Transitioning to self-acceptance
The journey of two transgender women
“I refused to live as a man one more day, no matter how thick my stubble was,” UIS graduate Kari O’Doran said when describing her first day dressing in women’s clothing. “I never felt like a masculine person my whole life. There were things about myself that separated me from others.”
O’Doran enlisted in the Coast Guard in an attempt to “live that suburban predictable life everyone was expecting me to.” During her service time, she concealed her true gender identity and visibly remained a heteronormative male. She remembers enduring harbor patrol shifts where her crew would explicitly use derogatory catcalls on women in the streets of San Diego. She questioned who the real enemy was: terrorists or sexists?
Trying to still maintain a “predictable image,” she got married during her time in the Coast Guard and has a child from this union. “Nothing came naturally for me in terms of being a father. I would challenge myself to come up with the right answer on what would a father do?” At this point, O’Doran said she struggled with a lifelong internal battle, one that was “a constant thing on my mind.”
Current UIS student Juanie (Juan) Trevino expressed the similar feelings as O’Doran. “I’ve always physically and mentally felt female, never felt myself connecting to the male identity. It’s like you know how you feel on the inside but you don’t know how to explain it.”
Trevino’s experience of transitioning varies from O’Doran’s. Trevino said, “High school is when my transition process began, and [it] started with telling close friends how I felt.
Trevino, who is currently transitioning from male to female, found the process more accessible due to the open and welcoming response she received from her family. “I couldn’t lie to myself anymore or them. It hurts so much [that] I had to tell them. I was shocked when they said, ‘[We] always knew something was different, but we didn’t want to force you to come out.’”
O’Doran credits her transition to UIS. After her time in the Coast Guard ended, O’Doran moved her family to Springfield where she started attending UIS. But shortly after school had started, she divorced her companion for issues unrelated to gender identity.
She said she loved learning about other individuals like her, and added that it allowed her to focus on the part of her that she new existed.
Transgender can be a confusing term for many people, including the ones who eventually end up identifying with the description. According to GLAAD.org, transgender in its most basic form is defined as people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth.
Trevino said, “I’ve never been embarrassed of who I am, I know some people who consider their circumstance similar to a birth defect.”
Undergraduate student Alex Williams dedicated her internship with the LGBTQA resource office to creating a search engine for transgender students and the availability and knowledge of resources. The project, Trans@UIS Guide, went live earlier this month. Williams said, “I’ve been here since 2009, and in just that short time, this campus has become much more inclusive of LGBTQ students.”
LGBTQA Resource Director Kerry Poynter agrees that positive steps have been made, but “[in some areas] we still have work to do.”
According to Williams, “The guide is a way to help students, while helping UIS learn how to be more inclusive.”
The guide also offers medical information for transitioning students. Some transgender men and women believe surgeries offer completion in the transitioning process. The Trans@UIS Guide offers a tool that assists in medical know-how. From hormone replacement therapy to the expense of sex reassignment surgery, down to recommended health centers to aid in the process
O’Doran said, “I don’t believe having a surgery is necessary to transform fully. [But,] for me, I am planning on getting surgery.”
Trevino agreed, saying, “Sex organs aren’t everything.” Trevino is currently in the legal aspect of her transition. She said, “My transition process right now is mainly legal- name change. The sex reassignment surgery is a little more down the road.”
Both O’Doran and Trevino expressed that UIS offers an accepting and open atmosphere.
O’Doran said, “If I didn’t go to UIS, I wouldn’t have had the drive, open[ness] or knowledge about myself to transition.”
Likewise, Trevino said, “UIS Is pretty open and very accepting of a lot of things. I have not faced anyone being out loud close-minded.”
Since beginning and accepting the transition process, O’Doran said, “Life is easier in a lot of ways.” She said she no longer feels like she has to justify liking certain things. “I can just do it because I like it.”
She said her relationship with her son has drastically gotten better and she is finding success in co-parenting with her ex.
“When you’re looking to transition, there will always be people who have reasons [for you] not to,” O’Doran said. “You can’t let anyone influence you- it comes down to you [and] how you want to live your life, if you’re going to live [it] for [anything] other than you- you aren’t really living.”