As a public figure, Gabbi Tuft learned the most important thing she can do is be open and honest. The former WWE star came to this eye-opening realization as she transitioned, coming out as a transgender woman earlier this year.
“In the past we have seen several celebrities come out as transgender, we have heard several stories and there has been a lot of media buzz about it, but you don’t see all of the minutia,” Tuft tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “You don’t see all of the emotional stress and trauma that happens. I went through seriously dark times, I was very suicidal, I was so nervous and scared to face the world being trans that it was almost easier to end my life than to face everything.”
Sadly, Tuft’s descent into darkness is not unique in the LGBTQ community. According to the just-released findings of a survey conducted by the Trevor Project, 42 percent of young people who identify as LGBTQ said they considered suicide in the past year, and a staggering 70 percent classified their mental health status as “poor” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For many in the community, the anxiety is exacerbated by the fear that their personal lives will be forever altered by their coming out.
“I thought I was going to lose my family, my friends, my business,” Tuft says. “I thought I was going to be shunned by everyone, made fun of. I thought everywhere I went people would be laughing, pointing and that I would be in danger. Those are the emotional issues that I personally dealt with, but now I know after speaking with many, many transgender people after I came out, they all feel the same way.”
Now, more than four months after coming out, Tuft has shared more and more about her journey, primarily through her social media channels. With each update, Tuft breaks down a wall and exposes herself to the world.
“I really feel like the world is so tired of the ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ kind of stuff,” Tuft said. “They’re tired of putting on the costume mask, the charade of everything being fine. We’re a social media society where we show our best side and never show our worst. What I am finding is that when I am raw, real and transparent with the world, everybody is becoming aware and their hearts are pouring out with acceptance and love.”
The outpouring of support that Tuft has received isn’t limited to strangers on social media, however. At home, Tuft’s biggest supporter is her wife, Priscilla. The two have been together for more than 20 years and have a 9-year-old daughter. Without the support of her spouse, it’s unclear if Tuft ever would have been able to come out publicly.
“Priscilla, my wife, she is a rock for me,” Tuft says. “She knew before I knew, she could just tell. Having her by my side and holding my hand, being supportive through this whole thing, I have to attribute a lot of my fearlessness and a lot of my success in the transition to her. She is my biggest cheerleader, my biggest supporter. She’s the one who taught me how to do makeup, how to walk in heels. She’s the one who was with me when I presented as female in public for the first time. She’s amazing.”
Tuft’s overwhelmingly positive experience at home is somewhat uncommon in the trans community. According to the most recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey, relationships ended for 45 percent of people when they came out to their partner, and 57 percent experienced some form of family rejection. Further, transgender people who deal with rejection, whether from a spouse or another family member, are at a dramatically elevated risk of experiencing homelessness, having suicidal thoughts or turning to sex work.
Tuft hopes being open about her evolving relationship with Priscilla can serve as an example for other transgender men and women.
“I know a lot of spouses, they just bail,” Tuft says. “They think it’s strange, they think it’s weird, it’s not what they signed up for and they’re gone. The person who is transitioning, their life just falls apart and they are left with nothing. I really believe that if we can go back to being raw, truthful and real, and allow the world to see the emotions we deal with, that a spouse can survive and we can have a wonderful beautiful relationship still, I really think that it’s going to make it easier for the rest of the transgender men and women who are still hiding and are afraid to live their authentic lives.”
Although Priscilla knew, Tuft’s parents were unaware of her identity until very recently. Again, fearing statistically evident rejection, Tuft wrote her parents a letter explaining that she was a transgender woman and asked them to simply text her after they read it.
Tuft’s father was the first to respond, with a message that simply read, “I love you, forever,” while Tuft’s mother, Lezley, offered a more lengthy, but accepting, response. From there, the family began to FaceTime regularly and, finally earlier this month, Tuft and her mother met in person for the first time since she came out to them.
