“I am not my gender identity”

I knew I was different from my earliest memories. I didn’t know I was special until about three or four years ago now. That is when I finally realized what an amazing gift it is to be transgender, and became proud of my identity. From the time I knew I was a person, at around two years old, I knew I was a male person. I also discovered very quickly that all the people around me identified me as female and that it was not ok to express a different opinion about my own gender identity. Most often strangers would tell my mom, “Your two boys are so cute!” And she would unfailingly say, “My son and my daughter,” each time unknowingly taking away that special moment when someone saw me for who I really was.

I came out as a lesbian around fifteen or sixteen (the word transgender was not even coined until 1988 or so, the year I graduated from high school). I was very masculine, or butch, and my sexuality is oriented toward females, and everyone in my life insisted that I was female. So, that was the community that called my name! I was in a band with my partner at the time. I often say that we were the “low rent Indigo Girls of Tallahassee, FL.” I found such a loving and affirming place in the lesbian world that I was able for a long time to ignore the low buzz always in the back of my mind, insisting that my male self would have to come out someday.

Soon after I moved to Albuquerque, in August of 1995, I was in a pretty serious car accident. So, in 1996 when someone put a copy of Leslie Feinberg’s recently published Stone Butch Blues in my hands, I was laid up looking for good books to occupy my mind and my time. Little did I know this book would change my whole life. Even though I always knew I was male, it wasn’t until I was twenty-six and read this book that I realized that the testosterone replacement therapy and chest surgery that I would go on to receive even existed. To put it more simply, I never knew that there was such a thing as a transgender man, even though I am a transgender man. Armed with this knowledge, I began to understand myself as a transgender person and also began the long, slow, terrifying climb toward my transition.

That isolated difficult journey was a big part of the reason that my best friend and I created the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. Although the heroes who came before us in our home state did amazing things, such as getting gender identity included in New Mexico’s anti-discrimination statute in 2003, when we looked around in 2008, we saw huge gaps in the available information, support and services all over the state. As we have dived in and really learned and examined the issues facing our trans brothers and especially sisters, we have realized that our communities face so much marginalization and discrimination and that there is so much that still needs to be done. If you would like to learn more about the severe challenges faced by many trans people in the U.S. right now, please Google “Injustice At Every Turn,” the groundbreaking study authored by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Even though my journey has brought me to being a leader in my communities and working very hard to try to help other transgender folks, and even though I know that being transgender is such a special part of who I am, I also know that I am so much more than just my gender identity.