Chapter 3: Path of Thorns

This month something momentous occurred. After 32 years of struggle and suppression, I came out of the darkness and stepped into the light, and introduced my true self to the world. My journey was cataloged in a brief video I made, compressing my story into just under 9 minutes. Usually November is reserved for NaNoWriMo cheering, and I will continue to cheer from the sidelines. But here on the DreamAnvil I would like to go a little more in depth into my own journey. Each week we will look at one chapter in the video, and talk about the story behind the story.

November of 2016 was unseasonably warm. I sat in my car, the engine still running, clutching the steering wheel as if it were a life preserver. I had hoped the weather would be cooler. It was easier to hide when it was cold and dark. I could cover up more of what was surely a mistake.  At least it was dark. No one could see me, I could just turn around and go home. I should just turn around and go home. No. It was now or never. One by one I pried my fingers from the steering wheel. With a lifetime of doubts and fears screaming in my ear, I stepped out of the car wishing once again that it was cooler, that I could hide under more layers. I walked from my car parked in the dark, towards the light. That night would be the first time that my support group got to meet the real me. The first time I would be seen in public, as my true self. I had been told by most of those around me that this was the wrong path, that I was making a terrible mistake. That night I found acceptance. With hugs and tears, I was welcomed. I was affirmed. I was where I belonged.

2016 was not a good year to come out as transgender in North Carolina. In March of that year our state government enacted the first “bathroom bill” in the US, igniting a culture war within North Carolina that forced everyone to take a side. When I had first come out to my friends in 2014, transgender lives were mostly in shadow. Caitlyn Jenner would publicly come out a year later. In two years Sarah McBride would take the stage at the DNC, and in three years Danica Roem would win a seat on the state legislature for Virginia. Transgender lives have come more into focus in the past few years, but I am getting ahead of myself. In 2014 the conversations I had around being transgender were curious and open. What is this transgender thing? Are you just gay? What causes this? How can we help? The bathroom bill, formally known as House Bill 2, did more than criminalize where I could and could not go to the bathroom, it poisoned the conversations around what it meant to even be trans. Suddenly the trans community was thrust into the harsh flame of the culture wars. No longer did we receive curious questions, overnight we went from something peculiar or strange, to something dangerous. TV ads compared us to child molesters, our government officials openly belittled our experiences, and our pastors told their congregants that trans people were part of Satan’s plan.

This is what I was walking into in April of 2016 when I began to consider transitioning, knowing full well what the consequences would be. Even so, I felt that I had no other viable option. The time was now. I can remember the night that I came out to my parents a second time, now as a trans person considering her transition. I sat there, the computer screen lighting my face with the images of my family. I will always remember my mother’s eyes brimming with pain and confusion. My father’s eyebrows, stuck between anger and shock. My sister and brother in-law’s mouths pressed together into a straight disapproving line.

The silence was deafening.

When you transition, everyone around you transitions with you. Like the vast majority of the people in my life, my family is conservative Christian. Raised with the same prejudices and the same biases that I had been stripped of as I came to confront my own identity. I knew that this would not be easy, not just them, but for everyone else in my life as well. The thought that I was considering changing my gender would not be considered good news. My parents, my friends, the church which I loved, the mentors I looked up to, almost everyone in my life at the time would all find this troubling. I couldn’t expect them to jump up and down with joy. They would struggle with this, and I wanted to make sure that they got the best information that they could, from someone who was walking through it. Most of all, I wanted to help them see this for what it was, my best chance at finally getting rid of all the negative feelings I had endured for decades.

My family and I scheduled a monthly (and then eventually a bi-weekly) Skype meeting, where we could talk about what I was thinking about and had the space to ask hard questions. My friends and social circles were also invited into their own spaces for dialogue. I must say that while these conversations were not fun, they gave me hope. Many people in the trans community immediately lose their families, places of employment, and/ or their faith communities when they come out. I was lucky enough to be given a chance, and a voice. I was bombarded with obscure Bible verses, asked for impossible Biblical and medical proofs to validate my journey. One person asked if I could be hypnotized. Another suggested that I was being selfish. Others implied I was a pervert or an attention seeker. One of my pastors compared trans people to pedophiles and gay sex to bestiality while at Panera. Few took the time to even distinguish between homosexuality and gender identity. Those closest to me tried their best to remain respectful while also trying to wrap their brains around something so far outside of their concepts of normalcy and decency that it was sometimes hard to even agree on basic facts.

