When did you discover you were transgender?
In my case I don’t have a specific memory of realizing I was transgender. As a child at the age of around three for example I didn’t even know what that meant, I just knew I wanted a doll for Christmas. Children are often allowed to exist in somewhat “genderless” roles when they are very young – in very young play groups the toys are just a jumble of Barbies, trucks, blocks etc and all these toys are incorporated into play – as we get older, we are pushed towards more and more specific gender roles. My first memory of being steered away from the gender I felt I was was when I was informed that the doll I wanted was really for little girls. A string of memories like this, with guidance from peers, adults, and role models along the way build on that theme, but I didn’t even know what “transgender” was until I was approximately 25 years old – I just knew how I felt; like a girl who was doing her best to be the best man she knew how to be.
So what were you “faking” and what was “the real you”?
This is a really hard question, and honestly I don’t know the full answer to it. I was raised as a boy, given male role models, and was encouraged to emulate men around me. I learned to do that really well, but the thing is that it’s not like I was completely faking it. I am so fortunate to have some amazing male role models that have come into my life, and these people helped me be more than just “a man”, but helped me develop into the person I am today. Like any child I tried to be the best person I knew how, and that wasn’t faked. But at the same time there were many times where I had to be “tough”, and “not be a girl”, and pretend I didn’t like some pretty thing, or act disinterested in going clothes shopping with a friend etc etc. I faked it wasn’t awkward for me to take a shower in the guys locker room at the gym for example, even though I felt I shouldn’t be there. I faked things like that a lot. Were those central to my personality? I dunno, but I don’t think they are that fundamental. In my spirit I am the same person, but how I relate to the world might just take on a slightly different hue. Those who have known me before, and through transition could tell you more – but I think they’d tell you that the main difference is that I just seem happier. There’s probably more the same about me than there is different since starting this process.
This all seems so overwhelming. Why didn’t you just try to live as an effeminate guy? Isn’t that easier?
It’s a reasonable question to ask. And I did try this for around five years. I tried to find a more gender-neutral kind of lifestyle as best I could and tried to find ways to be true to how I felt. But this is really ultimately about much more than just needing to develop more feminine hobbies, or wear female clothing. It’s a body thing. I could take up knitting, but it doesn’t resolve my body issues – I could wear a dress, but a dress doesn’t make you a girl any more boxers make you a boy. After giving this my best effort for several years and realizing it wasn’t resolving my incongruence, I took small steps forward.
When did you start transition?
This is a hard thing to pinpoint. I started seeking out transition without knowing it at about the age that I knew how to say silent prayers. Every single night I asked God to please let me wake up in the right body so I could live the rest of my life as a girl, or to please fix me in some other way. This is a common story for many trans individuals (but not all), and is certainly true for me. In my mid-twenties (unknowingly around the same age many trans individuals commit suicide) I felt myself slipping into despair and started educating myself and sought help. After several years of therapy, education, and experimentation (see above) I started medication to lower my testosterone, and after two more years I started Estrogen on 4/4/11.
What did your wife think when you first told her?
I told my wife when we were still dating, before we were engaged, and about a year and a half before we got married. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life because other than my therapist I had never talked to anyone about this. She accepted me and loved me for who I am, and has been my single biggest source of support through all this.
What does your wife think now?
This is too difficult a question to answer in a FAQ. But simply put, this is a difficult and complex issue. When we got married I was exploring my cross gender identity openly and honestly for the first time in my life. At that point I was hopeful I could find a method of treatment that would make it so I wouldn’t need to transition. “Maybe I just needed to be able to explore my feminine side, and get some feminine hobbies or something” I thought, or “maybe there’s some treatment out there I’m unaware of.” I committed to her to take it slow, and to be honest along the way. And we each agreed we would take life and our marriage one day at a time, and would respect each other no matter what. We knew transition was a possibility, but were unsure if or when it might happen. After eight years of education, therapy, and soul searching I realized the only option for me is transition, or living a life that feels inauthentic to me. She agreed. But that doesn’t make it easy. She is not, and has never considered herself a ‘lesbian’. And so we continue to take each day one day at a time, and are committed to love, support, and respect each other – regardless of what the future holds.
