My dad still mourns the loss of his son. His Facebook posts show me with a shaved head and a necktie. I tied the half-Windsor myself. My dad is hyper-masculine—a combat medic in the Army, warden of the county jail. He takes pride in sties from not producing enough tears. I don’t trust him to make decisions for my funeral. Some people are buried as their assigned gender. They’re not presented as they lived. With someone like me, they’d cut off my hair and put me in a tan suit.
My childhood is foggy now, but there are signs I see in retrospect. I might remember a kindergarten experience, like running into the girl’s locker room after gym class. I didn’t have the words for it but I knew I wasn’t like other boys, I wouldn’t have the word transgender until college. Around 8, I would ask older cousins and family friends to dress me as a girl while I pretended to hate it. I hid it like I hid my love of rainbows and pastel colors. That’s what really made me afraid I was gay. My grandfather is hyper-religious, evangelical. He taught me being gay was sinful. I thought my desires were a fetish, something to feel ashamed about. It made me feel dirty, like the accusations of my friends when they saw the stack of my mom’s old Cosmo’s in my room—until I was seventeen, when I told a few friends I wanted to be a girl. At seventeen, I realized I was supposed to be a woman.
There was a girl in high school everyone made jokes about. Called her he, she, he-she and shim. Shim as in she-him. I told my dad about her and he joked along with me. And I realized I couldn’t tell him how I felt and that making fun of her didn’t make me feel more like a man. And I couldn’t tell him how I truly saw myself. I had friends who bought me panties. Green and yellow ones. Lace panties. Thongs. Most of them I couldn’t wear. They didn’t fit. I had to be a man. I buried being a woman. I tried my best to be a man. I shaved my head. Thought it normal for a man to feel disgusted by his body. Normal for a man to feel like he hurts people when he touches them. I was hypervigilant, acting as a man at all times. But playing a role, living a lie, is exhausting. At first, I refused to cry. Then I couldn’t cry. It was like seeing myself in a mirror and not recognizing myself. I lived in a gray world.
As I prepared to leave for college, I told my dad that, when I left, I wouldn’t be coming back. My mom dropped me off at the college dorm in 2013. Before I left for college I was working 40 hours a week as a delivery driver, and as a freshman I had to leave my car behind. I went from being an adult to being in adult daycare. My first semester, I drank daily and still pulled straight As. I made friends with people who could tell I was never relaxed. I tried to belie my masculine appearance by being passive. Even when people talked trash behind my back, I was the pet dog who always returns to her master after being kicked. On February 9, 2014, I was sexually assaulted by someone who bought me alcohol. He brought me to his house, took my phone away and got me drunk. You fill in the blanks. A week later, I filled out a police report, but nothing happened. After I reported it to the college administration, he was suspended for two years. I still see him in town. I don’t believe I’m the only one.
My body didn’t feel any dirtier than I had felt all my life. I was terrified it would make me like my mom, like a girl, emasculated. Today, I fear that accepting an increased risk of physical and sexual assault is unfortunately so common for women. I finished the semester with good grades but lost the ability to concentrate after the assault. I sat in class the next fall, writing about how miserable I felt. By October of 2014, I called my father to tell him I was failing all my classes. I’d already told him about the assault that summer. My step-mother insisted she would tell him if I didn’t. After calling my father, I planned to hang myself with a bass string. My roommates, frightened by my despair and suicidal ideation, talked me into going to the hospital. I went to the ER but was not admitted, piling up my debts. Out of school, I worked at a call center for $10 an hour for a year. My nightmare job. I still have dreams where I have to work at a call center for an eternity. One day, I didn’t show up for work.
But while working at the call center, my roommate came home from a conference with a book titled Psychobiology of Transgenderism and Transsexualism, a 200-page book I read in three days. I read about the effects of hormones and surgery and realized that I wanted these things. I wanted to have breasts and soft skin; I wanted to be a woman. My friends accepted my desire to be a woman. I began attending parties as a woman. My friends helped me dress and apply makeup correctly. But when I looked in a mirror, I saw myself as mannish and ugly. Eventually, I returned to the closet. I lied and told people I was gender fluid.
In the spring of 2016, the presidential primaries were heating up, when the college took money from donors who expected the college to conduct research that undermined free speech and promoted the donors’ agenda. I became excited about being an activist and volunteered to work for an organization that opposed this. This volunteer work helped me come to the realization that I will die one day. I realized that no matter what I do, some people will hate me, and that I have to live in a way that makes me happy without thinking about satisfying others. The political group planned to dress as the Scooby Doo Gang for the campus activism against the donor. I volunteered to be Daphne. We were supposed to wait until October, but I started dressing as a woman that September. I still remember the shock on my professors’ faces when I showed up in their classes wearing a dress. When I came home from class that first day, I looked at my men’s jeans with the realization that I couldn’t put such ugly clothes on my body any more.
Unfortunately, I was depressed to the point where I lost fifteen pounds and was committed to the psych ward in October. The psych ward kept writing the wrong name on the board. They diagnosed “trans broken arm syndrome,” noting that all my mental health problems stemmed from identifying as trans. The best thing that happened to me on the ward was that a friend brought me some yoga pants, a pink sweatshirt and some panties. That was the most therapeutic experience I had during my stay. I’ve not bothered to seek mental healthcare since. The activism had made me such a bitter and hateful person that I eventually burned all my bridges behind me. I lost my friends.
As I cast the people around me aside like a fool, I dedicated my life to researching hormones. It took me six weeks of research to find the Transgender Healthcare Clinic in Indianapolis. I called in October, my initial appointment was on January 30th, 2017. My hormone script was filled in February, although I didn’t get my estrogen until April 24th. After the summer, I moved in with my new roommate. I attended one more semester of college and gained a few more credit hours. I still couldn’t concentrate or focus. I no longer saw any tangible change in my life from pursuing and obtaining a degree. I don’t know if I will ever get my concentration back, but all the focus I can muster is on transitioning.
My long term goals are removing my facial hair and gender confirmation surgery. Combined, these will cost around $30, 000. While these medical costs are covered in most European countries, and although even Cuba and Iran subsidize this kind of healthcare, I must find a way to pay for this treatment out of pocket. Many insurance companies in the U.S. refuse to cover transition-related healthcare, even though the care is medically necessary. This will occupy my life for the foreseeable future.
– Caroline’s Story as told by C
“C” is a free lance writer who specializes in infrequently told stories from the Midwest. This is her first Facing Project story.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.