Homeschooled and Transgender: Wayward Son’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Wayward Son” is a pseudonym.

“We found your used syringes in the basement,” my mom said.

She and my dad had sat me down for a talk. Again.

I didn’t know what to say and my heart was pounding. I thought I had been careful! I had safely disposed of the needles in an old laundry detergent bottle, hoping I could trust my mom to not snoop through my personal belongings. I was wrong.

The used syringes in question were needles used for HRT (or hormone replacement therapy), prescribed by a medical doctor. But they might as well have been used for heroine, as far as my parents were concerned. They would go on to kick me out about seven months later.

Now let’s back up. At the time that the above story happened, I had returned to my parents’ home after a divorce. I was an adult. They had invited me back, across the country from my child, and they offered to help me finish college. Having no other alternatives and no support system, I accepted. I had been homeschooled K – 12. Despite their assurances when they invited me that they would treat me like an autonomous adult, it soon became clear that they were still treating me like a rebellious, homeschooled teenager.

My gender struggle (discovery?) started as soon as I became aware of gender as a concept.

I was a boy.

There was never a question in my mind. This isn’t the narrative of all transgender people, but for me it was obvious. And yet, because of the way that my genitals are shaped, and due to the big, glaring F on my birth certificate, my parents and everyone else acted like I was a girl.

I knew better.

As I tried to assert my gender, my parents and other adults brushed me aside, saying I was just a tomboy. It was a phase I’d grow out of one day.

That answer didn’t sit right with me, but as a child I had no idea what the right answer was. Being
homeschooled, I didn’t know what gay or lesbian was, let alone anything about the gender spectrum. If my parents said God had made me a girl, well, then that was the only reality I knew. It felt wrong and disorienting, but I didn’t know there was any alternative.

Still, over the years, I fumbled through the dark of ignorance, trying to find the answer to the deep, persistent thrumming in my soul that I was a boy.

I remember the first time I wandered, red-faced and looking over my shoulder, into the men’s section at Target. I was sixteen, a newly licensed driver, and had taken the family mini van to “run errands.” I
couldn’t bring myself to buy actual men’s clothes, so I settled on men’s bathing suits. I grabbed one and didn’t even try it on. I bought them, because I needed a new bathing suit anyway. All the way home I had mini panic attacks. When I tried them on in my room it was a revelation in self discovery. It felt right. It was the first time in my life I wore clothes I didn’t hate. My mom wasn’t happy but was
appeased when I explained the modesty benefits of a boy’s bathing suit. “It goes all the way to my
knees! And I’ll just wear a t shirt or like modest tank top for the top part.”

But then I started wearing them all the time, not just to the beach or the pool. They were my first real
boy clothes.

The reason my parents decided to homeschool me and my siblings, as they often told us, was to keep us pure and to keep us away from the world and the world’s corrupting influence. We were supposed to be insulated. Unfortunately for most of my life, it worked. Because until I was married and on my own, I didn’t know that there were other people like me. I didn’t know that wearing a “boy’s” bathing suit didn’t make me some kind of pervert.

Being transgender in purity culture with undiagnosed PTSD was hell’s trifecta.

I didn’t know having a sex drive was okay, I didn’t know what to do when I was put with girls in intimate settings and was attracted to them. My friends thought I was super pure because I literally couldn’t talk about sex or sexual things and came off as naive because I would zone out any time anything sexual or at all related to bodies were brought up. Looking back, I know now that I was dissociating. We didn’t have any kind of mental health education either.

Not only did I not know what was going on in my head (I remember feeling “foggy” a lot), but I got not information about what was happening to my body. During puberty, this was especially bewildering. I not only had no concept of gender spectrum and identity, but I didn’t even have a basic understanding of how my body or sexuality was supposed to work. I didn’t know how to deal with the ever-growing dichotomy of how other people began to see me and how I felt inside. I was getting the wrong changes, and even that was shrouded in shame and mystery. My parents and other authority figures took a vow of silence around our bodies lest they cause us – or them? – to sin. It was as if silence and ignorance would ensure my purity, when instead it simply made me feel like an unforgivably damaged, defective human being.

My childhood was colored by longing for something that I couldn’t define.

Every day, every star, every birthday wish, I begged God to turn me into a boy. I didn’t know how it would happen, but if he could turn water into wine, surely he could fix the mistake he made. If he made me, surely he knew the truth.
Surely he or one of his angels had made a mistake about the body stuff and he could fix it. My parents
said he loved me more than anything, so why did he plop me into a body that was, well, wrong?

As I got older, my mom eventually tried to help me – by trying to get me dress more flattering. She
would tell me which colors and cuts looked good on me (read: a-line skirts that hit just above the knee, and bright jewel tones that I hate). And finally, tired of feeling like the perpetual ugly duckling, I decided that if I had to have this incredibly feminine body and I was doomed to be a girl anyway, I might as well look sexy doing it.

So then I swung the opposite direction.

I started experimenting with makeup (my mom, who forced me to wear mascara when I was sixteen, rejoiced) and with feminine clothes and transformed my strut into a hip swinging walk.

