Sexuality and gender identification one of the most intimate self-exploratory journeys a person can go through. It’s challenging enough for the average teen to deal with your changing pubertal body, changing voice, boys and girls no longer having cooties, raging hormones, unexplainable feelings and mood swings, etc. Now image adding the extra element of trying to navigate your sexuality. Now image adding the extra element of your gender identity.
The “joys” of puberty just went into freefall. Fitting in and being accepted are the main goals of getting through adolescence. I imagine this to be even more trying as someone struggles to fit in while also trying to understand their sexual identity and/or gender identity as well. Now, this is 2015, and society has become a bit more open and seemingly accepting of people’s sexuality and gender identity. Equality has come a long way, but there are still more hurdles to come. With the changing times, it seems as though the process of coming out (both sexually and in regards to gender) is not nearly as traumatic or taboo as it was 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago for that matter.
In April of 1998, the show Ellen was cancelled when Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian woman. Later that year in September, Will and Grace premiered, which starred one of the lead characters as a gay man. Now, Ellen DeGeneres is one of the most respected talk show hosts in the country, and it is not so uncommon to see many TV shows and movies starring gay or transgender individuals (e.g. Modern Family, Orange is the New Black, I Am Cait, I Am Jazz). Below are the journeys of two wonderful and loving people that I know. I went to middle and high school with Bridgette, and I cheered in college with Karl. Here are their stories.
Hi! My name is Nicolas.
I was asked to describe my experiences as a transgender man (born a biological female, but mentally male) and – to be honest – I was really not sure where to start. I asked if there were certain questions my friend wanted me to answer or where to start? I was told to just describe what my life has been like and my experiences with transition. This was an interesting thought that I hadn’t really considered before. How had I gotten to this point? What helped me make this decision? It was a blessing in disguise, actually, as it led me to answers about myself.
Like many individuals that are transgender, my journey into gender discovery started in childhood. Unlike many children, however, I did not just “know” I was male from a very young age. It never really even entered into my mind. I feel like this stemmed from a very supportive, very well-rounded household.
I was an only child growing up in suburban Pennsylvania near Philly, and my interests at the time were wide and varied. I played equal parts doing things that would be stereotypically attributed to both little girls and little boys. I played with my dad – in the garage fixing the car, in the park playing football, and tossing balls at night for the bats. With my mom, I cooked in the kitchen, played house and dolls, and sang and danced. I made them BOTH play with Barbies. Dad was a good sport.
I was never told not to do certain things because they were “for boys” and I was exposed to all manner of toys, clothes, and activities. This was both a good and a bad thing for me. It was good, obviously, because no child should be told they can’t or shouldn’t do something on the basis of their sex or gender. The really only bad thing is that it took me a very, very long time to discover my gender expression. It was not until I was an adult that I realized transitioning was the right thing for me.
Growing up, I had never even heard the word transgender. I did not know that someone born of one sex could make the decision to live as another based on what they felt was truly them on the inside. Had I known this existed at all, things may have progressed much faster for me. As it was, I continued to live as a female, but enjoyed my varied interests and dressed, for the most part, on a scale from androgynous to male.
When I was in the second grade, my parents divorced and I lived primarily with my mother. We moved south to Richmond because that is where my maternal grandparents lived. We lived with them for a while before moving into an apartment and then a house.
I went through school with no real thought to my own sexuality, and in fact did not even really date much. I did not really have much of a drive for that sort of thing. I dated a childhood friend for a short time in early high school who was male, but we were much more like siblings than a couple. I wore a range of clothing from stereotypically female outfits to those that were more male, though I almost never wore skirts or dresses unless I was on stage performing in a musical or show choir.
It was not until I met the group of friends I would spend the formative years of my life with that I got any inkling of my own sexuality and gender expression. I met my spouse in that group and we have been together now for 12 years, married for 1. From high school on, I remained close with an incarnation of that group. Members have come and gone, but the bonds made there allowed me to feel like I could choose how I want myself to be seen.
