On Transitioning a Person
I sat in the classroom with my stomach churning in angst, my heart fluttering, sweat seeping through my skin, and a visceral tension that seemed to travel all over my body. My brain told me not to do it.
Talk about an easy problem. This just practice.
Despite my logic, my heart always told me that nothing is worth doing unless it’s meaningful, which for me, also meant vulnerable.
I was in my first month of my counseling education program, and the instructor divided us into partners so that one person could play the client while the other practiced counseling skills. Ever since the previous week, I knew my time would come where I would sit in the client’s chair. But what would I talk about?
For the past three years, an internal conflict brewed and bubbled inside me. I’m transgender. I’m supposed to be a man. This long-haired, porcelain doll-like, female beauty isn’t me. My soul is hiding.
Me In 2017 Before Starting My Counseling Program
For as long as I can recall, I felt stronger in my masculinity than my femininity. I yearned to be my daddy, walking around without a shirt on, smoking cigarettes, which I attributed to masculinity as a child, and playing sports. Yet, the memory of the time where I attempted to walk around shirtless only to get chastised by my parents always loomed within me. It wasn’t okay to act like a boy.
Childhood was fairly easy for me. Receiving the label of a tomboy comforted me in feeling accepted for not behaving like the other more stereotypically feminine girls. Unfortunately, puberty got the best of me, especially growing breasts. Still believing in God at the time, I was convinced that I possessed the soul of a man but that God put me in the body of a woman to punish me. Nevertheless, living in a more female body was my plight, so I learned to live with it.
In 2015, I watched a documentary about “trans kids,” and I learned about hormone blockers. My eyes grew big and welled up with tears. Emotional, I texted my husband, impulsively vomiting out that I want to be a man and if I could have taken estrogen blockers and experienced puberty as a man, I would. Joe was supportive, but he obviously didn’t digest the full meaning of those words.
The topic emerged repeatedly between us, often resulting in jokes about how others would see us as two gay guys and the ways that we would purposely toy with others’ discomfort. But then it grew serious. I purchased some men’s flannel shirts to work my way towards men’s clothing, and Joe freaked.
“I can’t be with a man. I can’t do it.” He uttered again and again.
I didn’t want to lose Joe, for he proved to be a great partner, and our bond was extremely close, maybe even a little codependent. Heartbroken, I buried the masculine part of me. When the urge to fantasize about my male persona disrupted my thoughts, I sadly stopped it. For months, I mourned the person that I felt I would never be. For a year and a half, we never discussed it again.
That is when I met Carl Rogers. I didn’t meet him in person; my soul met him through his words. After first reading about the person-centered approach (PCA) in my theories textbook in my counseling program, I knew PCA was the approach for me. It just felt right in my entire essence even though I didn’t quite fully comprehend it.
Certain concepts that pierced my soul was authenticity and congruence. Mostly, my life felt pretty congruent. I was working toward my second master’s degree, running marathons, traveling, cooking, and living a full life. Nevertheless, no matter how congruent I wanted to be, the incongruence with my gender identity entrapped me. How can I counsel people and help them be more of themselves, if I am not honest with who I am?
The instructor called my name in class that day to play the fake client. Inhaling a deep breath, I walked to the chair displayed in the front of the classroom. The counselor chair in front of me sat empty. Please don’t let that guy be my counselor in this role play, I silently pleaded inside. There was one guy in the cohort who was nice, but he was a small-town biker who I feared wouldn’t know what to do with me. To my dismay, the instructor called him up to be my counselor.
I sat in the chair hoping that no one could see the internal turmoil inside me. My classmate asked me what I wanted to talk about that day.
Terrified and anxious, I muttered, “I want to be a man.”
His eyebrows tensed up in confusion, and he struggled for words. Kindly, he inquired what I meant by that statement. I continued to discuss the little boy inside of me as a child that had been suppressed and the intense feeling of incongruence because I felt like a fake person. Totally lost, my classmate turned to the instructor for support.
