trans talk

It took 35 years before I was ready to begin grappling with my gender identity, and nearly another four to truly accept I was transgender. There's no single path to follow on a journey like this, but I hope sharing my story and struggles might be helpful for others.

I know there are some of you who might not understand what it means to be trans, or might object to my embracing this aspect of myself. I ask you to take the time to at least read my story, my thoughts on what this means for my faith, my hopes and my fears to appreciate where I'm coming from. Thank you for your time!

new to "trans stuff?"

No worries! It has been an educational journey for me too :). If this is a new topic for you, then I recommend starting here:

trans topics 101 »

This story ended up much longer than I expected!

I'm very appreciative of anyone willing to make it through the whole tale, but for those seeking a "TL:DR" summary I added a quicker, "highlights" version.

Please enjoy whichever suits your fancy:

 


Enjoying a FlightEnjoying some drinks mid-pandemic with my pod

 

the short version

Once upon a time, in the “long long ago” of 2014, I was in a rut. I generally felt positive, but certainly wasn't inspired in life, focused almost entirely on work.

Every day I distracted myself with games, TV, LEGO building, and work while trying to pray away a secret that had been in my head since at least fifth grade: wanting to be a girl.

I realize now this doubt and shame at the back of my head was stopping me from fully caring for myself, let alone even *trying* to find a relationship with someone else.

One day a good friend and coworker took me out for a drink and slapped me in the face with some truth: she felt she was watching me cheerfully and pleasantly give up.

Driven by that wake-up call, I set a weight target for the end of 2015, and decided that - regardless of how silly it felt - once I hit my goal I would try "dressing up."

On Jan 1st of 2016 I shaved off my several-year-old beard, put some YouTube and reddit makeup tutorials to the test, and finally saw a "me" in the mirror I was excited about.

Life had a new focus from that moment. I found new communities and friends online. I met many in real life, and began venturing out into the world as “Jess” with their support.

I slowly began sharing with close friends and immediate coworkers, and even got to attend some work events as Jess, starting with the 2019 Out & Equal Workplace Summit.

Most of my social life is now lived as Jess, and after careful thought, prayer and talking with my doctor and my therapist, I began Hormone Replacement Therapy in December of 2019.

While I still have some family to share with and I'm not living as this version of me full time yet, I feel so blessed and excited that what was a crazy fantasy now seems possible.

 


 

the long version

April O'NeillMy first crush, April O'Neill (from the first seven seasons of the TMNT cartoon, 1987-1996)

it all began with some turtles

For me, this journey began with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and April O'Neill.

I enjoyed that cartoon for a lot of reasons, but I *loved* it because of April. She was my first crush. Each night in bed I would go on adventures with her, imagining her as my girlfriend as we saved the world (even though I was in fifth grade and only dimly aware of what a girlfriend was - someone you hold hands with, right?).

I don't remember quite when, but there was a point when my dreams started to include me having to hide for some reason (like avoiding the bad guys). And the way I'd hide was by disguising myself as her. Those were the dreams I liked the best, and they quickly became the norm. That's the earliest I can remember thinking of presenting myself differently: of seeing myself as a girl.

 

ignoring, hiding & denial, denial, denial

Mini MeMe with two of my aunts: apparently I had curly hair when I was very little - something I've rediscovered as my hair has grown out.

While that's the earliest specific thought about being a girl I can remember, in hindsight it wasn't the only sign.

I loved that I had long lashes, I loved that my nails grew fast and long, and every time some woman said "I would kill for those" or "those are wasted on a boy" I would protectively think "No! They're mine!"

I never liked being called handsome or a man (or worse, those two combined). I didn't know why it made me uncomfortable, but I didn't really believe those descriptors fit.

I'm not quite sure when or how I learned I should be ashamed, but I prayed not to feel this way on many nights. I liked being the "good kid," "the teacher's pet," "the kid who was mature enough to take communion early," "the kid who was grown up enough and well-behaved to hang out with the adults," etc. The prospect of being disliked - or others being disappointed in me - was my worst nightmare.

