Then I Realized I Was Trans: River’s Story
CC image courtesy of Flickr, torbakhopper
When I was about 13, I asked my mom for the first time when I’d get my period.
Beverly Cleary was a favorite author when I was in public school, and she wrote at some length about periods. My mind had not yet grasped that I wasn’t a girl and that periods were not for me.
My family started homeschooling in West Virginia when I was 12 years old. Soon after I asked about my menstrual cycle, we moved to Iowa. When we lived in Iowa, I did not have any supervision from the local school board, nor did I participate in any group activities. Homeschooling was an independent, solitary, and self-directed activity.
We moved one more time, before finding stability in one town that would last until I graduated from college. I lived at home and commuted to college – primarily for financial reasons, but also because I was convinced that I was not able to handle living with people.
By this time, though, it was evident to me – if no one else – that living into family expectations of cisgender heterosexuality was not my future.
My mother first asked me about my sexual orientation at age 14. My life was filled with forbidden questions until I was sexually assaulted at 22 years old. More than being filled with questions, I knew the questions must never be asked – to question compulsory cisgender heterosexuality would result in swift consequences.
Following the sexual assault, I tried again to tell my parents that something more was going on internally, yet I had no idea how to communicate this safely.
Within two months of graduating from College, I told my parents that I was gay; perhaps being out would be the answer needed to feel more comfortable in the world, I thought.
My newfound identity as a cis gay man did not serve me well. Within six months of coming out as gay to my parents, I purchased a makeup kit and other typically feminine things. I spent the next two to three years after moving out of my parent’s house learning how to provide for myself and meet my own needs. My itch to return to formal education had been growing during that time as well. I made arrangements that would allow me to make the move to graduate school and survive. It was an incredibly difficult move, and an incredibly challenging time in my life, but I moved and for the first time in my life I lived with other people. I lived with three cis-men.
That was the experience I needed. I knew relatively quickly that I was not a cis man within a month or two. By the end of the semester, I had chosen new pronouns to use – which I introduced when that year’s Gay Christian Network conference was in my city. When courses started again I began introducing myself in the following way: Hi, I’m , and I use pronouns like they/them/theirs/themselves. At the start of my second year, I started using my new name River. The semester after that, I began presenting as femme full time.
About a year later, I started feminizing hormones.
Homeschooling has affected every bit of my transition. Often in transgender circles, there’s a meta-narrative that trans people have known since birth of their gender dysphoria. Yet, I resist narratives of people knowing since their earliest recollection of their transgender status. These stories serve to distinguish between good and bad trans people, respectable and unrespectable trans people. Yet self-awareness is a poor indicator of goodness or badness; respectability and unrespectability.
Yet, my hindsight really has helped me see that homeschooling likely delayed my coming to understand my gender for many years. Homeschooling prevented me from recognizing that periods belonged to people with ovaries and a uterus. Yet, homeschooling also gave me the depths of reserves and the fierce independence that I needed to advocate for myself, and to ground myself out of social norms.
Homeschooling prepared me to be the first and only out trans femme student at my seminary through its self-direction. Homeschooling equipped me to be the first out transgender student at my seminary by giving me the tools I needed to function independently and find answers on my own.
Homeschooling empowered me to be the first out non-binary person at my seminary. Homeschooling made me.
Once I realized I was trans, my understanding of God, religion and spirituality changed significantly. My understanding of God quit being the set of rules my parents had given me to follow, and instead became the older, wiser friend who joined me on my human journey. I found comfort in being Spiritual, free from the dogma of religion, and then finding religious systems that worked with my spirituality. Rather than religion being an academic experience to study, the divine became a vocational call – and instead of pursuing a purely academic degree, I switched my program at the graduate school to the professional one, and affiliated with a denomination that will welcome me – gender and all – into a vocational ministry.
Throughout my life, my experiences have provided me the resources that I needed for each new adventure. My time homeschooling and my time after homeschooling adapting to more communal environments all prepared me for and equipped me with the resources I needed to explore my gender, and to transition.
I give thanks for the experiences which pushed me down the paths I went; I could not imagine my life turning out any other way.