Once upon a time…
I was born Raeann Elise on January 25th, 1986. The night that I came into existence was icy and cold. When I was a kid, my birthday parties always got canceled or nobody showed up because it always dumped buckets of snow and the roads were a mess. Birthdays always seemed a little dissapointing.
I was a “late in life” baby, born to a 42-year-old mother and 36-year-old father. My father was so proud to have such a beautiful daughter; my mother had such high hopes for her little girl.
I have two half sisters and a half brother, born from my mother and her previous marriages. When I was born, my oldest sister Linda was in her twenties, my sister Julie was 16, and my brother was about 18. Julie would become pregnant two months after I was born to her high school boyfriend, and I would be an Aunt by the time I was two months old. Julie got married and continued having children, so by the time I was five, I had two nephews (Mike and Craig) and a niece (Hope). My brother, in his early twenties, also had a kid when I was five years old, so I had another nephew, Robbie.
Childhood was spent in a rough and tumble blur with my nephews. When we weren’t home playing, we were being driven around, barefoot and in mismatched clothes in the back of my sister’s station wagon while she blasted Pearl Jam. My nephews and I lived on the same property from when I was four until I was nine, so I spent every day with them. We spent hours building legos and soap box cars, climbed and pretended in our “Kidz Club” clubhouse (that was the back of an ambulance). We played ninja turtles, x-men and power rangers, football, kickball, baseball — with nary a barbie in sight.
As an adult, it now dawns on me that I never missed the barbies. I never desired to play any “girly” games – dress up, dolls, or house. The fact that they didn’t exist in my daily repertoire of childhood activities didn’t even register with me on my most days.
Children are as genderless as we let them be. It’s how the parents dress the kids, what they insist they play with, and the social activities that they get them involved in that genders them. Most of the time I was allowed to go about life in a gender-fluid existence. However, I did detect that I was different and it caused shame and secrecy, even as a small child.
The department store became a sworn enemy. It was the place that held girly clothes and toys that I detested. At home I could get by with my boy toys and boy hand-me-down clothes from my nephews, but the department store mercilessly held pink, white, sparkly, purple items that looked as dull as dead fish to me. I wanted nothing to do with them. My mother wanted everything to do with them. We formed a patience understanding of shopping time. I would humor her as she strolled so slowly it felt like an eternity down the doll aisle, picking up and pointing at dresses and dolls and hair styles and accessories. I would nod and patiently comply with her “ooh’s” and “ahh’s,” knowing that the action figure aisle was so close I could taste it. I don’t ever remember my mother shopping with me in the “boy” aisle of the store. I remember immersing myself in the aisle, alone and quiet with my beloved, muscular, tough action figures whom I adored.
I was lucky that my mom bought me mostly action figures and pretty much complied with what she most likely viewed as my “tomboyism.” However, I was growing more and more conscious that my actions were an outright dissent to the fact that I was a little girl. In fact, I can clearly remember the day that I figured out I was indeed a little girl.
An excerpt from something I’ve written:
I very clearly remember the day I discovered I wasn’t a boy. It was a bright summer day one on of those sacred trips to the playground in a small town close to where I was born. My nephews ripped off their shirts and raced away for the monkey bars. My sister asked if I wanted to take my shirt off, a question that had always been an unconscious, “well, DUH!” However that was the moment when something inexplicable and a lot bigger than me clicked on internally, like a record being put on in a jukebox, and said, “you shouldn’t because you’re different” So I said no, and felt a weighty sadness settle on my tiny frame but couldn’t place my finger on why.
I started doing things in private, things that I never told a soul about until this year. I had a plastic toy hot dog that went with a kitchen set I had. I took it into my hideout in the woods and hid it there, and I would make regular pilgrimages there to try hold it up against my body and see what a penis would look like, if I had one. I always was careful to hide away the evidence, and I bet to this day that plastic hotdog is buried exactly in one spot in the woods by my house.
I would spend alone time pretending replaying boy parts in movies I had seen. I also once tried on my nephew’s football pads when he wasn’t home one day. I imagined myself as a boy, all geared up for the field. The fantasy only lasted a few moments though, because I thought someone would find me out and quickly took the pads off.
The guilt and shame I felt for being different has been hard for me to break to this day. There were things that I wanted so desperately – short hair, for instance – that I knew asking aloud would give me away. I buried my differences, and for better or for worse, grinned and beared being a girl.
As I grew older, I stopped pretending I was a boy but I did, but as I became an adolescent, fantasize about being a man as an adult. I had this reoccurring fantasy from time to time that I would move to a different country and live as a man, and I would tell my wife that all my baby pictures burned in a fire and that my family was dead. Until I started transitioning, I could not picture what I would look like as an adult. I had no mental image of what that would look like what-so-ever. It was a blank picture, which often led me to think I was going to die at a young age.
