Most of you reading this today know most or all of my story. For those of you who do not, here’s the recap:
I was always a gender nonconforming child. What many would refer to as a “tom boy”. For a lot of girls growing up who are called tomboys, that’s all it ever amounts to. Girls with interests and fashion choices traditionally associated with masculinity. In reality, I’m all for stripping away those harmful norms and just letting little girls and boys be whoever they want, and like whatever they want without marking them as different with othering language like tom boy, but we will save that for another day.
As I got older in my teen years this became a much more prominent theme in my life. I had come out as a lesbian when I was thirteen and I thought that was going to be enough to explain the feelings I had about myself and what made me so different. However, part of me knew inside that there was still something wrong. I grew up in a town with just over a thousand people rendering my interaction with anyone of the LGBTQ community exceedingly limited, and with little representation of any LGBTQ people on TV, especially women who are more masculine, there was no point of reference for me to understand that what I was going through was something more. In grade ten I started to exclusively wear men’s clothing. I had long since convinced my mother to let me cut my hair all off. Having already endured the backlash of coming out, and appearing more masculine (ex: you’re such a man, wow, what a dyke etc.) the people around me were already used to me beating to my own drum. Around that time I got my first job, and with my own income I was able to buy as many clothes as I wanted in any style I wanted. I can still remember back when we had the Bluenotes in Amherst, looking at the side of the wall lined with all the plaid button ups popular with men at the time and just being over the moon with the idea that I could now own and wear any of them that I wanted. These clothing choices were freeing. When you’re indescribably and deeply uncomfortable with the body you were born with, there is something so liberating about starting to wear the clothes that help you feel that the person you are on the outside reflects who you are within.
These feelings of wrongness can be traced back to early in my life. From the days in vacation bible school as a kid, where we got participate in gender bending day, an begging your mom to continue letting you keep wearing your brothers clothes because you had never felt more at peace with yourself on that specialty themed day. When I would take a bath in the middle of puberty as I was developing, and taking an extra washcloth in the tub to cover up the spout so I wouldn’t have to look at my reflection while I bathed. Or when I’d be standing in front of our full length mirror in the hallway of my childhood home, holding my chest up and wondering what I would look like if it was as flat as my male classmates’, thinking that would never be a possibility for me. These were all moments I knew other girls weren’t thinking about, but I didn’t know why I was. All of this leads to a turning moment in my high school career.
Our teen health coordinator during high school was a lady who was extremely knowledgeable about social issues of our time. As I got older and grew more comfortable with myself, I was much more open about my relationship with my body. She knew of these experiences and one day as I was sharing a bit about it with her, she asked if I had ever heard of binding. I recalled seeing images of some transgender characters on TV using ace bandages to bind their chest, knowing that was very painful I had never attempted it myself. When I expressed interest in finding a way to bind safely, our teen health coordinator had a staff member from the Youth project come down and educate me about chest binders. The Youth Project is a nonprofit based out of Halifax looking to educate and raise awareness for LGBTQ youth. The woman there put me on a waitlist for a free bider from her organization. She also directed me to the registration for a four day free summer camp they held that was especially for transgender or gender-questioning youth. I attended the camp that July and for the first time in my life met other people who had ranges of experiences, all very similar to my own. I met adults who were completely transitioned, employed, partnered and happy. I met youth who were in the same position as me, who were in the middle of transitioning or somewhere else on the spectrum. This camp opened my mind to the possibility that I could be transgender, and that being transgender didn’t mean you wanted every single thing that came along with being male. You can be transgender and not want surgery or hormones. You can be transgender and still like things that are usually considered “female” interests. This was world changing for me. I finally felt like I had a description for myself.
I remember while at this camp other youth in my position were trying out different names for themselves while they were in the safe space of camp, free from the pressure of coming out. On a whim before I went home, I looked up a list of baby boy names that started with the letter “R”. I knew I wanted to keep my initials, and as I was scrolling I came across the name Rogan. When I clicked on it, the origin of the name was irish and the meaning was “The red-headed one”. Everything instantly clicked, and I swore to myself that if I ever got brave enough to come out, that would be my name. After I got home from camp, I had my new chest binder. A chest binder is a tank top like piece of fabric made of medical grade compression material. It is uncomfortable, and painful if worn for too long at once, but when I first struggled to pull it on up over my hips and onto my chest I was absolutely amazed at the experience. I pulled a shirt on and couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the mirror. All those times I avoided looking at my chest finally became a reality. I was flat, and it looked real and amazing. It was an emotionally defining moment in my life.
That September, I entered my first year of University. It took me over a year of discovery, mistakes, growth, relationships, and failures to come to the point where I finally looked my then-boss in the eyes and said “I’m going to transition to male, and my name is Rogan now.” That moment started it all.
I began meeting with my teen health coordinator from high school to start the process of getting on testosterone to physically transition. And as I began spreading the news of my new name, and getting more confident when people asked me to introduce myself in saying “I’m Rogan” Getting used to a new name was hard at first, and even now if I hear my given name I will respond. But these were the baby steps I needed to get to where I am today.
In January of 2015 I started testosterone for the first time. The physical changes were rapid, and it was a very rocky first several months for me on that path. No one can really prepare you for how much your body is going to change. There were times when I didn’t even feel like I recognized myself in the mirror. These feelings of a changing identity can be very alarming as you go. And when you’re in public, and when all your life you were seen and treated as a female, and suddenly you are seen and treated as a male, it is a huge adjustment. That’s not to say this experience did not overall enhance my well being, it did. However, I don’t want to make this process seem like going on testosterone was an instant fix for all of my issues in regards to my identity. There is still so much work you have to put in to emotionally become okay with yourself. There is so much pressure on people to fit into neat black and white boxes. But it’s just not the way things work. I am never going to be all the things it takes to be considered “male”. I still love candles, the majority of my friends are still girls, I still take bubble baths and watch Grey’s Anatomy on thursday nights. But what I had to learn was none of that mattered. Regardless of my interests or friends, fashion choices or emotions, I was still a boy. My identity was still true and valid. And I was no less than any other boy who was born in the body he belonged in. That was the hardest lesson of all.
So when my legal name change finally came in the mail yesterday, over 3 and a half years after initially requesting people refer to me as Rogan, it was an amazing feeling. But I knew I had to treat my old identity with respect. I am not someone who can just cast aside my old self without any regard. I wanted to write something to commemorate this moment and say goodbye to who I used to be. So, Ruth-Anne, I just wanted to say thank you for everything. You will always be a part of me. And you got me through the first 19 odd years of my life, and they helped me become the strong, smart, nerdy boy I am today. I will forever be grateful for you, and those years. And I wanted to wish you farewell. You are no longer me anymore. But you will never be forgotten.