An example: At one point when I was quite young I remember my Mom suggesting she dress me as a girl for Halloween. She said she had always wanted a daughter as well as sons, and thought it would be fun. For her it was a quirky idea. For me it was a too-good-to-be-true opportunity that would trick me into revealing my shame. I adamantly refused to even consider it.

I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't panic-reacted out of fear. That being said, I think I went with a shark costume instead that year, and it was pretty awesome :).

This cycle of desire, shame, denial, and prayer-to-have-it-all-go-away was the norm through middle school, high school, college and beyond.

 

it's not all sad stuff

That denial didn't mean I was unhappy - far from it! While my desire (and subsequent shame) was recurrent, I was blessed not to suffer from significant dysphoria, so this was something I was able to push to the back of my mind the vast majority of the time.

Life also had the typical challenges many kids face: bullies in middle school and high school, procrastinating on homework deadlines, utter romantic ineptitude with girls.

But far more strongly, life held many joys: I loved my parents and brother; I was proud of my achievements at school; I enjoyed WildLife, YoungLife and Bible studies; I loved my participation in choir, plays and musicals. For the most part I felt cheerful, and I believed this whole "girl thing" was an obsession/fetish I could ultimately ignore.

And for a long time that was largely true. I resigned myself to having this embarrassment to lock away, and moved on. Life would still be good: I had never seriously considered those fantasies could come true anyway.

 

fast forward

It wasn't until after college and moving out of Pennsylvania for my first job in 2003 that I really tried to dress up. Thanks to the magic of the Internet I was able to buy some cheap makeup and clothes. My fantasies had continued almost every night, and I was finally giving in to that dream. I alternated between excitement and shameful regret, but stories of "boys dressing up and finding they made beautiful women" was too irresistible of an idea not to try it for myself.

But I did not have a clue what I was doing, with no notion of how to use makeup, pick out flattering attire, choose a wig, and more. The result of my effort was something that left me feeling pathetic. What I saw in the mirror was emphatically not someone I wanted to be. A few equally-disastrous tries over the course of a couple years was enough for me to shove everything to the back of the closet, and reinforce that this fantasy was an embarrassing impulse: a lost cause clearly out of my reach.

 

setting new goals

For the next seven/eight years, I kept that "it's not for me" mindset and focused on my career, friends and church. I also wanted to focus on creating my own family, but that proved much more difficult.

Since I was little I had assumed I would find a girl to marry in my 20s, and probably be having kids before I turned 30. I was totally cool with that idea in theory, but found I self-sabotaged in practice. I was told girls liked a confident guy, but in hindsight I recognize in my subconscious I wasn't entirely confident I was a guy. Certainly I knew I didn't meet any of the male stereotypes (and didn't want to). Having a constant belief "you should be ashamed" and "you are supposed to feel different" in the back of your head does not help one's confidence!

Even when it seemed like I had a prospect - a date, or a friendship that had the opportunity to blossom into something more - I still hesitated and hung back. I knew a point would come when I would need to confess my embarrassing secret. At a minimum, I was determined not to go into a marriage with a hidden time bomb that could later be discovered, and firmly believed any partner of mine deserved to know what they were getting into with me.

So with little confidence (and the expectation that any serious relationship would blow up when I shared all of me) my bachelor-hood continued loooong past the time I had assumed I would be married.

 

fast forward (some more)

In 2008, my career took me to a new company and a move from surburbia-squared-Ohio to The City. But despite the dramatic change in environment, life was still remarkably the same, consumed with the stresses and joys of work and friends. My dreams of being a girl didn't go away, but they were largely relegated to fantasies at night. Finding a partner was still very much a hope, but my confidence hadn't really changed. Periodically browsing eHarmony was more to tell myself I was doing something than a true prospect. All too soon, another seven years had flown by.

