MOUNT VERNON — “We’re so used to gender being [viewed as] black and white, male and female,” said ally Chris Dunlap, as she opened a panel discussion she referred to as “Transgender 101,” sponsored by the Knox County Gay-Straight Alliance and hosted by First Congregational United Church of Christ. “But this is just how we are created, how it happens in nature.”
The panel of transgendered people and spouses (who with friends, advocates and others are referred to as allies) spoke about gender expression and gender identity, their journeys through life of knowing that one’s gender is not as it should be.
Gender Identity Disorder is defined as “a condition identified by psychologists and medical doctors wherein a person who has been assigned one gender at birth identifies as belonging to another gender,” states a TransOhio brochure. TransOhio also notes that sexual orientation and gender identity are different.
The panelists, born transsexual, told the audience how uncomfortable they had been in their own bodies, often suffering bouts of depression caused by living an untruth. Most married, had children and coped as long as they could. But their inborn natures won out.
Dunlap said that throughout human history babies have been born with ambiguous genitalia, androgen insensitivity and other biological events that occurred just as naturally as what is considered “normal” fetal development. She explained that puberty usually triggers strong and painful dysphoria in transsexuals, leading to depression and despair; among transsexuals 50 percent commit suicide before reaching age 30.
Transitioning to one’s true gender can involve expensive surgeries and hormones, only rarely covered by insurance. Several panelists noted that taking their first hormone pill brought a strong sense of peace, of their bodies finally getting what was needed.
Dunlap introduced Monica Dunlap, whom Chris married as a man and with whom she has a young daughter. Monica is transitioning via a process called gender reassignment to a transwoman, male to female.
Gwen Andrix has been transitioning from man to woman for two years.
“Puberty is absolute hell,” she said. “The body is changing; the pain is incredible. There’s fear of losing family and friends. And if you voice this, you’ll be labeled mentally ill. So you just shut up. But my life is wonderful now. It’s important to get out and talk to people about this, to educate the fear away.”
Marilyn Lloyd, also transitioning from man to woman, remembered the day he told his girlfriend.
“It was not a pretty day, when she found out that the man she’d loved and lived with for two years was actually a woman,” Lloyd said. “But she said she knew I was different. I knew since I was 2 or 3. But my dad expected me to grow up to be a man. That was confusing, because I thought I was a girl. So I went stealth, undercover. I played sports, joined the military, was a paratrooper for three years. How much more manly can you get? I tried everything to be a man, but it didn’t work, obviously.”
Then one day Lloyd discovered stories, dozens of them, “that were just like mine. Not only did I find out I wasn’t alone in the world but that there were doctors who could help me. Then I had hope. I’d wanted to do this [gender reassignment] for more than 40 years. It was something I wanted to do more than anything else in the world.”
The panelists noted that allies can assist.
“Let people know you’re a safe space,” said Chris Dunlap. “Speak up if you hear someone making a crass joke. Tell them, ‘That’s not right.’ And it’s very rude to ask someone if they’ve had the surgery.”