Marc Messner: Leaving His Mark on the World
Ellen Wittlinger wrote in her groundbreaking book, Parrotfish, “But you can only lie about who you are for so long without going crazy.” This describes what Marc Messner expresses about his life. Born in Philadelphia to what can be described as “mature” parents, Marc has lived a somewhat off-centered life. His dad owned a bait and tackle shop. In Philadelphia? But yes, there were many anglers in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. In fact, there is an adjoining area along the Delaware River called Fishtown. Fishing for Shad is a rite of passage.
Marc’s family lived above the store; his dad was always working. His sister was 16 years older, and his mom suffered from a chronic illness. Marc’s birth was in and of itself a miracle. He was born blue and barely survived. But, his grandfather stepped in and did much of the parenting.
Marc recalls that his grandfather took him everywhere. He especially loved accompanying him to the barber shop. Wondering about the attraction to the things his grandfather did, Marc began to withdraw into himself. He describes life on the streets of Kensington as rowdy and adventuresome. He reports that although he was dressed in girl’s clothing, he could fight like a boy, and the fellows were afraid of him. The Fishtown Athletic Club was a lifesaver for Marc to channel his energy. He attended Webster Elementary School; he began his withdrawal from others.
But the Kensington area changed overnight from a family area to one of gangs and drugs. Marc’s dad was robbed and a gun held to his head. It was no longer safe to play in the streets. Marc’s grandfather had always wanted to live at the beach; this began to sound like a great idea. The family moved to Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Incidentally, when people from Philadelphia talk about visiting the ocean, they are referring to the New Jersey shore. And fishing is the local pastime.
Marc began attending the local schools. He describes himself as good in school but withdrawn and uncertain of his place in things. His mother began to need more care, and Marc stayed close to home when not in school. Fights with boys were not uncommon. But he began to discover a talent and affinity for technical things. “I became a geek.” He dissolved his sense of self into the computer. Life was uneventful until his grandfather became ill and died quickly.
A day trip on the Cape May Lewes Ferry resulted in a life change. His parents found the Lewes area to be just what they needed. A move out of New Jersey was the consequence of the trip. And Marc’s adventure began at Rehoboth Elementary School. He quickly noticed that he was very different from the other kids. He was bullied when he wasn’t being ignored. “I was truly the odd man out.” He emphasizes that he was quiet and withdrawn. “Nothing like I am today.” But the clock doesn’t stop and ultimately Marc graduated high school with no plans for the future but to love animals and care for his parents. With these constraints, Marc commuted to the University of Delaware in Newark for four years and majored in Animal Science.
A career in the Delaware poultry industry followed. The work was demanding but generous compensation and benefits eased the pain. When asked just what exactly did the job entail, Marc describes the environmental safety and resource management of a Delaware industry ranked seventh in the nation with 1,733,100,000 pounds of chicken produced with a total value of $1,103,985,000 per year. Now that’s not chicken feed.
Marc’s social life was still a problem but the disruption of animal shelters in 2013 took him in another direction, cat rescue. His abiding care for animals was nearly his financial undoing. But he had begun to have friends, particularly in the LGBT community. His first thinking was who are these people? But the easy acceptance was the catalyst for Marc’s life journey. He began his excruciating gender transition with a trip to Ireland and to Israel. Coming home, the transition began in earnest.
Who inspired you? “My grandfather. He was the strongest person I ever knew. He was a war veteran, a factory worker, and a labor leader. But he believed that people have an inalienable right to be themselves despite what others think.” And when I faced up to transitioning, remembering what he taught me was there.”
Marc’s life has changed immeasurably. He relishes being in his own skin. Now, graduate school for Social Work is part of the path.
“What do you want your legacy to be?”
“I want to be remembered for helping pave the way for others so they don’t have to live the fog and mystery that I did and that their transition is only a bump not a mountain to climb.”