  • Trans people have been around since the dawn of civilization. It’s not new. For instance, in the ancient Jewish Talmud there are six words for gender.
  • A person’s Gender identity is innate and cannot be changed by outside forces. Usually it stays set on one of the two gender binary options of male and female, but not always. 99% of the world’s population have a gender identity that matches their assigned sex at birth (this is what is sometimes referred to as Cisgender or Cis).
  • Transgender people come from every culture, country, religion, ethnicity and socio-economic class. There has been no proof that Gender Identity is affected by any external social pressures or influence aside from one’s own internal self image.
  • Gender transition should only be taken as a means to deal with one’s own dysphoria. It is not a cure all that will instantly make someone less depressed and more happy, but it can relieve the pressure of living in a body that does not match your gender identity.
  • Transgender populations are often purposeful misunderstood and willfully discriminated against. We have no federal protections against discrimination, hate, and violence, and very few state’s offer their own set of protections. In 2017 twenty-six trans people were murdered for being who they are. We do not do this because it is trendy.
  • Children who transition DO NOT have surgery until they are old enough for informed consent. Puberty blockers delay the onset of puberty, which alters the body in way that may require surgery or expensive and pain treatments (like laser hair removal, breast reduction). The blockers are given until the patient decides for themselves if they want to move on to hormone therapy or on return to their assigned gender.
  • There are those who transition who regret it, while most of these people are supportive of the trans community and need just as much of our love and care, some have tried to use this population as evidence that transition does not work. The numbers of people who de-transition are hard to pin down but fall between 1% and 5%. This is not evidence that transition doesn’t work, just that transition was not right for them.

Transition is not like other medically necessary treatments that are more common in today’s medical community. There is no end target for when a person has finished their transition (and some of us would argue that we never truly finish). The person who decides to transition takes the path until them are once again comfortable in their own skin, or until financially they can go no further. Some trans people only present as the opposite gender, some only go so far as to change their name. Some can manage to afford large and expensive surgeries, some can only afford hormone therapy, and still others refuse both. We take the path of transition until our dysphoria, the intense disconnect between our internal gender and our physical outer shell, is relieved.

I began my transition in April by first trying to reconcile the two halves of my soul that had ripped in two all those years forcing myself into the gender role expected of me. I started allowing myself to internally be Korah, then I began to express myself more, follow interests I had once deemed out of bounds. My dysphoria still remained. So I began to dress as Korah, in my room at first, but the relief was temporary. When I wanted to eat I would shift back into my boy clothes. Gradually I began to expand where I could physically be Korah. Each step I took, I took with purpose and caution, testing and evaluating if this was enough. All the while I felt like I was constantly fighting for my right to do so. The closer I got to living full time as Korah, the more pushback I received from those who did not understand.

By the end of 2016 I was living two lives. One as the old version of me (boy mode) every time I went out to eat, visited someone in the church, talked to my family it was as the older version of me. The other as myself, free and happy but physically constrained. I was a little chick still hatching when my friend Sarah came in and promptly booted me from my nest. It was January and we traveled to the coast for a long weekend getaway. For the very first time, I did not have to juggle between boy mode and Korah. The stress relief of being only Korah for that short time was palpable. It was wonderful. I knew then that this was the relief I had been searching for. By February I had gathered enough courage to go out in my home town as Korah. More and more and more of my time was spent as just Korah. By the end of April, after one year of trial and testing,  I was Korah in almost every aspect of my life.

January also began an intense time of discernment with my own church. Others are often surprised by my willingness to tell my story in front of others. After you face a room full of angry church elders, you can pretty much do anything. In February (on Valentines day no less!) I was asked to step away from my volunteer position at the church assisting with the video ministry. In March I was asked to leave the fellowship groups I was meeting with outside of the church. And in May, I was officially removed from the church. I had not once presented to them as Korah, or caused a big stir. Everything I had originally feared had come true, I did everything they asked except blindly follow their instructions to stop being Korah. I knew what this was doing to me and it was everything I had hoped.

It’s hard to believe all that happened in the past 17 months. As I had feared, the Christian community that had been so much of my life, turned its back on me. Four brave souls from my old church have kept in contact with me, and struggle to find meaning in my transition, but they are far from affirming. Thankfully, my family has gradually come to accept me for who I am, to varying degrees. But I am welcome in my home, something too many trans people do not have the opportunity to say.

November of 2017 was very different than the November of 2016. I splashed water on my face to cool off. As I looked in the mirror I could hardly believe the journey I had taken. I put on my makeup and changed into something more feminine, eager for what was waiting for me. A year ago, I had thought I would end up friendless and alone as I transitioned. On November 4th I pressed open the bathroom door to a room full of those who loved and accepted me. They were the reason I had been able to come so far while losing so much. No longer afraid of being seen I came out publicly, finally erasing the last places (work and Facebook) where I was not Korah. I remember praying so many times throughout my life for healing from this, for God to just make me a boy or a girl. Today, I understand that I was asking the wrong question. Today, I have found the healing I had prayed so long for. Here on the other side of impossible, I have found wholeness, acceptance and love. As I look to the future I am no longer afraid, and no longer ashamed. I have found a deeper faith, I have found hope. At long last, I will hide no more.

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