An open letter to my extended family, colleagues, and friends.
I’m not even really sure how one goes about writing something like this. Even after a lifetime of living with this, and several years of being out to a handful of the closest in my life, I’m still learning how to say what needs to be said. Nonetheless, I will do my best to be both as succinct as possible, and provide enough foundation to hopefully help you understand. I sincerely wish there was a way I could have told you this face to face, and can only hope that my sincerity comes through in what’s written below.
I am transgender. This is how I have internally experienced myself my entire life. From some of my earliest conscious memories, to this very moment my gender identity has been consistent within myself. I was not made this way by an event, or a person. Nor did I wake up one day and decide that maybe it would be more fun, more exciting, or more interesting to be a girl. I already was one. One does not decide their gender identity; it just is. All one needs to do is look inside themselves to see this is empirically true.
Writing it this way (in just one paragraph) oversimplifies what has been something that I’ve experienced and internally fought against my whole life. Undoubtedly this revelation will come as a surprise to many people who are reading this. I also know how hard it is to understand this, after all, God knows how much energy it took for me to come to terms with it myself. If there were any way I could continue my life without having to face this, please know I would, and I have tried. But I’ve come to realize over the last several years that continuing to live my life in a way that feels inauthentic to me isn’t viable, and unfortunately due to the implications of what I’m about to say, this cannot be a private thing. I am left with no choice but to face my fear head on.
For the majority of my life I thought I was the only person who felt this way; That they were a “girl born into the wrong body”. In some of my earliest memories growing up I experienced this conflict between the gender I knew I was, and the one laid out for me because of my anatomy. Asking my parents for a doll for Christmas (they gently steered me away from that choice), preferring playing with the girls in play groups, and wishing I could wear a dress to church like the other girls. Later when I started elementary school I preferred playing house with the girls and their dolls during recess, but within a few days was told that this wasn’t appropriate for a boy of my age.
In each case parents, and/or other adult mentors gently steered me away from feminine things that felt natural for me. These were probably not major events for the adults in my life at the time, but each small episode built a foundation that made me realize early on that expressing my internal gender was not appropriate. Despite this I did pretty well as a little kid; my imagination helped a lot. When I closed my eyes at night, everything was as it should be.
But as children age, the gender gap widens. Whereas toddlers are given a lot of slack in the way they express themselves, as a child gets older gender expectations become more defined. For me, this incongruence in my gender meant more frequent inner turmoil that I only felt I could express through prayer. And so at a young age I took my struggles to Jesus, and fervently asked daily (sometimes multiple times daily) for my body to be made right, or for me to be born again as a girl. I would close my eyes at night, and with all my heart try and have faith that when I awoke some kind of miracle would take place. Certainly I thought, I had a least a mustard seed’s worth.
As I got older my prayers and internal thought processes evolved. I recognized that my incongruence could be solved by either bringing my body into alignment with my brain, or by bringing my brain into alignment with my body. Soon I was praying for anything that would help me feel normal, and doing my best to force my mind to be a boy mind. Eventually I got to the point where I told God it would be okay with me if I just died (though I have never actively sought suicide) – that way at least the problem would be solved for me, and my parents wouldn’t have to live with the shame of having some kind of freak for a kid.
Puberty brought new challenges as I felt my body move even further away from how I felt and gender roles separate even more. There were several times I was so discouraged I considered reaching out to my parents, a pastor, or other leader, but I never felt that any of them would understand. I was so afraid of what others might say, or that others might judge me. My negative body image made it difficult to stay healthy – a pattern that continued until only recently.
Despite becoming very good at emulating “boy”, I could never make myself feel like one, but I kept trying anyway. I poured myself into work, taking numerous jobs even at a young age. Got involved in school and community activities, joined the band, choir, and other groups. I became super religious. Anything to keep myself occupied. The thing is that none of this really worked; it was just distraction.
But when I was alone, despair crept in. The summers were the worst. When I didn’t have enough activities to keep me busy I found myself depressed. On several occasions my mom found me crying in my room despite my best efforts to hide it from her and my dad. I did much better when I was working – so that’s what I did. I felt better, and nobody worried about me.