I went through a time in my life that I call the Great Denial. I temporarily reconciled myself with being a feminist, strong, badass female. I could be a girl and screw gender roles! This is about the time that I met and married my ex. The stress of newlywed financial woes, and now being responsible for his
emotional trauma as well as my own, meant that I was distracted from my gender dysphoria because I was running myself ragged trying to carve out a role for my not-quite- female-enough self in a world that had rigid ideas about what being a woman meant.

Away from my parents’ home and having married against their wishes, I was tentatively testing out my newfound freedom. I was making new friends, exploring new ideas. I began to slowly, slowly unravel their ideology and started questioning the little things. That began fraying my entire worldview.

And then, in a desperate attempt to fulfill my role as a Christian wife and to try to force more intimacy with my husband, I got pregnant.

Having my son was the beginning of the end of the lies. His birth wrecked the protective shell I’d made for myself and allowed me to see the sunlight of truth for the first time in my life.

The pregnancy itself was triggering as hell, forcing me to get in touch with the distressingly feminine
parts of my body that I had been mostly able to ignore. The narrative surrounding pregnancy is exclusively and oppressively feminine. The birth was traumatic. And then I had post partum psychosis
and struggled in silence, alone, having lived a life time learning to not ask for help and learning to put on a show for a world that was threatened by the nature of my struggle.

My mental health spiraled.

I became extremely depressed, suicidal, and developed a temporary form of agoraphobia. All of this went untreated for the most part.

Not feeling comfortable leaving the house, I sought like minded people online. One of my friends from
before started posting things about feminism and equality on her blog. I did research into these terms,
which led me closer and closer to the truth. Eventually, I found an online community of homeschool
survivors. In the discussions, I came across a post about transgender men. And boy did I have questions.

I started talking to other transgender people, and doing research online. There was a word to describe
what I’d been feeling for my whole life.

Transgender.

I was afraid of the word at first. It was new and scary. But I rolled it around my tongue in the shower,
tried it on in the morning, whispered it to myself at night, sang it in the car. And the more I thought
about it, the more I knew: this was me.

I came out slowly, cutting my hair shorter and shorter and wearing my ex’s t shirts to bed. Each small
step I took felt more and more right. The first time I wore my binder, bought with tips I’d earned as a
waiter hidden from my ex and sent to a friend’s house so he wouldn’t know, I cried. My chest looked
masculine and it was the first time I could look in the mirror and not completely hate what I saw.

It’s hard to think of how my life as a transgender person would have been different had I not been
homeschooled. There’s no guarantee that I would have learned about what transgender even was with a public education. And there really is a little point in speculation, as that isn’t the way my life turned out. I’m just grateful to have found information when I did, and that now I’m able to live as my authentic self. Had I not come out, I would be dead right now. Transitioning cost me my family and my former support system, but it saved my life.

As I write this, I’m effectively homeless.

I am crashing on a friend’s couch temporarily until I can find more permanent accommodations. My family kicked me out just over a week ago – the last straw being my posting a picture of my partner and I kissing. And yet, ironically, outside of my parents’ blessing and outside of the confines of the religion my parents worked so hard to instill in me, I find more peace than I ever did when I was a Christian. The truth is powerful.

It’s my hope that more homeschool kids get exposed to the scientific reality of the gender and sexual
orientation spectrum. It’s sad to think of all of the LGBTQ homeschooled youth, suffering in silence, not knowing that they aren’t heaven’s outcasts, they aren’t rejects.

My favorite verse growing up was the one about how the truth will set you free.

At the time, I had no idea how true that verse would turn out for me. The truth freed me from years of self hatred and confusion and shame. When I found out what I was, and that I was good and right just how I was, I began to be able to look my reflection in the eye and not flinch away. And though I still struggle with years of programming to say that I’m a reject, that I’m not worthy of love, there’s no one else on earth I’d rather be and I can honestly say I’m proud of myself for the first time in my life.

2 comments

  • The Great Denial was definitely a thing with me too. I grew a thick mountain man beard, strutted and bellowed and told sexist jokes, trying to prove that yeah, I’m totally a man, look how manly I’m trying to be. But I realized what a thin shell it was; it was all just an act, and I hated interacting with people with that facade. I finally just woke up one night, shaved it all off, and determined that I was going to be myself, a woman, from that moment on. It hasn’t been easy, and after a few years of boldly flaunting it, I’ve had to go back in the closet in order to survive. But always remember: our experiences are unique, and they make us stronger and braver than everyone who is trying to keep us down.

  • Being home-schooled and sheltered was sooo sooo hard on my concept of self, my individuality. I was not encouraged to have my own opinions, was unable to have friends. I can, in part, imagine the journey you’re going through. I admire your bravery and willingness to step out of the shadows and share your truth, your journey.

    After being so sheltered, I feel like there is still so much growing to do everyday. I still feel doubt over some of my decisions and I’m not sure if I made them out of my true self or if I was overpowered by anxiety. After being doubted your entire young life, self-doubt is really hard to shake.

    Thanks so much for sharing! I wish the whole world could read what you’ve shared, and never try to force gender identity on another human being.

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