Video: Born in the Wrong Body

updated 4/21/2007 9:57:09 PM ET 2007-04-22T01:57:09
ESSAY

Tayler is a 21-year-old junior at Clemson University and one of the five young trangender people profiled in the MSNBC documentary "Born in the Wrong Body." In the following essay, Tayler describes growing up as a boy, despite always feeling that she was truly a girl, and her decision to bring her story to the public.

Most transgender stories begin with something along the lines of, “Even at my earliest memories, I knew something was not quite right.” I cannot say this is necessarily the case for me, but then, I was a fairly naïve kid.  My first memories are around the age of 3 — vivid memories, in fact — and I did not necessarily see anything wrong. Of course, this was mainly due to me being unaware that I was NOT a girl. Up until age 5, I had no real grasp that I was not going to grow up to be like my mom or sister. I did not realize that the dance classes and being a part of the Girl Scouts (which in retrospect might not be such a bad thing) were not in my future. 

It was not until about age 5 that I realized people did not perceive me as a girl. I remember the specific instance of playing with my sister and two of our friends. We were playing a game of “pretend,” and naturally, at least as I saw fit, I wanted to play as a girl named Lindy. As I was laughed at, I soon realized that something was not right, but I generally kept the thoughts to myself. Sure, I would often sneak into my sister’s room and try on her clothes, and when she came into the age of make-up, I would often dabble in her cosmetics. Of course, when the make-up levels dwindled unexpectedly, I had to make up the excuse of drawing and painting with it. All of this went reasonably unnoticed by my family because I was either good at hiding it, or my family never had the thought in their minds, thus making them a bit more gullible.

It certainly did not go unnoticed by me, though. I struggled each and every day to hide or deny my thoughts and feelings. I tried to do sports, which did not help much as I have never been a very competitive person. Plus, I developed my second crush on one of my teammates (the first crush being on Zack Morris from “Saved by the Bell”).  However, I was able to get along in a decent manner at this point; after all, it was before puberty hit most, and the differences between boys and girls were not so extreme. 

Along with my ultra-shyness growing up, my family tended to move around quite a bit, so friendships were rare and usually short-lived. I had given up on sports, and through the years — especially as puberty began to strike — I became more and more reclusive. I had mood swings from extreme sadness, sometimes spikes of anger, but more often than not, it was just a very numb, hollow feeling. By the time high school came around, I had lost interest in most things. Though they did not suffer overtly, I even lacked interest in my academics, which I had always strived for in the past. I had become completely hopeless by my sophomore year in high school.

Now, I had known about transsexuals and other transgender people since I was about 9 years old. I remember my first exposure was an episode of “Married With Children” in which a beautiful girl Bud photographs for a calendar and eventually falls in love with turns out to have been born male. In realizing I might not be alone in my feelings, I had researched a bit; I even looked at some of the surgical techniques used in the actual sex reassignment surgery.

Thus, when sophomore year rolled around, and I felt I had nowhere to go or anyone to talk to, I actually tried to operate on myself. One would think that such an ordeal of knives and scissors on such a seemingly sensitive area would hurt horribly. I will admit that it stung, but the sense of loathing I had for this particular body part, mixed with the absolute lack of hope, caused the pain to dull a bit. Of course, all I ended up doing was bleeding all over the place, and wearing a small bandage and pad on my groin for a few days. Fortunately, as a doctor later told me about a year later when this all came out in the open, there is a lot of blood down in this region, so healing took a reasonably short amount of time.

This was not such a promising thing for me at the time, though; my genitals were already healed after a couple of weeks, and in many ways, I felt they were never going to go away.  At this point, I decided it was best just to end it all. I assumed I was never going to be the person I wanted to be, so I would rather die than live the lie any further. I tried a variety of suicide attempts: shooting myself, slitting my wrists, strangling myself with a cord, swallowing pills, swallowing chemicals such as Draino, and finally carbon monoxide poisoning. It was on my final attempt — the second try with carbon monoxide — that I eventually gave up and called EMS. I cannot really explain why I did this, but after having tried so many times to kill myself and failing, I was beginning to wonder if I was not just cursed to live forever. I was, at this point, beaten beyond the thought of suicide; there was nothing left — not even the drive to end it. I ended up in a mental hospital shortly thereafter.

I do not really like talking much about what occurred in that hospital, but I can tell you it was not pleasant. A place that is supposed to be built on care and support somehow turned into the most apathetic and unreceptive places I have ever been. Never in my life have I felt so abandoned, so extraordinarily distraught. In many ways, it was my own fault; I still would NOT tell them — my family, the counselors, and certainly not the psychiatrist — what was really bothering me. I would have rather they thought I was insane than transgender, so I lied — fabricating all kinds of stories. They responded by putting me on certain pills depending on the certain ailment I told them I had that day. Depression, anger, psychosis, and all the rest — I got pills for them all. I was swallowing so many pills, pills certainly not meant for me, that my mind began to warp a bit — or a lot. 

