wrong when I was around age six. I hated boy things and always wanted to be with the girls. I was hit by my parents and told that they weren’t having a “sissy boy” in the family. I learned to act more like my brothers, but I never fit in. I experienced heartbreak for the first time when I wanted to play Mystery Date with my female cousins and they told me to go away because the game was for girls.
JS: At what point in your life did you come out?
EC: In July of 2015 a close friend died of a heart attack. Listening to the people talk about how authentic Bill’s life had been pushed me over the edge and I started to spiral downward. I had always lived with a little darkness and even suicidal feelings. I’d attempted to come out once before, in the ‘90s, but after losing my marriage, home, friends, family and job, I reverted back to presenting myself as male in order to be able to support my kids. But after my friend’s death, I did finally come out, to Cindy, my wife of 15 years.
JS: What was Cindy’s response when you told her?
EC: She took a couple of days to absorb the information and then told me that we were going to do this, and this time there would be no turning back. She has been my biggest advocate. It has now been over two years since I officially became Emma Morgaine Croft. Cindy and I are still making plans for the future, so I think that’s a good sign.
JS: Are your children supportive?
EC: I have two children from my previous marriage and Cindy has two. My daughter thoroughly supports me. She has even given me clothes that no longer fit her. We go out together; we did a wine tour recently. (I wasn’t thrilled because the area doesn’t have much red, but it was still good.)
My son, on the other hand, is distant. It might be because he is only 22 and has his own issues to deal with. He prefers to communicate with me exclusively by text. He did come Christmas Eve and spent the day with Cindy and me, but that was the last I’ve seen of him. My daughter says he’s the same way at home with his mom, so it might not be so much about me. Cindy’s two children are older and have totally accepted me. Her daughter, Neilie, has even told me that I don’t need makeup.
JS: Now that you are living as a woman, do you feel that you have transitioned or do you feel that you’ll be in limbo until you undergo sexual reassignment surgery (SRS)?
EC: I have always felt myself to be a woman, even when in male mode. But I still want that last vestige of male-hood gone. When I was younger, I used to put an X-Acto knife to my genitals and think about cutting them off. Fortunately I didn’t, as I found out years later that the surgeons need them!
The issue that I have is all the hoops you have to jump through to get to surgery. First I had to present myself as a woman for a full year, then I had to wait on my endocrinologist and other professionals to formally produce letters approving me as a candidate for surgery. Then I met (just recently) with the surgeon. Now my case has to go before a board. It requires infinite patience.
JS: What does a cloud ops engineer do?
EC: A cloud ops engineer builds out systems and processes for cloud providers such as Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure. I work in AWS and create virtual servers and load balancers. I also set up security groups which act as firewalls.
JS: Tell us about your other work life, on the farm.
EC: We have had alpacas on the farm for over three years now. We raise them for their fleece. This fleece is sheared once a year and made into yarn at a co-op that offers us credit on product. We have a store on our property that is open on the weekends up until Christmas. I give the tours and my wife shows visitors the product in the store. We have everything from socks and boot-liners to high-end sweaters, cardigans and dusters. We hope to open an online extension soon.
Alpacas are social animals and anyone who wants to keep them should have at least three. This is in case you have to take one to the vet, as the one left alone will have anxiety issues. We currently have 25 alpacas, four of which were born on property. (We have been trained to assist in deliveries.) We also have 28 chickens, and we free range them, so every day is an Easter egg hunt.
JS: Tell us about cooking and karaoke.
EC: I started life as a chef. I won the Rotarian Award for “Outstanding Food Service” in high school. By the time I graduated from Rogers Voc-Tech in Newport, RI, I had already enlisted in the Air Force, where I was given a set of knives (which I still have). In the Air Force I ran a dining hall at night. My partner and I had come up with a few comedy routines and song and dance numbers to keep the guys on the flight line happy. We were asked to join Tops in Blue, a touring performance ensemble made up of active duty Air Force members, but we turned it down.
I tried working in local restaurants after I got out, but the sanitation was atrocious, so I went into landscaping and then eventually got cross-trained into computer programming as part of the Job Training Partnership Act. My instructor found I had a real aptitude for programming, and I actually ended up teaching the class. I worked for a Navy contractor, a jewelry manufacturer, and a corrugated box company, and eventually ended up at my current job, where I have been for over 15 years.
I started doing karaoke as a fundraiser in my rookie year as a Mason. I called it “Make A Fool of Yourself” night. I would go to the lodge and prepare a pasta dinner with homemade sauce, sausage, meatballs, salad, and bread. My wife and I paid for all of it, and the proceeds went to the lodge. Despite having had to leave Masonry, the Masters of the Lodge continue to ask me to come back and do fundraisers. I also provide the karaoke for a friend’s pig roast each year. I love music and I love entertaining.
JS: Tell me about your writing, past, present and future?
EC: I have always dabbled in writing. My first “book” was a collection of prose and poems called Thoughts on a Cloudy Day, also the name of my blogsite. I even tried writing a few songs. I used to make them up like Jim Stafford did on his show. And I wrote for an organization called Worldwide Hippies for a time: I had a weekly column with them for which I won a “Golden Note” for online writing.
I am currently converting the blog postings of my Not a Life Choice series into a book. The book will come together after I have my surgery. I did have another book that I started some years ago called Emma: An Unlived Life. I planned on leaving it as a suicide note. I guess it will never get read now.
Joan Schweighardt is the author of The Last Wife of Attila the Hun, The Accidental Art Thief and other novels. Her newest novel, Before We Died, will be published in September.
homepage photo credit: Allison Rose