At the time of this writing, I have been transitioning for three years almost to the day. I say “transitioning” as though I mean it in the active sense, but there definitely came a point along the way when I stopped trying to conform to the ideal of womanhood and just started living a normal life. From the outside looking in (when you’re transgendered and haven’t started transitioning), being a woman can seem like something magical. “Boobs!” you say to yourself. “They’re like fleshy, tear-shaped unicorns attached to your chest shooting out rainbows and happiness!” Or, “Vagina!” you might exclaim. “I would wear the shit out of bikinis and yoga pants and proudly share my camel toe with all mankind!” The grass seems so much greener on the other side from the daily hell of living as a man that becoming a woman can feel akin to a higher plane of existence. Well, having crossed that membranous threshold, I can tell you that it just feels utterly ordinary…but kind of wonderful at the same time.
I came out as transgender about 10 years ago at the age of 22. I lived in Cartersville, Georgia, about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta, because that’s where my parents and sister resided. To me, this period of “coming out” was more seminal (hee hee) to later events because it was when my family finally knew, though I had technically shared it at least several months prior with intimate friends. I brought my mom and my sister to Waffle House (because where else does one come out?), sat them down, ordered food, looked them square in the eye, and told them that I was transgendered. My words had the impact of a truck bearing down on a deer on an otherwise abandoned road in the middle of the night (Georgia, y’all.)
“You better not get AIDS!” was all my mom could muster. My sister seemed fine with it and just grinned before expressing that she always wanted a big sister. I made them promise not to reveal my secret to my father. Several days later, my mom called me up in tears saying that she couldn’t keep it from my dad any longer and pleaded for me to tell him. Caught between a rock and a hard place, what could I do? So, I took a kamikaze approach to the situation. I called him up and waited about half a heartbeat before word-vomiting my shameful secret in one fetid breath. “Hi, dad. I’m transgendered. Mom made me tell you. Okay?” I could tell that he was surprised, but he always answered unexpected revelations with know-it-all aplomb. “I know!” he responded. I don’t recall any conversation after that and we never talked about it again. I was good at avoiding them seeing me dressed as a woman and we were the kind of family who avoided talking about anything real. Oregon Ducks (it’s a football team, I hear)? Sure, let’s talk about that until the cows come home. Your son wants lady business between his legs? Mmm… let’s leave that for the therapist.
Living in a small town as a transgendered individual was an awful experience. At the time, I claimed Christianity as my religion and too many people decided that I needed a lot of gropeful prayer. I remember being pulled from service one time by a female deacon who had heard the rumors and I explained to yet another person that I was transgendered. I guess to some people, the term meant that I was going to grow a monstrous, purple tit-hump on my back while overdoing makeup, helicoptering my boy-junk, and talking like Minnie Mouse in an attempt to corrupt the town’s little children. To me, it just felt nice to finally be out to everyone and I didn’t care who knew. The woman’s brow furrowed into an expression of soul-saving concern and she asked if she could pray (hard) for me. I knew exactly what was coming, but I think if you say no to a Christian offering free prayer, you go to straight to Hell, do not pass GO. She placed both of her hands on my shoulders and squeezed (like ya do), closed her eyes, and shouted her prayer at me. “Lord, help this MAN realize that you made HIM a MAN and that HE needs to be the MAN you mean HIM to be.” Every masculine pronoun was overemphasized and enunciated like Morpheus talking to Neo about his pride-boner for “The One.” I knew that she meant well, but it always comes off as a bit insulting when you realize that you’re fighting nature and they’re fighting perception. It’s a type of passive-aggressive treatment meant to conform individuals to Christian mainstream thinking.
Many people were either openly accepting or mildly tolerant of my transgenderism, but there were times when the Haterade was particularly more pungent. My hairdresser said she couldn’t work on my hair anymore because I was a guy and I needed a men’s cut. This was after several haircuts and colors bending more towards androgyny and femininity. Before this point, she was more than happy to take my money and dye it every color from blue to plaid (yes, plaid.) Now, I don’t have anything against Christians and I support people believing whatever they want to make themselves happy (except Scientology, of course), but morals-based haircuttery seems like a counterintuitive business decision. Another example: before coming out to my family, I worked at a jewelry store as an assistant manager and I was the district manager’s golden boy. We used to go out to lunch, discuss life difficulties, and high-five every single time she came visiting my store. I was well on my way to ass-kissing for a head manager position at a nearby store in the area, but as soon as I came out to her (I was young and didn’t know any better), all of that stopped. I went from golden boy to Poopsmith in one fell swoop, eventually being fired for not correctly turning in some collections paperwork one day (which is about as minor an offense as one could have.) All I did was come out to my district manager and it was enough to tarnish her view of me from that point forward.
I moved to Nashville, TN from Cartersville, GA the summer of 2005 because the small-town environment was slowly carbon-monoxide-poisoning my soul. It was also a countermeasure to fighting the particularly awful bout of depression that I was suffering, due in part to the prejudice I had experienced thus far. I honestly d0n’t know what I expected by coming out other than to feel better about being me, but for every self-positive moment, there were two negative moments to send me crashing back down to earth. I relegated myself to being a non-op, non-transitioning transgendered individual because I was too scared to actually take the plunge, though I desperately wished to do so. I had met too many late-transitioning transwomen who looked, sounded, and behaved very much like what I perceived to be “men in drag.” Some of that perception could also have been tainted by the way transwomen were portrayed in the media. In retrospect, I realize how wrong it was of me to be so dismissive and unsupportive of my trans* sisters during what was likely an extremely difficult period in their own lives.
