International Transgender Day of Visibility: This is Sarah’s story
I am a 30-something year-old, female, gamer, forensic accountant, agnostic, Caucasian, burger, brunch and ramen lover, transgender, volunteer surf lifesaver, lesbian, private investigator, black belt in taekwondo, human.
I am of course the sum of all these parts and much more. But which of those words stood out for you more? Were there ones that connected with you on a personal level, or others that sparked interest due to recent media reports or celebrity goss? I suspect “transgender” stood out and it is also the focus of this story. As with any good fairy-tale, this story begins with…
Once upon a time, in a suburb not so far away from where she now works, a little ‘girl’ was born. This little ‘girl’ was unlike many other girls, in that she looked like and was treated like a boy.
This little girl grew up in a loving family, but there were occasions when family and friends found her behaviour or mannerisms a little odd. At school this led to her often being teased or accused of being gay. She lost all her best friends from primary school when she went to an all-boys high school because they thought she was gay. All this caused her to wonder, “Am I gay?” But this didn’t feel right, nor did it match with her sexual attraction to females.
She learnt to adapt to the world and its expectations. She became ‘one of the boys’ and hid away those elements that made her appear gay, or non-conforming. She also had a reputation to uphold before her younger brother entered the same high school. The last thing she wanted was to make things socially harder for him. No matter how much she tried to put on the mask of what she thought she should be, those deep feelings did not go away. They lingered and occasionally meant she hid herself away and dressed in female clothes or engaged in more ‘feminine’ activities in secret, where she knew no one was judging her.
This young woman took the very normal path of attending university. It was here that she challenged the safe persona that she had built, to express herself in a very vulnerable way. She took on a ‘goth look’ which gave her the opportunity to grow her hair long, wear nail polish, and dress in more feminine clothes. In the privacy of her room she listened to pop music, dressed in cute female outfits (which she told store attendants were for her ‘girlfriend’), and loved all shades of pink.
With this new-found freedom she felt the need to bring her private life into the public light. She started researching Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and speaking with medical professionals about her situation. Then came the big moment to ‘grow up’: apply for graduate roles and begin a professional career. Again her feelings of being her true self were repressed, like a coffee plunger pushing the grind to the bottom. She focused on being the professional corporate male, with short cropped hair, masculine attire and gender appropriate mannerisms.
The approach worked and she was offered a number of graduate roles, and accepted one with KPMG in the external audit division. As a professional male, she met many great people there and worked on interesting and challenging engagements, locally and overseas. She excelled at work, was promoted, and fulfilled her goal to move to the Forensic team. With her career on the right trajectory, and surrounded by a few close friends, she managed to keep at bay the deep feelings which she had abandoned and hidden away.
In mid-2017, with much to be thankful for in life, she struggled to be truthful with herself about her happiness. She had by then experienced a few short romances with lovely women. More recently these had failed after she’d shared elements of her hidden true-self (e.g. dressing in female attire), which she understood.
Again she found herself exploring options for change. She spoke to medical professionals specialising in gender issues and was given the go ahead to start the HRT process in August 2017. While a very small number of select friends knew of her secret, the time came to tell her family and her wider friend network once she started HRT.
I’m reminded of the hypothetical scene in the movie, Love Simon (spoiler alert), where some children ‘come out’ to their parents for being ‘straight’. I wonder how even more ludicrous this scene might be in coming out to your parents as ‘cisgender’ (the opposite of trans); having to explain to your parents that your birth gender matches how you feel about your gender.
The chats with family and friends were mostly done one on one. This was a nerve-wracking, mentally and emotionally draining process as she never knew if this was where she’d lose a friend or be disowned by a family member. For the most part they went far better than expected, clearly showing she has amazing people around her.
She was now ready to bring part of her secret life into her public life. While it was empowering (but anxious) to appear in public in her true gender, there were concerns of running into someone from her work life. To a different degree, the double life (and lie) still continued.
A few months after starting her second ‘puberty’ – thanks to the HRT – the physical changes meant she needed to engage her workplace about a transition plan. This would entail notifying a few hundred people, including clients. It almost felt like a deal breaker, having to share something so personal so publicly. When was the last time you shared intimate details about yourself with a few hundred work colleagues? But as they say, when you’ve come this far…
The day this woman returned to work, as her true self, felt a bit like the first day at a new job. There were some teething problems – mainly technology related – which meant her anxiety levels reached epic proportions. It was also around this time she needed to medicate against depression, not uncommon in transgender people and/or those going through a transition. There have been other things to work on, such as vocal training, electrolysis, laser hair removal, and many other tasks. But progress does not often come without its challenges. The silver lining to this is that she now has the opportunity to support others transitioning at KPMG.
This woman is now largely living as her true self on a daily basis. The lie is nearly entirely gone. While there is still some daily anxiety (especially about being passable as a woman), there are also other feelings she has never imagined flooding her psyche. These are feelings of looking or dancing in the mirror and loving who she sees, rather than previously just accepting who she saw. There are still those times of feeling self-conscious but, as she has discovering, this is perfectly normal too.
The HRT process is still continuing and she is planning gender reassignment surgery (at the cost of a small car). The possibility of the whole experience is equal parts exciting and terrifying.
There is a vast range of people who I need to applaud and thank from the bottom of my heart; those who advised, challenged and supported me through my transition so far. The support and respect has been nothing short of amazing, and it has far exceeded my expectations. In hindsight, I’d have preferred to have the courage to do this many years ago. But in many ways I feel the timing was right for both myself and society.
Whilst her story is not yet finished, at least part of her epitaph will read, “She died being who she loved…”
That counts for something, right?
31 March is International Transgender Day of Visibility. If you would like to understand more about being Transgender please use the links below. KPMG Australia has a set of guidelines to support people transitioning in the workplace.