Usually one of the first things people say when you tell them you’re trans is “so when did you know?” For me, it wasn’t one of those “oh I’ve always known” kind of things.
The majority of my childhood was spent focusing on gymnastics, so I just saw myself as a gymnast rather than a boy or a girl. Gender just wasn’t really something I thought much about. I watched wrestling with my step brothers, we made a ring in the garden out of mattresses and ladders and it always bothered me when Dad would tell them to be careful with me, especially as at the time I was just as strong them.
I did go through a few random girly phases where I wore skirts, did my hair, made a half-assed attempt at make up. This was mainly around the later secondary school years as I was trying to blend in.
Fast forward to university, I was pretty excited, but terrified as I’d barely been out of my small home town especially on my own and 7 hours away. One day my mate and I wanted to meet more LGBTQ people so went to the Uni’s LGBTQ society event. There was a team quiz, so we joined a couple of other people to create a team that was wonderfully named “Kate’s Bush”.
“I didn’t even really know anything about trans people at all”
There was one person there that I remembered very well who introduced themselves when we went in, a trans guy. I’d never knowingly met a trans person before, and in all honesty being very naive at the time I didn’t even really know anything about trans people at all.
Suddenly something clicked in my mind, I didn’t know where it came from but I felt different, I felt like I could relate to this guy. It’s hard to explain because, well, I couldn’t really understand it myself. I’d been getting increasingly masculine with my appearance in the previous few years, cut my hair short, wore men’s clothes, but I figured I was just a masculine female.
I wasn’t happy with my body, but who really is? When I went back to my room later than day I did a lot of researching. I found Youtube channels of trans guys talking about their transition, including hormones and surgery and I watched these for hours. I learnt the word “Dysphoria”, I ended up very overwhelmed and just feeling generally confused and emotional.
“Had I just been suppressing these feelings for years”
How was I suddenly so unhappy? Had I just been suppressing these feelings for years and now after randomly meeting this guy it’s all come to the surface? I don’t know, and I’ll probably never really understand it all. But I did know I needed to speak to this guy again.. He later explained testosterone, binders, surgery, gave me details about support groups online, and in person. I nervously went along to a group.
You wouldn’t think Introducing yourself with your name and pronouns could be so hard. But my mind was racing, do I give my current name and pronouns, do I know a male name I want to use!? I said my current name but following that with a quiet uncertain statement of I have no idea about pronouns or even my name right now. They were all great and said that’s normal, that they often have people come back to later groups using different names and pronouns. I felt better.
However, away from the groups and the internet, university was still continuing around me and I was falling terribly behind. My dysphoria was escalating very quickly, and within a few months, it completely consumed me. I didn’t want to go to lectures, I couldn’t even bring myself to leave my house or room because I just wouldn’t be able to handle people seeing me as I was.
*Content Warning Self-Harm/Suicide*
I started self-harming, cutting my chest and places no one could see. The pain served as sort of a distraction I guess and to give me some sort of control over my body. It wasn’t very often at first, but then turned into almost daily. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, I just hated the body I was in and wanted to attack it.
I thought about ways I could kill myself, whether if I did it would I come back as someone else. The thought of transitioning just completely filled me, it felt like there was nothing else in the world. I got to the stage of feeling like I had no future as who I was, that I’d rather die than continue to live my life as “female”. So I made the decision. I felt like I couldn’t transition at uni, for a few reasons so I left and went back home.
*End of content warning*
Next I had to navigate coming out to family. I decided writing everything down in a letter would be the best way to do it. That way I’d be able to get everything out that I wanted to say without being interrupted or getting upset.
I started with my step dad who took it well, he asked about telling my Mum, and we decided that the best thing to do would be for him to give her the letter the next day as I was going to be heading to my Dad’s house for a few days. This way she would have the chance to properly read and process it before talking to me about it.
New Years Eve 2011 and I was heading over to my Dad’s to begin the celebrations before heading out in town with my step brothers. I told my step brothers that night. Their reactions were “ah okay, that makes sense, cool”, that was a big relief! While we’re out I get a text from my Mum “I have read your letter, don’t worry, we’ll get through this together”.
“I was so happy thinking this is how she felt”
Wow, I thought, was she really okay with it? I was so happy thinking this is how she felt. However, when I returned to Mum’s the next day, I discovered that “we’ll get through this together” didn’t mean she was supportive, it meant, we will try and “fix” you so you can remain female.
My Step Mum took it well and told my Dad, apparently he didn’t take it too well, but mostly it was because he was worried about what his friends would think. But after a while he was okay, the main thing he told me he was upset about was that he wouldn’t be able to walk his daughter down the aisle like he’d always hoped, so I get that.
I told the majority of the rest of my family via email as they live all over the place. There was a varied response. There were some difficult comments, but these were mostly just sounded bad due to the lack of understanding rather than intentionally offensive I think. For example “why can’t you just be a butch lesbian?” was one of the questions asked.
The Aunt and Uncle I was closest to have 2 kids who were 9 at the time. His response was that I was too young to know that this is who I am. He also didn’t want to tell the kids, which basically meant I wouldn’t be able to see them any more, and I didn’t see them for about 5 years which was tough.
People don’t give kids enough credit when it comes to talking about gender and sexuality, I was working as a gymnastics coach at the time and had to tell over a hundred kids and their parents about transitioning, and we had no big issues with any of the kids.
My family decided they didn’t want my great grandmother to know because it would upset her. Being in her 90s and a Christian, they figured she would be very against the whole thing. This was the worst for me as she was the family member I was closest to. I stopped visiting her for about a year, she was later very upset about this as she obviously didn’t know why I’d vanished.
I finally got to see her again when I’d been on testosterone about 5 months and had a date for my chest surgery as the family felt we couldn’t keep it from her anymore. Her response when I walked in…”oh isn’t he handsome” and all she wanted to make sure of was that I was happy, I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.
“I’ve gone from absolutely hating being trans and being ashamed, to being proud”
I’m now over 7 years on testosterone and 4 years post op from my final stage of surgery. My feelings around my trans identity have changed so much through the years, I’ve gone from absolutely hating being trans and being ashamed, to being proud. I wouldn’t be where I am today, surrounded by amazing and inspiring people if I hadn’t gone through this.
I would likely not be as open minded about things, I wouldn’t know the vast majority of my friends. I wouldn’t have met my girlfriend. The trans community can be quite a toxic place at times, with so many conflicting opinions, jealousy, confusion, misunderstandings and personal struggles but it can also be a beautifully supportive and inspiring community to be a part of.
If I could say anything to my 19 year old self it would be: Push through this, you’re stronger than you think, I know you’ll never have a cis male body, but you’ll come to terms with this, you’ll accept your trans identity and learn to appreciate the different outlook it gives you on life and it will bring you so many amazing friends.
Things will be tough for a while, the family you thought would support you won’t accept you but others will surprise you. Your relationship with your Mum will suck for about 2 years, this will be hard, but understand that she just needs time. Keep transitioning for YOU, eventually in a time of need Mum will help you and your relationship will come back and be stronger than before, people change and grow, they’ll catch up just wait.
Surgery will be a long difficult time, it won’t be straight forward, recovery will feel like it’s taking forever, but you’ll get through it and it’ll make you stronger. Your body will eventually line up with your mind so much better, and those difficult years will suddenly feel like a blink of an eye, I promise.
You’ll stop spending days counting down to appointments/surgeries and start making life plans years ahead, you’ll plan having a family and you’ll really start looking forward to the future and wanting to be around to make these plans happen. It’ll get better, you got this.
Edited by Aislinn O'Keeffe