I was born on Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth, Texas, to two young Catholics who really should have never gotten together in the first place. They named me John. Dad’s name was John, his Dad’s name was John. They planned on using my middle name. I just don’t feel like typing it. I went by that name for 30 years. It was a fine name but it wasn’t me. They thought I was a boy. Turns out I wasn’t.
They got divorced, Mom remarried, we moved to Oklahoma where Mom was from. I grew up in a town that was basically a big evangelical church. I grew up in an actual evangelical church. Mom had her reasons for leaving the Catholic church at the time. So for most of my upbringing I was expected to be a straight Christian guy. There was no other choice.
There are a few little memories from when I was a kid, that when I think back on them, it seems obvious that I knew I should be a girl. But they are few, because I don’t think it took long for me to really bury those feelings down deep. Until they were no longer in my conscious mind. Until they became denial.
I realized I liked boys as a teenager. I buried and hid this too. I was a football player, I was in the church band. At this time in the 90’s in a suburban town, everything you heard about being gay was negative. You were evil, a sinner, a pervert if you were gay. Not worthy of love, worthy of getting your a** kicked, possibly to death. These things happened in our country. Still do. And everybody you knew reinforced this, your family, school, church.
I kept denying who I really loved. In college I tried to have a serious straight relationship with my high school sweetheart. It didn’t work. But she is family to me now and I will always love her. After we broke up I met someone online. This was 2004. There was no grindr! We had a little website called Gay.com! I talked to this cute guy, and we talked and talked online. For months. Finally I drove down to see him I Tahlequah. He tried to put his arm around me in public and I hit him! It was a reflex. I was still conditioned by the way I grew up. Boys don’t do that. Later that night, we had some drinks and I melted into his arms. I knew after that night. This was right. I’m supposed to be with a man.
Shortly after this I went to a party and got way too drunk. I had just started drinking at 20 years old, and I wasn’t used to it yet. I came out as gay to all of these people at the party, a lot of them from my high school. I was embarrassed. I hadn’t planned on saying anything like that. But at least the cat was out of the bag with some of my friends. A few of my straight friends who were cool asked me out of curiosity what it was like when I was with this guy. What I said should have really raised some more questions! I said, “when we are together I just feel like a girl, like I want to do what your girlfriend would.” When I look back on that statement, I don’t see how I could still be in denial.
It took 5 more years before I admitted to myself that deep down I was a woman. I had moved to LA and come back to Tulsa. I was always online, and always looking at anything that had to do with transgender people. Personal blogs, personal ads, the story of Christine Jorgensen etc. I had always had a fascination with anything that had to do with someone in any way not acting or expressing the gender that others expected of them. Any male born person wearing women’s clothes in a movie would immediately get my attention. I would dress up in Mom’s clothes when everybody was out of the house when I was a teen. These things don’t mean you have to be transgender, but added to all the feelings I had inside, they pointed in that direction. So I had all along been reading anything I could about this subject online. By the time I realized that I felt this way, I knew what it was. I had learned about it even in my denial, because somewhere deep down I knew I was supposed to be a woman. So one time I was talking to a gay girlfriend of mine that I had become very close with in college and It finally just came out. I said, “I think I’m transgender.” As I heard myself say those words it was as if the veil had been lifted. I said in my mind, “ohhhhh. No, I KNOW that I am.” I finally knew myself and why I felt the way I did. I was 26.
So what do you do? I was afraid. Afraid about how I could do this. In Tulsa. How could I deal with my family. I knew they couldn’t accept this. I had never even told them I had been dating men since college. I was supposed to be a perfect straight son. I decided I would move in with that same friend I talked to on the phone. In San Francisco! I came out to Mom. She didn’t understand. It was like I had to keep telling her. She would act like it was a phase that went away. She wanted me to see a counselor that she had picked. No way. I was afraid they would be religious and basically try some conversion therapy on me. She tried to say I had to go. I told her she could cut me off with some finances she was helping me with, but I was an adult and I was going to be myself, and I was moving to San Francisco. She did eventually cut me off.
I wanted to get away from all the people I knew. I couldn’t go through this in front of them. But I learned even in the queerest place like San Francisco, my issues were internal. I had internalized all of the homophobia and transphobia and I hated my self. I wasn’t comfortable with anyone. It was even harder to be honest with strangers, not easier. I knew that if i moved home that I had a lot of good friends, who could support me. I was leaning on my one friend in SF very hard. I was depressed about my body and how I looked and how other people saw me. I thought I needed a lot of money. I didn’t have any. I was floundering.
I moved back to Tulsa and started working again at my previous job. Soon the boss asked me and another co worker if we wanted to start a new business and we would all be co-owners. Of course! But in the back of my mind I was worried. I had never come out at work. But they would have to know at some point. At the same time I started seeing a good therapist finally and got hormones. I moved in with my best friend of the past few years. I was now 30 years old and was finally starting my transition. My best friend that I had moved in with was the nicest, kindest, sweetest guy ever. We started hanging out right around the time I had first realized I was trans. I told him soon after I found out! When I was with him I always felt like I was home. We tried to get together before, but I didn’t think it would work. He was a gay man and I was eventually going to transition to female. So I stopped it. I had issues to deal with. But when I moved back to Tulsa we had those feelings again, and I decided if he loves me and he wants me I will just accept that and what ever will be, will be. We are still together ❤️
So I started hormones, had my first real boyfriend in years, and was starting a business. It was too much. But somehow I was making it through. Eventually, my body was changing enough that I needed to come out. I needed to start living everyday as a woman in public. I made a post on Facebook for my friends, they were overwhelmingly supportive. Then I needed to come out at work, and to my business partners. I thought I might lose my job. That they wouldn’t want to work around me anymore. I came out to them and they both told me they supported me and they supported me in our business as well. I cried. I had worked with these guys for years and they had shown me so much love with their answers. I made a post for our customers and they were also overwhelmingly positive. A couple of haters but nothing too bad.
It was time to go out into the world, as a woman. It was so tough. I did not pass as a woman most of the time. The first week was the hardest. All of a sudden when I would be anywhere people would stare, sneer, and laugh in my face. I could feel some people’s hate, their eyes on me. Some people would look right past me at work even after I greeted them. Like I wasn’t a person. Almost every day that week I came home at lunch and curled up in a ball and cried. I had never had so many people show their disgust for me. But even so, everyday I felt better about my body and how I looked and how i was feeling like I was getting closer to who I really am. It’s still hard sometimes but everyday gets easier. Unfortunately you have to build up a thick skin. You have to find an inner strength to know that you are being the best you and that you are beautiful. Luckily I get less negative attention these days.
I haven’t seen my Mom in 3 years. She says she doesn’t want to see me “like that” ever, and doesn’t want to meet my partner. She says this is because of her faith that she can’t. She won’t use the name or pronouns I prefer. So we don’t have a relationship. It has been very hard to deal with rejection like this from my own mother. I think that this is part of the lesson that transition has taught me. That you have to be strong and persevere and survive no matter who believes in you. It is worth it to look in the mirror and see your true self looking back, and smile because you see the sparkle in your own eye at the thought that you are finally you. Surround your self with good people, those people who see the true you, know and love the true you. Make them your “chosen family.”
Be kind to any trans person you know, they have come through the fire just to be standing next to you.
Jessa Gianna DiPesa “Jess”