It Took Decades For Me To Realize My Identity Was A Lie. I Was Prepared For Pain — But Not This.

"I have traded my fears for freedom," the author writes.

I am a 66-year-old transgender man. The fact that I can make that statement seemed an impossibility not so long ago.

Growing up in an era when silence was a guiding principle and secrecy was the standard for survival, it is truly amazing that I have become the man I always knew myself to be.

By the age of 6, I learned that society, religion and family had fashioned a perception of me based on a narrow definition of gender, but the carnival mirror held up to me was not my true reflection. Innately, I knew they were wrong and that my outward appearance was a deception — a lie that I couldn’t accept — yet I felt powerless to change.

Society taught me about the binary — that only boys and girls existed and that  each matched the genitals with which they were born. Religion taught me God didn’t make mistakes, so any belief accusing Him of such was due to Satan’s influence over me. Family taught me that it was unacceptable to ask for a football and walkie-talkies for Christmas.

The confluence of these factors made it very clear to me that I must keep my feelings to myself and bury my secret deep inside so no one would ever suspect who I really was.

I believed myself to be a unicorn among my peers; that no one else struggled to conform to a gender that did not fit. I pretended the best I could to match the expectations of those around me, but I often failed. Every night, I prayed that God would make me into the boy I was so I wouldn’t have to pretend anymore.

Puberty was brutal. With the unwanted gift of breasts and menstrual cycles came a sense of hopelessness. I feared that I would be forever trapped in a body I couldn’t claim.

Puberty brought me another unwanted gift: an attraction to girls. Now I had one more secret to hide, driven by the condemnation I knew I would face from my religious family if I admitted to it or acted upon it.

I became a sullen, miserable, alienated teenager with a growing anger I couldn’t explain. The constant struggle to make sense of the incongruity between my body and who I knew I really was fueled a frustration that never went away and a fear that somehow the truth would be discovered despite my attempts conceal it. It all left me feeling broken and ashamed.

The author wearing his dad's clothes in 1963.
The author wearing his dad's clothes in 1963.

The author wearing his dad's clothes in 1963.

I walled myself off from relationships, didn’t date, limited any friendships and instead dedicated my life to God. I believed serving Him would shield me and that He would reward me in the hereafter for my faithfulness and sacrifice.

Days flowed into years and years into decades. Secrets are a heavy burden and grow heavier with time. My only passion was writing — something that had motivated me from my early teens — and it inspired me to reach for something that held meaning. Writing became cathartic as I poured out my soul on paper, leaving my secrets, fears and desires there to dry and fade away.

Eventually, I found the courage to begin my first novel and achieved some minimal success as a published author. In 2012, I was preparing one of my books for an audio recording. The woman I contracted to voice my manuscript had a compelling allure. She was an accomplished singer and teacher of theater. Her blog featured a headshot inspired by the dusky sensuality of film noir. It was stunning and evocative and irresistible.

As I contemplated the resurrected feelings I thought were long buried, it became more than clear to me that I had made the wrong choice so many years ago. My service to God had done nothing to alter who I was inside.

I had allowed the narrow definitions of gender and identity dictated by religion to supplant my reality, and I would no longer deny what I knew to be true about myself. I was surprised by how quickly and completely I jettisoned the confines of my religious upbringing, coming to know that I had not made a noble gesture to God with my abstinence and dedication, but had wasted precious years of my life.

I was now free to explore a fulfilled life of hope and potential. But there was still something missing — a piece of me I had yet to understand.

The internet ― a resource unavailable to me when I was young — held the answers. I researched and read voraciously and discovered a new vocabulary — a vocabulary that explained my very existence, distilled to a single word that rested like the satisfying final piece of a jigsaw puzzle: transgender.

I had a definition now, an understanding, and was no longer the unicorn I thought myself to be. A sense of relief and acceptance came with this new word, but it also came with equally weighted fear.

A new choice now lay before me: Would I embrace my truth or hide it and fall into old habits of secrecy and regret?

Miyamoto Musashi, a 17th-century Japanese philosopher, is often quoted as saying, “Truth is not what you want it to be; it is what it is, and you must bend to its power or live a lie.”

I could no longer live a lie.

The author on Halloween in 1967.
The author on Halloween in 1967.

The author on Halloween in 1967.

Coming out as transgender hosted its own set of fears: fear of rejection, fear of losing my job or my home, fear of being denied medical care, fear of being ridiculed and misunderstood, fear that no one would want me for me, and even the fear of violence and my potential death for simply existing. And yet, despite these seemingly insurmountable number of fears, the necessity to truly inhabit the skin that was mine could not be denied.

