I have thought about the best way to tell you about something I’ve been dealing with as long as I can remember. It may not be a big surprise to you – after all, you’ve watched me grow up. As a child, I was never a “frilly” girl. I hated the color pink and detested dresses. I played sports with the boys and loved “boy” activities like riding mini-bikes and learning how to use tools. As I grew older the pressure to conform to what society says a woman should be grew more intense.
I couldn’t conform – the feminine role and expectations just didn’t fit who I was. I felt like I was putting on (and trying to live in) a Halloween costume whenever I had to wear a dress or put on makeup. This inability to fit in as a woman has haunted me my entire life. One main impact has been limiting me on how far I could go in the corporate world. Let’s face it, women who get ahead in that world have to conform to what women should be and look like.
I’ve tried to compensate for this by developing a unique combination of skills and education so that my non-conformance would not matter as much. For the most part, that worked. I managed to put myself through college and law school and work for blue chip companies. I published articles and am a recognized expert in my field. I’ve managed to stay employed and support myself and help my family. I can’t help but wonder, however, how much further I could have gone if I’d been able to conform.
I turn 50 this year. As I reflect on this, I realized I’ve never been content with who I am. I’ve never felt comfortable in my own skin. I’m tired of fighting, compromising, and simply trying to ignore this problem.
As a result, I sought help. It was hard to admit I had a problem I couldn’t deal with on my own – being independent and self reliant are core values of mine. I went to see a doctor that specializes in this particular problem and I learned a great deal. It turns out that I am suffering from a condition called gender dysphoria. We now know that people who suffer from this actually have physical differences in their brains that cause a disconnect between how they feel (male or female) and their physical body. So, in my case, my brain is actually wired like a man’s but my body is female. Scientists are still trying to figure out how this happens but most research points to hormonal imbalances during pregnancy that impact the fetus.
I explored the treatment options available to me. It appears the best outcomes are those that end up aligning the brain and body. Doctors can’t “re-wire” the brain so the only alternative is changing the body to match the brain.
Changing my body to match my brain will involve the following:
· In December I will travel to the Cleveland Clinic to have surgery. My breasts and reproductive organs will be removed. I’ll recover over the holidays and be back at work in January.
· I will start taking hormones. This will result in the following changes:
o My voice will deepen and I’ll grow an “Adam’s apple”
o Hair will grow on my face, chest, stomach, arms, etc.
o I may develop male pattern baldness (it’s all up to the genes)
o My body fat will be redistributed from a female (hips and thighs) to male (stomach) pattern
o I will become more muscular
o The bone structure of my face will become more masculine
o My personality may slightly change (less emotional, more assertive)
Most of these changes will appear gradually (over a period of 6 months to a couple of years). I wanted you to know so you can prepare for what’s about to happen.
After surgery I’ll be able to change my gender identifier from F to M on legal documents like social security, driver’s license, and passport. I’ll also have my birth certificate modified. I will change my first name Tam (which is a male name in Scotland).
After surgery I will also live publicly as a male. Part of this process involves asking everyone (friends, family and co-workers) to start referring to me as “he” instead of “she” and use male pronouns (son, nephew, etc.). I know it will take time for everyone (especially those who have known me longest) to get the hang of this. Don’t worry if you slip up and use the feminine pronoun with me now and then – I won’t get upset. Practice makes perfect!
I know this is a huge change and it will undoubtedly make you feel uncomfortable. All I ask is for you to imagine the discomfort I have felt for 50 years by comparison. I also strongly believe the best way to tackle something is directly confronting it and moving on. Please know I will answer your questions and concerns as openly as I can. Call me any time.
Thank you for being wonderful parents and standing by me throughout my life. Mom – please don’t think of this as loosing a daughter – I have always been, and always will be, your “kid”.
I love you. I hope I get to visit you soon!