“To Transition” or “Not To Transition”
By Leea Pronovost
This is my personal story of deciding to transition and how I came about the decision. I have to say, my story began a long time ago. Back then it was a different world in which we lived in. I have to make you, the reader, aware of what kind of world it was in which I grew up in. The laws were different than they are today, and the gay rights movement wasn’t even a thing yet. The word transgender had not even been established as a word at that time, most trans people were referred to as one of three terms: Transsexual, Transvestite, and/or Cross Dresser. In most states, the laws were really specific about dressing up as the opposite gender. You always had to have, at minimum, three articles of clothing that were from the sex specified at birth, otherwise, you could have been arrested. Also, if you were found guilty, you would be sent to a prison. The alternative to being sent to prison would be an institution, which was referred to as a mental asylum back then. Sometimes gay or transvestites/crossdressers and/or transsexuals were put through a lobotomy, depending upon the state in which the “crime” occurred.
That all being said, I am going to have to tell you some of my personal history that led up to having to make a decision about transitioning or not. I grew up in Massachusetts. Back in those days it was considered a Puritan state. (Puritan people are those that first settled in the area). In this case, Puritan is typically meant as a reference to being a conservative state, even though, for the most part, was largely Democratic and not Republican. It was not until the 1980’s that the blue laws were finally lifted. For those who don’t know “blue laws”, they are referred to as businesses not being able to operate on Sundays, hence very conservative! Needles to say, Massachusetts was one of the state’s where someone like myself could have even been lobotomized for being true to whom I felt like I was, should I have an inkling of trying to be me.
Being born in the 50’s and becoming a child of the 60’s and after confronting my mother with what I thought was wrong with me, I hid who I was. You see, my mom told me to “shut up and not ever talk about it”, after I told her I should be like my little sister. I grew up in a very strict Catholic family. I learned my mass in Latin, I became and altar boy, I learned even the priest’s side of the mass in Latin. I think in retrospect I tried to pray this feeling away. I started to wear all my little sister’s clothes. I lived to dress up in everything of hers. All the undergarment’s, dresses, shoes, even the barrettes in my hair, all of I it felt natural to me. Of course, because of what my mom had told me, I never let anyone in my family know what I was doing. I would even sneak out late at night put on her bikini and go swimming. I learned from the library what I was called and I always referred to myself as a transvestite. Of course, our local library did not let us know what a “transsexual” was, I didn’t even think that was something that could happen.
Some time in the early 70’s I had a good friend and neighbor, this girl named Marianne. Now, she was such a good friend that we told each other many things that we would not ever tell other people about. I was still too scared to tell her about who I was. But, one day she looked deep into my eyes, and she said that she could look at me and see a “girl” inside, but at the same time, see a “boy” inside of me. I still continued to just consider myself a transvestite, something about that really resonated with me. I actually disliked being called a crossdresser. After what my friend told me, I started to do some research in our local library that was just down the street from where I lived. I have to say though, I didn’t find too much. Unfortunately, it really didn’t help me.
Around the same time, I was taking a class in biology. My teacher had some lessons on chromosomes and what they were. We also studied, that some people with more than the 46 chromosomes were more than what most humans were supposed to be born with! In particular, (what he mentioned about) was the X and Y chromosomes. He said that some people were born with both XX and also had an extra Y. I remember him saying something like, “some kids that this would show up as them having some characteristics of the opposite sex, i.e. a boy having somewhat enlarged breasts”. This made me look at myself and I noticed, that compared to most other boys, I had enlarged areolas as well as larger breasts than most other boys. This, and what my friend had told me about myself made me think that maybe I am one of “those” people. I use quotes there because it seemed as though the people with this condition were being pathologized and not treated as humans.
All of this, on top of my personal belief system that was forced upon me from birth, Catholicism, in the strictest of senses, gave me quite a complex. I knew or I thought I knew what I was but also, I did not want to belong because it was a condition to be treated. It was as if, alien to the human condition, as well as it being against all of what the church taught me. To say that I felt shame in who I knew I was, could have been one of the most understated diagnosis of myself. Put all of this on top of what exposure people like me had on television and the fact we could only be found in medical books as something to be studied.
In 1976 I joined the Navy and in 1977 I was court-martialed for who I was. I was found out by my superiors. I was also very lucky. I had a nun who was my high school guidance counselor come to the court-martial and testify on my behalf. The Admiral who presided over the court-martial, was very lenient after that testimony. I was kicked out of the Navy under a personal hardship discharge, instead of a dishonorable discharge which would have sent me to a mental institution. Even to this day, I count my blessings for that woman to come and support me, even though she was a nun in the Catholic church, in her own way saved my life, although this fit in with what society in general was telling me about people like myself. We were not people who were successful, we failed at everything we did and we did not deserve to be a part of society like most other people.
Ok I guess that by now you get the picture, of who I was and what I felt like being me, or at least what society told me that I should feel about people like myself.
Fast forward to November 30th, 2006 I had an Aortic Dissection. My aorta dissected from the very point of starting to descend to my groin area. This was extremely unusual for any type of dissection as it was almost the entire aorta. I was placed into a medical coma. At the time, nothing could be done for me to save my life. I was not a candidate for a stint which could not be done because of the length of the dissection. I was also not a candidate for a bypass, as to what other vein/artery could they use to bypass the largest artery in the human body. Once again, not medically feasible. Needless to say, I survived given I had only a 7% chance of survival. I defied the odds…Lucky?…Or something else?