“To know that I was going to see my mom in person, there was a certain anxiousness that went with that,” Tuft says. “It wasn’t because I was scared she was going to reject me. It was because I knew she was going to accept me for who I was and that was an overwhelming emotion of being loved unconditionally.”
Tuft shared the Mother’s Day moment at the airport on her Instagram and Twitter pages, and the clip has been viewed nearly 29,000 times.
“All that mattered to my mom was that I knew she loved me no matter what. She said I was beautiful, nothing has changed. I remember the moment. I got out of the truck, I was walking around the back of the truck, I was like a child poking my head around, I had my arms crossed and she had her arms outstretched already walking toward me. There was no way I could not do the same," she recalls. "From then on, our relationship has been amazing. I have a whole new relationship with my mom. It’s that mother-daughter relationship where we are very open and honest, it’s just wonderful.”
The most recent step Tuft shared with the world was her decision to undergo breast augmentation surgery. Her procedure, which took place last week, marked an important moment for Tuft, who had been resorting to using breast forms in public. Although Tuft was presenting as female and had come out to the world, using breast forms limited her wardrobe and often left her bleeding as she peeled them off at the end of the night.
In addition to the physical issues and limitations, having to use breast forms left Tuft feeling incomplete, psychologically.
“Part of wanting to feel feminine and feel like a woman is being able to go out with friends and enjoy social events and feel accepted and pretty,” Tuft says. “The thing people don’t realize with the breast forms is that I couldn’t wear certain tops because they would show or I’d need to have cleavage showing and I couldn’t do that. There were some days where they weren’t perfect or looked funny. It’s such a painful experience emotionally to have to take off what you feel like is a costume. I would look in the mirror and feel like a fraud.”
Tuft admits that some people have accused her of rushing through the physical aspects of her transition. As GLAAD explains on its website, a transgender identity isn’t solely based on physical appearance. Although Tuft has opted to undergo hair transplant surgery and breast augmentation, there are transgender individuals who will never take hormones, have surgery or physically alter their appearance.
Ultimately, each person will make a decision that is right for them.
“This late in my life, I’m 42, I don’t have many, many years of external beauty left,” Tuft says. “Younger women transitioning, they have a lot of time in their life. People wonder why I am rushing this, well, I want to experience what it’s like to feel beautiful or look in the mirror and think that I am beautiful. My breast aug, it absolutely helped me feel complete. It’s an amazing confidence booster. I have been out since the day after my surgery. I have to wear a sports bra for a few weeks to make sure everything stays compressed, but that’s enough for me. I have a smile from ear to ear.”
Since her announcement in February, Tuft has used her platform to become a vocal force in the transgender community. Earlier this month, Tuft shared her stance on transgender girl and women athletes and the ongoing debate surrounding legislation that would ban them from competing on girls' and women's teams.
As a former athlete herself, Tuft disputes the idea that blanket legislation will solve the debate and has called for a deeper evaluation of all aspects of the issue. For children, however, Tuft is in favor of inclusion.
“There’s a very large spectrum that we have to consider because at a certain level in competitive sports, we’re looking at scholarships, and monetary investment comes in,” Tuft says. “If we’re talking about kids, let them play. We forget that sports are supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be a chance for children to integrate, learn social skills, play with their friends, and feel accepted. If we are looking at children and we’re already segregating them, what kind of world are we going to live in?”
After fearing she’d lose everything, Tuft’s experience since coming out instead shows that she’s thriving.
As a successful partner, parent and business owner — Tuft owns Body Spartan, a fitness nutrition and apparel company — she hopes documenting every single aspect of her journey will shatter stigmas and help create a safer environment for transgender people, now and in the future.
“I think what we can do to really work on that is to create awareness and show the world that we are not a threat or to destroy lifestyles,” Tuft says. “If the next generation is growing up with tolerance and sees the pain that transgender people go through, if they can understand that we are people and have feelings, that we want to integrate normally, that we aren’t here to purposefully be strange or weird, we just want to live our lives in peace and happiness, that generation will be different.”
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