And this is how most of you have known and experienced me. As an ambitious and confident young man with many irons in the fire so-to-speak. I don’t mean to suggest through this revelation that this person you knew was a fraud. I still am that person in many ways, with many of the same interests and quality of character. But my running around with too much on my plate was really just me running away from something even more difficult inside myself. The truth is that the challenges I experienced in the outside world paled by comparison to the turmoil I faced inside.
Avoidance and distraction only got me by for so long though. I think early on in life I still held out hope that I could cure myself through sheer willpower, or that God might work a miracle for me and set things right in one way or another. But as I got older I realized that this strategy wasn’t working and I would likely be this way for the rest of my life. I felt like internally I had sincerely tried everything I could imagine to make things right. I was exhausted. Finally, in my mid 20’s I buckled under the pressure of it all. It came to a head when I took a cruise with my then girlfriend (my wife), and my parents. They all noticed that my spirit had shifted to a darker place and said something to me. I took their concern seriously and within a few weeks I went to see a therapist.
Talking to someone about this helped me so much. For the first time in a long time I had hope again that maybe I could live with this. Some weeks later, my girlfriend and I were watching TV when a documentary that showed several people going through transition came on. As my girlfriend watched the documentary, I watched her. I saw compassion in her towards these people, and it gave me courage to come out to her. That happened the following night, when I told her that I felt like the people in the documentary. She accepted me.
At that point (about 8 years ago) I knew I was transgender, but I wasn’t sure that I would need to transition. The process of starting to see a therapist to work through this, and acceptance after coming out to my girlfriend gave me so much hope and renewed energy that I felt I might be able to shape my life in a way that allowed me to live happily. Maybe I could simply allow myself to be a little more gender neutral, maybe develop some new hobbies that made me feel like I was expressing myself in a more gender balanced and healthy way. In any case, I committed to her that I would be completely honest with her, and inclusive in my journey. We promised each other we would each take our lives one day at a time, not take life for granted, and be honest and respectful with each other. It is upon this promise that we got married about 18 months later, and have built a life together.
Over these last eight years I have tried doing just that. I’ve tried to live my life in a way that feels more authentic to my gender identity, while not being public about it. I’ve sincerely researched a variety of claimed treatments for gender incongruence including ECT (shock therapy), hypnosis, and even conversion therapy. All of these have a success rate of near zero, and in many cases actually cause additional psychological damage. I’ve also tried just trying to accept my life as-is, ignoring the issue, or distracting myself from it. But ultimately none of these things work. For my gender incongruence, there is but one treatment that remains- congruence through transition.
Looking back through my life it’s now clear to me that I’ve always sought gender congruence in one way or another. Whether I was a child asking God for it, or wishing on a birthday cake every year, or silent prayer requests in church, or looking to the medical community for help as I am now – from childhood until now I have been deeply affected by having my gender identity at odds with my body.
And so, after a lifetime of consistent cross-gender identity, eight years of sincere soul searching, education, and therapy in both New York and Seattle I have come to realize that I cannot live this way anymore. At the start of this year I began in earnest the process of transitioning from male to female.
Transition has meant that I’ve spent the last year or so learning things that most girls learn at a young age. Among them are how to do my hair, working on training my voice to sound less masculine, and building up a new wardrobe. I found a local transgender support group, which has helped me greatly. I’ve undergone evaluations by both my physician and therapist, and both have declared me in good physical and psychological health for transition. The objective is to transition my body and life to female.
After months of practice, and selecting a female name for myself I finally went full-time around mid-March and even started taking classes part-time at a local community college. My teachers, and classmates here only know me as “Maddie” or “Madelyn” since this is how I introduced myself to them. So far everyone has been supportive, accommodating, and/or respectful.
An important part of transition is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), which will put my body through a second puberty. Initially I started out on medication that blocks my testosterone, and in April I added Estrogen to my regimen. The objective is to give my body a normal level of hormone for a female. This has been an interesting experience to say the least, and I’ve written about it some in this blog and talked about it in my personal video logs (which I will post on Youtube in the coming weeks). Within the next few days I will legally change my name to Madelyn (I am keeping my middle and last names), but most people seem to be calling me Maddie for short. Those around me who knew me before are still getting used to using my new name, and getting used to using appropriate pronouns of “she” and “her” when referring to me. I know it takes time to get used to this, and it’s okay to mess up. I accept this as part of the process. But it really means a lot to me to see people at least try.
