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Robyn Harper

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Meggan Sommerville, 'Trans Girl at the Cross,' Talks Growing Up Transgender, Transitioning, and Changing Minds

Posted: 07/16/2012 6:36 pm

I haven't had the opportunity to get to know many people from the transgender community. The concept and reality of it is definitely something I want to learn more about. I feel lucky that I've met Meggan. I feel even luckier that she has discussed with me her personal experiences, and deeply personal ones at that. She has given me a most revealing and valuable insight into her life and her experiences. I'm grateful for my learning experience, and for that I thank Meggan. Her cooperation and honesty have made this blog possible.

Our blossoming friendship came about through a comment that she left on HuffPost Gay Voices' Facebook page. I was intrigued by the openness and honesty of what she wrote. The sincerity of her words drew me in. I wanted to get to know this person. I wanted to understand this person. She fascinated me. I added her on Facebook. Our common interest in blogging made for an easy connection. I explained my own thought process and asked her some questions. Her answers were so enlightening that I suggested that I interview her for a blog post, and here we are now.

Meet Meggan. She's 42 and she lives in Illinois.

Can you tell me what it was like growing up?

The best place to start is at the beginning. My earliest memories of not wanting to play to the normal gender roles, which were pretty well-defined back in the early '70s, was when I was about 4. That was when two of my friends would come over to play house with me and my older brother. Of course, as they were girls and we were boys, I always had to play the son. I wanted to play the mom.

For most of my early years, I never really showed definitive feminine traits. I tended to walk the line between gender roles. I liked to play with dolls and my stuffed animals and hang with my mom, but I also like playing with Tonka trucks, Legos, and getting dirty. I relished the days when I could go over to a girl friend's house and play with her toys. As I grew older and started to understand the differences between girls and boys, I started to understand more about how much I was really different from the other boys. I envied the clothes the girls wore. I hated the clothes I wore. But all that time I stayed silent. I never told my mom or dad how different I felt.

To say that my school years were splattered with uncomfortable times would be an understatement. In third grade I was chosen to play one of the lead male roles, the Nutcracker, in our school's version of the play. I had to wear a fake beard, which I didn't like. I remember even trying to hide on stage. I hated it. To make matters worse, I was jealous of one of my good friends when she got the role of the lead, Clara.

No young teenage kid likes the locker room, especially when you are of a lesser build than most of the others. Having to change in front of others can be traumatic for some. Being transgender made my anxiety levels skyrocket to the point of giving me nightmares about it. I felt as though I was thrown into a hostile foreign country every day where I didn't know the language or the customs. On top of that, add the stress of disrobing in front of others. I was scared nearly every day. I always feared that the other boys would somehow, some way see through the act I tried to put on. Many days I would take my time getting to phys. ed. class so by the time I was in the locker room, most of the other boys were already out on the gym floor. By the time I was in high school, hiding became necessary so that the other boys wouldn't see my shaved legs.

I really had a tough time when the girls started to develop in our junior-high years. My thoughts were preoccupied with how I wasn't one of them. At that time, long before the Internet, I spent hours at the library reading all I could find on being transsexual. (The word "transgender" had not yet come into use.) Most of the books available were full of psychological case studies. There were a few biographies, like Second Serve by Renée Richards, which I read over and over. Her story and her bravery had such a profound effect on me that I actually chose my middle name after her.

By the time I was in high school, the early signs of depression were starting to set in. I felt so disconnected from my friends and others around me. I had become a good actor. I never allowed anyone to see the real me. I never wanted them to find out what I was feeling. I was picked on enough; I can't imagine what some of my tormentors would have done if they knew I really wanted to be a girl. Innocent comments that people would make would set my heart racing. I finally reached a point, on a church youth-group retreat in the fall of my senior year, where I'd had enough. I shared with the group the first night that I wanted to wander out into the forest and just disappear. I felt that if I did that, no one would notice I was gone. About 15 girls and one guy came up to me, hugged me, and told me that they were sorry for how disconnected I felt and promised to be better friends. I didn't have the nerve even then to come out to them. I later found out that several of my friends had started to suspect I might be gay ("transsexual" wasn't a household word yet in my community, so it didn't occur to them that that was a possibility), though they never mentioned it to me.

Since transitioning, what's the best thing about it, physically and mentally?

I made the move in 2009 to begin hormone treatment, and upon my doctor's encouragement I began the process of transitioning from male to female. In the summer of 2010, I legally changed my name and had my gender status changed on my driver's license and all other pertinent documents. Though I was living as a woman starting in 2009, I was still forced to live life as a male at work (though many of my coworkers already knew what my plans were). As the female hormones and the testosterone blocker started to take effect, the physical changes were subtle. One of the biggest things I loved was the loss of much of my body hair. Back when I was a teenager and puberty hit me, I was sick to see all the hair start growing where girls should not have hair. Other more subtle changes, like facial features, I really didn't notice much, until one morning, as I looked in the mirror, I was struck by the change I saw in my face. It was at that point I knew it was time to petition for the name change. I was finally comfortable with the image I saw in the mirror. Many of the customers that came into the store where I worked were already referring to me as "she" or "her" or "that woman back in the framing department." Now the changes have progressed to a point were I feel comfortable going out in public in shorts, a cami top, and not even any makeup!

