You can do this.
You can do this.

Transgender Series

One of the best parts of this project is compiling stories from people in a similar community. It reminds me that labels mean nothing and there is so much to learn from each individual's experience and growth.

 

 

Emmett, 32

Part 1: TERRIFYING

I first absorbed the word “transgender” when I was in my 20s.  I was drawn to the book Both Sides Now, a memoir by Dillon Khosla. I think I saw it on Oprah and wanted to read it and I had no idea why. I had come out as a lesbian when I was in high school but I was still out of place. Reading the book, I felt his life made sense to me. I learned what it meant to be a transgender man and that this existed in the world.  This was a possibility.  In that moment it was terrifying to recognize a truth about yourself. It was a little bit of light in the darkness of not knowing, a seed of truth.  I knew it meant the next step was not going to be easy. I read that book when I was 21 or 22 and I didn’t start medically transitioning until I was 28, so it still took me a long time to get to that place.

Part 2: UNBOUND

I was riding the subway, probably three or four weeks after my top surgery. It was the first time I wasn't wearing my ace bandage around my chest.  It was August in New York and all I had on was a t-shirt. I leaned back and I could actually feel the cool seat on my back. I felt such a wave of incredible relief and joy - I almost started to cry. It was a simple, tiny moment that will forever be etched in my mind.

Chance, 26

Part 1: FRACTURED

When I was young, I knew I was a girl but I just assumed I wasn’t going to go through the same puberty. I was going to turn into a man… which never happened. When I went to acting school, I was having a real hard time playing female roles. A teacher had said, “Do you think maybe you identify as a guy?” I came out as trans at 21 and started transitioning 2 months later. It was very fast. I was super impulsive about it.  I ended up in a treatment center for addiction and mental health because my anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD surfaced. I was so desperate. My sister, who also suffered from addiction, brought me to an AA meeting. I came out as trans to them, and they told me that the only way I was ever going to find peace and happiness was if I found Jesus. They all seemed so happy, like they had something I didn’t. It felt like being in the dark when everybody else is in the light.  That’s probably when I was most suicidal, because I was like, there’s nothing I can do. I can’t go back. I’d had surgery. It’s too late.

(Models: Zan Headley, Lindsay Coryne, James Cowan, Christie Harms, Ethan Andolina)

Part 2: HEARTBEAT

There was one kid who started coming to the AA meetings. He was 17 or 18 and he was trying so hard to fit in. They told him he needed to figure out what was holding him back to be an addict. And so he came out as being gay for the first time, even to himself. I was so happy for him, and then suddenly everyone was tearing him down and he got really upset. He’d had 3 weeks sober, the longest he ever had. He ended up overdosing because he couldn’t take what they were saying. He just came out as gay… and then he died. In that moment, I realized everything I hated about their ideology, their beliefs. Finally I started to see that they were all the ones in the dark. They thought that they were happy but you could tell that it was just replacing one addiction with another. Suddenly, I felt like I was the only one that actually saw what was going on. It was like I was walking around dead and then, in that kid’s death there was a realization. I needed to stay true to who I was. And then in my chest, there was just… one beat.

(Models: Alex Fazeli, Lindsay Coryne)

Harley, 29

Part 1: LOST

Coming to a place where I knew that I wasn’t female took a while, and then I had something to prove. After 11 months on testosterone, I got a big-boy job at a barber shop and felt incredibly needy to prove to the owner that I was strong enough and man enough.  He was an alcoholic and I just subscribed to that, so I would party with him and do tons of stuff I would never do.  At times, it felt that he was the type of man I wanted to be, the perfect alpha male, but there were moments where I’d have the thought, why am I doing this?  I even had multiple seizures from withdrawal, and I kept drinking because I still had something to prove. In March, I went to visit some friends in L.A. and I could barely function without alcohol. They had cereal for breakfast and I had vodka.  So, I was at the airport checking in to fly home and they told me I didn’t have a ticket. I couldn’t reach my friends and I had a complete breakdown.  I was alone, and I was weak. And sick. In that moment, I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t even lift a bag that was 20 lbs. I had no money to get myself a plane ticket, and I was stuck at 5:30 AM in an airport. I just felt completely lost. Faceless. Yeah, I had become something that…  wasn't my core. Around my core was this thing, this shell, this darkness, what I thought I needed to be in order to be enough. And nothing was ever enough. Nothing. The abuse of alcohol was just to keep me away from knowing that. The second I got back to Canada, I called was my doctor. I said, “I'm giving up. I’m giving in.”

