Until I can send it their way.
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m writing this letter to you in the spirit of openness. I guess it feels like I can’t be close to you while withholding from you something of this magnitude. I love you both, and I want to include you in this process.
So, now that I’ve got you all pumped up and worried, here goes: I think I’m transsexual. This means that, despite what my body would seem to say, I feel that my brain is primarily masculine, and I identify more as a young man than as a young woman. I’m sure this is kind of a heavy bit of information to take in. It’s taken about ten months for me to get to the point where I feel sure enough to write to you about it. I’ve really only been out to my closest friends for the last three or four months.
While the subject of transsexuality, as it applies to me, has only been with me this past year, I have been experiencing the affects of this for my whole life. If you’ll remember, my favorite movie for...basically my whole childhood was Peter Pan, not the Disney version, but the stage musical, with Mary Martin playing Peter. I wanted to be a young boy forever, just like this woman onscreen. I played mostly with boys until about 2nd grade when they started making fun of me for being like a boy. When I played make-believe with Rebecca and Elizabeth, I always played the little boy, saving the Indian princess, I was the Aladdin, the Peter. I remember in 6th grade when my school friends pressured me into wearing a dress to school, with bright pink sandals. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more uncomfortable in my entire life. I have hundreds of memories all pointing me toward this realization, but I suppose that’s where realizations come from. Little clues throughout my life, adding up to this.
Last spring I had my first girlfriend. At the time she identified as heterosexual, and while her attraction to me caused her a lot of confusion, to me it felt right. It felt natural. I was too afraid to tell her about how I felt inside, about being a guy, so we weren’t together very long. Keeping a secret like this makes it hard to be close. She kept expecting me to be a woman with another woman, and I couldn’t be that for her, as much as I tried. That’s not who I am. I didn’t tell you about this relationship, because I wasn’t ready to talk with you about being trans. I was afraid that if I told you about dating a woman, you would assume this means I’m gay or bisexual, when that isn’t my reality. I didn’t want to have to “come out” to you twice, once when I was ready to tell you about my girlfriend, and once when I was ready to tell you about how I feel inside myself.
I never really talked to Dr. Caruso about my gender identity issues. This is mostly because I was very nervous and...well afraid that I would sound like I was coming out of the blue with all this. All of our past sessions had focused around my depression, and as I discovered how comfortable I feel in a male role, I was hesitant to bring it up. He also has a very psychoanalytical style of counseling, so his reactions the few times I disclosed my feelings on this issue, I felt closed off from this avenue of discussion. After a while this made it very difficult to make further progress, and I am glad I cut off our sessions when I did.
I have started therapy here in Santa Cruz with someone experienced with trans issues, capable of diagnosing Gender Identity Disorder (GID), and knowledgeable of trans resources in the area. I started out seeing one of the many therapists on campus twice, and he gave me a few names and contact information of the therapist I am seeing now on campus and others off campus who have experience with clients like myself. But the people I’ve seen have been very helpful to me, the first helping me address the shame I have felt toward myself, and the second, who I am still seeing, has been helping me establish support and resources during this transition.
Probably you’re wondering about what my being transsexual will mean for my future. In terms of long term future, many, many transmen live normal lives. It is possible to get name and gender changed on all legal documents, from social security card to that driver’s licence I’ll someday earn. It’s especially easy to make these changes in California, and since that’s where I was born and where I’m going to school, it should be pretty easy. I’m not ready to make these changes just yet, mainly because I haven’t yet been officially diagnosed with GID, a diagnosis which is required before beginning this process.
In terms of what this means for my body, this is one of the hardest issues, sometimes, for parents to face, one of the biggest reasons I wanted to talk with you sooner rather than later. I am extremely uncomfortable with my body. I have been since puberty. I’m sure you remember the long period in my life where I attempted to hide my body. I’m sure you, Mom, remember all those times I came home after shopping with too-big button up shirts, you’d ask me if I’d bought men’s shirts. I told you they weren’t men’s shirts, but of course they were. A few years later, I decided hiding in my clothes was robbing me of my life. Hiding out all the time made me sadder, reinforced a feeling of inferiority. I tried again to be feminine, but this was almost worse than curling up inside myself. While at college, I discovered I didn’t have to be the feminine that was expected, almost demanded of me in high school. Soon after, I discovered I am much more comfortable in these clothes, in this role, and with myself the way I have been this year than I ever was in feminine dress, roles, and friendships.
This has turned into a story of my self discovery, rather than a synopsis of what this means for my body, but I guess you’ll just have to bear with me. Please believe me when I say this is who I am. This last year has been one of the best of my life. I haven’t always been happy, but with this new understanding of myself, I have been much more at peace with myself. I feel the depression that plagued me through most of my adolescence has been steadily lifting all year long, and especially rapidly since I began coming out to friends. This isn’t to say that my depression was solely the result of gender dysphoria, but since correcting this mismatch in my life, I have felt much more confident and happy. Most of my bad spells recently have been a direct product of the difficulty of coming out to friends, family, and the occasional acquaintance.
