“I was born in Tennessee but I spent the majority of my life in Kentucky. Within the first 10 years of my life, my family and I moved at least six times between the two states, due to my parents divorcing when I was 5 years old. My father was my best friend. People would always call me his clone because we look so much alike. He gave me my first video game, Donkey Kong Country on Game Boy Color, and I still have it to this day. I don’t have a lot of memories of him, but I remember him as having an unwavering amount of unconditional love for me. A few years after the divorce, he ended up having a massive stroke and lost the majority of his brain cells. It’s been at least 10 years since I last talked to him and around 18 years since the last time I saw him in person. For most of my life, it was just my mom, my younger sister, and myself.
Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were boys because we shared a lot of the same interests and hobbies. I dated a few people in middle and high school, but to be honest, it was to get my family to stop asking why I was still single. I mostly focused on getting good grades so I wouldn’t get in trouble, going to band practice, and a little bit of musical theater. I stayed relatively to myself and didn’t open up to hardly anyone in my life about how I felt about myself.
College is when I really came out of my shell. After just my second semester, I expressed interest in becoming the school’s mascot. I went through the three-round audition process and landed the position. Little did I know, being the mascot would consume my college career over the next 3 years and be the biggest networking experience I could’ve asked for. I never in my life thought I’d be considered a student-athlete, one day see myself on SportsCenter, or spend a week in the Bahamas for free for our bowl game in 2014. Even though a lot of people didn’t know I was the one in the mascot suit, being Big Red for Western Kentucky University so regularly became an extension of my personality.
What drew me to becoming this particular mascot is that it’s genderless, neither male nor female. Masculinity and femininity are both welcome in the suit and, in fact, adds to the hilariousness of Big Red’s robust personality. Part of why I stayed the mascot for so long is because through the eyes of Big Red, I didn’t feel any societal pressures to be hyperfeminine or hypermasculine in any of my movements or interactions with people, and people loved me all the same. Not having my movements or mannerisms policed while I was in the suit gave me the freedom to just exist without the pressure of having to be either gender, while still making everyone laugh and smile at every single event.
Because I lived in a conservative state, I didn’t start making a lot of friends in the LGBT community until I began college. While I was heavily involved in the arts, my proximity to those very few individuals that dared to be 100 percent themselves in such a rural setting seemed to be very few and far between. When I was just one month into my college career, I was invited to my first drag showdown in Nashville. At the time, I felt like I was supposed to be heterosexual, and I remember completely overthinking everything about this new environment, all the way down to googling, ‘What to wear to a gay bar.’ I had anxiety the whole car ride down, but I immediately began to be at ease as soon as I walked through the doors of the bar. I’d never been surrounded by so much love and laughter from so many people I’d just met. I knew I’d gained an extended family, no matter what steps I did or didn’t take to become the man I am today.
I started performing on-stage as a drag king, Alex Ryder, at the same bar in Nashville that’d become my new favorite hangout spot. Although I never ended up trying out to be on the cast, I performed on open stage night regularly for a few months and became very close with most of the performers, staff, and bar regulars.
I’m 6’1″ and had what most would call an androgynous look. The majority of my life, I had incredibly long hair, but even with so much hair, a lot of people would ‘mistake’ me as a guy. When I finally cut most of my hair off in college and began dressing more masculine (to me, actually wearing clothes that I liked and fit me), it became increasingly bothersome for me whenever people would call me my former name, instead of Alex, and when they would use she/her pronouns instead of he/him. I didn’t know what was causing me to feel this way about myself. Was it because I loved the masculinity of my onstage persona so much or the lack of pressure to conform to gender norms from years as a genderless mascot? Or was it because, deep down, I wished my masculinity internally was reflected on the outside of my body?