Having gone through so much humiliation already, I was perfectly willing to discriminate against other transgender people if it would save me a little bit of grief in return. It seemed a much better idea to dress like a woman in private and not permanently alter my body with hormones than it did to be as brave as the women who decided to transition, damn what society might say. Though, changing the perception of one’s outward gender expression is such an enormous social taboo that nefarious people can be occasionally spurred to do awful things (hate speech, violence,discrimination, marginalization, etc.) The conflict isn’t only ingrained into heteronormative cisgendered people’s minds, but in the LGBT community as well. Through the years, several gay male friends have claimed that I was really just gay and didn’t want to admit it, which is a classic case of confusing gender identity with sexual preference. To the trans* individual, wanting to transition but being unwilling to publicly break the gender taboo is part of the reason why suicide feels like a better option than going through with the change and dealing with all the pain you cause yourself and others.
While life threw obstacles in my way career-wise (I had a boss tell me he “didn’t want no fuckin’ fags workin’ for him”), I went through a series of tumultuous relationships with women whom I told about my trans* nature from the beginning. I didn’t recognize until many years later that I tended to date women who were emotionally volatile and self-destructive. Three years and two failed long-term relationships later, I mistakenly believed that my problems had surely been caused by my transgenderism. Thus, I needed to purge it from my life for good, because there could literally be no downside to taking that route #sarcasm #foreshadow. In effect, I was going back into the closet. Around that time, I met the woman who would later become my wife. I told her that I was transgendered and I would struggle with it for the rest of my life, but I had no plans to revisit that part of my life by dressing or ever wanting to transition, which was more of a lie to myself than a conscious lie to her. The relationship lasted a total of three years. The first half of it was actually okay. Most days, the nagging doubt of the facade of my manhood took a backseat to being relatively copacetic with being a bearded hipster. I couldn’t say that I was particularly happy, but I could successfully ignore the unhappy until it was time to go to sleep at the end of each day (close enough.)
Eventually, the relationship started to crumble because we were both a pair of miserable Thenardiers just trying to scam innocent prostitutes out of their hard-earned sex dollars to take care of their kids. Really, we both had issues with our bodies (in very different ways) that caused such inner turmoil that it bubbled to the surface and came out in tempestuous verbal hate storms. On my side, I stayed in the partnership because I figured that if I lived to try make other people happy, I could ignore my own inner voice trying to seduce me in coquettish tones to come over to the Pink Side. Yet, the more I felt like I was drowning in my relationship, the more I withdrew internally, wanting to be free and happy and just me.
The marriage ended about as well as you’d expect and I suddenly found myself living in an Adele song. My life seemed to be an amalgamation of haphazard pieces thrown together to create something that resembled a man, despite never intending to make it look that way. There are some people who might assume that there are enjoyable parts to being a man because you can whip out your junk and have sex with just about anything. Well, such was my dysmorphic sense of self that I never really enjoyed sex or junk-shoving random objects. Even now as I’m living the fantasy of a few girls I know (fairly nice body and presence of the peen), my sexual exploits are few and far between. One question people have often asked is, “When did you know that you wanted to be a girl?” My answer has always the same: “When I knew there was a difference between boys and girls, I became sad because I knew that I wanted to be a girl.” And here I was, a man in the ashes of yet another failed relationship because I thought that I could control my Dark Passenger. I had finally come to the point where I felt that I had two choices: start hormone therapy and become a woman no matter what the cost, or end my life because it didn’t feel worth living anymore as a male.
I suppose that in some ways, the comparison of Dexter’s murderous urges to my transgender nature is spot-on. Before I truly acknowledged it or expressed my need to transition, I had the tendency to ruin lives and hurt people around me. Misery has a way of floating to the surface like that heinous fart smell in the Bog of Eternal Stench (<3 David Bowie <3). As a guy, every new person I met was subject to the lie that I chose to live because I was too afraid to admit to myself who I needed to be. How could anything be real if the foundation of my gender expression was based upon a falsehood? It was only after embracing my nature that I found any peace. Sure, there were (are) still lots of ups and downs, but the practice of living authentically has allowed me to thrive as a human being.
Today, I do a great many things of which I am quite proud; I work as an independent web developer, I study American Sign Language, I’ve become an advocate for LGBT, Deaf, and women’s rights, I volunteer, I crochet beards, I have a bestie for the first time in my life, and I enjoy life so much more than I used to. I am happy. Ultimately, this has never been about having a pretty face or a sweet rack – when I realized that I had to transition, I was willing to accept whatever outcome happened – rather, it’s about not having to lie to anyone about who I am, which I imagine is the same conclusion those transwomen I discriminated against years ago came to before making their life-changing choice. For me, it has been the best decision of my life.
Audrey Arndt is a transwoman, an independent web developer, and an LGBTQI and Deaf rights advocate in her 30s living in Nashville, TN. She has two cats, she crochets things, she wants a Cthulhu tramp stamp, and she occasionally makes with the funny.