More About My Story – an open letter to my friends, family, and co-workers
I have known pretty much my whole life that there was something off about my life. Every natural instinct with how I would want to interact with people and the world is different than how I have been able to live up until this point. From family members, friends, teachers, coaches, to society at large, I was lead to behave and act a certain way and it was always at odds with my natural tendencies or instinct. Some people describe being transgender simply as feeling like a woman trapped in a man’s body (or vice versa), but for me it is so much more than that. It is more like feeling you have to suppress who you really are from a very young age while you are constantly being taught to be someone else. I have always done my best to make those around me happy. I did my best to fit in and I did my best to achieve all I could as “a male” even though I have been silently also suffering my whole life. I have been very successful, if not over-achieving at everything I have done. However, it got to a point where none of that mattered and I had to do something about it.
I had first been to counseling for this in 2001. I spent months talking with a counselor who I later understood was not well equipped to deal with a transgender person (a common occurrence at that time and unfortunately still true even though there is better research now).
My counselor was convinced that I had been abused as a child and that this was some sort of a disorder resulting from that. It took months of talking through everything she wanted me to explore before she understood that this was something else (I was never abused). She warned me that my unhappiness over this may worsen as I age (she was right). Unfortunately, very shortly after this, she developed breast cancer, had to stop our sessions, and died months later. I was again left with no support and only a vague understanding of ‘what was wrong with me.’ Also, my spouse and I had our first child on the way. I decided not to start over with another counselor. I could not go through that initial period of convincing them that I had loving parents and was never abused by a family member or anyone else.
As a result, I decided to ‘buck up’ and be the best father and husband I could be. I tried to overachieve again. I wanted to make sure no one would guess what I was struggling with internally. I was doing well outwardly. I co-led a men’s ministry for over 2 years. As my kids got older, I became a soccer coach and things appeared to be great. However, things were not really great with me. I was suffering. I was gaining a ton of weight because I hated my body and did not want to take care of it. I have never attempted suicide but in a way I was slowly killing myself. While all of this was going on my marriage suffered as well. Of course it did. Eventually my spouse and I were more like roommates than a married couple. During these many years I had continued to research transgender issues. Understanding has grown over the years and more and more information is available. Learning the term Transgender alone was incredible. Knowing there were others that were coming out and transitioning and finding relief from this convinced me finally (now that I could define it myself) to accept myself for who I really am in February of 2014. I shaved off my goatee and began caring again about what I ate. I started dropping weight almost immediately. (Looking back on it, this internal choice to accept myself is when my transition really began). I also started to grow my hair out, because I always hated having it so short.
A few months later, I came out to my spouse. I told her without any doubt that I was transgender and that it was not going to go away and that I needed to do something about it. I had a faint hope that her reaction would be supportive, but it was not (mostly out of fear). I felt utterly alone and reached the lowest point of my life.
About a month later, I sought out help on my own. I went to the Howard Brown Center in Chicago where they specialize in working with the transgender community. I met with a counselor and a doctor and not long after I began HRT (hormone replacement therapy). I was beginning HRT with only their support. I was on my own in this socially and I was terrified. Some people begin HRT and feel totally off and they know then that another form of treatment would be better for them. For me, in just about two and a half weeks it was like someone finally turned the lights on. I felt like I was finally running on the right fuel. I truly believe that as more and more research is done on transgender health that it will be proven scientifically that there can be an incongruence in the way that the brain is setup to interact with hormones as the human body develops (in the womb, from childhood, or even later in life). Regardless of that, HRT changed everything for me and the happiness that started building in me was incredible. Yet, my marriage was still suffering. My spouse and I started marriage counseling. For many months we tried to figure out a way to stay together. Finally, she told me that she could not do this anymore if I was going to stay on HRT. I did not want to lose her, but stopping HRT felt like a death warrant to me. I told her I could not stop it. After finally beginning to feel like the real me, I could not even begin to go back. Despite the frighteningly negative media attention at the time, and still feeling very alone in this, I continued with HRT (at the time the media was blasting Bruce Jenner, not embracing Caitlyn Jenner like they did later on).
After my spouse told me she could not do this anymore, we decided to separate in June of 2015. The rest of the year was the most painful time of my life. At first we thought it best that my spouse move in with her mom and the kids (she home schools them), while I stay in the house and sell it. Instead, we decided to disrupt the kids’ lives as little as possible so I got an apartment. A definite concern I had and still have, is that my co-workers, friends, and extended family may think I just decided to walk out on my family and ‘do whatever I wanted to do.’ That is not the case, and I have always put them first before my needs. Finally taking care of myself by seeking help and beginning HRT was not at the time a decision to fully transition and it certainly was not a decision to leave my family (hence the many months of marriage counseling I mentioned earlier). Not long after separating, my spouse and I did decide that divorce was the best option. The divorce is in process now. It is being pursued amicably and my spouse and I talk regularly as we plan things financially and share parental decisions just as we always have. Our kids’ youth leaders know the whole situation and we are doing our best to help them through this and are making sure they have support on many levels. It is hard. It is painful. Yet, I am grateful that my spouse and I do not hate each other.
That brings us back to this year. I am at the point with hormone replacement therapy where I have transitioned socially. Even though I work from home, talking to people like things are just business as usual and having people retain a picture in their head of me of being an overweight, unhealthy guy on the other end of the line messes with my head. It was simply time, time to be open and honest about this with every person that interacts with me. I have shared my story at work and the support I have received has been amazing.
I want to add one more thing. When I spoke with my manager Chris and my H.R. Representative, Natalie, I shared with them my initial fears about announcing my transition in place at the company I work for. I said something to this effect: “I fully admit that I was being somewhat prejudice as I was initially very afraid of coming out to anyone that works here, because our company is based in Alabama in the middle of what is considered the Bible belt. I know there may be some people who say that what I am doing goes against their religious beliefs. I will likely not react well to that if that happens because I went through my own incorrect beliefs about that being in the church myself. I have reconciled this with God and I believe it is not something that is against God. It is another perhaps less common way to be born and to live as a human being. Transgender people have been present throughout history and throughout many cultures. The issue now is more about how our culture and unfortunately some pastors have put a stigma on this, automatically assuming deviant and evil behaviors go hand in hand with being transgender. I believe that it is a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ scenario. When you push a group of people to the fringes of society of course their behavior and how they choose to cope with life will look different to the ‘average’ person. I coped with being different by becoming an over-achiever, and hiding by trying to be the perfect version of what others expected of me. Other transgender people cope by doing drugs, or diving into alcohol, or self-harm. Once those harmful patterns take hold, then other destructive life-patterns emerge. Assuming it is all some package that goes with a person being transgender is categorically wrong. It is my hope that if people with these prejudices exist in my sphere of influence, that they will see me as an example of someone that does not fit their ill-informed preconceptions.”
Chris followed that up by saying, “you are right to recognize that people may be very slow to change their beliefs, but treating you poorly or in an unprofessional manner because of it will not be okay and please bring it to my attention right away if that happens.” Natalie agreed and told me basically the same thing.
Chris and Natalie have already taught me not to pre-judge anyone at work and assume they will be negative towards me. I ask my friends, family, and co-workers to not pre-judge me based on this “new” information about me. I thank you for your time and understanding in reading this. I look forward to my future now more than ever, and I hope you will continue to be a supportive part of my life and take the ride with me.
April 11th 2016