My spouse – who prefers the ‘they/them’ pronouns of gender fluidity – was, and is, free and liberal with their sexuality. This was the exact opposite of myself. Though my parents were supportive, I needed to please everyone but myself and had social anxiety, something I have only recently put a name to. I really had no identity of my own. My spouse helped me find myself, sexually and intellectually. They made me realize that I really had no borders in how I could present myself.
It was only in November of 2014 that something clicked in my head, some switch was flipped; transitioning was a possibility for me. I don’t blame any one thing for this decision taking so long, but I know being in my early-30s makes it a little harder for me.
The thing that triggered this change, I think, was actually a comic book convention. My spouse and I have always been actors and big into recreational costuming (conventions, Renaissance Fairs, etc.), and so I have a costume for almost every convention we attended. For us it is half the fun! I traditionally costume as male characters, and this convention was no exception. We both chose characters from the X-men fame, my spouse as the White Queen and I as Jono Starsmore or Chamber. My costume was rather casual, a British band t-shirt, jeans, and a long black coat. Just for fun I thought I should get a real binder (device that binds the breasts flat to the chest creating a more male upper torso) for my costume this time instead of using a compression shirt.
The costume, and the binder, were a great success! Such a success, for that matter, that I began wearing the binder under my regular clothes. I found that I felt better with it on. I just liked how I looked in it and it felt so natural. Without really saying anything to anyone besides my spouse, I began to wear it on a regular basis. No one in my professional or social life said anything to me about the change.
It was then that I really decided that transitioning was right for me. I still had one big problem, however. I knew my spouse would not care. They identify as ‘pansexual’ meaning they are potentially attracted to any gender, or gender expression. I did not really worry about their reaction to this. I was unsure, however, how and when to bring this up to my mother. I was an adult, of course, but I still cared about her reaction. She had been brought up Catholic and, despite her beliefs having changed a lot over the years as she came to accept me as a gay woman, this was decidedly different.
Coming out to her happened rather by accident. It was Mother’s Day and we went down to Cary Street to spend the day together. We ended up getting brunch at a little cafe where they were doing a special on pitchers of mimosas. Long story short, we killed a pitcher between us, laughed a lot, and I just kind of spit it out. I had not intended on coming out as transgender at all that day, it just kind of happened. Well, the reaction was better than expected. Though she said she was fine with it, I was not sure she really understood all it entailed at that moment. It didn’t matter to me then; it was enough to lift a huge weight from my shoulders and give me the mental green light.
It happened very quickly from there. I looked up some therapists in the area from a transgender resource list and e-mailed the very first one. I will leave her name out, but suffice it to say, she was simply amazing to me. She let me know the state only required a single visit and a letter of recommendation to start taking hormones. I scheduled the visit right away.
I am not sure what I expected, but I pretty much laid out a story much like this for the therapist (my spouse was with me which is exactly how I wanted it), and she took it all in. I related to her that it was only now, looking back on my childhood, that I know why I secretly liked when people mistook me for a boy. I would tuck my long hair into a hat, and being called a boy then didn’t bother me. I sort of liked it.
She wrote me my letter of recommendation without hesitation and gave me the name of one of the only doctors in the area who could give out hormones. Richmond, despite being pretty LGBT friendly, has very few transgender resources.
I saw the doctor and began taking testosterone in May of this year. My therapist recommended at least a year’s worth of hormones before getting any kind of surgery. This allows the body to shift and change and the weight to redistribute to create an easier musculature for the surgeon to follow. I agreed because I want the best results, and I would not be able to afford surgery for a while.
In preparation for the changes to start, I stepped down from my position at work and took a lesser, though still supervisory job, with a smaller group of people. I would have had to explain my transition to so many people across 26 stores in my previous position (as a regional trainer) that I would not have felt comfortable with that. I moved back into a store and worked up the courage to talk to each of the people I would need to come out to there.
I was shocked that I received no negative backlash whatsoever and my coworkers were super understanding. Some even congratulated me! I was floored. I moved right along and changed my nametag to reflect my chosen male name (which is, incidentally, the name I would have been given at birth had I been born male).
