“I never understood what it meant to be transgender. Nobody ever explained it to me. The only impressions I had growing up were of insulting caricatures in entertainment. There was one instance where I saw a trans person on TV who was a real person when I was in middle school and probably 12 years old. I felt empathy for them, but I knew to say that about myself would be risky, so I never did. I didn’t learn what it really meant for that person to be trans, and I wouldn’t learn for another 7 years.
Living in ignorance of my own identity was confusing to say the least, and left me feeling shame and guilt whenever I addressed the way I felt. I felt forced to repress my feelings for most of my life. It began early on when I was confronted with the concept of boys and girls. I accepted at the time I was a boy and would live as a boy. There wasn’t another option available to me, but I did wish I could be a girl. I remember hoping for a miracle to happen overnight while I fell asleep. I would secretly play Runescape on my alternate account with a female character. It seems like a small thing, and kind of funny to think about, but simply playing as a girl in a video game felt more normal and was the only way I ever could ‘be a girl.’
At the age of 8 or so, I felt guilty and ashamed to feel the way I did, so I kept it a secret. My memories are clouded from this early period of our lives, but it was something very clear to me, and I remember how things changed as I got older. The differences between girls and boys became more and more apparent and it affected every aspect of my life. I went on to mainly have friends who were boys and realized what would get you made fun of and what would bring you respect. I tried rationalizing the feelings I had when I was forced to confront them; it was confusing and would always result in shoving the entire issue into the back of my mind and trying to forget about it. I did so pretty successfully, but there were periods when I just couldn’t ignore it. I lived in a state of mind where I couldn’t even consider accepting bisexuality, let alone the feelings I had about my gender. One was much easier to grasp, although I still felt intense shame about it. The other was something so overwhelming I didn’t have the slightest clue what was ‘wrong’ with me, and I didn’t really want to.
Aside from having inherent issues with my gender I didn’t quite understand or want to confront, I also had many other problems in my life as a child. My family life began deteriorating when I was 10 years old, with my parents separating and having issues financially as a result of the 2008 recession. I witnessed how quickly a person can change when my mom, who was the most caring and amazing person I ever knew, went from a healthy and loving parent to an alcoholic who couldn’t care for herself. She was always there for me, always a loving parent, and then it was as if she disappeared. I didn’t see her often. My dad took care of our family on his own and did what he could to keep us afloat. We lost our house and moved several times before I graduated high school. It all ended tragically when she passed in February 2011 from the flu. I was 14.
I feel like I am always going to be missing a part of myself because of the way she disappeared, temporarily, and then forever. Having grown up with her there, always smiling and taking care of us, to not being there at all, felt like a part of me was also taken. Sometimes I find myself wondering how it would be if I could have had her there during my teenage years and also while I’ve been transitioning. She was a smart and loving person and loved the LGBT community, so I feel assured she would have supported me all of the way. It makes me feel a bit better, but is also sad because I know this would have been easier if I had her with me.
I remember those years growing up through a haze that seems to be full of pain and confusion. I did have some good memories, but after she passed I felt alone and lost for a while. All of the combined problems I was dealing with left me with a deep feeling of emptiness. I didn’t give up, though. I didn’t want it to break me down. I learned we can only move forward, we don’t have any other choice unless we let our struggles break us. I’m not perfect by any means and there have been times where I did feel broken, but I feel like I’m a stronger person because of what I’ve gone through. I learned a lot from my mom during the short time I had with her. She taught me how to be caring and how to love life. She would always put others before herself and her smile was radiant and contagious. I know I’m a better person because of her.
Accepting my identity was a matter of knowing what it means to be transgender. I saw one trans woman on TV when I was young, but never heard her actually talk about the way she felt. When I was 19, I read an article which featured a trans woman who did explain the way she felt, and I immediately connected with her and realized I felt the same way. It was a sudden click, like the opening of my own universe and reality that I never saw or knew existed. It was a wave of relief, curiosity and purpose in my life. It connected all the confusion I had ever had growing up and never could grasp. Living in a world where your own identity doesn’t exist is a thought prison. Without being educated on the subject, or being around people who were trans, I could never connect my feelings to something tangible and real. They were only dreams and desires of another life and I didn’t know I had the possibility of living that way now. Being out of high school finally gave me a higher sense of confidence in accepting myself, and coming across the article at the time was when I was first able to acknowledge my feelings in a healthy way. It was a time where I was thinking of my future and how I wanted it to be, and I knew I wanted to live my life as authentically and real as I could.
The next several months were intense. It felt like I was in a constant waterfall which was revealing who I am. I had to think about everything that happened in my life and how this had impacted it. Everything just sort of made sense, like puzzle pieces being connected through a new understanding of why I grew up the way I did. I felt like I was always sort of playing a part, like there was something missing. Looking back with this new perspective and understanding, it wasn’t an authentic version of me. During those periods of confronting my identity growing up, it would come out in bursts of discomfort, pain, confusion, and frustration. Those periods would last a day or a week but I couldn’t bear to let them stay. And beneath that was the envy of other girls and feeling ashamed for feeling that way. It made so much sense now. I understood why I had those feelings growing up, and it was sad to know all it took was reading a single thing about how trans people feel to open up this new world.