Part 2: JOY

After going through detox, I was totally committed to a day program. At first, I was like, seriously? But it started to make a difference. I haven’t had a drink in months, and the support was huge. I had been on only a low dose of T [testosterone] and was hanging on to the last female pieces, like longer hair and mascara, that I thought would keep me safe and keep me in control.  I had been using the female things to get me what I wanted and needed to survive. But recently, I started to get really uncomfortable when people would say, “Hey, girl” or refer to me as “she”.  I realized I was hiding still.  So one morning, I woke up and said, I'm going to go hard and cut my hair. I'm going to up my dose of T. No more makeup, different attitude, different facial expressions…  I looked in the mirror and didn't really recognize myself, but I was like, okay, I'm shining through, right?  And I tried to just be in that moment without hiding. I felt very vulnerable, very exposed. I was scared shitless to go to group the morning after, but it was the safest place that I could go and explore this.  Wearing 800 layers, still felt naked. Well, I showed up and everyone was just like, “Wow, your hair is so dope!” And nobody made fun of me. No one was kicking my shins or beating me down.  If Justin Bieber can rock himself and be who he is without caring, why can’t I?

Hunter, 26

Part 1: NAUSEATED

Accepting my identity and accepting myself for who I am was very difficult. My sister knew that I was planning to come out as transgender to my mom. I had them both over for dinner one night and I was extremely anxious. We went for a walk around my neighborhood and the entire walk I was playing it in my head but I couldn't get it out. Later, when she was literally ready to walk out the door, I was just like, “Actually, can you have a seat? We have to talk.” I presented it to her as a way of something she could help me with. I thought she would respond best that way. So I told her, this is how I'm feeling, I'm struggling with this, and can you help me figure this out? And I really thought that I was going to throw up.

 

 

 

 

Part 2: SUPPORTED

My mom actually helped me get my first appointment with my doctor to start the whole transition process. She even made phone calls to the insurance about coverage for my surgery. This one night, I was competing in a drag competition and she surprised me and showed up after her long day at work. I was actually in the middle of my performance and I had no idea she was going to be there. She tipped me a dollar and I gave her the biggest hug.  Even in that quick moment, I felt a lot of support and love from her. I didn't want to let go of her hug, but I had to because I was in the middle of my performance … I did not want to let her go.

Will, 33

Part 1: INVADED

For a few months when I was about 13 and still female, I stole my big brother's clothes when no one was around and put them on in the bathroom. I would role-play and pretend I was flirting with girls in class. I hung towels on the mirrors so I couldn’t see the top half of my body which looked female. I could only see part of my torso and his baggy pants. It was my little secret. Then one day, I hear my mother come downstairs and say, “Who left towels on the mirrors?” I was like, shit, I didn't know how to explain it so I said it wasn't me. She asked my brothers and my father, and now she's freaking out, saying, “Someone’s lying to me!” She was about to ground all of us, and I remember bursting into tears in the kitchen. I was crying hysterically and saying it was me, but I said I did it to scare my brother’s girlfriend. She was relieved someone told her, but I had lied again. I lied about the lie. I had been safe in there, in my secret world. And now it was busted open, tainted.  Yeah, there was shame in what I was doing. Deep down I thought it was wrong, because why would I have to lie about it?

 

 

Part 2: OPEN

When I was 26, I was ready to take the leap. I can remember the exact moment I made the decision to act. It happened when I was reading my college newspaper and I came across an article by a classmate about Thomas Beatie, the pregnant man who was on Oprah.  It was all about how he'll never be a man because hormones don't make you a man, all this stuff. I thought, this writer has no idea what he's talking about! My whole body got hot and I started sweating. It really struck a chord. So, I wrote a letter to the editor, and I came out as transgender. I said, “As someone in the trans community, this is really offensive.” And this was the turning point. After I did that, it was like, okay, now everybody knows because you put it in print. It took that 13 year gap of secretly dressing up, lying about it, and then finally deciding to act on what I had buried inside myself years ago.  As soon as it became definite, it was like my whole life opened up into a big expanse, like an endless sky. It's like I didn’t know what's ahead but knew it was worth figuring out.

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© Erin Reeve, MD