It was late 2014 when my friend Leilani took me out for drinks after work, and ran a one-woman intervention on me. I had been gaining weight, getting slovenly, and generally letting myself go: she felt like she was watching me cheerfully give up.

She was right. It hadn't been conscious, but I had stopped caring for myself as much as I should have. I didn't feel depressed so much as I was in a rut, and I pledged to do better.

First on my list was getting control of my weight: in early 2015 not long after that talk, I was startled at the number I saw on the scale. Even worse, I knew I had almost certainly weighed even more over the holidays. I started counting calories as my first "sort-myself-out" task, setting a goal to get back to my sophomore college weight by the end of the year (my freshman weight would have been nice, but I figured I should start with a realistic target :P).

I pledged my weight intentions to friends to create accountability, but I also added an extra, secret incentive for myself. I wanted to be healthier no matter what, but I decided that if I could actually get back to what I weighed near the start of college, I'd also give my fantasies one final chance to come true. When I hit my goal weight, I would shave off the beard I had grown over the last few years and see if I felt any different about dressing. And this time I wouldn't go into it with ignorance: if I was going to indulge this crazy thought one last time I would do it right, with at least *some* research on what to wear, how to do makeup, etc.

 

the big test

My first outfitMy very first outfit, from January 1st, 2016 (it would be a couple months before I learned I could smile in photos :P)

I lost 35 pounds over the course of 2015. It was done slowly and safely - a pound or two a week over the course of months as I rigidly monitored how many calories I took in each day.

As I got new guy clothes to accommodate my weight loss and became happier with my appearance (I thought my beard looked downright dapper!), I also researched and prepped for my "incentive plan." From reddit and YouTube I found makeup tutorials, guides on what clothes to wear and more. I mapped out what a makeover would include (from clothes, to makeup, to breastforms and a waist cinch, to jewelry), and started ordering online.

By December 31st, 2015, I was within a pound of my goal weight. It was Mission Achieved: the new year would also see an attempt at a new me. As scary as it was to consider shaving off the beard the next morning (and even more so, my arms - wouldn't everyone notice?!), I was determined to give this a shot.

A few nervous hours later and I was ready to step in front of the mirror. And wonder of wonders, this time when I saw myself I was pleasantly surprised! The look wasn't perfect (I shudder a bit to see my first photos), but I was shocked at how much potential there was.

For the first time I could believe I might be attractive (something I had never truly felt/believed before).

 

screw baby steps

I began trying out different looks every day. I pondered sharing pics online in the communities where I had been learning makeup and clothing ideas. In particular, there was a discreet subreddit where only members could see each other's photos, allowing for feedback while maintaining anonymity with the public at large. I reached out to the admins to see if I could join, but they were understandably on vacation given it was right after New Year's. So I waited, and my camera filled up with pictures.

By the time I got a reply a few days later with access to the forum, I was bursting to share. My rational plan to only post my transformed face in a closed environment - carefully ensuring my anonymity - lasted about an hour. Reactions on a forum with a small community are understandably slow to roll in, and my excitement was too high to be patient. I was posting in a public community almost immediately :P.

The reaction to my posts was substantial and validating. I wasn't imagining what I was seeing in the mirror, and I was getting great feedback on how to refine my presentation along with new looks to try.

From two subreddits to four, to Flickr, to Facebook, to Instagram: the journey to connect with others, find my look, learn techniques and share for that glorious validation continued to grow at a nigh-exponential rate.

 

daring to share

I made many new friends online, and being able to discuss these feelings with others who experienced them was extremely helpful. I'm not quite sure why, but I found myself compelled to expand that circle, and bridge this new virtual existence with people in my physical, "real" life.

My DirndlsMy love of celebrating Oktoberfest every year with dear friends meant that getting a dirndl was a must. Here are the 2016 and 2020 versions of that dress style.

