I was 15 years old when I came out as transgender (female to male) to a therapist I was seeing at my parents' request. The therapist told me I didn't know what I was talking about and ended the sessions. At the time I couldn't put a name to that terrible feeling, only that I felt shitty and ashamed for being me. That I was some kind of monster whose true nature had to be kept hidden lest I scare the townfolk.
Keep in mind I lived in a smallish northern town and statistically speaking the odds were good I was the ONLY one of my kind in the entire place. In the mid-80s there really wasn't much in terms of support for anyone gay or lesbian, let alone a “unicorn” like me.
I tried again with both parents when I was 17. My father, a prominent a mental health professional, at first seemed supportive, and promised to use his contacts in the industry to get me into treatment. About a week later he came back and told me it was “just a phase” and that I'd grow out of it.
That was one of the single most demoralizing events of my entire life and it's no exaggeration to say that's the day when any meaningful relationship I had with my father died. It was also the first time I'd ever seriously contemplated killing myself and I vividly recall sitting on the bathroom floor with the sharpest knife in the house trying to think of one single reason why I shouldn't do it.
What pulled me through it was rage. Rage at my father. Rage at whatever cosmic joke decided to make me into what I was.
My mother, although she didn't understand what I was going through, supported me as best she could. I managed to secure funding to fly both of us to the Toronto so I could be assessed by what was then called the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. They did a ton of tests on me but did not offer anything meaningful in terms of support. I was instructed to return every six months for followup appointments with one of their psychiatrists and I did so for about three years before I figured out they were just studying me for their research papers and grants and had no intention of ever helping me to transition.
During my last appointment, I requested my files and was deeply offended to see that I had been (erroneously) diagnosed as being Kinsey Type VI (lesbian) and that the psychiatrist described me at one point as being “histrionic”. That these so-called medical professionals could so completely invalidate the very essence of my gender identity was a huge emotional injury to me.
I was attending college near Toronto when I finally cut ties with the Clarke Institute. Through a lot of research and networking I found out about The 519 on Church Street in Toronto. Even today it's the main drop in place for LGTBQ folks. There, for the first time in my life, I met other trans people. It was eye opening, validating, scary, and joyful all at the same time. One of my friends, a fellow FTM, put me on to a general practitioner who would prescribe hormones without the mandated psychiatric treatment and the one year “real life test” required at the time for all transgender people seeking to transition.
I saw the doctor when I was 20 and after the first appointment he prescribed the hormones I needed. I did not tell anyone in my family about this. I did not feel they had the right to know.
When I was 21 I moved to Alberta for school and it's here that I officially started living in my chosen gender role. In doing this, I left my old life behind, including all of my friends and my family. Emotionally it was a tough time for me. I was able to get my new doctor in Alberta to recommend a double mastectomy and I had the surgery when I was 22. To this day I have no idea how he made this happen but I'm certain he worked outside of the established protocols for treating transgender patients at the time.
It took nearly two years after this before I fully came out to my family. They were all pissed off at me for having surgery without telling them. I don't have any regrets about this. As far as I'm concerned, they blew their chance to help me when I was 17.
And although I worked outside of the standard medical path that most trans people take, more than 25 years later I have no regrets. I'm proud that I found the courage and resourcefulness to do the things I needed to do in order to be whole.
These days although I don't offer up this information about myself, at the same time I'm pretty open if the topic comes up. It helps that transgender issues have lately become so mainstream that I no longer feel like the only unicorn in the world.
The shame and anger from my childhood are still there, albeit to a much lesser degree. I'm not sure I'll ever really be free of them or even if I even want to, because the shame has given me a depth of compassion and empathy I would not otherwise have developed and the anger, appropriately directed, is a lot of what gets me through when the going gets rough.
Both of these things help me to help others and this is a large part of what gives meaning to my life.
There are so many factors to relate in a person’s coming out story, that it is kind of hard to decide what is relevant. I suppose that is why each person’s story is their own. As I sit here writing I am not even sure that I will send this. Perhaps this is more for me than for anyone else. Here goes nothing, or maybe here goes everything.
I knew I was different when I was 4 or 5 but I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint how or why until much later. I would come to find out that my grandmother and aunt knew I was “different” when I was 2.
When I was 4 that I realized that I was a separate person. The very first dream I remember having was a dream where my family was rich and we were rolling around in money. When I told my mom this she laughed at me and I realized that this was something I had experienced on my own. I was a different person.
I think I knew that I liked boys when I was 5. I remember playing “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” but instead of girls I was playing with boys. I am not exactly sure when my sexual identity first emerged but I do know that I was an overly precocious and overly sexual child.
I have the over powering and very distinct urge to blah blah my way through this story, these are things that I haven’t thought (haven’t wanted to think of) of in years. I will do my best to ensure that I capture the details as soundly as possible.
Fast forward 5 years, I remember our sexual education class in grade five when we were told to write questions on a piece of paper and put them in a box.
Someone had asked “What if you are a boy and you like boys?”
My mind reeled and it was like my world was turned upside down and inside out. It was the same feeling you get when you forget your homework (or didn’t do it in the first place) but way more intense. It was the feeling you get when your entire universe has changed. Someone had asked the question that I wanted to ask, but I was too scared.
The teachers quickly explained “If you are boy and you like boys then that would make you gay.” No more of an answer and no less. In 1989/1990 I am sure that answer was considered overly liberal. I went home that night to tell my parents about our class and I received a more in depth answer to the question. I don’t remember the exact phrasing that was used but to paraphrase my mother/step-father:
“If that person is a boy who likes boys then they are gay and they will have AIDS and die”.
