Removing the Mask
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
| This is the 149th story of Our Life Logs |
When I was born, I was assigned male. I grew up in a conservative, Christian suburb of Chicago, Illinois in the 1970s. In those Triassic days before Xbox and YouTube, you had to make your own fun. My brother and I often played with a pair of girls who lived down the street, and there was one go-to game for us: house. The girls would be the mother and daughter. My brother, who was two years older, would be the father and I would be the son. But deep inside, I was breaking because I didn’t want to be the son; I wanted to be the mother.
I began to realize there was something different about me when I was in elementary school. That was when I began to put walls up to protect myself against what others might think. I became very self-conscious.
By the time I was a teenager, I had a good grasp of what I was dealing with; I was a woman trapped in a man’s body. Once I got my driver’s license, I spent hours on the weekends in the corner of the library and read everything I could find on being transsexual. At that time, the majority of the literature was of clinical case studies in mental health books. Those books didn’t give me a whole lot of confidence. However, there were a few biographies of people who had been through the journey of transitioning, like Second Serve by Renee Richards, that sparked hope inside me. Being transgender didn’t mean I was sick.
Being transgender means wearing a mask to match the gender the world sees, broadcasting an incomplete version to everyone looking in. Taking off the mask meant that I was letting someone know the whole me, and it was awhile before I brought myself to do that. The first person I ever told about what I was going through with my gender was my first high school girlfriend. A couple years after we had stopped dating, I opened up to her. She didn’t really get it, but she was my friend, and was accepting. I was able to breathe for the first time in a long time.
Even though I let one person see the real me, I continued to live with that mask for decades. Eventually, I got married to a woman and had kids. My wife knew about my true self and tolerated these feelings because I wasn’t pursuing them. I still felt confined to what was expected of me as a “guy.” My dysphoria continued to worsen.
By 2005, the stress of hiding who I was began taking such a toll on every aspect of my life that I had to do something to get myself back on an even keel. I started laser treatments on my face to help reduce the facial hair. In December of 2008, I finally got up the nerve to talk to a doctor and had my first visit with an LGBTQ health specialist to discuss low dose hormone therapy. Full transition was not on my mind at that time—I just wanted something to help even out my moods.
I was a twisted, nervous ball of barbed wire during that first visit, but the physician’s assistant who I saw that day put me at ease. I’ve continued to see her for the last ten years.
Over the next year, my crumbling marriage started to decay even more. Unbeknownst to me, my wife had told her parents about my transitioning. When I found out I was mortified. I did everything I could to save my marriage. I bagged up everything feminine I had and put it in the garage. I even stopped the hormone therapy. It wasn’t enough.
In August of 2009, my wife and father-in-law ambushed me in my own living room. I saw the person who had supported me turn into someone I didn’t know. Despite all I had done that summer to show them that I would be the person they wanted me to be, they refused to believe me. They kicked me out of the house. For three weeks, I was homeless, descending into a deeper depression than I had ever experienced. I sat in the parking lot of a local Walmart on a rainy dark night with an open jar of pills sitting in front of me on the dashboard.
I had enough sense to call a friend, my first girlfriend, the first person I let see the real me, and she sat on the phone with me for about 45 minutes. Most of that time she just listened to me as I sobbed and struggled to breathe. She made me promise to call my dad and the crisis hotline.
After talking with her, I realized something.
The people that had been holding me back had kicked me out of their lives. I thought to myself, “If they don’t want me, what’s stopping me from being myself?” It was that weekend I made the final decision to transition.
I went to Omaha, Nebraska, about 460 miles away, to tell my parents. On that long drive I was excited to stop hiding my true self from the world. But I was also terrified. The people I loved most in this world might reject me, might not accept who I really was. If that happened, I was ready to drive my car off a bridge.
Fortunately, my parents were supportive. When I told them about my fear of rejection, my mom chastised me, “Why wouldn’t we love you? You’re our child.”
Throughout the transition, I remained close with my parents, easing them into having a daughter instead of a son. I came home for Easter that year. I asked my mom how she wanted me to dress for the church service, and she said with a smile, “Wear whatever you want.” So, I proudly dressed in my feminine clothing.
Before I went back to Chicago, my mom called me into her bedroom. She pulled out a box and opened it, saying, “Will you wear this?” Inside was a beautiful necklace. Not some everyday necklace, but a dressing-to-the-nines, having-your-makeup-perfect kind of necklace. As a child, I would actually sneak into her room and try it on. I worked to keep my composure when she showed it to me, but inside I was like, “Damn straight I will wear this.” In that moment, I knew she got it.
My parents had to go through their own transition to understand and apply my new name and pronouns. They had to go through a time to mourn the loss of their son, the person they knew. Still, they didn’t care how I dressed or how I looked. I was their child and they loved me. That, for me, was all that mattered.
July 12, 2010. That was the date of the court hearing to legally change my name to Meggan. Something that I had been thinking was a pipe dream was finally here. I spent weeks looking for the perfect outfit. I wanted to look professional and ultra-feminine. I felt absolutely overdressed in the court room that day because everyone else was in jeans and t-shirts. I was nervous wondering what name the judge would call.
The hearing went smoothly, and my name was officially changed. When I walked out of the court house I was like “Oh my god, it finally happened, I’m Meggan.”
That night on Facebook, instead of a picture of an animal (like usual) I posted a picture of myself for once, along with a coming out letter. After posting it, I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. The overwhelming support I received was not what I expected. The greatest support came from friends I had had from elementary school through high school. I felt accepted.
There have been people along the way that have tried to tell me who I should be, but it’s not their choice to make. I can be a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl or I can dress to the nines. Only I can say who I am. By being Meggan, by being me, I hope I can help others accept me and others like me. And by being me, I let others know that they can be themselves, too.
This is the story of Meggan Sommerville
Meggan grew up in the 1970s in a conservative Christian town in Illinois. Early on, Meggan knew she was a girl regardless of what gender she was assigned at birth, but tried to conform to a masculine role for many years. After a while, the massive stress of it was too much which resulted in a failed marriage. Through it all, she found the courage to finally come out and transition. After transitioning, Meggan was forced to sue her company for the right to use the restroom of her legally recognized gender in early 2011. The lawsuit has not been settled yet, but her parents’ love and her friends’ support has kept her going.
Meggan struggled in the beginning to keep a good relationship with her kids because it was difficult for them to fully understand the transition due to the people around them who often “dead named” Meggan (“Dead naming” is the refusal to use one’s authentic name or pro-nouns). This made it harder for her kids to reach their own acceptance and understanding of who she is, but as time has gone by, the kids have matured into adults and have now have a good, though not perfect, relationship with Meggan.
In her free time, Meggan writes a blog, “Trans Girl at the Cross” about her experience as a trans Christian woman. She enjoys anything outdoors and practices outdoor photography. She hopes to travel more in the future and is converting a mini-van into a mini-camper to use on future trips.
This story was first captured by the VideoOut team on November 16, 2016 and completed by Our Life Logs on September 12, 2018.
| Writer: Adam Savage | Editors: Kristen Petronio; MJ; Colleen Walker |
You can listen to Meggan’s retelling at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONoJDraCOm4
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#gender #genderdsyphoria #transgender #LGBTQ #comingout #selflove #transrights #family #movingon