The effects the drugs had on me mentally were more profound. In the years leading up to the transition, I was living life in a total fog. I take that back. I wasn't living. I was existing. I was depressed, distant, angry, and often despondent. I felt I could never be the person I was inside. As my brain accepted the female hormones, I began to have a clarity I had not felt in decades. People around me saw the change, as well. A few people said I was actually glowing. I smiled more. I enjoyed life more. The majority of the depression and despair was gone.

Did you have a strong support network?

I was fortunate to have two very loving and supportive parents! And I can't emphasise that point enough. If I had not have had them behind me, I probably would not have survived the trip home from Omaha that September weekend in 2009. Their support and love for their "new" daughter has meant the world to me.

Prior to the big announcement on Facebook in July 2010, several of my friends had asked me privately what many of my cryptic status updates meant. Once they were over the shock, all the friends who were brave enough to ask were extremely supportive. I was welcomed to "the other side" with open arms. Since that initial announcement, the true friends have stuck by me.

What are the biggest barriers to education, and what do you think people do or do not understand?

There are a few things hampering the education of the general public on who transgender people are and what it means to be transgender. The transgender community is making strides for equality and acceptance, but right now, in my opinion, we are where the gay community was 40 years ago. In over half of America, you can be fired just for being transgender. One of the biggest things that comes to mind is the lack of mainstream public figures who have transitioned. For too long, the perception of the transgender community is what people see on shows like Jerry Springer. I applaud Chaz Bono for the work he has done to raise the level of awareness. But we need more. I know of many transgender women and men who are working tirelessly for equal treatment and to educate the government and the public. But sometimes mainstream media either ignore, them or the media fall short of presenting an unbiased point of view.

Another thing that has proven to be an obstacle is the unwillingness of some people to listen to a different point of view and accept someone who they see breaks society's rules on what gender means. I continue to face this myself. Even though people have adapted to calling me by a different name and use the female pronouns, many still don't accept me as female because they still don't understand that gender is not defined by what someone has between their legs or what they were born with. The controversy over Jenna Talackova's entrance into the Miss Universe Canada pageant is a perfect example. Miss Talackova was born with a male body but never seemed to fit into it. At the age of 14 she started her physical transition to become wholly female. At the age of 19, I believe, she had the sex-reassignment surgery. According to ABC News, in an informal poll of Canadians prior to the Canadian pageant, the population was split 50/50 on whether Miss Talackova should be allowed to compete. This comes down to 50 percent of the population not accepting Miss Talackova as a natural woman. Though the pageant rules were eventually changed, allowing Miss Talackova and any other transgender women to compete, there is still the underlying sentiment among a large portion of the population that needs to be addressed. In an interview on ABC's 20/20, Miss Talackova did a wonderful job of answering the interviewers questions, but for Barbara Walters to ask Miss Talackova about how she would look naked was highly inappropriate. Once again, the underlying focus being on physical appearance.

What does "transgender" mean to you?

I know I am going to catch some flack for what I am about to say, but it is where I stand. The word "transgender" has come to be an umbrella term to cover all sorts of categories, including fetish cross-dressers, transvestites, drag queens, genderqueers, and true transsexuals. Unfortunately, the true transsexual or, in my opinion, true transgender man or woman is put at a disadvantage when categorized with these other groups. Though I may not have had a name for it when I was 3 or 4 years old, I knew even then I didn't want to be a boy. Sometime during my development in the womb, something happened that caused my brain to develop more female and my body formed male. For the true transgender man or woman, we loathe the physical body that we were born with. We don't pretend to be the opposite gender or play dress-up. We have no desire to live in the gender we were born into. The vast majority of us desire to live out our lives privately once we have transitioned our bodies and lives to be aligned with our mind and soul. For example, a male-to-female transitioner, like me, will want only to think of herself as a normal woman once surgery has corrected what nature got wrong.

* * * * *

Meggan's obvious strength of character coupled with sheer bravery and determination have helped her transition her body and life to harmoniously align with her mind and soul.

Her generosity is ever so inspiring. To not only return to her harder days in memory but to commit these recollections to the public record in the hope that her experiences may benefit others is a truly admirable gesture. To share details so intimate, so personal, so meaningful, and, indeed, so life-changing takes real strength.

Her admirable efforts don't end there. Meggan wants to tell her story. She wants to contribute toward education and create and raise more awareness and understanding of the transgender community. She hasn't wasted any time. She has recently initiated a blogging account with Chicago Now, under the superbly creative title Trans Girl at the Cross.

Meggan told me she has found herself in a unique position with the ability to write and express herself. She wants to share her own valuable and insightful journey for the benefit of others facing a similar predicament. I think Meggan summed it up best when she told me, "I cannot sit back and let others speak when I have a voice." She wants to be seen as an educator. I think she is well on her way toward achieving that goal. If I dare say so, Meggan is not just a "normal woman" as she thinks of herself; she is an extraordinary woman. I've made a new friend, I'm grateful, and I wish her every success in her endeavours.

 

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