Unwrapping the Onion: Part 3: A Growing Up Story

Before I go any further I just want to make it clear that my spouse has participated in the writing and editing of this series, and has given their full support and approval of it’s publication.
This post is part of a series of nine posts. Please click here to start with the series Introduction.

Over the next number of months it seemed that we talked about transgender questions and issues constantly. My spouse had been unable to talk about this for so long and now it was like a floodgate had opened. He told me about how he had always felt different, that even as a small child he wished he could play with some of the girls’ toys and wondered why he couldn’t have long hair like his sisters. He remembered feeling sad when he figured out that he wouldn’t ever be a mother. But he learned early on to behave in the manner expected of him and he didn’t have a name to put to the feelings he had.

As a little Christian homeschooled boy, there wasn’t much available information on LGBTQ people, but one day at about 11 years of age, he was reading a large illustrated history of the 20th century when a small paragraph near the bottom of the page caught his eye. The title of the section was “Man becomes Woman” and reading it with his heart thumping wildly, he realized that there were other people like him. The short story was about one of the first transsexual women who went public with their story, her name was Christine Jorgensen and she had transitioned back in the 1950s. Several times a week he would pull the heavy book from the shelf and open to the page with the story, to read again and again about Christine. He was not alone.

He brought up gay or trans people up in conversations here and there with the people in his life, looking for clues as to how they felt about the issue. Having repeatedly heard the common Christian attitude on these topics, he quickly started to believe that talking about how he felt would be sure to bring rejection from those he loved most, and maybe even subjection to painful therapeutic procedures pushed by Christian ministries to “fix” him. He desperately wanted to please his relatives and his community, he prayed fervently for the misgendered feelings to go away, but they remained. He wished that it would be discovered that he was physically intersexed in some way, because if his body was somehow both male and female perhaps it would become acceptable for him to live as a girl. But puberty hit right on time, and the torment got worse. His body was maturing further into what his brain told him was the wrong gender. There was nothing he could do to change it, and waking up each day to the body he hated got more and more difficult.

He immersed himself in school, studied hard and started on a track towards becoming a minister, but the feelings were still there. Now that he was in junior college he had access to public computers and he took the chance to read anything he could on the condition he knew he had. I started to realize that despite my hours upon hours of research, I had merely scratched the surface of the extent of reading my spouse had done over the last number of years. He studied the treatments and surgeries and read about the side effects and problems. But all the while he had such shame believing that God condemned him for having those feelings. He wondered why God would give him such a heavy cross to bear, what had he done to deserve this? He knew all the “right” things to say on the LGBTQ issues if questioned, but inside he was afraid of his secret ever being discovered.

Gender dysphoria was always lurking under the surface, sometimes spiraling into bouts of depression. On dark days, wild ideas screamed through his mind, maybe he should run away from home and spare everyone the pain of having such a child in the family, maybe he could somehow cut off the source of the hormones wreaking such havoc on his body, maybe it would be better if he was ended his life and with it the possibility of his condition causing pain to those he loved. But in the end the only real option seemed to be to numb the pain as best he could. Suppressing, denying, and keeping as busy as possible. He had grown up with many of the trappings of an American childhood, the friends, the vacations, the hobbies. Yet under the surface the gender dysphoria was always there, it never went away.

He fell in love and we got married. His hopes were high that this issue was going to leave once he was safely in a god-sanctioned relationship where he would have the role of a husband and father to fill. Feelings of despair hit hard when soon after marriage he realized the gender dysphoria was still there. So many of his low periods during our marriage made more sense now that I knew what he had been struggling with.

Hearing more of the story was heartbreaking for me, and realizing how hard he had fought this his whole life made me start worry that my efforts to help him would just be a drop in the bucket. He had done his best to be “who God wanted him to be”.

He had denied himself everything,
prayed and begged God to heal him,
but he was still wrestling with it now, years later.