Update March, 2013
My wife and I have now considered ourselves separated for a year. We plan to complete our legal divorce by the end of 2013. However, we continue to live together and love each other dearly. Our relationship has evolved into a kind of ‘sisterhood’ and we each can easily call each other best friends. We moved from our previous home into a new larger home that fits our relationship configuration comfortably.
Are you gay/lesbian?
Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing – they are not dependent on each other. In my case I am currently attracted to women. I have never experienced attraction towards men and so at this point I can solidly say my orientation is towards women. Like my gender identity, I never decided my sexual orientation; it just was. But definitions of sexual orientation depend on the orienting sex. In other words, while I was living as a man most people would consider me straight, but as a woman it would seem that I am a lesbian. Going through transition does not automatically imply a shift in sexual orientation, since they are not one in the same.
When you transition does that make your wife a lesbian?
No. One can’t “make” another person another gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or any identity. Obviously this is complex, and stereotypical labels, and legal definitions don’t really work nicely here. If a member of your family, or your spouse converted to a new religion would that automatically mean you were converted too? No. Yet people making a quick judgement from the outside might assume that. The same is true here, although the complexities are different.
What happens to your marriage license when you change your name and gender?
This is interesting. Changing your gender or name will not legally nullify a marriage contract – which can only be dissolved under certain specific circumstances. Once I change my name and gender my wife will be the only woman I can be legally married to in Washington state (since our marriage contract was established before I changed genders). If we were to separate however, I would not be able to marry another woman, and if I wanted to pursue legal marriage would have to do so with a man. (Update: Since gay marriage is now legal in Washington state I could now get remarried.)
I’m straight and I used to date or have a crush on you. Does that make me gay?
No. You are what you say you are, and what you feel inside. Neither I, nor anyone else can make you something you are not. If you are straight you know, if you are something else, you know. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with being gay.
I’m gay and I used to have a crush on you. Does that make me straight?
No. See above. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with being straight.
Will you get surgery?
Gender Reassignment Surgery is typically one of the last things that a person does when they transition, if they are able to do it at all. Although it may seem extremely important, in reality there is a long list of other things that typically are more important to individuals who are transitioning. Some people prefer to look into voice therapy, beard removal, hormones, etc before considering surgery. This isn’t about “sex” and “sexuality” as much as the stereotype makes it seem. Most transgender women would rather get rid of their beard, than their “bits”. In the majority of cases transsexuals choose not to complete lower surgery due to the high cost, health risks, because it’s not important to them, or because they are celibate. But in some states if you want to modify your legal documents to reflect your new gender you must prove you’ve had the surgery. Personally, I haven’t decided what I’ll do. It’s important, but right now there are much more important things to attend to.
Note: It’s generally not appropriate to ask people about their genitals; the same is true for trans people.
Will HRT change your voice?
Unfortunately, no. Making your voice box smaller is not something that estrogen can do (although for female-to-male transsexuals their voice does get lower with the addition of testosterone). So that means I’ll need to work on training my voice to speak in a higher range, use more inflection, and brighter resonance than I’m used to. It takes practice, but over time it becomes quite natural. Eventually even when I think of my own voice I’ll hear the one I’ve practiced.
What do I do if I think I could be transgender (or gay, or _____ )?
Please get qualified help. There are people you can talk to openly, support groups, therapists, books, and other resources. Please don’t keep it inside. Even if you are transgender it doesn’t mean you will need to transition; but if something is eating away at you please don’t hold it in. Being honest with yourself, and being willing to look inside yourself is a beautiful and liberating thing. Discovering and accepting the truth about yourself truly can set you free. Only you can know the path for you. Please know you can talk to me in confidence, or I’ll be happy to help you find someone you can trust to help you work through your thoughts. You are not alone.