When I was growing up, transgender women were no more than punchlines, and transgender men nearly unheard of. I was a happy enough androgynous little kid, but when I hit puberty everything changed. I became depressed, self-harmed, had poor hygiene, and wore careless, sloppy, baggy clothes. Neither my folks nor I were aware of gender dysphoria, or the ways that it can manifest, and I don’t blame anyone for not having it on their radar at the time. But as I struggled with depression, with weight and eating issues, and with difficult relationships, the bond I had with my folks became strained, even broken at times.
It was never that they didn’t care. To the contrary, they did everything they could think of to help me through difficult times. As a teen in the mid-’90s, they brought me to a succession of therapists. Many diagnoses were tossed around, but none of them stuck. I did have one hopeful stretch, starting in my senior year of high school and lasting through college, a time when I was wearing exclusively men’s clothing and even shaved my head. Neither my therapists nor my parents asked me about this gender nonconformity, much less expressed their support for it—and no one linked it to my improved mood or my newfound success at school. I think they were embarrassed, and they may have seen it as a sign of continuing instability, rebellion, or perhaps low self-esteem. They often told me how feminine my features were, and every Christmas and birthday my gifts included jewelry, accessories, or women’s clothing. After I graduated from college I tried harder to conform to the expectations for what a woman should be, believing this was the only sensible, mature choice. As soon as I began dressing as a woman, my mental health cratered. A diet became an eating disorder. I struggled through the rest of my 20s—angry, self-destructive, anxious, and afraid. This was also when my relationship with my folks was at its worst.
I started wearing men’s clothes again in my early 30s, and when I did my life began to steadily improve. Slowly, I came to understand that the constant discomfort I’d felt was gender dysphoria, and that men’s clothing helped a little but transitioning would help a lot. I came out as a transgender man at 38. That was two and a half years ago. After some initial skepticism, my mom and dad are now supportive of this change. I know how relieved they are that their sad, angry, hopeless child has finally found joy and success in adult life.