Updated: Jul 29, 2021
By Em English
My mother was measuring, cutting, and sewing the clothes that my brothers and sisters would wear for the upcoming school year. I was always amazed that she could take simple tan tissue paper covered in seemingly random lines, pin them to colorful fabric, carefully cut and trim them and – voila – we ended up with a shirt. It felt like magic to my four-and-a-half-year-old brain. Today she was making clothes for my sisters. The red, black, and pinstriped yellow plaid fabric was folded and ironed into place and I watched as one of my sister came in to try on her new skirt. She twirled and smiled and ran off to play in the other room. I asked for one.
Interestingly, my mother acquiesced and made me my own little red skirt. I remember running up and down the hallway in delight! I wore it for two straight days before it disappeared. No one seemed to know what happened to it.
I knew there was something there.
I was called in to meet with my religious leader for a youth interview. I sat in the rust colored scratchy fabric chair with perfectly square wooden armrests and waited. I knew something about me was different, I knew it was something I should hide, but I wanted to be honest with God. I looked my bishop in the eyes, started to cry and said, “There is this thing inside me that I don’t understand. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like something is wrong inside me”. The bishop asked if it was something sexual; I barely even knew what that meant. I didn’t understand. He saw my confusion and asked a follow up question, “Are you attracted to boys?” I shrugged and said, “No, I don’t think so.” He said, “Good, if it isn’t that, just try not to think about it. It is probably something that you don’t want to share”.
I was too scared to talk to those who might have helped me understand.
I treasured hanging out with my friends, a group of 14-year-old girls. The six of us did something together (either all of us, or smaller groups) almost every weekend, and sometimes during the week, too. I felt like I belonged; they never treated me any different than each of the others. At Jen’s house, I was asked if I had ever tried on makeup, and that they wanted to see what I would look like with makeup on. My friends giggled, circled around me, and applied various things while they discussed my new look. Their words were kind and held no pressure. After they finished fussing with my hair they stepped back and I looked in the mirror. It is a strange thing to feel your world shift about 15 degrees from who you thought you were.
I needed to keep it hidden.
I drove two hours each way to Idaho State University grad school English classes. The seminar covered teaching literature in the post-secondary classroom. The instructor stood and said, “Let’s address this poem through the lens of sexuality using a ‘queer theory’ model.” This came fairly easy so late in the semester as we had done it many times already. The professor then announced, “Let’s change it up a bit. Now let’s look at it through the lens of gender using the same ‘queer theory’ model.” I cautiously raised my hand and asked, “What is the difference?” The class gave me a 20-minute lesson on the difference between gender identity and sexuality. I called my wife during the drive home and said we needed to talk about something that I’d learned that night.
I knew I would never be quite the same.
I walked into the small waiting room and met with a psychologist for the first time. We met for at least an hour every week for about six months. She asked so many difficult and pointed questions. She gave me a diagnosis, and I told her she was wrong. I didn’t think I was ever going back. She suggested that I needed to be honest with my doctor about what was going on. She told me that he needed to know so that he could treat the problem and not just give medication to deal with the symptoms.
Four more months of brutal honesty with my doctor entailed. Without ever knowing my counselor, he gave me the same diagnosis. I was told that I was experiencing Gender Dysphoria and he suggested I see a specialist in Boise to consider some form of “transition”. The specialist told me the same thing and I knew it was time to believe them.
I turned off the light in my office. I knew I was somehow or someway transgender. I would have to tell my children, I would have to tell the people I work with, and I would have to face the people at my church. I sat in the dark for a few minutes and then drew a line down the center of the paper and began making a list. On one side I made a list of all the reasons I should end my life. On the other, the reasons I should tell everyone I was trans. After many tears and a panic attack, I understood the real difference between the two was permanency. If I told everyone, I would likely be humiliated and discredited – but there was a chance things could get better. There was a chance that eventually my five children and wife of 21 years could at least learn to be okay with me. I decided to stay alive for my family.
That was the first of three times that I stood on the doorstep of suicide.
As people began to meet the real me, a strange thing occurred… they liked her. I liked her, too. I was experiencing everything as if it was for the first time. My emotions were deeper. I noticed the details of what was happening in my world. Colors seemed brighter, food tasted different, and it felt so wonderful to cry (which I did and still do often). My anxiety began to lessen. Calm began to wash over me as I started to see my real self in the mirror a bit more each day. I felt a deeper love for my wife and children than I had known before.
This transition of me and my new family dynamic is still quite young. It is a strange thing to go through puberty again at age 46, but it feels right. I understand as these (and many other) glimpses of my life begin to link together. I never want to lose who I am again. It is not easy, but being trans is one of the greatest blessings of my life.
I smile as I start to understand.