I didn’t use the word, transgender. It would take months of personal counseling for me to use that term without a sense of shame, which mostly was attributed to society’s views on transgender people that I had, unfortunately, internalized. I feared getting labeled as a pervert or sexual deviant, an accusation that I often heard about queer people. I never said that day in class that I wanted to medically transition, but I did say that I wanted my loathed breasts removed. During our discussion, the true barrier to living authentically emerged: my husband. For that time, I concluded that I just wanted to be able to talk to my husband without him freaking out that I was going to turn into a man overnight. I knew after that day in class that I could not continue to avoid the lingering gender issue that hovered over my marriage.
At the end of our discussion, the instructor asked me about my experience sharing these feelings with the class. I admitted that I feared judgment, and he asked me if I felt judged, which I didn’t. Feeling strange but also relieved to talk to someone about my struggle, I felt positive about my decision to expose this part of me. A few months later, Joe decided to start seeing a counselor to explore if he could support me transitioning; after just one visit, he was 100% on board. We have grown closer ever since.
Despite the anxiety around disclosing myself in front a classroom of counseling education peers, releasing what was burning inside of my soul felt so good. I just knew that it was a start of something. I didn’t know what, but it felt like the pathway to congruence. Congruence for myself, and congruence as a future person-centered counselor. However, this event and new beginning also triggered another important Rogerian concept in me: the importance of an internal locus of evaluation. With all the prejudices and government attempts to pass discriminatory legislation against transgender people, I knew that if I was going to medically and socially transition to male that my own self-value and self-acceptance must be stronger than the way others saw me.
Carl Rogers (1961) writes, “…each of us knows individuals whom we somehow trust because we sense that they are being what they are, that we are dealing with the person himself, not with a polite or professional front” (p. 61). Despite my overall growth as a person prior to my transition, I always felt that I behaved authentically to my true nature. Working as an educator never stopped me from expressing myself artistically with tattoos or with my gothic makeup and clothing. While it may have brought judgment and even perhaps a few missed job opportunities, no job proved worthy of suppressing myself. Nevertheless, coming out as transgender and medically transitioning was the ultimate test of authenticity for me. This real me had been awakened and refused to remain silent. The long, black hair that flowed down my back and the round curves along my physique felt like a costume. My voice, my demeanor, my gait, my body language—all of it—could never feel natural. More importantly, as Rogers notes, this feminine guise would only block me from a true sense of connection with others because I was perpetually hidden.
I am currently in the third year of my medical transition, and I am still in the process of becoming me. Initially, I envisioned myself as a stereotypically, masculine man, causing me to spend great amounts of time agonizing over my voice, my posture, my gestures, and even the way I sat. Am I speaking deep enough? Am I sitting like a guy? Is my gait manly enough? As I gradually adjusted to the physical and social changes that moved me more into the masculine side of gender, I learned to explore my feminine attributes with more curiosity and acceptance. I didn’t want to change my gestures, my walk, or my mannerisms. Identifying as a stereotypically, masculine man didn’t feel right to me, though. I lived the first 38 years of my life as a woman. That sense of myself didn’t vanish, nor did I want it to.
Me In April 2020
Joe And I In July 2021
Today, I identify as nonbinary, transmasculine, meaning that I identify more with the masculine side of gender but still identify with my feminine side. This realization has freed me from the limitations of a gender binary in which I felt forced to choose my masculine qualities and suppress my feminine ones. Instead, I am an integrated person who is still learning (and loving!) the ways that my masculine and feminine parts collaborate and influence each other. As a counselor, I am learning ways to utilize my unique experiences of presenting both as a man and a woman in working with my clients. Therefore, I see my transgender identity now as a strength rather than a shameful curse.
Lastly, Carl Rogers (1961) asserts, “It [Life] is always in process of becoming” (p. 27). It’s okay that I wore dresses and expressed myself as a woman even though I didn’t identify that way. It’s okay that I embrace the nonbinary identity even though I didn’t understand the meaning of nonbinary prior to transitioning. As people, we continue to discover ourselves over and over again throughout our lifespan with the goal of learning how to become more of ourselves. My journey is still new, rich, and alive, and it is my pleasure to share it with anyone who may get inspired from it to live their own lives authentically.
If you would like to read more stories about Carey’s experiences as a LGBTQIA+ person, you may visit his blog at: www.careypw.com.