After all the embarrassment of being watched in showers, added with hunger from very poor quality food, mixed with the sights of so many depraved souls — young ones at that — and all the badgering and nagging of the counselors, I eventually broke down and told the whole story. Now, you could say it was like the Boy Who Cried Wolf — or at least Girl Who Cried Wolf — but after believing I was depressed and psychotic, the psychiatrist did not believe that I was transgender. Of course, I did not realize he did not believe me until years later, which caused a great communication rift between my parents and me — something for which I will NEVER forgive that doctor. Personally, I believe the psychiatrist had no real clue about transgenderism, and he certainly did not have a pill that he thought could cure it; so, I suppose for the sake of ease, it was just better to diagnose me as depressed like he did everyone else under his care.

I remember an episode of “Friends” in which Ross is over at his old wife’s apartment — the wife that turned out to be a lesbian. He made the comment to his ex-wife’s partner that they had a lot of books on lesbianism, to which she replied, “Well, you have to take a course … otherwise they don’t let you do it.” Now, this sarcastic comment seemed funny in this context, but, in the life of a transgender person, this is not necessarily fiction. For whatever reason, unlike being gay or I suppose depressed, you first have to find someone to believe you are actually transgender. Counselors and doctors do not have much training in this, so finding one who would help me was very difficult — especially in South Carolina. So, years passed — I had come out when I was 16 — and nothing occurred, and I sadly watched as my body began to become more and more masculine.

Technically, at age 18, a transgender person should be able to start hormone replacement therapy. Most doctors will not even consider it before, but the catch is, even after it is difficult to find. I did not have access to hormones under a doctor’s care until I was 20. Many people do not seem to REALLY grasp the impatience of a transgender person, but what they have to realize is, especially in regards to a male-to-female individual, it is very much a race against the clock. The difference a few years makes in regard to hormones is extraordinary, and it can be so very frustrating and disheartening to be told again and again either to wait or simply “no.”

However, by the time I turned 20, I had begun coming out to several people I knew and trusted; my friend Lindsay was the first followed by several others. Though I was nervous each time I told someone, everyone I have told has been very supportive. I mean, Lindsay was a girl who I had idolized and pretended to have been in love with for a year — someone that should have despised me — yet she still was, and continues to be, a major support in my life. I think that is one thing transgender people need to know: though there are several people who will NOT accept you, there are many others who will.

I am also very lucky in the sense that my family is fairly supportive as well. They do not really understand transgenderism, and I am not sure they actually see me as their daughter on an absolutely sincere level, but they love me anyway. I guess that is all I can really ask of them; they love me and accept me for who I am whether or not they comprehend just who I am. 

I am also fairly lucky in that I did start hormones reasonably early. For most transgender people, it is never early enough — and I often feel I missed out on so much in my life because of it — but I believe I will do well. In fact, on my first day going full-time as a girl while at school, I got a boyfriend; I received my first kiss EVER on New Years’ Eve 2006. People at school are very nice to me, and my social life has increased exponentially. I could not tell you how great I felt the moment I realized I could actually fulfill my dream of being the girl I always knew I was, and people would not only accept me for it, but love me for it as well. Though I still planned on having surgeries — and I am often self-conscious about my appearance — I was very content for the first time in my life.

I could have easily gone “stealth,” as they call it — that is, never mentioning I was transgender and just living life as a woman. I could have; I realized this about a month after going full-time. However, having been to the Southern Comfort Conference, and having talked with many transgender people across the country online, I realized not everyone could. Not everyone had the benefits I did, and for a lot, they never will. I then began to realize in my own life that there were times when I had to confront my old life — when I went to the bank or checked out a library book while still having my old name. I could argue that after surgery and a legal name change, none of this would occur again; however, that would be stupid to think that. Even the most beautiful and so-called “complete” transsexuals have to deal with their old identities sometime, and it only takes one time for it to seriously hurt or even kill you.

I then got an e-mail from NBC talking about a documentary for transgender youth. Something clicked within me when I read that e-mail. I am not sure why, but at that point I realized that if I did not stand up to advocate for transgender rights, perhaps no one would. The transgender population is fairly small as is, but probably only a handful actually fight for the rights of transgender people openly. I knew I had to do this documentary for all those people who could not or would not (for very understandable reasons) fight for their rights and support; I knew I had to do this documentary for myself — facing the problems of every transgender person out in the open, rather than being struck from behind. 

Was I nervous when NBC actually picked me to be on the show? Was I worried about my safety following the airing of it? Certainly, but none of that really seemed to matter; the transgender community is very close-knit, and it means a lot to me. So, fear and apprehension were not things that were going to hold me back. In fact, after the documentary was filmed, I decided I wanted to go further. I was going to volunteer for the Southern Comfort Conference — the same conference that had so helped me just a few months before.

If I could, would I change it so I was born female? Probably every time. However, it is not going to happen, and I have come to a point in my life where I am no longer ashamed of who I am. In fact, I have a lot of advantages and perspectives that only a small percentage of the population have. I do not want anyone else to be ashamed of who they are either, and I certainly hope that if I can, that someone else going through the same issues does not have to put up with the same trauma I had to go through because of my actions. I might be missing out on several things I might have wanted to do by doing this highly public thing, but I have a feeling this is just going to be the beginning.

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