After years of being afraid to go out in public as a woman, Denise now lives openly in her community. She says that friends, neighbors and strangers have been supportive of her decision.
"Our whole community—from the teachers, the principals, the coaches, our friends, the officials in town—have been outrageously supportive," she says. "I'm not naive. I know there was some tongue wagging behind our backs and everything else, but I have a great community. I'll tell you, 99 percent of them are with me."
Before beginning her transition, Denise went door to door letting her neighbors know there were going to be some "changes" in the neighborhood. "First thing I thought was, they're selling their house, they're moving, something like that," says Mike, a friend who lives a few doors down. "Then Don proceeded to tell me, 'I'm going to change into a woman, and [my] name is going to be Denise.' And I said, 'Whatever. It's great. Good.'"
Mike says one of the only changes is that now Denise shops with his wife instead of him.
Denise still remembers the day she told her friends, the O'Malleys, about her decision to live as a woman. "I was doing some work in their house when I went over to my buddy John, and I said, 'John, I have something to tell you. John, I'm a transsexual, and I'm going to be transitioning within the next couple of months,'" Denise says. "He looked at me, square in the eyes, came over and gave me a big hug...which to this day, I'll never forget."