In short, you should know that HRT and living as a female has absolutely resolved my gender incongruence. I feel more ‘myself’ in terms of my body than at any other point in my life previously. It’s a strange and new feeling to be at home in my own body. For the first time I really care about my body and health, and have lost more than 45lbs over the last year or so. While transition has completely addressed my gender identity issues and given me a new hopeful lease on life, it also brings unique challenges to my life and relationships; specifically my marriage to my wife.
Before I say anything else about that I want to say that no single person in this world has been more supportive of me on this than my wife. She has been my single biggest source of strength, and has continually and consistently encouraged me to be true to myself and follow my heart – to this very day. I could not have asked for a more compassionate, and authentic person to have in my life than her. I am grateful every day that she has been with me and that she continues to share a life with me. But transition is perhaps most difficult for a spouse and their marriage. This has been the most difficult part for me so far; feeling like I am taking away my wife’s husband. I know she already feels a sense of loss, and that deeply saddens me. However, neither of us honestly know how things will turn out for us. We do know we both are completely committed to each other’s happiness, and to each of us to being able to live the fulfilling life we feel each was destined for. Even if that ultimately means we must do so separately. Of course it is deeply difficult to fathom going through separation, so for now we are committed to the same promise we made early in our relationship – we take one day at a time, and are grateful for it. She also has her own individual support system, so I feel very confident that if there’s a chance we can survive this, we will. But no matter what happens, we remain committed to each other as human beings, and best friends.
A number of other individuals have been a source of strength, and all have demonstrated patience, understanding, compassion, and authenticity in this process as I have come out to each of them. First is my immediate family, who I feel exceedingly blessed to have been born into. I cannot imagine a finer, more compassionate group of souls to share this life with. I very well may not be here today without them. But there are others; a handful of friends (old and new) and extended family who have shown empathy. The support and compassion I have received so far has moved me more deeply than any other life experience previously.
Lastly I want to express how grateful I am for you. If you are reading this it’s because our life paths cross in some way. I do not take this for granted. I sincerely wish I could have told you this directly in person, but given where I am at in this process it’s just logistically and financially impossible.
For a few of you I know this information may be too much to take in, or you may have some objection to what I’ve said. Please know that I respect your right to your views, and I even understand where some of them come from. I sincerely ask for the same respect from you. I have not forgotten from whence I came, and you should know I struggled deeply with this issue for literally decades. But I cannot deny who I am any longer, the cost is too high. Hard as it may be to believe, I feel healthier both physically and spiritually since embracing this path. I feel more authentically human than at any other time in my life. I can honestly say it’s beautiful to be alive.
In the end, I’m still the same person – I am not going to run away from my past, or forget my past memories with any of you. But I would be remiss to say that transition does not bring some losses. It does, and this certainly represents a new chapter in my life and to a lesser degree the lives of some around me. But it also brings me a sense of hope I have never fully experienced before. Despite the change, I am still the same spirit inside, and so I hope that any sense of loss or sadness will not linger.
No matter your reaction to this please know that I sincerely hope my relationship and friendship with you can continue. Also know that however you choose to respond to this, that I both accept and respect your choice.
P.S. I’ve complied a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” and “Helpful Definitions” should you be interested in reading more. Should you have additional questions you can also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S.S. Should you or someone you know experience gender incongruence please be patient and compassionate with them. The average lifespan of a transgender child is only 23 years (of known transgender cases, many end their lives without saying anything at all), and 1 in 3 transgender people choose to end their lives (again, of known cases). This is massively higher than the population at large. No matter where you stand on this issue, compassion and empathy is the single best thing you can do to save lives. Trans people end their lives because they feel they have nobody to talk to, and because they fear the rejection of their family, friends and community. Please don’t let them be afraid to talk to you, don’t let them be afraid of your rejection.