Ellie's Story

I am a transgender woman. What that means, basically, is that I am someone who was born into a body that did not match what I felt my gender to be inside. I was born male, biologically, but my gender identity was, and is, female.

I remember being five years old and asking my grandmother (who raised me) when I was going to turn into a girl. She laughed that off, of course, but it was a serious question. My grandmother raised me because my birth-mother was young and simply couldn’t handle the responsibility of having a child. My father was in and out of jail and never really a part of my life. From an early age I was very effeminate, and this worried my grandmother enough that she brought in my uncle to “teach me how to be a man.” His approach to that education was to torment me through humiliation and physical violence so I learned to hide my feminine side.

When I was 16 I finally found the word “transgender” – I knew what it was, but the realization was too extreme for me at that point. I responded to it negatively and instead of saying to myself, “Wow, THIS is what is going on!”, I freaked out and ran. I became a body builder; I became immersed in martial arts, and I adopted a hyper-masculine persona because I was hiding from the fear. I had been socialized as a male and already I knew that whenever I acted like a girl there would be ramifications. Significant ones.

As a teenager, looking at admitting I was transgender was too much, so I looked at homosexuality. From my perspective at the time, it seemed homosexual men had “permission” to be feminine, to be vulnerable. In the gay community, their effeminate selves were more accepted. It was a step closer to being true to me. So I came out as gay for a year or two and it seemed to be working at first, but things didn't feel quite right still. I finally came out as transgender in Arizona with a group of people who were very accepting of Trans people. At my request, they gave me a new name: “Hana,” which means blossom. I thought it was very sweet, corny maybe, but appropriate as I was blossoming into myself.

It was a big step, but transition has always been a very slow process of advancing, then retreating for me. Years passed with me existing in a sort of “gender limbo,” gradually learning socially appropriate femininity. Eventually, however, the incongruity of my inner self and outer self began to eat away at me. The term for this is dysphoria; it's a pain that's caused by your view of yourself not matching your body. It isn’t unique to transgender people.

I think it is easier to explain this to women – you know when you see so much media stuff? Images, ads, and you think – “I will never look like that!” But you want to, desperately, and you feel terrible when you fail? Imagine that, but made so much worse by having a masculine body.

I was the very effeminate gay guy when the first hate crime happened. It was a young man who clearly had some issues to deal with. My existence threatened him. He attacked me in a parking lot, cutting my eyebrow open and blinding me with blood as he continued to hit me. Somehow I made it to the hospital and they sewed me up. I don’t hate him, he clearly has his troubles and I understand that. I know this is hard for other people, but it's why I strive to educate and advocate, so this doesn't happen to others.

Lack of exposure to minority groups leads to ignorance, which leads to fear, and then to hate. When you meet someone from a minority group and get to know them as a person, it humanizes them. This builds a “scaffolding” on which you can learn. Then, when you meet another person of that minority, you're able to say, “Well – I met so and so, and I liked them. This is just another person.”

I want to be looked at as a woman. I want to be seen as female because that is who I am. I just want, like everyone else on this planet, to be myself and be accepted.

I was in a band – I had been working very hard on it, pouring my heart into it... Then I was asked to leave the band because I'm transgender. With that went my place to live. My longtime partner had recently left me to pursue a relationship with a man, which made me blame being transgender for being left, and my work was suffering at my job. So, I was homeless, no family, no relationship, no artistic outlet, soon to be unemployed and alone. That’s when I began cutting.

Cutting is a blank space. I don’t know how else to explain it, but when you are feeling so much pain inside it seems a natural choice to express the pain externally as a way to relieve it. I’m not saying that it is good, but it worked like acupuncture for me, as a diversion from the pain inside.

Suicide has been my constant companion since I was 13. I thought about it every time my dysphoria made an appearance, which was often. There was this one time when it was really bad. I was asked to work as security for a conference. At that point I was still trying to present myself as a man. It was several days of work; I was supposed to deal with all the tech support stuff as well as be on patrol. I had met a guy who was obviously attracted to me, but didn’t think much of it. At one point we found a young girl ready to jump off a balcony and we had to restrain her. I worked five days with just about five hours of sleep. Towards the end of the convention, I found myself on the 27th floor, staring over the edge. I had looked in the mirror and all I could see was this monstrosity of a man, and I was sure that I would never see myself. I felt hopeless. I had reconciled all my debts, filled all my obligations to my friends, and I was ready to be done. I knew everyone would be okay without me and I would no longer be in such pain.

I went up to the ledge. My arms and legs were tensed and I felt ready. Then this guy, this same guy I had noticed being attracted to me, came up and said, “Hey! How's it going?” He stood beside me on the ledge and was staring at my wrists. I wore a ton of bracelets at the time, and my skin was obscured. He began turning his own hands over and over, staring at them. Confused, I mimicked his actions and as soon as I did, he grabbed my arm and pulled my bracelets aside, looking for cuts. This simple act of caring, of concern for my wellbeing, was enough to pull me back from the ledge.

This moment saved my life.

I have been raped, I've been suicidal, and I've been beaten half to death. It isn’t easy to be yourself, no matter who you are. It's often said that transgender people are brave. To know that such hate exists for us and to be ourselves anyway seems like it must take great courage. In truth, though, so rarely do we really have a choice in the matter. There's a possibility that we will suffer at the hands of others for being ourselves, but if we lie about who we are there is a guarantee of suffering.

I’m going through hormone therapy. At school people know me as Ellie and I love that – it is huge for me to be around people who accept me for who I am. I’m happy now. I’m going to school, I am teaching music, and most importantly, I feel like me.

Words are very important. The words that people say to you have an impact, but the words you say to yourself have an even greater impact. I am a woman, I love myself, and I am proud of who I am and what I've been through.

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