I continued to grow into a young woman and embraced some aspects of it – shaving my legs, for instance and even wearing some girls clothing. It was something I feel that I was just experimenting with, though, and not something that ever truly felt right or made me feel “at home” in my body. Almost the way someone experiments with a drug, and may really enjoy it for the short period of time, but deep down know that is not their lifestyle or permanent life choice. Being a girl seemed to be OK, but I always felt like I had no idea how to be one. I was always more aggressive than the other girls, always getting in trouble more, and always pushing the boundaries with my girl friends. I know that I made some of them uncomfortable when I was younger.
As I became a teen, I developed a sort of genderless identity. I wore bright, baggy clothes; I had dyed hair and lots of piercings. My identity at that time was not “young lady” or “young girl” – it was punk, freak, misfit, raver, partier, stoner. I think people may have been scared of me. . I kind of felt during my teenage years that I had no gender – I was just Raeann. My clothing matched my aggressive attitude and allowed me to express myself exactly the way I wanted to. I was very outlandish and was often getting in trouble. I was in a lot of fights and drank and abused a lot of drugs during that time. I was a very angry person, but I never exactly knew why. When I was thirteen I developed major depression, which I struggled with for ten years until I came out as transgender.
Despite drug use and depression and anger issues, I was actually very, very comfortable with myself during this time. I think had I been forced to wear more feminine clothes, I would have come out as transgender 10 years ago. I think it also helped that at this time I came out as a lesbian and was dating women, because that was an aspect of my secret life that I had wanted to live so badly when I was a child that had been able to become reality.
There were times that I did do more feminine things, like wear fancy dresses for dances, but I don’t think it served the same purpose for me that it did for other girls. I never felt “beautiful” or even “pretty.” I felt hot. When I think about dressing up in the dresses for dances, I kind of feel like I was dressing in drag. I wanted to see exactly how hot and how good looking of a woman I could make myself into, but I never felt that I was that woman. That may seem sad to some people, but I feel that I’m lucky to look back on those memories and be fond of them – a lot of transgender people block memories like those out and pretend they never existed or are tortured by them. I’m happy that I had fun, even if it wasn’t in the traditional sense.
When I moved away from college and could dress, act, and do whatever I wanted without an argument, I surprisingly didn’t start wearing even more outrageous outfits – I started wearing men’s clothing. College was such a whirlwind for me. I was so busy – making new friends, learning SO MUCH about my craft, myself, the world, and the big new city that I lived in, and meeting some really nice gay women who I really liked and liked me back – that I never stopped to question my gender much. Nobody really treated me like a “girly” girl at all – my function as a girl was basically to be called “she” and use the women’s restroom. I became to just be known as a masculine lesbian. I even remember one classmate saying to me once, when I was complaining about menstral cramps, “I just can’t picture the fact that you actually have a vagina.”
I became more and more masculine the longer I lived away from home. I slowly started taking all my girl clothes to the thrift store. Eventually I had one drawer in my dresser that had girl clothes that I never wore but kept just incase. I don’t remember when I finally took those clothes to the thrift, but there came a clear time when the only clothes I owned or bought were men’s. The underwear was the last thing to go, but in 2009 I started buying men’s underwear. In 2010 I stopped wearing bras. I am down to only one women’s bra and two pairs of undwear left that are women’s clothing. I keep the bra just in case for some weird reason I ever need it, and the underwear because they look just like men’s underwear and are more comfortable. I’m saving them in case I hike the Appalachain trail because they will be more comfortable for me during long days of hiking.
While I was morphing into a masculine creature, I wasn’t conscious of precisely what was going on with me, but I knew I was changing somehow – I knew I was searching for something, I just didn’t know what. One day in Spring of 2009, I finally found what I was searching for.
Nearly twenty years later, with a lot of anger, depression, colored hair dye and piercings in between, I remember the exact day I realized I was transgender; it was across from a playground. I had been walking and reading a novel (Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues to be exact) that I’d just purchased from my local LGBTQ bookstore. After reading a few pages I broke down sobbing in the middle of the sidewalk. I had just unexpectedly found answers to so many questions that I thought were unanswerable for so long. (LGBTQ is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer)
The book I read is based off the author’s real life and takes place in 1950’s upstate New York. The main character experiences a lot of the same confusion about gender that I had. You’ll have to read the book, but I’ll just say for the first time in my life I realized that I was not alone. After 23 years, I realized that there was at least one other human being in the world out there that had feelings similar to mine and had struggled in some of the same ways that I had for so long. It was at that point that I knew my silence was going to be forever broken.
Now I’m at Spring of 2009 when I started going through a shit storm of mental turmoil. Was I a boy? I had lived for so long as a girl and a woman… Should I transition? Do I take hormones? Have surgery? How do I want to be seen in society? Could or should I live as a man? What about my family? What about Raeann – I love that crazy girl? I’m not the same person anymore… I’m changing. I need to grow. I can’t be miserable anymore. Will people think that I became I a man because I couldn’t handle being a woman, because I really think women are awesome. I think women are awesome, but I can’t be one – why can’t I be a woman? What happens when I’m not a lesbian anymore, because I can’t imagine being straight?