While I wanted to share this exciting new component to my life, I certainly wasn't ready to tell the world at large. I decided to stack the deck and confide in two of my closest friends who also happened to be LGBTQ. I hoped I would find acceptance keeping the news "in the family" so-to-speak, and hopefully find some guidance as I took baby steps into a new frontier.

It was difficult. I had no idea how hard and scary it would be, even though I was sharing with the safest audience I could imagine.

As I sat down at the Hofbrau Haus beer hall after work with my friend Jen, my hands were shaking. I was too anxious to wait for our friend Leilani to arrive, and decided to come out to Jen first while we sat there. Babbling, stuttering and equivocating, I did such a poor job coming out that she thought I was saying I liked to dress fancy at home (like in tuxedos). It wasn't until a waitress walked by in a dirndl and I blurted out "I have one of those" that I got my point across :P.

First Jesscation!A pic with Leilani from that vacation in 2016 - the first time I was in front of others as Jess.

Her loving acceptance - followed by delightful compliments scrolling through pictures on my phone - felt amazing, and sharing with Leilani when she arrived was much easier.

And not only were they both fantastically affirming, but Leilani was ready with a schedule for me to start transitioning and come out to everyone! I asked her to take it down a notch, mostly because actually transitioning still seemed an impossible fairy tale (even as I now see I was starting to take steps down that path).

The surge of joy and confidence continued, and helped me be [a bit] braver. I joined the two of them and their wives on a vacation to Woodstock, and while I wasn't brave enough to venture outside our house, I was grateful for the opportunity.

It was a lot of fun, but it was intensely awkward too. I felt "over-sized" compared to everyone else. My still burgeoning-confidence in an entirely new look meant I was in the bedroom doing makeup and stressing over outfits for ages (and thank you again to those friends for their patience :P). Being around people who knew the other version of me meant my self-consciousness level was at 1000%, and hearing my boy voice emerge while trying to create a new presentation had me constantly on edge.

But I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. As much as it had its mental challenges to overcome, it was hugely validating and heartwarming. While I was terrified to actually go in to town, I found by the end of the trip I wanted to be that brave. I now had motivation to reach a point where being in public wasn't an impossible concept.

 

the makeover

Having more certitude in my look: that was key to feeling ready for a public debut. I was encouraged about how I was appearing in photos, but I had a lot of doubts and questions about how I appeared in person. I had gone through foundation after foundation, and felt like they were all off. I had multiple wigs, but they were all cheap, and I wasn't sure about the best style for me. I wanted expert advice.

Meeting ChrissieI eventually got to meet Kristen Browde, who inspired me to get my makeover.

There were a lot of people offering lessons or make-over services, but the ones I saw in my initial searching weren't what I wanted. I'm sure they were great at what they offered, but I didn't want a glam look or a drag look: I wanted to know how to be the girl next door. Through a Facebook connection - Kristen Browde - I learned about Monica Prata, who seemed like the person I was seeking. Watching a segment Vice did on her services and other online research led me to reach out in April of 2016.

She taught me a lot, diving directly into my biggest questions. We went to a Sephora (me still in boy mode) and picked out a foundation that would match my skintone. We went to a wig store and picked out a style she thought would suit my face (I had to take her word for it, as seeing my scruffy face in the mirror made it impossible for me to evaluate hairstyles). And then we went back to her office, where she tore through the suitcase of clothes I had brought to find a decent outfit before launching into my makeup. While I have since adjusted some elements to better cover my shadow, I still use most of the fundamental practices I learned from her that day. It was a sizable investment for me at the time, but I considered it more than worth it to leave feeling confident in what I was doing.

Sadly, I still wasn't quite confident enough to walk out the door into the public: poor Leilani waited for me at a nearby bar for an hour, but I panicked and took everything off before meeting her. At that point - and for months after - the thought of being out in the world was still terrifying, not to mention logistically daunting (how would I even get past the doormen anyway?).

