MONROE — Melissa Batson went by another name for 56 of the 68 years of her life.
That can be hard to explain to some people.
She tells her story as a transgender woman via a flagpole in her front yard.
What’s up with that?
Batson started doing “flag stories” in January 2021.
“Every week I’d fly a different flag, starting with the flag of California, where I was born,” she said. “I just went chronologically, place-to-place, where I lived and things that were significant to me. As I went through, I would tell where I was on my transgender journey.”
The flag series expanded as a way to share her love of history.
Batson, a Costco employee, moved to Monroe five years ago and lives with two cats in a tidy blue house on a quiet dead-end lane on the outskirts of town. Few people pass by.
The pole is her visual device. Facebook is her mouthpiece.
She writes a public social media post to go with each flag photo.
At times, it’s a lesson about NASA, the United Nations, the Choctaw Nation.
Other times, it’s personal: Despair over gender dysphoria. Disbarment as a lawyer. Discharge from the Army for wearing women’s clothes.
“I find writing to be cathartic,” she said. “Flags are symbolic. A lot are pretty. But it’s symbolism.”
She has 75 flags, neatly folded in a second bedroom. Many of the 3-by-5 foot flags are $10 from Amazon.
Most Facebook posts begin: “Today I raised the flag of …”
The Air Force, where her father served.
South Korea, where she was assigned in the Army.
The places she lived: Maine, Louisiana, Nebraska, Hawaii, England, Maryland, to name a few.
Her causes: “Antarctica, for climate change,” she said.
Some flags are tied to dates: On Memorial Day, she’ll raise the American flag.
Israel, for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Japanese flag, to remember the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
The flags of The Citadel and the University of Oklahoma fly for opening day of football at her alma maters.
The Seattle Mariners flag, for baseball season.
On Feb. 2, up goes the Groundhog Day flag from her niece.
So, yeah, it’s not all serious stuff.
“Today I fly the German flag in front of my house to celebrate Oktoberfest,” Batson wrote. “So let us listen to a little Bach, enjoy a plate of Brats and Sauerkraut, hoist a Stein of Beck Beer and engage in a little light reading … maybe Schopenhauer.” (A philosopher, in case you didn’t know.)
Batson had started a series of flying the states in the order admitted into the Union when Russia invaded Ukraine. The blue and yellow flag of the war-torn country has waved since.
She studies up on each flag to offer a history lesson to readers. “I learn a lot when I get these flags,” she said.
The Army flag is part of her history. She was a tank platoon leader in 1978 when the Army learned she was transgender and gave her a choice.
“I could either resign my commission — in which case I’d retain my GI benefits and have a discharge under honorable conditions,” she said. “Or I could fight it and be court-martialed and, if convicted, reduced in grade to private and be sentenced to six months hard labor at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then discharged dishonorably and lose all benefits.”
As she puts it: “I took Door No. 1.”
After the Army, she worked in consumer finance before attending law school in Oklahoma, later moving to Washington to start a practice. She flew the Washington state flag with a series of Facebook posts telling her story here.
She was disbarred in 2001 after using about $50,000 from a client trust to cover business expenses.
“I got desperate, because of our financial situation. All clients were paid what they were due, but, had one thing gone wrong, the scheme would have collapsed and clients may very well have not been paid,” she wrote.
“… This is the only thing I have ever done of which I am ashamed.”
She tells about hitting bottom in 2006.
“I was getting drunk every night,” she said. “I was stuttering. I was not able to sleep. I was smoking heavily. Then, on the darkest night of my life, I went online and learned how to tie a noose.”
Instead, she sought counseling.
“That was the first time anyone had said that there was nothing wrong with me.”
By the photo of the pink-blue-and-white striped transgender flag she writes: “It is not that I ‘feel’ I am a woman. It is much more. I know, to the marrow of my bones, that I am a woman.”
A milestone was in February 2011.
“When I had legally changed my name to Melissa Cynthia Batson and got my driver’s license and passport reflecting my new name and ‘F’ as my gender.”
Another landmark was in 2017.
“I bought my house in Monroe and happily live life there as my authentic self.”
The house came with the flagpole that she sees daily from the front bay window.
“It started out as a way to tell my story, then morphed into me looking into things that were interesting to me, and wanted to learn more about, and tell my friends and family about,” she said. “So I got 75 flags, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”