Everyone seems to try their very best to use my chosen name and correct pronouns and that makes me so happy. I am not a person who is going to get mad at you for mis-gendering me. I completely understand those who may, but it is just not in my nature. I know it is an adjustment and I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I think it has gone a long way in the manner I interact with my coworkers. All in all, it has been a really great experience.
The physical changes have been kind of awesome. I always hated my hips and after a few months, my spouse and I noticed that they weren’t so noticeable, especially in clothes. My weight is readjusting and find that I am not as unhappy with myself as I was before. It leads me to believe it was not just because I was overweight, but because before, the weight was in undesirable places.
Probably THE most interesting part of this whole thing is the pseudo-social experiment aspect of the whole thing. I work in retail, but I am a frame designer, so I spend more time with customers than your regular cashier – hours sometimes. Some people read my nametag and I see the split second look of confusion before they continue. I know right now I cannot pass as male to everyone. I know it is a process. It makes me feel good when customers make an effort to use my name and correct pronouns.
Knowing that I am NOT a psychologist and am not qualified to make assumptive analysis, but there are a few other things I have found as well. For the most part (and this is NOT always true, just the majority of the time), male customers take my name and lack of breasts at face value and refer to me as “he/him” without hesitation. Women seem to be more concerned with other parts of me and either ignore the nametag or do not notice it, leading them to refer to me as female. I even had a couple the other day refer to me as both male and female (the husband and wife respectively) during the same conversation!
This is fascinating to me, though I am beginning to feel pangs of hurt when people do not refer to me by the correct pronouns. I have a damned good amount of patience, but as I get almost 5-6 months of hormone treatments in, I can feel it starting to wear. All I can say is, I am looking forward to facial hair. I feel at that point, mis-gendering will certainly not be as common.
Hi! My name is Cameron.
I grew up in an upper middle class family, and I never wanted for anything. So coming out as a gay man at 14 was insanely difficult. My family is your typical southern family and image is everything. I ran away from home, partied, and found drug addiction – all of these things before 19. My family eventually came around with the gay lifestyle and realized, “you either love me or lose me.”
All of that set me up with thick skin for the journey I would make next. My entire life I’ve known I was different, and not just “gay,” because I never felt gay. I didn’t want to date gay men. I saw myself with straight men, because I saw myself as a woman; I just didn’t understand what that meant.
At 20, I started doing drag in local gay clubs, and this became a career. I’ve travelled the country, done film, TV, radio and so many great things.Bbut the greatest thing I learned from this was what “trans” was. The gay clubs and community introduced me to what I had been feeling inside for so many years! I wasn’t just a gay boy; I was a trans WOMAN!
It all finally made sense when I was about 24. Being trans is one big body image issue! We as trans people don’t feel we were born in the right body. Every day looking in the mirror and struggling with what you see is damaging mentally and physically. I’ve had friends who’ve committed suicide because their transition was taking too long and they couldn’t handle one more day living with the body they had. I have tons of other friends who have mutilated their body with black market silicone and surgeries in order to make themselves look more “passable” because of the ridicule and harassment trans people face if they are not “real looking” or “passable” in public. So many trans people rush out to get illegal substances pumped in their bodies to help look more “real,” and in the end it causes many more issues.
Eating disorders in this community, just like drug addiction, is very common, especially among trans women! When you transition from male to female, you have to wait for hormones to redistribute fat and muscle. As a result, many girls stop eating all together, or binge on diet pills just to get that tiny petite womanly frame. It’s unsafe and unhealthy, but it’s done among many.
The most common body issues (and these are things I have personally gone through and grown through) include breasts. Breasts are the identifying factor of femininity, so to look at yourself daily and not have any is a huge mental challenge to get though. Hips and buttocks (especially in a culture dominated by the big booty) is devastating. Men aren’t born with hips, so it’s something we have to pay to get. God knows I’ve spent so much money on things like my lips, my nose, my cheeks, my a*%!
I get questions like “sooooo, um, is your name not Karl anymore?” or, “do you still have a penis?” I laugh. What’s between my legs shouldn’t matter to anyone but myself. I get the most obvious ignorant questions daily.
By Courtney Hill, LCPC, Adjunct Supervisor at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Courtney please call (877-674-2843) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.