(TRIGGER WARNING: Self harm)
Elliot Ryan, “I’m From Payson, UT”
Story and art by featured artist, Elliot Ryan
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Up until the age of 12 I seemed no different from the other boys my age. No one could have ever guessed that I had gender identity disorder; not my friends, my parents, or even me. I had no trouble wearing boy clothes, and I was told I couldn’t wear dresses, so I didn’t. I never took to toys geared toward boys, but neither did I desire to play with dolls. My passion was in Legos, and drawing pictures; something that soon became evident, and lent itself to decades of art-related gift giving.
When asked, I would say that I was a boy. That’s what I was told, after all. It wasn’t until later in my adulthood that I would find out I had a lot of trouble telling male and female apart back then. This and other things would lead me to realize later in adulthood that I actually am female on the inside—just born in the wrong body.
How I wish I had known sooner.
At the age of 13 we started paying for dialup internet for my father’s in-home office computer. I was allowed to play on the internet when my father didn’t need it for his job, and it wasn’t long until I was hooked. My father, deciding he needed his own computer back, bought me my own at around age 15. In a few, short years I learned just about everything you needed to know to keep and maintain your home PC, and I was on the internet whenever I could.
My internet time consisted mostly of internet relay chat rooms, where I spent almost every day participating in text-based role playing. Strangely enough I found myself playing female roles so much that people began assuming that I was a female in real life. My heart had skipped a beat. I knew it was unfair to lie to them, but I couldn’t tell myself to break it to them because for some reason I loved every moment of it.
That is how Kate began. She was an augmentation of my female self; confident and slightly tomboyish, with a good sense of humor. I made great friends over the internet, and every day there was nothing I looked forward to more than coming home to jump into her persona, and be immersed in the online world where so many adventures were to be had.
I couldn’t hide from the world forever, though, and the same was true for my reflection. This is about the time in my life that my body was really working puberty into overhaul. My hair was thickening all over my body, and appearing in places that made me incredibly uneasy. I began experimenting, taking the razor that I was using for my face and began trying to get rid of my body hair too. All I got were angry red blotch marks all over my legs and the feeling of sandpaper for a week whenever I walked. I was stealing my sister’s underwear from the dryer and trying them on, which seemed to give me some bit of comfort, but I had to return them too quickly. Finally I found an old dresser in storage that had my older sister’s underwear in it, so I began using those.
One day, my father discovered what I had in my room. The resulting scene wasn’t pretty, and I won’t go into the details, but from that point on my life was over. My step-mother knew about this now, and I assumed that her children and my sisters knew about it too. I withdrew into my room, resisting social interaction whenever I could to drown my compounding misery and leave it behind in favor of playing my heart out as Kate.
I was making only a minimal effort to keep myself clean and presentable, and with my low self esteem and reclusive tendencies, I became an unpopular character to many. I was often the subject of jokes, and social rejection. One step-sister in particular gave me a disgusted scowl whenever she saw me. The awful thing was that I couldn’t agree with them more. It was to the point that I felt the urge to tear my face off every time I looked in the mirror. I was retreating to my room in tears on a regular basis, and I had learned to cough instead of sob, so that it wouldn’t sound like I was crying.
It didn’t take long for me to become suicidal. I had a pocket knife in my room that had belonged to my grandfather. I borrowed it from my father to cut something for a project but had never bothered to return it. At one point I had this knife, blade exposed, in my hand. I was in tears, trying to convince myself to go through with it. I wanted to die so badly, but I was able to hang on because I could still look forward to the next time that I could play online.
I made a shell around me back then. I used the male identity that everyone perceived me to be and even though it wasn’t really me, I took it upon myself like an actor taking a role in a play. I could disconnect my real identity and use it as a shield to protect the real me from the barbs of reality. I finished school, and joined the military in a last ditch effort to please my father. By this time, IRC had become far less popular. My long-time friends had left, and eventually I had to let go of Kate.
I served a tour in Iraq for 10 months, and spent the rest of my military days in the Marine Corps reserves until 2005. By then my shell was beginning to crack. I was falling right back into depression and suicide, with an added case of PTSD. I was eventually discharged for mental health reasons, and went on to leave my family. It was around this time that I discovered exactly what was happening to me. I was transgendered, and for the years since then I’ve been skirting with homelessness, as well as my mental illnesses, which were made no better by the fact that I couldn’t afford hormone therapy.
I’m getting treatment now, for PTSD through the VA, and I’m on hormone therapy that I’m paying for in part with school money and the money I’m earning at work. It is only now that I can look back on my life and see how many years that were wasted because I had no idea that transgendered persons even existed, let alone are able to change their apparent gender. Such is the trappings of a heterocentric society such as Utah.
My heart goes out to anyone who might find themselves in the same position as I was. Thank you for reading.
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