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Sarah McBride

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The Real Me

Posted: 05/09/2012 5:31 pm

Last week, I ended my term as American University's student body president. I have learned and grown so much over the last year, both personally and professionally. As proud as I am of all of the issues we tackled together, the biggest take away, for me, has been the resolution of an internal struggle.

For my entire life, I've wrestled with my gender identity. It was only after the experiences of this year that I was able to come to terms with what had been my deepest secret: I'm transgender.
For me, it is something I've always known, but had never accepted. It's been present my whole life, from as early as I can remember. It wasn't that I knew I was different, I literally knew I was a girl.

Around the age of six or seven, I was watching a sitcom with my mom when a transgender character appeared. Until this point, I thought I was the only one and that there was nothing I could do about who I knew I was. I remember asking my mom what "transgender" meant. She explained it to me, and my heart dropped; I knew "that's who I am" and I knew I'd have to tell my parents someday.

At the same time, I developed my love of politics. And starting at six and seven, I wrestled with the fact that my dream and my identity seemed mutually exclusive; I had to pick. So I picked what I thought was easier and wouldn't disappoint people.

As I got older, became successful in politics, and expectations grew, the pedestal that I was on made it harder for me to come to terms with everything. My golden handcuffs grew stronger and stronger. I had everyone and everything telling me that I could really make it in politics. "What a privilege," I thought, "I shouldn't sacrifice that." I was also scared to disappoint the friends and family who had invested so much of their time and provided me with so many opportunities.

To avoid letting myself and others down, I rationalized my decision: if I can obtain positions of power and make the world a little more accepting, then that work would some how mitigate my own, internal struggles. I told myself that if I could make "Tim" worthwhile for other people by changing the world, that being "Tim" would have been worthwhile.

As SG President, I realized that as great as it is to work on issues of fairness, it only highlighted my own struggles. It didn't bring the completeness that I sought. By mid-fall, it had gotten to the point where I was living in my own head. With everything I did, from the mundane to the exciting, the only way I was able to enjoy it was if I re-imagined doing it as a girl. My life was passing me by, and I was done wasting it as someone I wasn't.

And with those experiences, I couldn't continue to rationalize to myself that it would get better by continued concealment. It would only get better if I began to live true to myself.

After confiding in two or three friends as I struggled through fall semester, I told my family and some of my closest friends over winter break. My brothers and parents greeted me with immediate support and unconditional love. Naturally, it was difficult for them. On one level, they had believed that they would never have to really worry about me, that I was pretty much set for life. This development rocked that sense of security and for the first time in my life, they worried about my safety, my professional opportunities, my acceptance, and my happiness. And on a deeper level, they felt like they were losing me.

Since that difficult first week, there is no doubt things have gotten better. My parents have seen that the child they know and love isn't going anywhere. My friends have been nothing short of exceptional. My parents' friends have embraced them and me. And we move forward as a family, closer than ever.

As difficult as this has been for my family and me, the experience highlights my own privilege. From day one, I never worried about my family loving and accepting me. But for far too many trans people, the reality is far bleaker. Coming out oftentimes means getting kicked out of your home, your community, and your family. The worries that my family now feels for the first time are all too common for most families. I grew up in an upper-income household, in an accepting environment, and with incredible educational opportunities.

I say this not to diminish my own struggle and experience, but to acknowledge the privilege and opportunities that have been afforded to me. I also say this to emphasize that this story is my experience and my experience alone. There is no one-size-fits-all narrative; everyone's path winds in different ways.

On Saturday, surrounded by my closest friends, I began to present as my true self. While it was the next day of the life I have always had, it was, at the same time, the first day of the life I always knew I wanted to lead. Who I am remains. How I look and the happiness I feel changes.

With every birthday candle extinguished, with every penny thrown, my wish was always the same. I am now blessed with the opportunity to live my wish and fulfill a truth I have known since childhood. My gratitude is great to my family and friends for accepting me as the person who they now know me to be, and for letting me show them the possibilities of a life well lived.

I now know that my dreams and my identity are only mutually exclusive if I don't try.

An abbreviated version of this column appeared in the AU student newspaper, The Eagle.

 
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