After decades of painful confusion, this transgender woman’s journey has a happy ending.
This is part of a story series about the lives of transgender people. Read the introduction here.
Like many transgender people, Kara Marie Ramsey struggled from an early age to reconcile the gender she was assigned at birth with the way she felt inside. By the time she was three years old, she felt a disconnection between her mind, body and spirit — feelings that weren’t helped by the expectations placed on her by conservative parents, especially a father who would say things to her growing up like, “Stop crying — only girls cry!” or “You need to grow a pair.”
Kara didn’t know what to make of all these conflicting messages, coming from inside and out.
I felt a disconnection between what I felt in my brain and what I saw in my body in the mirror. I couldn’t put it together. There were only derogatory terms — a lot of cross-dressers on TV for entertainment purposes, for laughter. I always felt like a freak. Between that and the expectations placed on me as a child, I felt I’d have to play this out and be who I was as a boy, as a man, not ever knowing what transgender was.
With each passing year, things didn’t get any easier for Kara. In fact, they got increasingly worse. By the third grade, she started having trouble with her school work because of her preoccupation with girls. Her parents had a social worker come to school, take her out and talk to her about her feelings. They sent her to a speech therapist because they thought she sounded too girly.
“All of that added to this whole feeling of humiliation,” Kara says. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
With no other outlet for her emotions and her gender dysphoria — the feeling of being at odds with the gender one is assigned at birth — Kara turned to alcohol to numb her feelings. By the time she was eight years old, she was getting drunk almost every day. She’d dress up in her mother’s and sister’s clothes when no one was around, because it was the only time she felt comfortable. But those moments were too few and far between.
Through her teenage years, Kara’s alcohol addiction was exacerbated by a drug addiction, and by the time she was 24 years old she was doing almost every drug except heroin and drinking nearly a fifth of Scotch every day, she says. Fortunately, she wound up in a drug and alcohol treatment center and has remained drug-free ever since. (Years later, she discovered she was able to drink socially again without a problem.)
But her struggles continued to get worse before they got better. Although she remained sober after going through rehab, she was still uncomfortable in her own skin and attempted suicide more than once. Over the years, she was admitted to mental institutions three different times, and was diagnosed as bipolar and as having a borderline personality disorder. At various times she was placed on anti-psychotic drugs and was subjected to electroconvulsive, or shock, therapy.
All it did was make me catatonic. But never was I diagnosed with gender dysphoria, nor was it even questioned. Me being the lonely child in an adult body I felt wrong in, I had to put my trust in the authoritative figures, be it family or friends or the mental health profession, hoping they’d find an answer about why I felt so disconnected despite staying sober. Nothing seemed to work. It just kept getting worse.
Her depression became so severe that Kara couldn’t hold down a full-time job and went on disability. In 2010 she went back to school to get a degree in graphic design, and that’s what ultimately led her to an epiphany about who she is.
Kara was searching online for graphic design jobs when she randomly came across the Barbara Walters’ interview with Jazz Jennings, the star of the reality TV show I Am Jazz. It didn’t take Kara long to see parallels between Jazz’s story and her own.
“I could relate to something for the first time,” Kara says. “I was thinking: transgender, born a female — I can’t be female; I have this thing between my legs. I didn’t know the difference between gender and sexuality, but I was drawn to this somehow.”
Over the next two weeks, Kara researched everything she could find about being transgender, and she came to a fork in the road of her life, she says.
I knew if I went back to what I knew for the better part of my life, where was that going to get me? Based on that old proverb — keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll keep getting what you’ve got — I took a leap of faith and went the other direction.
Kara first saw the Jazz interview in August 2013, and came out to herself less than one month later. The following year she legally changed her name and began hormone replacement therapy. In March 2016 — a day before her 53rd birthday — Kara had sex reassignment surgery.
Although some of her family has shunned her, and her parents struggle to accept who she is, Kara says the difference in how she feels is like “night and day.” She understands now that she was born female, despite the gender she was assigned at birth.
I’ve never regretted one decision. I’ve never looked back. It just keeps getting better. And today I’m in love and engaged to be married. I never thought I’d find anyone like Jacqui. It’s not like anything I’ve ever felt in my life.
Kara met Jacqui Leaonna Turner in a support group for transgender people. They connected the very first time they met and struck up a friendship that has blossomed into true love. (Read Jacqui’s story, and more on the couple’s relationship, HERE.)
“What makes it so special for me is a love with someone who gets me on so many levels,” Kara says. “With Jacqui being trans, she gets the dysphoria I still go through sometimes. I get what she’s going through. I can’t say enough about Jacqui. She’s the star I used to pray upon wondering if I’d ever meet my soul mate. I’ve met my soul mate.”
Read all the stories in this series HERE.
[Photos courtesy of Kara Marie Ramsey.]