These are just a mere snippet of the thoughts that revolved in and out of my mind for a solid year straight. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single moment of every single day at least one of those questions and more were spinning through my head at breakneck speed. There were so many questions that I had no answers to, that I didn’t even have time to find an answer before the next one came. I even developed insomnia, for the first time in my life, and slipped into a depression that was more severe than I’d ever experienced. I truly believe if my loving partner Jen hadn’t been around to encourage me to get help, I may not be here.
I remember hunching in an alley outside of my job, calling a therapist and being desperate for help. I couldn’t keep from crying on the phone with them as I explained that I was so lost and that I had been thinking of taking my own life. What I was facing was so overwhelming, so terrifying, and so lonely that at times, death seemed like the only way out. I knew that deep down I wanted to live, and seeing Jen’s face everyday was a small reminder of that, so I did plan for my death but never attempted, and thankfully I was able to start therapy in what I believe was really the nick of time.
I went through a few therapists before I finally found one that I really felt comfortable with and spent a year telling her everything that I’ve written so far and more. I really allowed myself to lay it all out on the line with her and air out a lifetime of dirty laundry that I had so carefully kept hidden. I slowly, slowly, started coming up with my own, confident answers to some of the questions that had been whirling around in my brain for the past year, and some for my whole life. Time is truly a healer and the past two years have been full of self-discovery and learning to love myself for who I truly am.
In May of 2011 I started asking my friends to call me “he” and saying “him/his” when referring to me so I could just try to see what that felt like. It felt better than I ever expected. After I began figuring out that I really didn’t identify as a woman, being called “she” started to make me feel very uncomfortable. I almost cringed every time I heard it and I became more and more alienated from being a woman. When friends started calling me “he,” all of that anxiety almost instantly started receding. Every time I asked a person to call me “he,” I thought it would make me uncomfortable and scared, but the exact opposite happened. I felt happier, lighter, and freer than I have ever felt in my entire life. I felt like for once in my whole life I had begun truly living, instead of just trying to make it through existence. I began coming out to everyone: friends, family, coworkers. I’ve had mostly positive, supportive results.
I’ve had some alienating and hurtful results. There are some people in my life who have made me question whether or not I can continue to live this life with them a part of it. There are still people I am too scared to come out to.
Coming out was an exhausting process. I knew that I am working toward an existence I’ve always dreamed of, but the burden has been a hard one to bear. It was emotional, scary, and makes you extremely vulnerable to try and explain yourself so deeply to folks who aren’t a part of the LGBT community. Transgender people are still the most marginalized community in this country, and there is a lot of misunderstanding, phobia, and negativity surrounding the transgender identity.
In October of 2012 I had “top surgery” – removal of my breasts to create a masculine chest. In November of 2012 I started testosterone, to bring on male secondary sex characteristics. Both were huge moves that brought my self confidence into the stratosphere. I finally feel a real connection between mind, body and soul that I had never felt before. It was absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
Currently the biggest challenge I am facing on my journey is growing into my new body and living life as someone who is male in society. Each day I feel more and more like a man, and each day I struggle to fully understand what that means. I also see the power men possess in this society and I am trying to balance that. It’s a deeply personal, reflective process of self-actualization.
“Spirit is the energy of the universe, the higher self. Form is the physical world. When our spirit decides to manifest as physical form, we choose a life situation and create a body in accordance with what will best serve and teach us in this lifetime. Ultimately, our goal is to create a form that can do everything our spirit wants to do easily and beautifully…It takes time to manifest form. So we must have patience and love for the unfolding creative process.”
This is kind of how I feel about it. I am just trying to create a life experience that will allow me to be happy and be useful in the world. And so far it’s been working. My depression issues, after ten years, have enormously subsided. They’ve not disappeared, but they’ve scarce and when they do arise they are manageable. I am a published transgender author. I am an out transgender actor and performer. I’m an activist and a volunteer. I’m in the process of becoming a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. I’m a dear friend and loved one to some really amazing people, and I’m making new friends all the time. I’m living my life in ways I never dreamed possible.
I am living a happier life than I ever thought I would. I can truthfully say that being able to identify as transgender is the biggest blessing I’ve ever received. When I didn’t know who I was, I was extremely angry and I wanted everyone to be just as miserable as me. Now all I want to do is make the world a better place. Abe Lincoln once said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” I’m just simply trying to be a good human.
This is kind of a silly story, but when I was thirteen, at one of my birthdays that wasn’t very well-attended, my friends and I played the Ouija board. Things turned super spooky and the board said that I would die at the age of 25. I’m not a hugely superstitious person, so I never really took full heed of the Ouija board’s prediction, but it never left my mind, either. As I careened into my twenties I always casually wondered if death really were in my future. It was at age 25 that I came out fully as transgender. I sent my coming out letter to my mom on July 25th, the exact six months from my 25th birthday. That year had been transformational in so many ways, and I think that instead of dying, I was truly beginning to live.
This is where the story leaves off. I’m growing, changing – just as we all are. I don’t discount the past. In fact, I treasure it, honor it, and revel in it. Memories of friends and family experiences from my past bring me comfort, feelings of love and happiness, make me smile and laugh, and fill me with wonder about the world. I wouldn’t change my path if I had the choice. But I just have to continue walking. Walk with me?