My Makeover Angle 1The result of my makeover with Monica Prata.
My Makeover Angle 2I still use a lot of the same makeup techniques today.
My Makeover First Day ComparisonIt was a huge boost to my confidence seeing the possible.

 

venturing out

With Shawn and Naomi Out WestNaomi and I visiting Shawn out West in the Fall of 2016.

In the Spring I had started messaging Naomi, who I had admired (and nervously messaged) through Flickr. Writing back and forth in the (for me) wee hours with this lady was a delight, particularly as she was struggling with the same fears I had. I was jealous and full of questions as she embarked on HRT soon after we started talking. I wasn't brave enough to join her at the time, but *wow* did I think about it a lot.

She encouraged me to join Instagram with her, where we came across yet another person of a similar age who was embarking on her journey, Shawn. By the Summer we were chatting fairly regularly, and come the Fall of 2016 Shawn invited me to fly out to her part of the country to visit. This would be my first time going out into the public, and I was excited to have company for this terrifying next step. I excitedly told Naomi and said it was a shame she couldn't be there (assuming that her making the trek from Australia was fairly unlikely). But lo and behold, after a quick chat with her wife Naomi declared she'd be visiting the States! We'd both go to Shawn's place for a week, and then she'd return with me to NYC.

As far as I was concerned, that trip in October would be my first public foray. I was caught completely off guard when two Facebook connections - people I had never really talked to - suddenly messaged me out of the blue in September.

Jessica and Danni bombarded me with strikingly similar messages (I still don't know if they coordinated):

  1. they saw me post on Facebook all the time,
  2. they couldn't believe I hadn't gone out yet,
  3. and they had the perfect opportunity the next day that I was not allowed to miss.
First Time Out!Selfies from my first night out

That opportunity was going to the weekly Wednesday dinner at CDI. A small social-club-of-sorts in the Manhattan neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen, CDI provides a safe location for those who want to explore their gender and meet others, but maybe don't have a safe place to change or aren't ready to step out into the world. With five make-up stations, guests can arrive, change, do their makeup, and then enjoy drinks and dinner with people sharing similar experiences.

Karaoke!Jessica, Danni, Emily and Nina were willing to sing that night, but not me :P

With a full backpack, I headed to CDI as early after work as possible to ensure I had ample time to get ready. As a result I was done before Jessica and Danni even arrived, and found myself dragooned into helping pick up the food. In minutes I found myself standing in the middle of a store (while others actually grabbed the order), excited to be out and utterly terrified that someone would talk to me. It was crazy and exhilarating all at once.

Dinner was great, and I learned that for the first time, the weekly dinner was adding an after-party at a nearby karaoke bar. Back out into public I went, and the adventure continued. I had a huge smile the whole night, and got to meet several more amazing people, including the ever-awesome Ashley.

Exploring the House of Eternal ReturnExploring the amazing Meow Wolf (if you get the chance to visit, DO IT)

When I traveled out West a couple weeks later, it was with greater confidence. I still had a fair amount of anxiety, but I was more prepared with that first venture in my back pocket than I would have been without.

I had an amazing time with Shawn and Naomi as we got to meet Shawn's amazing friends and exploring places like downtown Sante Fe and the mind-bendingly awesome House of Eternal Return at Meow Wolf.

It was a series of great memories that are still vivid several years later, as even in moments of fear I was surprised to discover I had more courage than I expected, and excited for these sorts of adventures to continue.

 

the new "regular"

With Ashley and Jessica at MarqueeWith Ashley and Jessica at a club: a place I never imagined I'd visit, let alone presenting as Jess.

After that night, a new social life emerged. Hardly a week went by that I wasn't hanging out with many of those same friends (often multiple times a week). In my 30s, I felt like i was living a 20s I never had - both in gender and in tempo. It was an exhausting blast :P. Clubbing, cocktail lounges, museums, fine dining, dive bars - the parade of venues was never-ending, and I was delighted to find that we were always received warmly (and often enthusiastically!), despite my fears.

