“As a young child, I didn’t have the words to express specific dysphoria from my gender or my body, but I know it existed. I have memories (basically just flashes of thought) where I remember thinking ‘maybe when I get older, I can get a surgery to change the way that I look, so I look more like a boy.’ When I look back at pictures until about 8 years old, I’m reminded that I loved my Cinderella and Belle dresses, and wore them constantly. My hair was usually down, and I had no problem with dress-up, (although I don’t remember specifically liking the female role).
At that age, all my friends (myself included), had princess-themed (or tea-party themed in my case), birthday parties. I went to them, enjoyed myself, and I don’t remember ever having an issue with that feminine role at the time. As I started to get older, playing house became more common, and I specifically remember several times with friends where I wanted to play the male role, or not be the sister or mother. We would include dress up, and I’d often stay in my longer shorts and tank tops, my clothing of choice. I didn’t always choose to wear those pieces of clothing, but usually I did. I also began to decline wearing dresses. I’d prefer the camo or military style dress-up that boys got to wear. One of my favorites was my dad’s old boy scout shirt in our dress up bin. I wore that over and over, thinking it was an officer’s uniform, but knowing it was a male shirt.
As a child, especially in a religious environment, it’s next to impossible to express how you’re feeling when you were never taught language to describe your emotions, words to explain sex, or simply queer terminology. My parents would discourage me from expressing myself in a way that was more ‘masculine.’ This translated to every area of my life, from hair to clothing, sports, hobbies, school, friendships, etc. Their idea of who I was (in their minds) didn’t align with the mental understanding I had of myself and my identity, so I chose to spend the majority of my pre-teen and teen years hiding the reality of my truth from them. I was living a lie to those around me, but generally blending in with ‘good Christian folk.’ I was convincing, and played the part enough to keep their suspicions low, but that only made it more challenging for me to live inside my head, creating a lonely existence for a young queer person.
When I started to go through puberty, I started getting nightmares about having breast growth and having to wear a bra. When my breasts started to grow in, I’d stand in front of the mirror in my bathroom, and push my chest in, hoping it would stop them from growing. Eventually I started hitting myself in the chest, following that same reasoning. When neither of those things worked, I’d get the tightest sports bras (I never wore regular bras – ever) and wear two of them. Eventually, I also got my period. While I don’t remember dreading it as much, I still knew that it was something that I got and boys didn’t, therefore, I hated it. The older I got, the worse my period dysphoria became, until it became a really painful time of the month.
It wasn’t until I was 16 that I started to have feelings for another person, and simultaneously started to realize the negative influence the church had over me for literally my entire life until that point. I met Nicole at my church, as her family had just started attending. One of our first conversations was a text about cars. It started out awkward, as all first relationships do, but over time, Nic broke my walls, and presuppositions. Nic has been, and always will be, my first at so many things. Never had a name popped up on my screen and evoked so many feelings in me. Never had a single text sent a flurry of emotions to my brain and heart. During the first full two years of our relationship, we dated undercover. Although I’m sure we weren’t nearly as inconspicuous as we thought we were, we still tried to be low-key and not arouse suspicion, knowing if we did, there would be dire consequences.
Eventually, both of our parents got smart, and realized we were dating undercover. This happened the summer she graduated high school, and her already physically and emotionally abusive parents became extreme. After discovering our relationship, Nic’s parent’s locked her inside her home, got her fired from her job, removed all access to any phones, internet, or her car, and Nic and I didn’t see each other for almost the next full year. Although my parents didn’t react in nearly as extreme of a manner, they still saw my actions as sinful, and deserving of punishment. I was immediately sent to conversion therapy programs through both my home church and a ‘sexual-healing’ facility called ‘Morning Star Ministries.’ The latter was especially traumatizing, and being forced into these environments really took a toll on my health.
In addition to my parents, nearly all of my childhood friendships alienated me after finding out about my relationship through church gossip. I fell into deep depression and would spend the entire day locked in my room, avoiding everyone. For an extroverted, outgoing person, this was huge. I was failing most of the community college classes I was taking at the time (after graduating salutatorian in high school), and I didn’t see a way out. I truly thought that was going to be the end of my relationship with Nic, but also my life – I didn’t want to continue to live and feel so much pain.
