Embracing Authenticity

“When you’re engaged and involved and choosing to enjoy your own life it doesn’t matter where you are, or frankly, what negative things get hurtled at you. You’ll still find happiness because it’s not about where you are, it’s about who you are.” -Rachel Hollis

“I think…. I think… I am struggling with being tr… transgender.”

The words fumbled out of my mouth like a toddler just trying to take their first steps. I remember that day clearly - it was the first day, after a month of struggling internally with this new reality, that I was to say the words aloud that would forever change my life. Just moments earlier, I remember driving several times around the block that held our local LGBT center, even going to the process of parking around the corner so as to not be seen or recognized even stepping foot into the center.

Things in my life have changed so much in the past year. I went from being a shy, anxious guy in women’s clothing to fully embracing myself as Ellie within a matter of weeks. And while I might have seemed confident on the outside, the truth is that this change was not only about my external appearance and getting over this new reality of my life, but it was a huge shift in allowing myself to come out as a confident person in general.

It’s a funny thing to think about the process of coming out.

There are times when I look back and don’t even realize the process that it’s taken me to get here. Then there are other times when I am overwhelmed at the process that I’m still working through. Part of me wonders if there will ever be a time when I don’t have to come out to people, but who knows? It’s not a part of me that I can hide, despite how the clothing, makeup, mannerisms, and hair make me look - deep down, I know the truth, and I am painfully aware of that. It’s a delicate balancing act, and my ability to see one side over the other and celebrate this life is a constant reminder of how bittersweet my new life is.

In spring of 2017, not long after that initial visit to the LGBT center, I came out to my wife. And while our relationship continues to evolve since then (as it has since we first met in 1999…), one of the big milestones in my transition was the night we spent away out at the Chukchansi Resort. I remember for the first time dressing fully as a female, allowing Jen to apply makeup, and then the fear and apprehension that struck when the proposal was made to walk through the hotel lobby and out to the car. I’d like to say that I got over it and strode out in confidence, but truth be told, I changed clothes, kept the makeup on along with my Mary Janes, and tried hard not to have a panic attack as we walked through the hotel lobby and out to the car, then again when we drove to the neighboring town to buy bottled water at the grocery store. But the first step had been done, and from that point, my outward transition would only gain momentum as I prepared to introduce Ellie to the world for the first time.

There have been many milestones in my life since then - my first manicure. My first pedicure. My first trip to the salon. The first time shopping in the women’s section of the clothing stores. My first time out in heels. Each time, the fear and apprehension is at an all-time high. “Will someone recognize me?” “Will I be outed?” “Will someone confront me?” Each time has made these steps easier, but even so, the fears are still there. At this point, i don’t know if I will ever reach a point in my life where I won’t wonder when I’m looking at dresses or makeup when someone won’t point, stare, or make a comment. It’s just a part of the journey, and in order to embrace it, I must first embrace myself and my own truth.

And then there’s the bathroom issue.

Oh, the bathroom issue. Of all the things that I still struggle with, I’d have to say that this is one of the biggest things. It’s the place where I feel the most vulnerable, and it makes me hurt for the times when I hear the bathroom debate come up in public forums between people who have taken using public restrooms for granted their entire lives. Do i get it? Yes, I do. In fact, for a while, before I even understood this on a personal level, I probably sided with those on the conservative side of the issue. But here’s the blunt honest truth - we all need to take care of bodily functions, and the bathroom issue is extremely nerve-wracking for someone who is in the process of transitioning, let alone someone who is years into transitioning. I don’t know if I will ever get to a point where I feel comfortable just going into the women’s restroom to “take care of business.” And while people may point and talk about how uncomfortable they are, the fact of the matter is, many transgender men and women are ten times that uncomfortable being there. There were times in recent months even where I planned my route through the day by whether or not I would have access to a Starbucks or other establishment that had a gender-neutral bathroom. There were times where I clearly remember speeding home and fumbling with my keys at the front door to my house because I had held it for too long without wanting to use a public restroom. I remember holding onto my familiarity with the men’s restroom as long as I could into my transition because it was what I knew - until one day, a guy coming in clearly pointed out that I was in the wrong restroom as I was exiting.

These are the unglamorous things I deal with on a daily basis. Things I never thought I’d be thinking about or dealing with - but here we are. Would I change it for the world? No. There is a freedom; a sense of peace and joy that comes from understanding that this is who I was created to be. Is it easy? No, but life rarely is.

Through all of it, though, has been the incredible blessing that is the new friendships I have found in my transition. Not long after coming out and beginning to dress as Ellie in public, I remember how nervous I was when I went to my first women’s event - a pop-up meeting of female business owners here in town. Kayla and I laugh about it now in conversation, but the reality of it was that I was so incredibly nervous. I shouldn’t have been. This meeting, along with several following meetings, were the catalyst for meeting some of the most amazing people in my life. Since that time, I have begun to not only create fun and wonderful relationships with other women all over town, but I have also found the confidence to put myself out there on a national level. These women are my tribe. They give me strength. It is the support of people like them - people like you - that keep me going and allow me to step out in confidence to not only know I am accepted in my truth, but that I am going to be okay in the end, no matter what life throws at me.

You see, no matter what we are going through in life, there are people around us - friends, family, clients, leaders, society in general - that try hard to tell us who to be. Being yourself is scary. Being yourself means taking risks, because it means that no longer will it be the facade that is at stake, but who you are at your core. From someone who has been there - believe me, there is only so much you can do before that facade starts to crumble away. Before it kills who you are. YOU, my friend, are wonderfully and uniquely made. Embrace that. Embrace all that God has created you to be, and allow the people around you to lift you up and celebrate that. It’s time we stop hiding who we are for the sake of “normalcy.” For the ability to just fit in and not challenge what everyone else expects. Step into your truth. Step into the light. Celebrate who you are, and know that there are those of us who, no matter where we are on the journey, are right there with you, waiting to embrace the authenticity that is you.

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