Because the journey to embracing my true self took decades, many of my familial obstacles had vanished. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles had all passed on. Their voices and judgments were muted and they couldn’t support nor reject me.

I was left with the living. Would revealing myself to them be worth the prospective losses? If balanced on a scale, how favorable would the outcome be? There was no way to know the consequences except to place my truth on one side of the scale and their reactions on the other and let it measure as it would.

I prepared myself for major losses and bolstered myself against the pain that was sure to follow. My sister was the person I was most worried about. Her acceptance of me was paramount to my emotional survival. We grew up anchored to each other, connected in ways that helped us navigate the abuse of an alcoholic father and a mother who survived her painful marriage by distracting herself with a social life, focusing her attention on strangers while her children always came second.

I needed my sister to see me — to accept me — and to remain as important to my life as she had always been. But the fear was palpable. I was terrified of losing the one piece of my life that mattered most.

I sat down with my sister to reveal my true self to her. I prayed she would find a way to still love me. I gathered some family photos of me as a child that supported who I’d always been: me standing by a lake, holding a fishing rod, wearing a baseball cap; the 6-year-old me dressed in my father’s clothes, sporting a grin as wide as the Mississippi. The old pictures seemed now to validate me with a new realization and illuminated my truth.

As my sister sat across from me, I handed her the old pictures and asked her what she saw. She scanned them for a moment and replied, “You.” My heart halted for a moment before I spoke again.

“They’re of a boy — of who I’ve always been. I’m transgender.”

My sister handed me the photos and simply said, “So, what else is new?”

My throat began to close and tears welled in my eyes. This — the hardest thing I had ever done — was met with love.

From that point forward, acceptance from others mattered less to me. By 2013, at the age of 56, I began to reclaim what time I had lost to the decades of denial and religious subjugation. I was determined to fully live whatever years I had left.

I met the love of my life online. She is my now wife and she fully accepts and loves me, something I never expected to experience. Her unconditional love and support gave me much-needed courage to forge ahead in pursuit of my new identity.

The author in 1968.
The author in 1968.

The author in 1968. "I insisted on wearing a tie to school picture day," he writes.

In May 2016, I began taking testosterone and by the end of that year, I had a double mastectomy with chest reconstruction. In March 2017, I had my name legally changed and I updated all of my legal documents with my name and my true gender.

I worked with my company’s human resources department to update my name and gender behind the scenes, but came to work each day as the person they had always known, disguising my now masculinized voice from the effects of testosterone with an artificially higher pitch. Some people may have noticed the more masculine clothing I was wearing, the even shorter hair, the flattened chest, but if they noticed, nothing was said to me directly.

I hated not bringing my whole self to work. It made me miserable to continue living a double life and it insulted my conscience when I was addressed with female pronouns. I began to detest going to work. Fear, again, had taken root, robbing me of the ability to be myself.

In May 2020, after I had been sent to work from home for the duration of the pandemic, I began to grow out my beard. I finally felt free to do it without my co-workers witnessing me. It was liberating. The dread of shaving it off when it came time to return to the office fueled my growing resentment of living a dual life.

My wife encouraged me not to shave, but instead to come out at work and be free. She promised me that no matter what happened, we would manage the outcome together. Her love and support gave me the will to face my fears, yet again, and to take control of my future.

Working with HR, I notified my boss of my intention to socially transition. I was surprised by his immediate outward support and his assurance that he would stand by my decision as we worked to inform the rest of my department. Again, I was met with a generosity of love and acceptance.

I fully recognize my privilege and good fortune. Not every transgender story is a positive one. The world continues to be an inhospitable place for most people like me. We’ve become the current focus of misguided persecution with over 500 anti-trans related pieces of legislation fomenting unfounded hatred and prejudice within the nation’s state capitol buildings. We cannot allow the hands of time to reverse and force us back into the closet.

Resolutely, I have traded my fears for freedom. After decades in the making, my transition has been realized, and in my newfound freedom, I am now living authentically as myself.

Vic Hall has a passion for writing and believes in the power of storytelling. He is a published author, playwright and composer and enjoys supporting the arts as much as he does contributing to them. He spent his early years living in Idaho, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, and Utah, where he currently resides with his wife, Gina, and their two cats, Zoey and Pepper. Vic also enjoys the great outdoors and advocating for the LGBTQ community.

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