So many trans people I’ve known and read about have said they knew at a young age that they were born with a gender in conflict with their birth sex. And as society learns more and the medical community grows more aware and the ability to intervene at a younger age becomes more prevalent, trans people are able to express their conflict earlier and earlier.
All of this is amazing.
However … When I was growing up, the terms “transgender” and “transsexual” weren’t part of anyone’s vocabulary. Anyone seen as “different” or gender nonconfirming would be ostracized, subject to violence, often charged with crimes (legitimately or not), and in essence, be forced into hiding or at least living in misery.
Growing up, my life was no different. From a very young age, I instinctively knew I wasn’t like other kids. And since instinct told me acting or being seen as different wouldn't bring pleasant experiences, I lived most of my life in my head.
Even if I had been able to find the words to express my feelings of being different, there wasn’t anyone to talk to or who would listen. Anything perceived as “different” was seen as a sign of weakness, and being weak meant having a target on your back. So I learned to keep my thoughts and emotions in check, to keep them buried inside, to not let anyone suspect what I was really thinking and feeling, even hiding it from myself.
And so I grew up. I became a “manly man,” at least by appearance. I’d never developed any interest in stereotypical male pursuits or attitudes, but I looked the part and knew how to fake it.
My sexuality developed in a normal way: I liked girls. I loved how they looked, dressed, smelled, acted. Deep inside, I also envied them. Not only did I want to be with women, I wanted to be like them, too.
But this wasn’t something I’d have the words or courage for until I was an adult with an established life, responsible for myself, my wife, our two children, and the home we’d built together.
It may sound twisted, but it wasn’t until I’d had success in my personal and professional life that I really began to experience the pull of my trans feelings.
You see, it was during this time in my life that I truly learned about love: what it meant, how it felt, how important it was. Before this, my most easily felt emotions were anger, hostility, frustration, and fear. But being a husband and a parent finally taught me what it meant to love someone more than myself, to put their needs and happiness above my own.
I had never really learned how to love myself. I liked myself well enough, but I never felt special, that I mattered or had any real value in the world. By being responsible for and taking care of my wife and children, I was suddenly valuable. By providing a decent life for them, by trying to impart morals, ethics, and ideals for how to live a good life to my children, I was being a good parent, and I was worth something.
Having achieved what I considered success in my job, finances, and family — combined with this sense of self-worth — opened the door for me to finally release the feelings that had been building up inside me for years. No longer was I living in survival mode as I had when I was growing up. I was happy and felt a real sense of security.
So without external stressors keeping my internalized issues suppressed, my mind decided it was time to face who I really was.
Initially, I thought maybe I was simply a cross-dresser, and when I brought it up to my wife, she seemed okay with the idea. I took her lack of disgust as full acceptance and shared some of my deeper thoughts and desires. But as I watched fear bloom across her face, I shut everything down, going into denial and working even harder to suppress my feelings.
I stayed in suppression mode for 11 years, but there wasn’t a single minute of a single day that part of me wasn’t thinking about it, trying to cope with it, trying to figure things out.
Eventually, my wife pushed me to explore the feelings, and so I did.
My first cross-dressing experience was at a local transgender support group. There was no sexual component to the experience, but there was a sense of truth, of somehow being right.
I continued to visit the group periodically, all while working desperately to keep it hidden from my kids or anyone other than my wife. And then I was almost discovered by my youngest, so I stopped, once again going into denial mode.
I told myself my attention and energy were needed by my family, that my desires would have to take a backseat to the needs of others. I took up hobbies as a way to keep my mind off what I once again had locked away inside me but wasn’t getting emotional relief from anything. My spirit needed something more.
During this time, I found myself struggling more and more by the day to suppress my true self. Though I thought I was doing a good job, my wife felt as though she was living with a ghost. By denying my nature and suppressing my real self, I was denying who I was. What was left was simply a shell, an automaton.
Then one night while I was in my typical silent-internal-struggle mode, my wife asked what was wrong. I told her I didn’t want to get into it with our kids in the house, but she kept pushing, eventually asking what would prove to be a fateful question: “Is it that you want to dress as a woman full-time?”
My first instinct was to deny it, as we both knew that if the answer was yes, it would mean the end of our marriage. But for the first time in my life, I was fully honest with her and with myself. I told her it wasn’t so much what I wanted but where I was feeling driven to go.
It was the first time I faced that fact that I was indeed a transsexual.
The hardest and most difficult part of my coming out was with my daughters. I could deal with losing friends, having family turn on me, the uneasiness of some co-workers, even the impending demise of my marriage. But my children were another matter entirely.
The discussion didn’t last long. As I did my best to explain what I felt and what would be happening, my oldest asked if there would be permanent physical changes. When I said yes, she said she couldn’t hear any more and asked her sister to drive her home. My youngest simply approached me with tears in her eyes and said she was sorry I’d had to hurt for so long.
Aside from actually admitting the fact that I was transgender, telling them was the single hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Over the next few months, I slowly introduced the increasingly feminine me to family and friends, knowing there was a strong possibility people would struggle to make sense of it all. While there were some awkward moments — misgendering, not getting my name right — I did my best not to take it personally and was blessed that most people I knew were supportive and accepting.
One doesn’t make this kind of change in a vacuum; the changes I was making affected everyone I knew in some way, none more so than my children.
My relationship with them changed, and for many years, our level of closeness wasn’t the same. A sort of gulf had opened between us. But even that has closed over time as they dealt with their feelings and watched me grow into my truest self.
I’d been living and working as a woman for three years when I decided I was ready (and had the means) to undergo gender-reaffirming surgery. I didn’t see this as some kind of end goal for “becoming” a woman — I already was a woman. This was simply one more step in life.
Today, I’m 60 years old. After changing careers to work in a more female-dominated field (and the years of struggling to find a job as a trans woman that came with it), I have no savings or retirement fund. But I have come to learn just how little I need to live on to be happy.
Over the years, I’ve been asked many times if I’m happy having transitioned. And while I can’t say it made me happy in the traditional sense of the word, it did put an end to the internal war I’d fought with myself for so long. It brought me a greater measure of peace. It made me more aware of what others face after experiencing bias, ignorance, and discrimination myself.
I’ve come to accept myself as I am, to no longer worry about how the world sees me. I no longer care as much about whether I’m pretty or attractive, whether I’ve dressed well, or any of the other trappings society expects. I’m much less vain but far more self-assured. I’m more comfortable in my own skin.
I am content.
Photo courtesy of the author