I’d struggled with my lack of femininity for most of my life. Everyone was telling me I was a girl based on my body parts, but I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t feel like one. My mom would take me clothes shopping, and I found myself always cutting looks to the guy’s section of stores and wishing I could cross the aisles and pick clothes that I would’ve actually felt comfortable and confident in. I love women’s clothing, I just never loved them on me. I struggled so much with my self-image and trying to feel ‘pretty’ when even saying that word in relation to me sounded foreign. Being a drag king gave me an excuse to shop in the men’s department of stores for my outfits and learning how to contour my face to look more masculine onstage gave me the confidence boost I’d never had before about myself and how I looked. I started wanting to be Alex Ryder in real life.
The turning point for me was when my best friend and fellow drag king came out to me as transgender and told me and all of his friends what name and pronouns to call him from that point forward. Because I love him, this prompted me to do my own research about what being transgender means so I could be the most supportive friend he had. I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to start using his new name and pronouns, because, in the beginning, it was hard. But it made me so much more patient and compassionate when months later, after my own extensive research, I too ended up coming out as transgender and my friends had to get used to calling me Alex and using he/him pronouns.
I remember watching hours of Youtube videos of transgender guys talking about their life’s experiences, ‘how they knew’ they were transgender, and how they started to live their lives for their own personal happiness. I was hearing so many parallels between what they were saying and how I had always been feeling about myself but didn’t necessarily feel comfortable sharing with anyone. I didn’t know how to explain to anyone I didn’t feel like a girl. I didn’t want anyone to treat me any differently for my honesty. Instead of hopping right into my medical transition, I decided to seek out a therapist for the first time in my life, just to talk about how I was feeling. Because I was still in college, I did therapy around my schedule through Skype sessions with a licensed gender therapist. After a while, she ended up writing me a letter to take to an endocrinologist to start hormone replacement therapy so I could finally look on the outside how I felt on the inside. Around this time, I got my name legally changed and was able to graduate a few months later as Alexander.
Coming out to my friends was incredibly easy. I already had a separate Facebook page that was just for my drag career, a page where I didn’t have to hide my relationships with women or that I was starting to dress much more masculine. It was actually making me happy when I looked at myself in the mirror. I came out through a status on this page around October of 2015 and I received overwhelming support from my friends, even if they weren’t entirely sure what being a transgender man meant. I was very patient with everyone as they were getting used to ‘the new me,’ answered every question to the best of my ability, and the next thing I knew, I was on the front of the school’s newspaper highlighting the start of my medical transition.
The most supportive members of my family are my older brother, his wife, and their four children. I’ve only been around them in person twice since starting my transition, but they’ve definitely shown me the same love they always have and have never ostracized me for being how I am. I’m an uncle now, instead of an aunt, but I’m still the goofy, nerdy, video game-loving person I’ve always been. I talk to them as often as I’m able to, and recently they’ve been incredibly helpful in my transition into veganism because they’re mostly vegan.
The person taking my transition the hardest is my mom. I’m almost 4 years into my transition and my mom has yet to call me Alex or use my correct pronouns. In fact, she avoids using pronouns altogether or calling me anything other than ‘dear.’ While it’s certainly better than saying my former name and pronouns, in my opinion, it’s incredibly invalidating to me to try to avoid talking about this huge part of my life while still claiming to ‘love’ me unconditionally. Although we’d grown apart throughout my years in college, I do miss being able to just pick up the phone just to say hi and give her life updates, or to tell her I’m in a serious relationship with a beautiful woman who truly understands me and loves me as much as I love her. People always say, ‘Just give her time, she’ll come around,’ but it’s been increasingly difficult to believe there’s truth in that. The years continue to pass with little to no communication between my mom and I. I feel like to her, I’ll always be her beautiful first daughter that she gave birth to, and no amount of hormones or surgeries will ever replace that.
Prior to coming out as transgender, I didn’t know transgender men even existed. I had prior misconceptions about trans people because, normally when the conversation came up, it was either as the butt of the joke from comedians or in some sort of a predatory manner, like with the bathroom bill. I realized the media sometimes frames topics for us in an effort to get better ratings, but it was going to be up to me to find out the truth about this community I was a now a part of. Thanks to social media and YouTube, I’ve been able to find real-life stories from people all over the world, stories that are very similar to mine. Seeing them live their lives unapologetically gave me the courage to come out myself and finally start to live my life for me, not my family or anyone else.
