I’m a boy but I’m a girl. Growing up, I repeated that sentence to myself over and over again, which only made me more confused than I was. I was born male, and up until puberty, I didn’t understand why I liked playing with “girl” toys or why I liked playing “dress up” in my sister’s clothes, and nobody in my family, not even my dad, discouraged me from doing those things until I turned about 9-years-old. That’s the age my mom said to me that I shouldn’t play dress up in girls’ clothes because people would think I was a girl and make fun of me. This upset me, not because people would think I was a girl but because I could no longer do something I really enjoyed doing. At that time, I wasn’t consciously aware that I felt female trapped in a male body.
As a pre-teen and teenager, I struggled desperately with my identity. On the outside, I looked like a boy. On the inside, I felt like a girl. The fact is that we all grow up as one gender, and based on our gender, there are certain expectations of us. Well, I had no interest in any of the expectations of a boy. I didn’t like playing outside and getting dirty. I didn’t like playing with cars, motorcycles, army men, or a ball of any kind. I didn’t like wrestling with my brothers. I didn’t like any sports at all. What I did like were the expectations that girls grow up with. I liked to stay inside and play “house.” I liked all things with glitter and bright colors. I liked playing with dolls and stuffed animals.
My tiny childhood town was very traditional in the sense that there weren’t gay people (at least not any who’d come out publicly), and there weren’t any transgendered people. I struggled with the constant thought that “I am a boy but I am a girl” mantra that was floating in my head. Everyone and everything in my environment practically shouted at me that I had to be a boy, a man. Boys who did “girl” things were just asking to get beat up. The thought of being beat up outweighed my relentless desire to be female. Maybe I could handle one beating, but in my conservative town filled with self-righteous and deeply religious people, I knew it wouldn’t just be one… it would be many. But not only would I be beaten up, so would my family. They may not have been beaten physically, but they’d take a verbal and mental beating from those in the community, and especially from their church, all for having a girl for a son, so I did what I had to; I grew up to be a “man.”
When I went to college in a much larger city, I was still fearful of facing my thoughts and desires of wanting to be a woman, even though the city didn’t feel as conservative as my town. Fear is a powerful thing, and looking back, I realize that fear wasn’t just something I had; fear was something that had become part of my psyche. Fear kept me a man. And fear led me down a path of anxiety and depression. My anxiety was rooted in my fear that somebody would find out my desire to live life as a woman, and my depression was rooted in my fear that I would never get to be the woman I knew deep down I was.
On the outside, I had mastered the art of acting like everything in my life was great. I went on dates with women (I’ve always been attracted to women) and had relationships. I had friends. I stayed close to my family. I earned my degree, and I got a great job at a financial firm. I was living the all-American life. In my late 20s, I started dating the most amazing woman, Angie. She was so amazing that she almost made me forget my desire to change gender, and after a couple of years of dating, we got married.
Angie never knew it, but she helped me to diminish my depression. I was truly so happy with her that my depression didn’t rear its ugly head as much. Angie was my whole life and the most beautiful soul I could ever hope to know, but even with her, I couldn’t stop the fear that still burned in my veins about wanting to live as a woman. So I pushed my desire down, and I let fear win. Often I would catch myself staring at Angie fantasizing about how wonderful it would be if we could sit together and do each other’s hair and makeup, laughing, sharing, and loving life as two women joined in holy matrimony. That was never meant to be, though.
We were approaching our 21st wedding anniversary when Angie passed away completely unexpectedly. This was the most traumatic thing to happen in my whole life. The pain and grief were unlike anything I could ever have imagined. I truly didn’t know that type of heartache existed, and I didn’t know how anyone could ever continue on living after experiencing the type of loss I was facing.
As I said, Angie was my life. Now that she was gone, I felt as if I had nothing and severe depression set in; I knew I needed professional help. After a grueling year of therapy, I finally understood that I wasn’t going to defeat my depression until I accepted who I really was – female. I realized and accepted that Angie wouldn’t want me to live the way I was; she would want me to find happiness, to find my true self, to stop living a lie. This wasn’t an easy thing to accept, mostly because fear still seemed to have a strong grasp on me, but I slowly found myself taking steps to become the woman I am today.
At 50-years-old, it was extremely challenging to transition. It was a long and often hard process, but I did it, and I have zero regrets. With my therapist’s help, I told my family and friends of my transition, and quite surprisingly, most everyone was supportive. Have I encountered people who have a problem with who I am now? Yes. Have I encountered discrimination? Yes. But I’ve found a community that accepts me, a community who faces similar challenges as I do, and we support each other. I still go to therapy, both individual and group, and will likely continue to do so for the rest of my life.
It’s been many years now since I lost Angie, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find that type of love again. But I do know that I have found my true self and that’s the focus of my life now, and I’m finally happy with who I am.
I know that as you read this, you feel pangs of fear because you can’t be who you want to be. But please don’t be afraid. Please don’t let fear control you. Fear is not who you are. You are a wonderfully beautiful, intelligent, and loving person, and there’s a light that shines in you that brings and will bring happiness to many people.
Don’t be afraid to be who you are, and trust in your family to support you. They may say things that seem like they wouldn’t be supportive of you, but that’s only because they don’t know what you’re thinking or how you feel. Speak up, Sammy! Your voice is strong. You are strong. You are worthy of living life the way you want, so don’t deny yourself that. Yes, life will seem overwhelming defeating at times, but never give up. I promise happiness will find you – always.