I know her for a long time now, but since she came out, I added respect to the list of feelings I have for this human being.
My time in childhood was interesting. I was a typical kid - loved cartoons, getting dirty, exploring and not eating my greens at dinner. There was a pretty big difference between myself and the other "normal" children though. I was different.
Some of my earliest memories were slipping into my moms heels and trying on lipstick. This is not all uncommon for girls at that age... the problem for me was that I wasn't recognized as a girl at that point. I was in the wrong body. While all my other boy friends were out playing guns and warriors with sticks in the woods, I was playing with makeup, clothes and hair styles.
Not fully knowing what it was that made me different, I tried to talk to my friends about it but never found the courage to follow all the way through as with certain friends at the time. As I got older and into high school, I saw the way they ridiculed and singled out people that even just acted as part of the lgbtqa spectrum, making their lives miserable throughout school.
When I eventually tried to tell someone, I immediately backtracked as I was instantly made to feel like a freak so played it off as a joke. I also tried to get the courage to tell my best friend, but based on my previous experience, I couldn't find the strength to tell him.
This, and society through the years, actually pushed me to become more of the typical man that was expected of me. I joined in with the ridicule, I got in fights, I learned martial arts, loved action movies and eventually got into cars and motorcycles (narrowly avoiding going down the path of dangerous motorcycle clubs). I was big, 267lbs big, and not really a force to be trifled with. Deep down inside, however, I always remembered the freedom of just being able to be myself as a young child, even though somewhat hidden.
I went through life, nicknamed "dangerous" as I would get so wildly drunk that I would become a liability to my friends and need looking after. I tried a ton of drugs, drank regularly and was not in a good place. One of the other things that earned me that nickname is that I would always wonder off at the end of the night on my own, and find my way home alone. Little did my friends know, that on almost every one of those journeys, I would find myself on top of a building ready to go over, or considering other more tragic ways to end my duality of suffering in silence.
On a few of these occasions, I reached out for help and received it but still wasnt able to fully open up. I ended up just making up stories about why I was at such a low point. I was soon to become one of the statistics. I ended up buying clothes in womens stores, going through the checkout as quickly as I could... head down, pick something, anything, buy it and head back to my apartment loaded with guilt, then throw my new purchase in the trash. This repeated every few days for years.
I found my best friend through online dating and she moved to England with me from the US. We had a number of significant challenges, one of which being that she found out I was wearing womens undergarments in secret. This led her to push me to go to potentially the worst therapist ever to be involved in this... telling me it was wrong and to try and "fix" me. Again, I was in a place of ridicule and unacceptance, from someone you should be able to tell anything to. I went deeper into hiding, said I was fixed and eventually, we married and we moved to Denver, CO together. This would turn out to be one of the best location moves of my life.
I was still buying clothes, wearing them, then throwing them away but at least it helped me to learn to walk in those heels I dreamed about as a child! I was gaining the courage to openly shop in the womens section although still harbored a lot of guilt and shame.
In moving here, I started work at a new company and instantly made some great new friends. One in particular got me into fitness and triathlon. For a big person, not readily entered into fitness through my years, I started to see new energy, weight loss and a lust for the worlds natural beauty by being outside running. Looking in the mirror, 70lbs lighter, I realized that I could make physical, mental and spiritual changes with dedication. Throughout that period too, I started to see a level of acceptance of all people from my new found friends. Not just acceptance, in fact, but an overwhelming support of lgbtqa. I started thinking, what about me? Will I ever be able to be accepted for who I am? Will anyone still want to know me? Will I lose everything I have built? Would I lose my job? Will I end up on the streets?
The dark, ultimately tragic place I often found myself in over the years hadn't left me and I found myself very close to ending everything, again. It was at this point that I decided to take charge of my life again. I sought out a therapist that specialized in transgender patients. I was so nervous when speaking about this openly to someone on the phone! After my initial consultation, I engaged in therapy weekly and very soon after, felt great about who I am, and was already accepted by someone in society that I didnt think would accept me - after all, my previous therapist made me feel terrible about myself.
Judgement and assumption works both ways... I assumed I would be judged harshly by the world, and ultimately ended up judging the world too harshly. It is full of wonderful, beautiful people who are ready to accept change.
After a number of months coming to terms with who I am, and the possible future that was in front of me, I found myself in a whole other world of terror - taking action. This also put me in a state of deep, dark depression as I was closer than I ever have been before to just being true to myself and being free from the cage I put myself in but in order to free myself, I would have to endure great risk, huge change, and all of the original fears still existed; life, livelihood, friends and family.
I started drinking heavily again, at home, staying up way later than I should have. Fortunately for me, my sister who lives in England was also a night owl so I spoke to her, drunk, a lot. She had courage and strength I had not known anyone to possess, and came out to my somewhat religious family about being in differing places on the lgbtq spectrum regardless of ridicule. And boy, did she face some. One evening, it just came out if my mouth... "I have something to tell you". In fact, it was through text, but still... it was happening. I was met with such incredible support, I cried, we talked, I was filled with such excitement and love from deep within. I knew that whatever happened, I would have my sister through everything and anything. I started to tell other friends that I knew out here that are gay, purely as it would help me learn how to come out and it was in a safe environment as they had likely been through hardships themselves so hoped I would be met with some additional understanding. I was right.
The day came to tell someone that I wasnt sure about the reaction. I had written a small excerpt and posted it online anonymously (as an exercise to get my feelings out there) and showed my mom the link. She was reading it out loud and then halfway through, stopped and asked "Is this you?". I told her and again, started tearing up. She was shocked and instantly supportive but it was also a lot for her to take in. It was my first lesson in understanding that true acceptance from people that have helped sculpt my persona my whole life, would also have a large adjustment to make. In my mom's case, her little man was actually never her little man, and was always her baby girl. This opened her up emotionally, realizing I have been living in darkness for over 3 decades and that she wished she could have supported me. It also led her to have a lot of self doubt - was she a bad mother? How could she not have seen this, in her own child? How is she now to act around me? I could see my actions causing pain, but I could also see her strength and love.
So, I now had two family members on my side. That knew, and accepted me fully. I had to teach them a lot about what this means... SRS (sexual reassignment surgery), HRT (hormone replacement therapy), different terminology, different sexual identities, gender identities, etc. It made me do a lot of additional research too, for my own knowledge and understanding and it helped strengthen our bond.
As time went on, I started telling more people and was met with incredible support. This led me to being able to act, be and assume my real identity around a number of friends and family. It was still easier to tell people by text, but I would also now start telling people face to face. At this point, my mom had also told me that had she had a girl at birth, what she would name her and I misheard her - I adopted the incorrect name and grew attached to it and started using it wherever possible. It felt right. It felt like me.
As more and more people started to get to know the real me, I started to gain more and more of my personality back, my freedom to express and just be myself. It felt then, and still feels to this day, liberating and emotionally freeing. I am finally at a point where I can embrace my true inner self, regardless of what is reflected on the outside, and not only that... I consider myself so fortunate to have found incredible, beautiful, welcoming friends and be born into a family of such strong support and encouragement.
Not all transgender individuals receive this amount of love and support, and although I am still very much in the thick of my journey, I see a very bright future ahead and every day brings me one step closer to living freely. Life is a gift and should be lived and treated as such, in any way any individual wants to live it. Regardless of who they are, there will be people beside them. Regardless of who you are, you will have support. Live true to yourself and find your own happiness, as it does exist.