Many of us knew we were different early in life, even if we didn’t know how to explain it. Today, some children have a sense of gender identity so strong, they begin living it freely from an early age. But for most previous generations, this confidence and safety of transgender expression didn’t exist. It certainly didn’t exist in places like southern, small-town America.
Kendra, now fifty-one, knew she was different from about age eight. But she also knew that it wasn’t safe or possible to be herself. Born Kendal*, she lived the life expected of a straight, white man. Kendal married his high school sweetheart, got a job, bought a house, had two children, and in every way seemingly lived a “normal” life. On the surface, Kendal was manly, bearded, and interested in all things macho. He didn’t exactly scream “I’m transgender.” But inside, Kendra was screaming to escape the prison society created for her.
After Kendal’s first wife died, he remarried a few years later. Kendra was still there, and increasingly as the years went on, she was unwilling to be quiet. Sometimes she could come out-expressing herself when Kendal secretly wore female undergarments. Sometimes she could don a wig in the privacy of her home and dress head to toe. But she’d always have to be put back, pushed back, and let Kendal back in the driver’s seat.
Kendal and his second wife, Carol*, began having marital problems, leading to Kendal admitting out loud who he really is. Kendra is the real person, Kendal is the façade. Carol and Kendal eventually separated. Kendra faced a literal life-or-death choice, and like too many others, considered suicide as a “solution.” Thankfully, she choose life. She came out to her family, starting with her younger, out gay brother, and then her children and parents. Her brother and her children accepted her unconditionally. Her parents weren’t thrilled, but they were accepting.
Today, Kendra wakes up every morning, “fierce and fabulous” in a house she decorated. Like Clark Kent and his phone booth, Kendra’s house is the place where she is able to safely transform. Kendra has found support groups in a nearby city, and she is always shaved, toenails painted, ready to go when Kendal leaves the office.
Kendra self-identifies as bisexual, and has no plans at this time to undergo gender confirmation surgery (information she volunteered). She is open to going on hormones one day, when the time is right for her. After two marriages, she’s looking for “a good friend, someone who has had a similar experience” but not necessarily a third marriage.
Her biggest piece of advice is the importance of being true to yourself, “suppressing your identity is very damaging, but coming out has brought me peace and joy.”
The suppression of her identity has been personally expensive; coming out as a transgender woman has given her priceless freedom and happiness. I have known Kendal for twenty years, and now, I have the honor of getting to know Kendra.
*Names changed for privacy. Photo and image courtesty of Pixabay.
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