When my parents found out about our relationship, it was less than ideal. They were actually in Belize at the time, on a mission trip for the church. I had chosen to stay home, and Nic and I planned to use the week to break her out of her home and establish safe and secure housing for her elsewhere. After I picked her up from her home, her parents followed me back to my house and attacked me multiple times in an attempt to bring Nic back to their home. Eventually, they succeeded, but not before they left a series of scathing voicemails with my family, who received them when their plane landed back in the United States. Because of this, I never really got a chance to come out to my parents. Instead, I remember them sitting me down at a bench at a park up the street from our house and, through tears, lecturing me on the sin in my actions, the consequences of my choices, and the impact it would have on their family. They saw the relationship itself as destructive, and never addressed individual gender or sexuality, and therefore, condemned me before even truly knowing who I was.
In early 2017, my parents removed me from their home, and I chose to go to Florida where some friends had offered to help me get on my feet. They drove to pick me up in Pennsylvania as I had no car, and very few resources. Within a night, we were back in Orlando. A couple months later, Nic joined us in Orlando, after we sent a rescue team to help her leave the extremely conservative and Christian college her parents forced her to attend in Wisconsin. Shortly after, Nic and I spent the next six months living out of a car we purchased until we were able to save enough money to share an apartment with another person.
We quickly realized how hard this would be. We had no parental help, and were both under the age of 21. Because of our lack of savings, credit, and help, it took time before we could even afford to share an apartment with others, let alone have a place of our own. We were always extremely vigilant about our savings, but with no education and so few resources, it was hard to find jobs that would pay us enough to live, and also enough to pull ourselves out of poverty. With shelter and food being the primary goals we pushed for, I really didn’t pursue my trans identity at all for the first years of our life in Florida. We didn’t gain health insurance until late into our second year in Florida, and finding a trans-accessible health care provider was also difficult.
In Spring 2019, I was able to find a regular provider for HRT, get my approval letter, and also begin the process of legally changing my middle and last names. These were all very emotionally happy moments for me, as I felt as though I was accomplishing something a younger me would’ve only dreamt about. I literally felt like (and continue to feel like) I’m making my own dreams come true. I spent my first two years in Florida learning so many things about myself and the queer community that I had never explored before. Queer culture and identity were very new to me (especially physically identifying as queer) and I soaked in any information I could get like a sponge. I would talk with Nic quite frequently about how I felt, but it was confusing and I didn’t understand if I was a boy, or a girl, or something in between, and so I really began to unpack the complexities of gender and sexual identity and who I was. In leading up to my first HRT appointment, I began to learn about who I was as a Non-Binary person, and how so many memories from my childhood and feelings I had about myself led me to this point, and this self-understanding.
I chose to begin hormone therapy, schedule top surgery for myself, and change my names because who I was assigned as a child doesn’t represent who I am at my core. Knowing this, I’ve made decisions to benefit my mind and body through modern medicine. In the Spring of 2020, I scheduled my top surgery after my wedding with my fiancee was cancelled due to COVID-19. In August, I had a successful surgery, and am recovering well as I write this. Although my life has not been easy, and still continues to have challenges, living authentically has given me more freedom than I ever would’ve guessed. The simple reality of me being able to live truly has emboldened my voice, and given me the ability to share my story with others. My parents reacted negatively to my transition, our continued relationship, and our wedding, and still choose to misgender me on the occasion that we speak. Both Nic and I mourn the loss of the relationship with our parents and families, and still maintain a lot of trauma from that period of our lives, especially around the church.
The best things to have come out of this time has definitely been our resilience and the ways we’ve both learned independence, communication, and responsibility. We found a community in Orlando, and have been thankful to create relationships that are lasting and encouraging to our souls. We feel at home, and feel as though we have a family. Being outed and kicked out led to some of the darkest moments in my life, but through that, I’ve rediscovered myself, learned joy, and found happiness in myself, and my relationship with Nic.
As a queer person, happiness is possible. Belonging is possible. I wish I would’ve heard these things as a child, but as an adult, the best thing I can do is communicate love and acceptance to others as a trans person, and share my story in hopes that others can know freedom. There is no timeline for discovering yourself and certainly no rush to perfect your expression as a queer person. We are each beautiful, unique expressions of individuality, and we deserve love, acceptance, and equality.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsey J. Spero of Orlando, FL (Native Seminole Land). You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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