By Vivian Coday
Photos by Dori Hackleman, Vera Imago Photography
Coming out as transgender has been one of the most wonderful and one of the worst experiences.
After three decades it’s usually expected to have figured out where life is heading. By this time most have, at the very least, found stability in their identity. During teenage adolescence, we typically start forming whom we are going to be as adults. For me, this identity was shoved into a box and locked away for a very long time.
When I first came out, it wasn’t expected. It was during a quiet moment with the person I loved most. My brain was on fire as it had become impossible for me to not think about being transgender. Suddenly the words, “I have to tell you something” escaped my lips. Dread poured over me.
My life following that night has been a maze of discovery, sadness, fear, and joy.
Starting therapy was one of the best things to happen. I discovered more about myself than just my concern over being transgender. Mental health is not a joke; I was overdue for a checkup. I began the long process of pulling back all the barriers I had put over myself for protection. It helped me come to terms with my upbringing. I stopped being ashamed of myself. I became happier. My need to be fulfilled in my identity burned hotter.
I started wearing nail polish and makeup to work. I started letting people know who asked, that I identified as nonbinary. Most people knew me to be eccentric anyway and accepted this without much ado. Some women started asking for tips on how I did my makeup. Someone asked, “You’re not turning transsexual are you?” I explained my new look as ‘punk’ to people, still in fear of fully being whom I wanted.
I started seeing a physician in hopes of getting hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. This experience was dreadful. Gatekeeping ensued with other people’s expectations on my look and lifestyle and how long I had it. It felt as if I were expected to be a June Cleaver clone before being allowed HRT. My insurance denied my coverage because my blood work was submitted under ‘transvestism.’
This began my foray into the realm where transgender people are a political football. I had to be the teacher for those I depended on. I researched the WPATH, or World Professional Association for Transgender Health, guidelines. I learned all the prescriptions and treatments. I made sure I knew all the terms. I became my own advocate, telling professionals what I needed while sharing the practiced standards and accepted terms used in most other major metropolitan areas.
I hit the ground running when the gates finally opened. I started HRT. I built my closet even more than before; I finally enjoyed shopping. I bought my first bathing suit and went on vacation. I was finally being called by the pronouns I always wanted: she and her. I started the legwork for a legal name and gender marker change. It was a time of celebration. I became hyper-focused on my identity and future. I had started finding myself but started to overlook other important things in my life.
Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s was tough enough for any kid. Aside from the standard fare of bullying, our generation also had the tail end of the Cold War, the AIDS crisis, and witchcraft cult scares. We were still being fed a homogenized version of 1950s American exceptionalism. We were told to not stand out and to be a productive member of society. My take on it was that of fear and disillusionment.
I grew up in a rural farming area. My graduating high school class was just under thirty. Despite how quaint it sounds, I lacked the understanding of what was happening in the rest of the world. The culture that pulsed from major cities rarely made it to our area, and if it did, it was quashed by adults as being uncivilized or some variant of evil.
I didn’t have the information available to me as so many kids do today. The internet has allowed marginalized communities to find others like themselves, garnering strength and confidence knowing that they are not alone. Had I the resources, I would have connected the dots earlier and with less shame in the realization that I was transgender.
It wasn’t until I was 21 and living in Seattle that I even realized what the concept of being transgender might look like. By then I had run away from my both my birthplace and myself. I hated life because I didn’t know how to live it. I had become very self-destructive. I knew the things I wanted but still refused it, considering it a fetish and passing fancy. Ultimately, I was ashamed. Even though I ran away from them, my parents and upbringing still very much ruled my life.
A girl soon entered my life that made me feel alive and like life finally mattered. It seemed all of the worries of being different were solved. Now I could focus on a relationship. Instead of living life and being true to myself, I would offer it to another. I shaped myself in an image I thought could keep us happy. I would be a provider and the perfect man. We started building a life together.
I played a role I thought would get me ahead in life, looking for clues in characters like Don Draper in style and behavior. I would return home from work tired, angry, and dissatisfied, and always wanting ‘something more.’ The thought laid constant in my mind that there had to be another way, something that would make me happy. I refused to accept that my longing for femininity had any role to play in my happiness.
I took on a new role after the near-death experience of living through the Joplin tornado of 2011. I was homeless and afraid to lose my job. I made decisions based on fear. I tried to shape my life in the image of my father after the purchase of a small homestead. I tried to become the ‘know everything’ hard worker he is. I became even more dissatisfied and angry, despite the beauty of our land. I continued to lose track of who I really wanted to be.
My protective shell started to crack around the time I almost reflexively began purchasing phytoestrogens from the internet and self-medicating in secret. A bad trip to the doctor, an ultrasound and MRI brought on my next death scare. I thought I had destroyed my liver from all the strange pills I had ingested. It turned out to be a false alarm. An existential crisis ensued that led to that fateful night where I came out to my wife.
The person I loved most felt betrayed. I felt ashamed. We spent years trying to rebuild our communication and trust through the help of therapy. This work helped bring us back together, but the relationship had changed.
Today my life looks entirely different. I am embarking towards a future I never imagined plausible. I have discovered joy by simply being myself. I have helped others better understand what it means to be transgender. My marriage is ending. Some old familiar friendships feel awkward. Many things remain uncertain.
I recently celebrated my one year anniversary on HRT. At a new patient consultation, my endocrinologist asked me what my goals were for HRT. I told her, “to continue living my life.” Now that my identity is fully exposed, that’s exactly what I intend to do, like it or not.