There is really no feeling like finally understanding who you are after living in fear, shame, and ignorance for so long. Beginning the process of becoming ‘me’ was just another batch of mixed feelings. It was mostly an exciting time, but it was also full of more fear, and the fact I now knew the first 19 years of my life could have gone differently gave me a feeling of emptiness. It felt like a lost childhood. Not to say I don’t have positive memories from growing up, but knowing how different it should have been is a hard thing to accept. Luckily, I still have room for hope and a future where I can live a happy life. It feels like I was on a train headed for a dead end and thankfully I hopped off early enough.
I went through puberty already, but I knew my bone structure and my body type could still do well on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). There was still fear, though. I was afraid of being ridiculed if my body wouldn’t look the way I wanted after HRT. It’s impossible to know how it will really affect you. Ultimately, transitioning is the best thing you can do to help yourself if you’re trans and living closeted, but it can uproot your life for worse, too. Society can be cruel. There has to be consideration for your own safety, as trans people face higher rates of unemployment and homelessness.
Before transitioning, there’s oftentimes a hope to live as your real gender without worrying about other people knowing your past. If you can’t do this, you can face harassment and frequent rude encounters while in public. For me, this lasted for the first year or so of transitioning. Going out in public was always something that took a lot of courage because of how deeply uncomfortable it is to walk into an establishment and get rude stares from people, and maybe even someone who wants to take a photo of you to laugh at with their friends. And even more so, the possibility of someone being angry at your existence. Thankfully, the most I experienced was people being blatantly rude and sometimes acting as if I didn’t exist when speaking to them. All in all, these constant experiences when I was in public made me a bit jaded. It’s exhausting having people constantly misgender you and act like you’re an alien.
The changes from HRT (hormone replacement therapy) were an immediate relief to me. My skin became softer very quickly, and simply knowing my body wasn’t being altered by testosterone any longer was also such a relief. I felt ‘right’ mentally, and finally had feelings of being at ease. But it still took a very long time for me to let go of the trauma I had from growing up in fear and ignorance about who I am. Looking back on my former self feels strange, like it’s a fragment of me living through a different identity. There were lots of things I had to unlearn, and accepting I am Aria was hard because the feelings of shame and inadequacy still lingered.
It was difficult to accept I really could live as a woman. It went against what I understood about gender for the first 19 years of my life. But at the same time, I knew it to be true in my heart. The way it could be so easy and simple and blatantly obvious, yet so hard to accept, made it feel like there was a battle raging within my mind. I learned meditation during this time and it helped me to let go of the past and the problems within me and accept my present self. I’ve come so far because of this, because of therapy, and along with HRT, I feel so much happier and more content than I ever have. My life isn’t perfect, and I am still going through the late stages of transitioning, but I feel peace within myself now. Every day I feel myself growing more and more, and I still feel myself becoming the real version of me, and it feels amazing!
Finally being able to live as myself in public without other people being aware of my past and ‘clocking’ me was a huge change. Clocking is when someone notices something about you which makes them realize you’re transgender. I have lived the past 2 – 3 years of my life not having to worry about this. I’m simply treated as any other woman and me being trans doesn’t cross people’s minds anymore. It was really crazy when I entered this stage of my life; it was a complete change from what I was previously describing about how people were so abrasive to my presence. Now, I am being treated with more kindness than I ever have.
People smile and strike conversations with me in public. I don’t have to be worried about people being rude and giving me anxiety anymore. It’s a strange thing to be an undercover member of a marginalized group in America. I know some of the people being kind to me now were the same people who would treat me with utter disdain and disrespect prior. I am very thankful I can live in peace this way, and my heart goes out to the trans people who have to face daily discrimination and all of the problems we encounter. No one deserves to live in fear and to have to deal with being ostracized by our society.
Being able to live as a woman has disadvantages. People often treat you with less respect than they would give a man. There’s also a lot of unwanted attention from people who can’t seem to get the message. Having to be on guard more is a big consideration, and encounters with strangers who you meet online or elsewhere can be riskier. These are only a few of the immediate changes in my social life; the way I interact with people fundamentally changed in so many ways.
I’ve come a long way since I started transitioning 4 years ago. I’m comfortable with myself and my identity, I feel great, and I’m happy with who I am. It’s scary to think about where I would be right now if I had decided to take my life along a different path. It’s been a hard road, but I learned a lot about myself and about life too. I would never have expected my life to go this route, but I can only look to the future now and at the very least I feel like I’ve pointed myself in the right direction. After living the way I did for so long, I can’t help but feel a piece of contentment with simply, and finally, being me.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Aria of Columbus, OH. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories of transitioning here:
‘Just give her time. She’ll come around.’ My mom has yet to use my correct pronouns. To her, I’ll always be her first ‘daughter.’: Trans man finds courage to live his truth, ‘Transitioning was the biggest act of self-love’
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