LGBT, Transgender — May 25, 2016 at 7:57 am

Sara’s story: Finding her place in the world


By expressing her authentic self, this transgender woman learned the meaning of true acceptance.

This is part of a story series about the lives of transgender people. Read the introduction here.

For much of her life so far, Sara thought she had to change herself. But once she started living authentically, she realized that the people who matter most value her exactly as she is.

It’s certainly true about her wife, Nicole (at right in photo). They’ve been together for 20 years, and although they struggled to find their footing after Sara said she could no longer live as the male gender she was assigned as birth, Nicole realized that what was most important was the love they shared with each other and their two children.

The couple was actually preparing to separate, and were ringing in 2015 apart when they each had a life-changing revelation.

“Our relationship with God has always been very important to us, and all this time Nicole had been praying ‘Make him a man,’” Sara says. “That night, she finally heard the answer to her prayer. She heard God tell her, ‘You need to see the love in your marriage. That’s what you need.’ Nicole took that to heart and stopped trying to latch on to what she thought marriage would be.”

Their children, a 21-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, accepted the news of Sara’s transition even more readily. She was already on hormone replacement therapy and wearing a little makeup, but was easing in slowly for the kids’ sake, Sara says.

I checked in with my son, who was 11 at the time, and asked if he was okay with the changes. He said, ‘You should be able to wear whatever you want.’ And even though I was close to my daughter, I was worried about what she might say. Her response when I told her was ‘Duh,’ which was brilliant.

The response from others has been similarly affirming. After she began presenting as Sara, one person told her, “You make sense now.” Even her workplace, where she had only been employed for about six months when she came out, was completely accepting.

I was presenting as Sara everywhere except work, and because of the hormones I’d started having to bind myself. Nicole noticed that on Sunday evenings I’d start to get depressed, because I had to get up in the morning and put on a suit and tie.

When I told the Human Resources director I was a transgender woman and had been presenting as Sara everywhere but work, she was amazing. She said she’d do whatever was needed to make it work for me. When I told my direct boss his response was, ‘Oh, thank God! I thought you were going to tell me you were quitting.’

The company didn’t have a formal employment policy in place, so they agreed to let Sara do what she had done when she told her family and close friends: She wrote a letter to everyone in the company, coming out to them and explaining what being transgender meant. She took off the Friday when the letter was distributed and returned to work on Monday as Sara.

When she arrived at work, there was a vase of flowers on her desk, a gift from her closest colleagues. The card said, “Welcome, Sara.”

Transitioning and coming out over the last year or so has gone relatively smoothly for 42-year-old Sara, but she struggled with her gender identity for most of her life.

When she was five years old, Sara had her first inkling that the things she enjoyed didn’t match the male gender she was assigned at birth. She liked to try on her mother’s clothes, wearing them all day until her mother came home from work and hustled her out of them.

“She was very distressed and didn’t want my dad to know,” Sara says. “It didn’t occur to me that I was doing anything wrong.”

At school, she always wanted to play with the girls, but teachers began “regimenting me into the idea that I was in the wrong line, the wrong spaces,” Sara says. Around the time she was seven years old, she was told explicitly: “You can’t play with Barbies. You can’t play with the girls.”

She says her life after that was what she calls “a non-stop correction” of the things that came naturally to her — like eating pizza with a fork instead of shoving it into her mouth like the guys did. But she never stopped feeling like she belonged with the girls.

Sara says the year she was 12 was a turning point for her. She had a lot of friends who were girls, and because many of their moms thought Sara was gay, she was allowed to take part in sleepovers. Sara’s best friend taught her to paint her nails and shave her legs, and they bonded over interests many teenage girls have.

But when hormones kicked in, everything changed.

My friend’s body started changing and mine didn’t — not in the way I wanted it to. We had been inseparable, but then we had this heartbreaking conversation where she said, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’ That’s when I knew that what I was feeling was so different.

In her late teens, Sara started gravitating toward Goth culture, which embraces both women and men wearing makeup and skirts. She says the community was totally accepting of the way she chose to express herself, even though she still didn’t have any words for it.

“I knew how I wanted to live, but there was no verbiage for it,” Sara says. “I just wished that I was born in a different body.”

When Sara and Nicole started dating, the skirts and makeup weren’t an issue for Nicole. But when Nicole became pregnant with their daughter, Sara felt she had to become a dad.

“I started butching it up a bit,” she says. “I cut my hair, I got khaki pants. I really tried to play that role and model that behavior. Before, I just tried to mask how I was so I wouldn’t get picked on. But this was the first time I really tried to hide it. I had to do a 180 and be a parent.”

Still, Sara’s feelings of disconnection with her birth gender didn’t go away, and she continued searching for information that might explain it. Eventually, she found her way to a gender and women’s studies course when she went back to college in 2009.

I almost cried when I read the description of ‘transgender.’ It was so validating to know I exist somehow. I read the term and I knew it was me. I found all this information that hadn’t been available when I’d looked just a few years earlier. I would stay up all night reading about it.

It was another year before she shared what she had discovered about herself. The first person she told was her wife and best friend, Nicole. “I came out to her and said, ‘This is who I am,’” Sara says.

Over the next year or so, they struggled to find their way as a couple. Sara began seeing a therapist, and although Sara wanted to stay together, living as her authentic self, Nicole wasn’t sure she wanted to stay married. That is, until that fateful New Year’s Eve, when Sara had an epiphany of her own.

I had been praying to God to please take this away. The message I received was, ‘Why are you constantly railing against the way I made you?’ And I realized I’m supposed to be made this way. I wasn’t necessarily born with female parts but I’m the way I’m supposed to be.

Armed with newfound clarity, Sara and Nicole have never looked back. And Sara has since embarked on a new endeavor that will shape the future for others in a meaningful way.

Earlier this year, Sara founded a non-profit called Kaleidoscope Human Resources Solutions. The organization helps companies develop strategies and policies for diversity and inclusion of all people, with a focus on LGBT people. The organization also provides training and seminars for organizations that already have inclusive policies and procedures, but want to continue educating employees. Sara, who has a degree in Human Resources Management, is leading the team that’s already serving clients, and she says her organization’s services are more needed than ever.

Diverse companies are better companies. The younger generation that’s coming in, it’s not enough just to pay them money. Social justice is important to them. You can’t just say you’re inclusive — you have to show it with policies and organizational development. Otherwise, you’ll lose people to companies that are more socially minded.

Sara is excited about the new organization, and grateful for the affirming feedback she continues to get from the people in her life.

“A few months ago, I asked my son how he was doing with everything, and if he ever wanted to go back to the way it was before,” Sara says. “He said, ‘Oh, no. We’re all so much happier now — all of us.’”

Read all the stories in this series HERE.

[Photo courtesy of Sara.]