Born David Warfield, as a boy growing up in California, Dana said she knew at the age of four that she was "different." Although she does not think that four year-olds are aware of their "sexual being" she believes that children at that age become sensitive to the reactions around them. Although she felt uncomfortable and isolated at that time, it was not until she reached puberty that she became "panic-stricken." She said that she dreaded the locker room at school and was harassed by schoolmates, especially the boys. In her own body, "testosterone felt like poison," said Rivers.
Growing up, Dana hid her anguish of living in a male body by acting as manly as possible. Her macho, daredevil spirit earned her the nickname "Mountain Man." But beneath the façade, she was suffering. "I lived a lifetime full of depression," she says. "I was suicidal. My life had been a train wreck."
After high school, Rivers joined the Navy. Rivers said that she put up a facade of a "normal" person. "I balanced loneliness by joining everything." She participated in track, band, Varsity Tennis, wrestling, and the debate team. Rivers confesses that she used drugs and alcohol to combat loneliness and desperation. She has been free from both types of substances for over 11 years.
She had begun to teach as David Warfield in 1990 and was given the Stand and Deliver Award for directing the creation of a media communication center at the school. After two failed marriages and the birth of her daughter through her former wife, Rivers decided to see a therapist. Together, Rivers and her therapist eventually embarked on a plan to treat her Gender Disphoria.
Rivers first wore women's clothing and took measures to get rid of her facial hair. In May 1999, four months after she had begun to take hormones, her third wife left her. She had not had the surgery yet, but she had shed her identity as David and was living full-time as a woman.
Dana Rivers, formerly David Warfield, had every intention of beginning a normal school year when she returned to Center High School in suburban Sacramento. She sent a letter to her colleagues announcing her transformation, "I wasn't trying to make a political statement. I was trying to keep my job. I am first and foremost a teacher."
Her plans to have a sex change operation ignited a national controversy. Some parents worried about the children being prematurely exposed to transgender issues. After Rivers had undergone the operation, the school board, by a vote of 3-2, asked her to leave. She didn't expect the school board to ask her to resign after four letters of protest against a transgender educator.
She didn't expect to become an advocate for transgender youth and a spokesperson for transgender issues. She didn't expect to be honored with a $10,000 grant by the Colin Higgins Foundation for courage in the face of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.
Since being forced to resign, Rivers has kept busy serving on the boards of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender organizations, educating herself on the discrimination and hardships that transgenders face, and speaking to the media.
Rivers took the school board to court, and opted for a financial settlement when she realized that legal procedures would keep her out of the classroom for two years. Recently the California State Credentialing Commission closed her file without comment, clearing her to teach again.
The controversy ended with a settlement, and Dana received $150,000 from the school district in exchange for her resignation. Ironically, the settlement ended up paying for the $50,000 surgery she underwent in June 2000. Dana returned to her work as a schoolteacher at a different California school.
Though Dana is still technically married to her wife Tara, who is heterosexual, her partner at the time of her surgery was Michelle, who is also a transsexual. Recently, Michelle and Dana have parted ways and Dana is currently dating another woman.
Though she was supportive of Dana's decision to have the operation, Tara was sad to lose her husband - then named David Warfield. "Anybody who knew David Warfield would be crazy not to love him," she says.
Since she is currently with a woman, Dana accepts the title of lesbian. "It's easiest to define me if you need to," she says. "Two women that sleep together and enjoy life together are lesbians and that's where we are." However, she doesn't rule out the prospect of one day being with a man. "It's just about impossible to pigeonhole us," she says. "I know that just frustrates people."