I spent last summer going by a masculine name, and some of my friends even used masculine pronouns for me. I came out to my college friends just before returning to school, and the switch-over has been almost seamless. I present as male full-time now, using a masculine name when introducing myself, and clearing this detail with new professors. This switch has, for the most part, been a complete non-issue, as I am read as my preferred gender about 99% of the time. The new name and pronouns have helped me feel more solid in my identity, and when I have to switch back to Elizabeth and “she,” I am disoriented and a little let down.
Anyway, back to the original topic: what does this mean for my body? I have a great desire to have chest reconstruction. This is the part of my physical transition that I am most sure of, as I have been extremely uncomfortable with this part of my body ever since it developed. In early high school I used to feel almost jealous of older women who had to have mastectomies due to cancer. This was a pretty out there fantasy, I guess, because there’s no way I’d actually want to have to have this surgery under such conditions. My chest has been, for many years, the biggest source of trouble in my mind-body mismatch.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), while has not been my main concern, recently has felt more and more important to me. For most transguys this is the first step in the process. It is something I could actually afford in the near future, and would be very helpful in transforming my body to match who I feel I am. HRT has been occupying my thoughts more and more often recently. I have been feeling a great discomfort in my body, and I believe this could help alleviate some of the gender dysphoria I’ve been experiencing. On a technical level: Testosterone redistributes body fat in a masculine distribution, masculinizes the face, deepens the voice, coarsens the skin, increases body and facial hair, allows for increased muscle size as well as builds a masculine musculature. Testosterone halts menstruation after about a month or two, and sterilization can occur with prolonged usage. Some possible negative side effects are male pattern baldness, increased risk of heart disease, possible liver damage. None of the negative side effects are the sort that occurs in everyone on HRT, they’re just possible dangers.
I want to pause now to say that I am not leaving you. I’m still me. I’ve always been me. I will always be me. Your daughter isn’t dying or leaving you, she’s trying to grow up into the young man she’s always been meant to become. I still think the same, I still love you the same, I still feel the same in every way. My body may change, my voice may change, but the person saying the things in the voice you might hardly recognize will still be the same person you’ve always known. I hope that, now that I’ve figured myself out a little better and am opening myself up to you a little more we can be even closer than before. I guess that’s what this letter is about. Opening up a dialogue so that we don’t shut each other out with secrets. I have a tendency to keep things about myself secret, from both my friends and my family, and I’m trying to overcome that. I guess it’s about that sense of shame I surround myself with. I am working to become unashamed of myself. I hope that you can help me in this process.
I had a great time the last month of my summer, living with you again, even if I wasn’t able to talk to you about all this. Being with you again let me see what great parents you are. I know you were both watching me, seeing that something in my understanding about myself has changed. Mom, coming into my room with the rainbow patterned tube-hat, I love you for nudging me toward telling you the truth. Dad, working with me on the porch, teaching me to use the tools, I love you for helping me feel I can really be your son. And I’ve always loved you for everything you do for me, and for just being who you are.
The other weekend, when we were all in South Carolina together was hard for all of us. I could see how much you were hurting, Dad, and really I felt useless. I kept feeling like I never really knew Grandma, and I felt bad for never bothering to find out. Looking through photographs and her shark tooth collection and asking you about her family let me feel I could start to understand her a little better now, even though it’s too late to know her in life. I was bursting to tell you about what’s been going on with me, about my identity, what it means to my past, what it means for me now, and where I hope to go with this, but I was afraid. I’m not really sure what I was afraid of, I guess it was that pesky shame, and also I knew this time was hard enough as it was.
And Mom, I know you are ready to start discussing this with me because the other week at Grandma’s viewing you flat out asked me if I want to be a boy. I’m sorry for diverting you, I was afraid, and already very stressed out by the situation. I wish the question had come up at a more opportune time, when we had time and context to really discuss the question. I guess I’ll answer you now, as best I can. Do I want to be a boy? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that I want to change my body to be masculine, and yes in the sense that I want to be what I am. And no in the sense that I don’t want to become a boy, I feel that I already am. In that way I want to be a boy like James wants to be a boy. In reality what I want to be most of all is a man. I think I’m ready to start growing up.
I want, more than anything, for us to work through this stuff to where we understand each other as best we can. So if you have any questions for me, why I’m doing this, what I’m doing, I really do want to talk with you about it. Write me back, give me a call, however. I’m telling you about this now so that you can be involved in my transition, help me through the decisions I’ll be facing. I know I have a tendency to shut you out, not allow you to be parental, and I guess I’m ready to let you in and work with me in my growing up.
Thanks, guys, for everything.
Your loving son,