I was 8 when I first realised the body I had on the outside didn’t match the person I was on the inside. It’s hard to describe the feeling, and I didn’t understand it. But I knew that it made me sad, and that it wouldn’t go away.
My teenage years were some of the hardest of my life. I was called awful names, even by my parents, and sent to bed without dinner on more nights than I can count when I was caught wearing women’s clothes.
During those years, that tiny collection of women’s clothes was my most precious possession. Wearing them, even secretly in my room, was the only time when I felt like myself. When my inside and outside weren’t at war with each other, and when I didn’t hate what I saw in the mirror.
My parents didn’t see it that way. Every day I went to school I would be sick with worry at the idea of my mum searching my room and finding them. I’d scrounged and saved birthday and Christmas money to buy each top, each pair of shoes, but she would throw them away whenever she found them. I eventually started sneaking them to school with me, rather than risk losing the only thing that allowed me to be myself.
I was 13 when I first ventured out as a woman. I remember how tight my chest was, how I could feel my heart pounding, and how I couldn’t stop my hands shaking as I closed the gate. I did it because I knew how I felt, and I wanted so badly to stand tall in public as my true self.
But it was hard not to believe what people around me said. I was terrified of losing friends, of being rejected, or even abused. So I hoped that maybe it would go away when I was older. I thought that maybe my parents were right, that maybe it was a “phase”.
It didn’t. It got stronger. And as it did, the strain of living a lie became almost too much to bear. I hid myself away from the world rather than face the insults, the stares and the intolerance that leads to violence. There were days when I would stand behind the front door literally shaking, because the idea of leaving the house terrified me so much.
I can’t describe the feeling of being in the wrong body, but more than once, it drove me to the edge. In 2009, I was close to giving up. I remember searching for help, someone to talk to, a sign that I should keep going. And I found that the Transgender Day of Remembrance is the same day as my birthday: November 20. I knew it was a coincidence, pure and simple — but it gave me the strength I needed to start advocating for trans rights, and to walk out of the house in broad daylight, living as the person I truly am.
My mum died of cancer before I could really show her that things were getting better, and I wish I’d been able to show her that even though she didn’t fully understand, I was happy. But I’m grateful I have my dad.
I hadn’t talked to him in months, but one day he came around to my house. He wanted to know how I was. Then he paused. And hesitantly, he started asking me questions about my life. I never expected to have his support — I’d felt for so long that he would never understand — but that feeling of acceptance meant I had the courage to finally come out to the rest of my family and friends.
It’s now nearly my two year milestone on my transition from male to female. I’m finally living as the person I truly am, and I haven’t looked back. There are still occasional hurtful words in the street — but I’ve come to accept that there will always be a few people who are prejudiced, or feel threatened by difference.
What hurts maybe more is well-meaning people telling me I’m “sick”. Being told that the way you are on the inside — that little piece of you that some people call heart and others call soul and that everyone knows is there — being told that that piece of you is “sick”? It’s one of the most devastating things you can hear.
I’m not sick. I’m transsexual. That’s why I’ve started a petition on Change.org to make the World Health Organisation stop classifying people like me as mentally ill.
The WHO includes transsexualism on its list of mental disorders, despite a growing consensus in medicine and psychology that it’s something we are born with. This list is used by over 190 countries, and shapes everything from attitudes to policy.
The list is under revision for the next edition right now, and I’ve joined with some incredible trans rights advocates from around the world — including Jenna Talackova, a Miss Universe Canada contestant who was ejected and then reinstated to the competition when judges found out she was transsexual — to ask for change.
The WHO considered homosexuality a mental disorder until the 1990s. No one would say that now. That’s why I know that this can happen.
If I could say one thing to people out there like me, or anyone at all who is feeling alone or misunderstood, it’s to stay strong. I was stuck for years not knowing if I could ever come out and live as a full time woman and be myself, but there is hope for everyone to finally be free and to be yourself. There are hard times and unkindness, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Piece by piece, we’re slowly dismantling the intolerance and prejudice that drives so many of us to take our own lives or live a lie. And I’m proud to be a part of it.