At his first meeting after being elected chair of Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side, Mel Wymore had quite an announcement to make: he was no longer a woman.
Prior to declaring his new gender in April 2010, Mr. Wymore spent more than a decade serving on the community board. He realized he wanted to become a man about a month before taking the chairmanship.
“I’ve held many roles on the community board, however always in the role of a woman,” Mr. Wymore told The Observer. “I knew that I was going to be changing very overtly in front of everybody when I was elected, so on my very first meeting as chair, I announced to the community board that I would be transitioning and that they could expect changes. At the time, I said I would maintain the female pronoun until I announced otherwise and that if anyone had questions please don’t be afraid to ask me directly.”
After his term on the community board ended, Mr. Wymore launched a 2013 campaign for the District 6 City Council seat. If his council bid is successful, he would be New York’s first transgender public elected official. Though Mr. Wymore doesn’t shy away from discussing his gender identity, he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a “novelty candidate.”
“Look, I’m the qualified candidate here, but I happen to be transgender,” Mr. Wymore explained. “I do realize, however, that I’m an exemplar of a certain kind of difference that’s in a very small minority, so recognizing that, I have a particular responsibility and a voice to speak about difference and inclusion.”
For Mr. Wymore, the road to the Upper West Side began in Arizona. His father, A. Wayne Wymore, was a professor at the University of Arizona and a pioneer in the discipline of systems engineering. Mr. Wymore eventually followed his father into the profession, which has defined his approach to politics.
“Engineering is a discipline of thinking,” Mr. Wymore said. “So, for example, in any given problem you can put on a band aid, or you can look at what caused that wound so you can shift the system that caused that problem at the same time that you’re making sure the bleeding stops. Systems engineers are trained to do that and I think that’s one of my biggest assets.”
This focus on identifying root causes means Mr. Wymore, according to him, is constantly seeking ways to improve and streamline the workings of local government while simultaneously tending to day-to-day business. He believes this is especially important on the Upper West Side, which he describes as an ideal place to pioneer new initiatives and programs due to the upscale demographic of the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot of opportunity, especially at local levels of governance, to really forge new models for working together, and solving problems and creating vision,” Mr. Wymore said. “The Upper West Side is uniquely positioned to be a paragon of urban living in that we’re a very successful, dense population and we can together decide what we want to look like in the future in terms of sustainability, and education, and housing, and health care, and taking care of older people and taking care of younger people. We have real opportunities because we are so successful.”
Growing up as the child of an academic also meant a nontraditional upbringing for Mr. Wymore that included extended stays in Hawaii, Austria, China and Costa Rica, where Mr. Wymore said he was enrolled in a local public school despite speaking no Spanish.
“I got shipped into the local high school where no one spoke English and I had extremely blond hair. I was literally the only Caucasian there,” Mr. Wymore said. “That was a real novelty for all the other kids, I guess, at that point. I kind of learned what it was to be the only one—to be different.”
As a child, Mr. Wymore said he suppressed his desire to be male.
“I so wanted to be a boy when I was a little kid—so desperately wanted to be a boy, and then when puberty rolled around, I kind of buried it,” Mr. Wymore said. “I think between hormones and peer pressure and cultural expectations, I just kind of said, ‘O.K., I’ve got to kind of get with the program and be female.’”
Love eventually brought Mr. Wymore to New York City during his mid-20s.
“I’ve almost lived half my life here now,” Mr. Wymore said. “I was in a long-distance relationship and we finally decided it was time to co-locate, so we said whoever got a job first, that’s where we would move. And he got a job here in New York City, so I moved to New York City and we started a family.”
Mr. Wymore said he’s still “very friendly” with his ex-husband and they share custody of two children, but the marriage didn’t last.