CDI proved to be an invaluable component of that new tempo. Living in a doorman building with a hand-operated elevator, there was no way to leave or enter my building anonymously. Terrified about sharing with the staff (these were people that I talked to daily and considered friends - they knew my parents!!), the option to keep a suitcase at CDI and a key with 24/7 access meant I could venture out into the world whenever I pleased without having to worry about "outing" myself.

Terror at Danni drinking bloodSheer terror. as Danni licks the "blood" off her fingers, indulging in a shark-themed drink (note the cup) at the amazing-and-now-sadly-closed Tiki bar, Mother of Pearl.

Indeed, I let CDI almost become a crutch. While the extra time it added (the ~30-45 min to get there / go back home) was a slight burden, it allowed me to avoid awkward conversations and delay grappling with any sort of "coming out" while freely enjoying this new life. It was wonderful, but also let me indulge that part of me oh-so-prone to procrastination, putting off potential conflict or negative reactions as long as possible.

As it turned out, I didn't have to be as fearful as I was. It took a few years, but eventually I came out to the staff in my building, and they were uniformly wonderful. I'm still grateful to CDI for the comfort and options it gave me to freely venture into the world, but the added convenience of being able to leave from home (and not having to add on extra travel time or limit what wardrobe I could bring), was hugely freeing. It also meant I could start hosting friends for dinners and game nights!

With Jessica, Danni and Fernanda at Taverna Di BaccoAt the incredible Taverna Di Bacco - one of my favorite restaurants run by amazing people. Multiple consecutive birthdays have been celebrated there.

My social life changed dramatically, and not just in how I was presenting. Restaurants, bars, clubs: you name the trendy or fun location and we were paying it a visit. It was intense and scary at times: I was constantly self-conscious and anxious about how we would be received. Would this dance club put up a fuss about a group of trans girls going in? Would people in this bar stare at us? Would waiters be rude at this fancy bistro? Happily, each time I found my fears put to rest as people were not only accepting, they were often warm, happy and actively welcoming. And while the angst has never completely gone away, it has gone down a bit after each positive encounter.

After a year of fun - meeting dozens and dozens of new and amazing people at venues around New York City - my world expanded again. Having connected online with people across the country, several of us started talking about longer distance trips. Incredibly, I found myself getting ready for a trip to Vegas in 2017.

I learned a lot from that trip. I learned that packing a spare of everything in my carry-on was *not* paranoia, when my checked bag did get delayed for a day. I learned I'm still no better at gambling, so expecting to lose every dollar I put in is a good idea. And I learned that while I love meeting new people, I prefer hanging out in smaller, quieter groups. We went to Vegas in 2018 again, but after that I decided that particular event (Wildside) was a fun idea that just wasn't for me.

Vegas Trip MontageA few pics from my first Vegas trip in 2017.

A particularly awesome aspect of all of our adventures were how *normal* they could be. Broadway shows, a long weekend trip to D.C., art galleries, museum exhibits, movies: we weren't just going to parties or LGBTQ events (though we did attend those, and they rocked) - we were just living life. Being able to do so as Jess was a delight and constant source of amazement.

 

joining a new community

I long considered myself an LGBTQ ally, but it didn't initially occur to me that I was now a member of that community. I had attended Pride a couple years before I started grappling with my identity, but felt like a bit of an intruder. Intellectually, I knew allies could (and should!) join and show support, but I still felt like I needed to go with gay friends to justify my presence. It was thanks to the new friends I started to make in that first year that I realized I might actually fit in and belong.

Pride became a lot more fun :P. It was a blast to meet up with different groups of friends and attend events beyond the basic parade (though dealing with the realities of summer weather and makeup was not very entertaining!).

LGBTQ Events MontageAttending Pride events as a member of the LGBTQ community rather than as an ally was surreal; going to functions like the Trans Wellness Conference in Philadelphia even more so.