Re-Post: Lies we tell ourselves about abuse
Fundamentalist Approved Feminist Literature
Re-post: Never Good Enough
Fundamentalist Approved Feminist Literature
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05605738764028066439 kleinbottle

    Hi! I just discovered your blog. Your fair and critical way of discussing things is such a breath of fresh air! Thank you so much for posting! :)

  • Matthew

    Hi! I just discovered your blog. It is so refreshing to hear someone talk about all the subjects you tackle in such a fair and critical way, never making assumptions. You found a loyal reader! Thanks so much for posting!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08135229596877003069 Michelle

    Really enjoying reading this, Melissa. I have been so curious about the feelings behind LGBTQ and how they are dealt with. I know that you and your husband's stories are not going to be the same as another's…but I think since I have been reading you for so long and feel like I "know" you a bit…it is somewhat freeing and helping me understand you a bit better (if that makes sense)! Plus, as I am raising my children, I feel like it's good for me to learn about this and try to understand it so that I can teach my children about it on some level (whether they might have the same struggles, end up knowing and loving someone with the same struggles or even just to know about it at a high level so they don't make rash and hurtful judgements).

    Thank you and your spouse for sharing this important story.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15454965172669677301 Bethany

    I realize I've been applauding your bravery in sharing this story without acknowledging the equal bravery of your spouse in sharing such a heavy secret. BOTH of you are incredible.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01018279317001118437 Mike …

    also … your writing is excellent.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    This is why when people say that LGBTQ people choose a "lifestyle", it makes me want to bonk their heads. Specially growing up in such a restrictive conservative environment, who would willingly choose to feel like this or to risk to lose everything just to be who they really know they are. Ganbattene! ^^

  • Anonymous

    Michelle, my children are very young, but I have told them that some people have a girl body and a boy brain, or a boy body and a girl brain, and that it's not nice to tease each other about it, because for those people it is very upsetting. I told them to imagine that they were still the exact same person they are now, but that they had a penis or vagina (I have one of each sex), and were going to grow up to become a man/woman. And that that is what it's like for someone whose brain doesn't match their body.

    I figure that's a simple and accurate enough explanation to give them empathy, and to give them some context if they were transgender (although I don't think either of them is).


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06410682651072046347 TwisterB

    Depression is a mighty beast, and it is impossible to overcome without talking about what is REALLY bothering you. Therapy won't do any good operating under a lie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06374573594800663980 Kacie

    Thanks for writing it, but thanks even more to your husband for being willing to tell his story. Stories of real people are incredibly powerful.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16689771853283510202 Jenny

    Three posts in and I am hooked on your story, and almost struck dumb by your rational, calm, clear exposition and reasoned understanding. Your hunnie (sp? sorry, can't remember) is extremely lucky to have you on side, and I'm quite sure they know it, too. The world is a better place because there are people like you in it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10515811554518736780 Ada-Jean

    Wow, Melissa, just checked in on all four parts. I am actually weeping here at my keyboard. I have always admired your courage to deal with stuff that is hard to understand with such love, compassion and openness. I can't imagine how difficult this must have been, and how extraordinarily you both are to have found each other.

    I know and love trans people in supportive communities who took decades to 'come out' to themselves and others. I have watched them on a journey that is so hard and takes so much courage – embarking on this without those supports? Thanks to you, and your hunnie, for being one of the people who make this life worth living. For all those connections you lose through honesty, you will make another which is based on a deeper connection, because it is based on honesty and respect. Peace and love.

  • Nerdiah

    "Several times a week he would pull the heavy book from the shelf … to read again and again about Christine. He was not alone."

    I almost burst into tears when I read that. (Thank goodness Ada-Jean is getting the same reaction so it isn't just me!) We've all had things we've struggled with that we've felt alone in, but this is a whole new level of it. Thank you to your spouse for being willing to share this story x

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05598890631695015818 Pippi

    Just stopping by to offer continued support. I applaud you both for your willingness to share this struggle with others.

  • Anonymous

    Very moving and poignant posts. Just wanted to say how much I appreciate them. Your writing is giving me a glimpse into transgendered journey and its impact on loved ones. I support all GLBTQ people and those who love them. Bravo to you both for your courage.

  • Robin

    It's rare to hear from people who went through this after or during an experience with a conservative christian church, so I just had to say: It's so good to not be alone. The only thing that can really help mitigate the panic, fear, and despair that can come from being transgendered in such a community is to have a partner who supports and accepts you. I never would have made it without that.