This made me think about who I was and what I was doing with my life. It made me think about what life itself meant. It made me think that maybe I had a purpose and that I was not fulfilling that purpose. Deep down I knew I had to do something because now my life had been spared for some reason. My recovery was well over two years before I even felt some what normal. I was on so many medications it was pathetic. Anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, multiple high blood pressure meds, special diets, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, you name it I was being treated for it.
It made me think life was meant for us to be happy, we were meant to be happy no matter what life threw at us. I had to define what would make me happy. I had been married for quite some time, and also had a son at the time too. My wife knew of my transvestism, and she knew it was one thing that made me happy even though she wanted me to stay in the closet about this. (*note: I had stopped all of that when my son had been born). With her permission, I had started it back up even though I felt better about myself then, it still left something to be desired. I continued to explore who I was and what that meant. Now to say the least, there was a lot more information about people like me and there was even a few support groups in the area where I lived, for people like me.
I had online support groups and even in person support groups. It was already a different world from the time I had started to think about who I was back in the 60’s and 70’s till this time in 2007. I found books on doctors, lawyers, engineers, business professionals, as well as the average everyday persons who were just like me. I went to one of the groups and actually met an architect, mason, and an engineer in my first meeting that were just like me. All of the sudden I felt normal. I finally got it, people like me were not freaks of nature, we were not something that could be pathologized into some kind of medical condition. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere, I was not ashamed of who I was.
I was still in quite the quandary though I did not know exactly who I was or what it meant that I was. Now there were people there that classified themselves as crossdressers, transwomen, non-binary, bi gender, hetero, gay, pangender, pan sexual the list went on and on. The more I learned, my head kept spinning. What did this all mean? Was I a woman, was I something in between, was I both, what did I want, what would make me happy? These were all questions I felt I needed to answer. In addition to that, if I am a woman then, what kind of woman am I? Am I butch, am I ultra fem, am I something in between? Then the big question: what does that mean for my sexuality? Do I like men, do I still like women, do I like transmen, do I like transwomen, do I like non-binary, do I like bigender? If I transition, how far do I transition? What does transition mean? Top surgery (breast augmentation), bottom surgery, Orchiectomy, Vaginoplasty, Labiaplasty, Tracheal shave, Facial Feminization, voice therapy, voice box surgery? I was more confused the deeper I went into everything.
So many questions, about what to do, how far to go, what type of sexuality do I have given all this new freedom from being a “guy”. I list that because it could make a difference in the first two questions on what to do and how far to go. The possibilities were immense as far as I was concerned almost seemed daunting now. I turned to my new found friends and looked at what they did, however it didn’t help. I turned to both of my therapist, one I was seeing for PTSD and the other I was now seeing as a gender therapist to help me with all of these questions. The PTSD therapist didn’t help at all.
My gender Therapist that happened to be a transman, gave me the best advice anyone could. “Look inward, what will make you happy?” He said “This is your journey this is about you and no one else. You need to figure this out on your own.” I was like so how the heck do I do that? How will I know what I want, once again he gave me a great answer, “Try things out see how it feels to you, if you like it or it resonates with you then keep it up if you continue to enjoy it and it makes you fell good then, you know this is something you should do.”
I decided to try something through one of my support groups I had heard about, a transgender conference that would last an entire week! I did not have that kind of money to pay for a hotel for a week. The ticket for the week to join various workshops, and other expenses. I heard there was scholarship program, and I applied for it. Eureka I was awarded the full scholarship for the entire week. All I had to do was pay for myself to get there. This conference was called “Fantasia Fair” and was being held in Provincetown, Massachusetts (if you’ve never been there you have to go once in your lifetime of course not now during this pandemic but go when you get a chance). So, I got to spend time as myself for a week in a conference while feeling safe, kind of. Even though I knew Provincetown as being a safe place for the LGBT community, I was still scared to death about being me. Being dressed full time in public, for an entire week. Meeting all sorts of new people, as a woman, not that person that made me unhappy. I soon overcame all my fears by putting myself out there in this safe place. I fell in love with myself, for the first time in my life!
To say I was hooked would have been an understatement. It was the best time of my life up to that point. Sooner than I wanted, the week came to an end and I had to go home. Back to my wife and my son. The day I was leaving I could not find myself to dress as a “guy”. I left dressed as myself, the woman I knew I wanted to be. I lived in Massachusetts at the time but it was still a 4-hour drive from Provincetown. The first hour and a half I was still on Cape Cod, but soon as I crossed the bridge onto the mainland of Massachusetts, reality set in. I knew I had to go back to being that guy that I knew deep down I was not, nor did I even want to play that role anymore. It always seemed surreal to me. I started to cry when I crossed the bridge and I cried the entire way home. I was two streets over from my house when I realized I was still wearing a dress and heels. I knew that I could not go home like that as my son had not ever seen me dressed up before. I pulled into a small machine shop and went around back. I managed to grab my “male” clothes and then change. I was still crying the entire time while changing, all the while knowing I was not that “guy” anymore, but I had to be for my son’s sake or so I thought.
I figured out that I was no longer happy being a “guy”. I knew I lived a long time as that person and I was not happy. I knew I needed to be a woman, but what did that mean for me. I talked with a lot of my trans friends at this point. I made friends with every trans person I could find. I wanted to ask them so many questions about everything. I was like a kid in a candy store for the first time in their life. I knew what was happening to me. I was happy whenever I was around them. I felt comfortable and at home, this was my family, my “Chosen Family”. The ones that I considered to be my family I asked them a million questions. About hormones, surgeries, dating, and everything else I could possibly think about. It was like I was starting life over for the first time. This was the turning point; I knew I had to transition!