Even more eye-opening and fulfilling than attending Pride, though, was discovering other LGBTQ-focused events and venues throughout the rest of the year. While the main NYC Pride Parade commemorates the somber events of the Stonewall Riots, in practice it tends to be a pure celebration. As fun as that is, attending smaller, more varied events throughout the rest of the year allowed me to meet many new people and learn so much. Regional Pride activities like Brooklyn Pride, events with The LGBT Community Center, the New York Coming Out conference, and the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference were all fantastic experiences.

The Trans Wellness Conference in particular was a pivotal experience for me: I met so many awesome people, and loved the mix of personal connections, educational seminars and fun times hanging out. Sadly I was only able to attend 2019's session before the pandemic came about, but I can't wait to be able to engage in future sessions.

Work Events MontageEven though I was only out to a few colleagues, work proved amazing: not only accepting me but provide opportunities to go to the Out & Equal Workplace Summit, HRC Gala, and even meet Laverne Cox when she spoke at our internal Pride event!

Those purely personal connections were only a part of what it meant to join a new community. I had long considered myself an ally in the office, regularly attending our organization's LGBTQ+ colleague resource group's events. Since the first two people I ever shared with were members of the Out Pfizer Employee Network (OPEN), sharing with more folks in that group felt like a natural next step.

Taking Out and Equal OnlineEven when the pandemic forced the Out & Equal Workplace Summit to go online, it was still a blast!

While I quietly shared with a few folks that I was upgrading from "an ally to a member," my biggest stride forward came when I learned that Laverne Cox was going to be our speaker at our internal 2019 Pride event. I *had* to get that selfie with her! I came out to my boss with a one-two punch: I shared that I was trans, and then immediately asked to take off the week of Pride (figuring it would be hard to say "no" after sharing first :P). As I had anticipated, he was very supportive. With that hurdle cleared, I reached out to friends to work with our security and make sure I could come in to the office on the day of her speech presenting as Jess (my picture with Laverne is in the strip of photos above).

That first work adventure was just the start. Since then I've been able to participate in the Out & Equal Workplace Summit for three years running, attend the HRC Gala, visit a Victory Fund event in D.C., become co-president of our NYC OPEN chapter and co-lead of OPEN communications globally, and more! While there might be a variety of pitfalls and challenges I'll encounter from accepting that I'm trans, work has consistently proven to be a safe, welcoming, empowering place. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful.

 

grappling with the "t" word

I probably would have a hard time listing all the things I've felt "Imposter Syndrome" about in my life: my gender identity, my work, as a gamer, as an actor, as a singer, as a builder - heck, as a nerd in general. I think one consequence of being unsure about a key part of your identity is a general lack of confidence overall.

Amazed I could paintMe showing my amazement at what was possible from a painting class I did over Zoom with my coworkers.

Looking back through my life I can see a lot of signs I had inner conflict about my gender (as detailed above). But even after finally giving "dressing up" a real try in 2016, it still took me several years of actively grappling with my identity before I was able to accept I was trans. From January 1st of 2016 to late 2019, I fought against labeling myself as transgender. Unusually enough, my hesitation didn't come from not wanting to be trans, but because it felt "too good to be true."

After feeling shame for so long that I had these desires, accepting that I was trans felt illegitimate. I was constantly afraid I didn't live up to an illusory "transgender standard." My relative lack of dysphoria combined with the common (and bogus) narrative that "real" trans people know from the time they are a few years old had me continuallly doubting my motivations. When I met other people that were trans, it never occurred to me to doubt their "transness" - I absolutely believed them regardless of their history or motivations (as I should), but still assumed *I* was comparatively false. I figured I was probably over-indulging a fetish (though I tried not to think about it to avoid the shame).