Think about that for a minute.
You finally realize how and why you are different, it is the answer you have been searching for. You are ready to embrace yourself. When you broach the subject with your parent(s) you are told that you are going to die a horrible death.
I thought that if I wasn’t gay, if I wasn’t different then maybe I wouldn’t have AIDS and die. (I was educated eventually which we will discuss later in our hero’s story.) It was never explained to 10 year old me what HIV and AIDS were. I was simply told that gays had it and then they died from it.
It would be 5 more years of trying to hide who I was, what I was. Denying that part of me that so desperately wanted to be acknowledged, because I was given misinformation by an unwittingly ignorant person. For five years I tried my hardest to fit in, it only made me stand out more and more. Eventually I stopped trying to fit in and relegated my life to the sidelines looking in and watching people live their lives.
I finally came out and told another person that I was gay in 1997 when I was 15. This isn’t such a huge deal in 2018. In 1997 it was a dangerous situation to say the least. Living in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business didn’t make it any easier. Through the grace of puberty my sexual-self reared its proud head and roared loud enough that I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
That one light bulb AHA moment, you know the one, where you actually figure it out, when you stop denying it, when you finally accept it came when a senior shoved me against a locker and said “Get the fuck out of my way faggot.”
That was it. Boom. Light bulb lit up, then it exploded. Why should I try so hard to not be what I was if people could see it anyways. Why waste all that energy on something that was fruitless and not worth doing in the first place.
1st side note: oddly enough the senior jock that helped me to realize my sexuality ended up being my first unrequited crush. True Story. My psychologist would have a field day with that. There is just some stuff that you don’t tell your psychologist. Not because you are ashamed of it but because it is just easier and faster to not talk about it than it would be to delve into it.
2nd side note: This was at the same time that a wildly popular television show (especially with teenage girls in my town) had a character that came out as gay to his father. It didn’t go well for him. I remember sitting in English class and overhearing “See I told you he was gay”.
Terror! Bone chilling, stomach turning, throat goes dry, all you can do is feel your heart beating a million miles a minute, ice in your veins terror.
I froze. I listened and waited for whatever was coming my way. Eventually it became apparent they weren’t talking about me. Slowly my terror dissipated and I started to breathe again. I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath. But now that I could breathe again I had to know who they were talking about. Was there another gay person out there? Was there someone like me? Was I not alone in this universe? Who were they?
Once I realized that they were talking about a television show I knew I had to watch it. After some research and some stunningly deceptive subterfuge I had my answers and I eventually got to watch Jack’s coming out to his father. To this day it still makes me cry whenever I watch it.
Back to our regularly scheduled program:
My mind reeled and it was like my world was turned upside down and inside out. It was the same feeling you get when you forget your homework (or didn’t do it in the first place) but way more intense. It was the feeling you get when your entire universe has changed.
That was the first time I thought about killing myself. I mean if I was going to die because I was gay why the hell not get it over with?
I was quickly admitted to the psych ward, put on antidepressants and enrolled in non-elective therapy, (To be fair being gay was considered a mental disorder until 1973, but that wasn’t why I was there). I can completely understand the thinking behind teenage suicide because there is nothing as powerful as the power of a teenage imagination to blow any situation out of proportion and this should never be underestimated.
When I was released from the psych ward it was decided by my doctors that I should live somewhere other than the place that had almost caused me to kill myself. I moved in with a friend of my mothers and over the summer started working for her doing admin crap (as much as a 15/16 year old could).
Finally nearing the end of the summer after things had calmed down in my head and after I had time to process my sexuality epiphany I decided to tell my mother.
(One of the most memorable parts of my coming out)
The conversation went something like this
Me: “Mom, I think I’m Gay.”
Mom: “No you’re not.”
Me: “No Mom I really think I am gay.”
Mom: “No you’re not!”
Me: “MOM, I’m gay!”
Mom: “You haven’t even slept with a woman yet, you can’t know you are gay.”
She got up and left the room so that the conversation was finished. I left and went back into town to where I was staying.
Several days later before school resumed in September she picked up my two younger brothers and everything that they could put in the car and moved away.
I ended up back in the psych ward because my 15/16 year old brain couldn’t process the idea of my own mother rejecting me for who I was, simply because I liked other boys.
Eventually, in time everything can be dealt with. I would come to understand later in life that my mother moved my brothers away from me because she was trying to protect her children from a pedophile (namely me.) To this day I refuse to be alone around my nieces and nephews because I don’t want anyone to think that I would ever harm a child in that way. This is probably why I also will never have children of my own.
I actually grew into my sexuality when I was 19. I moved to another small town to be with a guy who ended up dumping me shortly thereafter. My gay life (my true life, the one with no hiding, no secrets) started when I fell in love with a man who was the age I am now. Being in love allowed me to come out several more times to several different people who were important to me.
Each reaction was different running the gamut from
“Well when are you having it chopped off?” from my grandmother
“Well you are my son and I will love you no matter what” from my father,
“I’m sorry I made you gay by teasing you as a kid and introducing you as my sister.” From my older brother (that one actually made me laugh).
I truly believe that love does conquer all, it certainly gave me the courage to face my demons and accept who I was meant to be as a person.
Last side note: My first HIV test was when I was 17, and I absolutely thought I had AIDS and was going to die, but damn it all to hell I was going to die happy. (I didn’t have HIV or AIDS and that was the point my Doctor educated me about STD’s