When did you realize you didn’t relate to your birth gender?

There were signs when I was younger that, when I look back, are ‘no-duh’ moments, such as I loved playing with dolls, or dressing as a femme elf at my 2nd grade Halloween (tights and all!).  But, the clearest symbol was when I was a young teenager and started cross-dressing in private, and I used to pray to God to make me magically wake up as a girl.  However, I also saw quite a lot of negative portrayals of trans or cross-dresses in the media and elsewhere, so I felt like feeling as I do was wrong, and needed to repress it.  Those years before I acknowledged who I was were miserable.

How did you deal with that mentally & physically?

Mentally, I was miserable.  It always felt like I was trapped and I grew to hate my body, to the point of developing mild body dysmorphia.  Also, my depression and self esteem was horrible, because I always felt I wasn't good enough.  I also didn’t care too much about where I was going in life and felt more like I was waiting to die, so a lot of experiences I could have done, I didn’t go for it because I didn’t feel it mattered.

Give me glimpse of the inside you verse your outward appearance.

Today, my inner me has a sense of hope, excitement for life, and genuine love for their family and friends.  Occasionally, I have my down days and feel I’m not doing enough.  However, as time progresses, those days happen less and less.
Outside, I have a body I'm proud to call my own: I make it up, work it out, and eat good food.  I’ve actually been quite an exhibitionist since coming out.  I have taken more photos this past year than I did during four years of college.

How would you prefer people to address you? pronouns, preferred name etc

My name is Dana, though some people call me D.J. too (it was the name I went by before I found my true name).  I go by she/her pronouns.

What does gender identity mean to you?

Okay, here's a complicated one, yet simple: to each their own.  For me, being a woman gives me a sense of being free from a label I didn't choose.  Whether we identify as female, male, non-binary, or something entirely new, the point is to shape our identity.  It’s our choice to create the life we wish to live.

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/

Three important factors: one of my hometown friends (who is also trans himself), a wonderful therapist by the name of Karla Morse, and oddly enough, the leather/BDSM scene.  Both my hometown friend and I were both in the closet and met each other at roller derby.  We’d even hang out at their basement and dress as our true selves.  They were also instrumental as I saw him become himself, to believe I could do that too.  Karla Morse is a fantastic therapist, who, with her patience, compassion, and understanding, I was able to embrace who I was.  The most interesting one has been the leather/BDSM scene.  Since everyone is trying to be themselves and about infinite ways to express themselves, my identity was welcomed in open arms and felt safe to be me, plus, I look good in leather!

Talk to me about your struggles with identity and how you've grown to overcome them.

A lot of the struggles were dealing with things such as voice, mannerisms, passing, and physical intimacy issues.  You learn certain coping mechanism: Putting on my make-up really helps with my dysphoria, composing some erotica or memoir piece on one of my pages, or simply playing music to get the blues out.  I also have amazing friends, from a fantastic older brother and parents, to other lovely members of the trans-community, like my one friend the Jen(n)s, and even my allies give me the strength to take off the chains of bullshit and live my life how I want.
Mostly, what I want to tell people, whether cis or trans: what life do you want to live?  For me, I want a life where people love me for who I am, I pursue the things that bring me joy in life and leave me feeling a sense of pride for who I am.  For everyone, they have different ways of achieving that, but I’d like to think I’m heading to the right direction.
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