But even as I doubted myself, I *loved* when people assumed I was already on hormones. Being asked how long I had been out or any other assumed-I-was-trans question made me all warm and fuzzy (and that's setting aside the euphoria that came from rare moments people assumed I was a cis-woman!). Any suggestion I was innately feminine was a dream.

Posing with Stella for ChristmasGetting to see my niece Stella (and for her to see me as Jess!) made for an amazing Christmas. Also, yes: I'm wearing the same top as in the pic above :P.

I can see now how clear it was that I was transgender. People who are happily settled into their assigned sex at birth don't constantly wish they were trans! But the shame rode deep. Only after a few years of getting to experience the euphoria from presenting as me - and the increased comfort of being out about in the world - was I finally ready to examine myself and where I was headed.

A significant factor that drove me to a deeper understanding of myself was hormones. The joy I felt from people assuming I was already on HRT made wonder: "if they think I'm this feminine without hormones, what would be possible with them?!" I really wanted to know what a maximum-feminine-me could look like, and was regularly tempted to try it "for just a few months, before any changes become permanent."

I knew a few friends who ordered Estrogen off the internet, and was sorely tempted to join in. But the very real possibility of health risks that could come from unmonitored HRT (and my own keep-off-the-grass, rule-following paranoia) convinced me that I would never start on hormones without a doctor's supervision. The added benefit that New York is an informed-consent state with a relatively easy path to starting HRT meant there was little reason not to do things the safe way.

In addition to my conviction that the only way I'd engage with hormone therapy was through a medical professional, I was also certain I shouldn't take such a step without talking to a therapist first. While I had heard online that a few months of hormones wouldn't cause permanent changes, I knew it was different for everyone, and nothing was certain. Permanent changes to my body, to my fertility, etc. were all on the table, so I had to assume there would be no such thing as "dabbling" for me when I engaged with HRT.

I got a new primary care physician in 2018, who I knew specialized in trans care. I hadn't formally decided to start hormones at that point; I was thinking of that selection as a convenient, just-in-case preparation. I agreed with him that we would only talk about hormones after I spoke with a therapist, and so a year went by as I continued to mull over what I wanted.

Finally in the Fall of 2019, I set up an appointment with a therapist. I picked a counselor who seemed to have a lot of expertise on trans issues. I was conscious of the common narrative a person *could* say to be diagnosed as a trans, and I was determined to be as honest as possible and have my experiences evaluated by an expert. I can see in hindsight that the fact that I feared learning I wasn't trans was, itself, an indication that I was trans :P.

I went to her office, and spent about 15 minutes of my 45 minute session running through a version of this story, with all the experiences, doubts and fears laid out. After a pause, she replied with a matter-of-fact, almost sarcastic "yeah, it's fair to say you're transgender." It was both funny and a huge relief. Indeed, much more of a relief than I expected. Having this person of authority so quickly and definitively reach that conclusion about me was the reassurance I needed. It allowed me to [gratefully] accept reality far more easily than what I could manage on my own. Then I had to figure out what to talk about for the remaining 30 minutes :P.

Within a few weeks I was back at my doctor's office, getting prescriptions for hormones and embarking on a future I never dreamed possible.

 

today

It's possible I'll update this from time to time, but at this moment I stand on the verge of living full-time as myself. I'm still regularly encountering new experiences, fears, anxieties, opportunities and hopes about what life is and could be. I'm having fun with amazing friends, both old and new, and gradually sharing my authentic self with a wider and wider range of people. I'm excited, happy and optimistic to an extreme I never knew before, and I am so grateful that any of this is possible.

I hope my story has been informative or helpful, whether you are someone who knew me before I transitioned or a new acquaintance from farther on in my journey. Until later!

~ Jess

Taking a pic with Justin and StellaWith my brother and niece in Boulder, CO for the holidays.
At DBT 2021On my annual Dive Bar Tour as myself for the first time!
Ringing in the New Year on ZoomCelebrating New Year's on Zoom with Ashley and Jessica.