I was in a relationship with a lesbian for the first year of my transition and we ended up having the worst breakup either of us had ever experienced. After this, I purposefully tried to remain single so that I could focus on myself and my transition before adding another person into the equation. I’ve been very open about my transition online and this opened the door to a lot of networking opportunities and advocacy work in the LGBTQ community. I never thought telling my story would one day help someone who might be questioning their own gender identity and cause a sort of a chain reaction, or that I’d be linked to so many other transgender people doing the exact same thing. This lead to me receiving a friend request one day a year and a half ago from Jessica Zyrie, a black transgender model and advocate in Houston.
Of course, I immediately hit ‘accept,’ but I didn’t want to be that guy that immediately sent a message telling her I thought she was beautiful. A few weeks passed before we started to begin to message regularly, just getting to know each other, and I finally asked for her number shortly after. We began to talk every day, almost all day long, once we realized we had so much in common. What was different about this budding relationship is we started as really good friends. There was no pressure from the other person to want to immediately hop into a relationship or be a part of the hookup culture and never talk to each other again after one day together. Everything was so organic about our conversation and we talked for hours about any and everything, like we’d known each other our entire lives.
This was the middle of 2018 and I’d already had my top surgery date scheduled for late August. It was going to be a few hours from her in Plano, TX. We met for the first time in person when I was one day post-op. I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live. She already had a previous modeling engagement that weekend, but she chose to drive over 3 hours to be with me for the night, even though she had to be right back in Houston the next morning. This act of selflessness for someone she’d only known for a couple of months is unforgettable. I remember thinking she was just as beautiful in person as she was through Facetime, even though she was arguably seeing me at my worst. I was in so much pain and was having a hard time even going to the bathroom by myself and struggled to sit up in the bed just to eat my food. I woke up in the middle of the night that night crying from all of my discomforts. I tried to muffle it so she wouldn’t hear me. But she turned on the light and gave me more medicine, then held me all throughout the rest of the night. I knew that with her, I was never going to suffer in silence.
6 weeks later, I was able to fly to Houston for the first time to spend a few days with her and 2 months later, she flew to Kentucky for the first time to be with me while I was at my best friend’s wedding. We were a long-distance relationship for the first 10 months of our relationship, with a distance of around 800 miles between us. We traveled back and forth to see each other as often as we were able to until I was finally able to move to Houston with her in the middle of 2019. We’ve done a photoshoot together, been on the Absolut float during World Pride in NYC, and we’ve been in a commercial for Facebook together. We’ve been on a couple of podcasts and even hosted a workshop about trans relationships where we opened up about our experiences dating while being transgender and how our relationship with one another is different than anything we’ve ever experienced.
Transitioning was the biggest act of self-love I could’ve done for myself. I have absolutely no regrets for finally choosing myself and my own personal happiness for the first time in my life. Because of my anxiety, depression, and lack of positive self-image, I never saw myself living past 25 years old. I never saw myself marrying a man, bearing my own children, or just walking this earth as a woman. I felt like I was being forced into it when I knew, deep down, that that isn’t who I am. Becoming Alex was me taking complete control over my life and my future. I’m approaching 26 years old and I now know we only have one life to live and we all deserve to live a life full of happiness, love, and laughter, no matter what that looks like. I’m proud to be a transgender man, and anyone, family member or not, who tries to erase my existence is missing out on an incredible human being who is still choosing to live his life because he finally sees the value in living. Not everyone will agree with my existence or vote for people like me to have the same rights as everyone else, but there are over 1.5 million Americans that identify as transgender and we’re certainly not going anywhere.”
Read more stories about the transgender community here:
‘When you were born, I vowed to love you no matter what. I will continue to do that.’ I returned to school for the first time, as myself.’: Trans woman finally ‘living her truth,’ ‘I will never regret choosing my happiness’
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