When did you realize you didn’t relate to your birth gender?
Up until 3rd grade (about age 8), I thought I was a boy for all intents and purposes. My parents were open minded, and had always let me have a short haircut, wear boys clothes, and play with G.I. Joe instead of Barbie. There was one day in school, while in 3rd grade, that this all changed. I remember it like it was yesterday. Some of the boys in my class were mad because I was better at kick ball, and a faster runner, than them. We were out on the playground for recess, playing kick ball, and I had just kicked a “home run.” One of the boys (I still remember his first and last name) came up to me as I was celebrating my victory, and pushed me so hard that I fell down. He then proceeded to stand overtop of me, look down at me with a sneer, and said “You just want to be a boy!” I remember thinking to myself “but I am a boy,” but I asked my parents about this later that evening. I did not really understand their explanation, other than I was actually not a boy, and maybe it was time I faced up to that reality. I don’t remember much after that until puberty hit at about 14. I remember feeling horrified that I was developing breasts, and my dyslexia was much more amplified when I began having my period. I remember feeling like these things were wrong and not supposed to be happening to me. Because I grew up in the 70s, there really wasn’t much information available about L/G/B/T, especially T! I had no idea why in my mind, heart, and soul I felt male, but when I looked in the mirror I saw the opposite. I just thought that a terrible mistake had been made when I was born (I now call it my birth defect), that there was no way to fix it, and that is when the depression set in.
How did you deal with that mentally & physically?
Because I knew I didn’t feel female, didn’t have certain body parts of a male, and was always very androgynous looking, I came to the conclusion (as many of us did in the 70s and 80s) that I must be a lesbian. I never did relate to women on a spiritual level when it came to relationships. In my late 20s and 30s I had a few long-term, and unfulfilling, partnerships with lesbians. Throughout all of this time, I was seeing therapists and psychiatrists for anxiety and depression. I started to believe what I was hearing from people. That there was something wrong with me, that I was just confused, that I was really just gay, etc. Over the years I have made 3 serious attempts to end my life, all of which failed (obviously, lol). It was because of some unusual circumstances that I began to turn my thinking around and started doing research into what it means to be transgender. The first that happened was that at the age of 41 it was discovered that I had ovarian cancer. Well, that took care of the hysterectomy. One year after completing chemotherapy, I had genetic counseling because breast cancer runs in my family, and my father died of pancreatic cancer. I did test positive for abnormalities in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. With that info, and my family history, my health insurance paid for a complete bi-lateral mastectomy. Amazingly, it was after I healed from that surgery that I had my “aha” moment. I felt free! Those 2 things that felt like tumors growing on my chest were gone, and I no longer had any female reproductive parts. I cannot honestly say that going through transition has been a magical cure to all of my mental health issues, but sure has helped.
Give me glimpse of the inside you verse your outward appearance.
I think the outside me is a pretty true reflection of the inside me. I believe myself to be a fairly complex person, with many layers, and I just can’t pigeon hole myself into one particular kind of personality. For example, I am a paid lobbyist for a non-profit agency. I love my job and take it very seriously. When I am working, I usually appear very conservatively dressed, often in a jacket and tie. I am very involved in politics, especially human and civil rights, and try to present myself in a professional manner when doing political activities. But like most of us, I have other sides to my personality. When not doing politics, I tend to be very lazy. On the weekends, you can often find me in my oldest, torn up t-shirt and gym shorts. I am a vegan, love kitty cats, nature, and butter flies (which I don’t tell may people cause I have my tough rep to protect, lol). I like to make eye contact when speaking with someone, so that they know that hear them, and really care. My friends all know me as a compassionate person, and good listener. I think people know that because of the way I carry myself.
How would you prefer people to address you? pronouns, preferred name etc
People may address me by my name, Alex. Or for pronouns, always male. He, him, his, etc. To my mom, I am son. To my sisters, I am brother. To my friends’ little girl, I am Uncle Alex.
What does gender identity mean to you?
I have a fairly simplistic definition of gender identity. For me, it is simply this: do I feel in my heart, mind, and soul like a boy, a girl, both at the same time, or somewhere in between (which can also be interpreted as neither)? I believe that every person’s definition of gender identity is what feels right to them, and should be respected and valued. Even if that definition changes over time. Nobody know how it feels to be you but you.
Was there someone in your life that helped you start to see your authentic/true self? Tell me about how they helped you/who they are/
Strangely enough, the person who helped me start to see my authentic self was the last woman I had a relationship with. She noticed that I was doing a lot of research on line, and reading books and articles, about being transgender. At first, I denied my true motivation, and just told her that I was interested in the subject from a behavioral health perspective. After about a year of her encouraging me and telling me that it was ok if I was thinking about it for myself, I finally came clean and told her that I thought I was transgender. For the first 6 months or so, she was totally on board. She helped me do research, we talked a lot, sometimes late into the night. She helped me have the courage to talk to my family, especially my mom. My family was totally supportive, and actually not all that surprised. What a relief! I had learned of the Mazonni Center through an FTM Facebook page, and heard great things about the care they give there. So I went for a consultation, and on May 12, 2010, I received my first testosterone injection. The woman I was with decided to leave me after I had been on T for about 5 months. My voice had dropped considerably, I had just sprouted a few chin hairs, and according to her, I was acting more like a guy. I couldn’t, and didn’t, blame her for her decision. After all, she is a lesbian. As she said, she doesn’t have any desire to be with a man romantically. So, after 7 years, we broke up. It was sad, but also the beginning of my new life.
Talk to me about your struggles with identity and how you've grown to overcome them.
I’ve been pretty lucky compared to many transgender people. I have a great group of friends, both new and old, and a supportive family. Even my employer at the time, when I began my transition, was really great about it. Most people in my life got right on board, and had little trouble using my preferred name and pronouns. Now, I’m just Alex. My struggles with identity aren’t so much what people will think, as I am very open about being transgender. I feel comfortable in my skin, and am happy with the person I have become. I have a few frustrations and concerns, that I’m sure many transgender people share. Like, I wish I could pee standing up. I wish I could father children of my own. I’m afraid of being arrested and thrown into a male prison. I wish I could find dating partners more easily, as being trans is often a deal breaker for cis guys and gals. It’s hard enough to be in your 50s and single these days, sheesh! I also worry a lot about my trans girl friends, who are in much more danger of being assaulted and mistreated than I am. I want to protect them, but don’t know how.