Saying Goodbye to Ruth-Anne

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.



Little me in primary – 2000.

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.

Around the time I first cut my hair, 2008. 

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.

The very day I first wore my binder. July 2013.

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.

Getting my Testosterone perscription. December 2014.



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.

And me today!

A Teacher’s difference

My relationship with writing throughout my life has largely been to use it as an outlet for pain. I can remember having notebooks in my too-small room as young as nine and just writing juvenile poems that were saturated with all of the hurt a child with limited vocabulary could convey. As an adult reflecting on my life, and learning that stories have power I have decided to start to share my stories in hopes they might affect people in the same way others stories affect me. For years now I have been silent about my own experiences and rather just living vicariously through the stories I have been reading, the games I have been playing and the music I have been listening to. I cherish these outlets and the sense of community and belonging they universally endowe on to whoever delves into their worlds but now it’s time to break my silence.

This particular instance in my life has been prompted by a comment on my picture on Facebook this evening. I’ve slowly been acquiring more tattoos on my arms and decided I needed a new profile picture to showcase the ink I’ve been collecting. A selection of nice comments followed, but what stuck out to me was one I received from a lady who had been my teacher in fifth grade. It read

Was thinking about you today actually! Took our kids to the ski hill today and saw some former students…had a hug and a smile and was talking to a colleague about special students…. you were spoken of with great affection. Always! “

As I read these words from this wonderful lady, memories began surfacing around me as my mind recalled the stories of my 5th year in elementary school. When I reflect upon the narrative of my life, I always regard 5th grade as the turning point for myself and sense of worth. And as I was pulled back into memories of the past by my own consciousness, and all these images of those days surrounded me, I was struck by something my father had said to me a few weeks ago. He was sitting in my kitchen and we were discussing my job in the service industry, and he says. “There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing. But I think your true gift lies in writing. I think you could share your stories and make a difference. I really think that is your calling.”

As I heard these words play back to me, I knew I had to at least share what this fifth grade year, and this teacher, did for me.

As a young girl, I always felt different. There are countless girls who feel different in their young years, but I always felt exceedingly and unquantifiably different than my peers. I didn’t fit in my own skin. I began puberty at a young age and was vehemently uncomfortable with what those changes were doing to me. Aside from the physical, my interests and hobbies, coupled with my emotional needs seemed to differ so greatly from the kids around me. I wasn’t interested in just the superficial happenings of being ten. I was afflicted with a great sense of loneliness, pain, and anger from almost as far back as I can remember. Looking back on pictures of myself at that age now, I objectively don’t look any different than anyone else. I wasn’t much bigger or smaller than anyone else. There are no jarring physical imperfections, no gangly limbs or birth defects. I was just a kid. But I hated myself. And that hurricane played on in my head and wreaked havoc with my relationships with myself, teachers, and those around me.

A ten year old doesn’t know they hate themselves. Our emotional intelligences and introspective abilities are not developed enough to recognize the self hatred blooming within us. But looking back well over a decade later, I can see that theme clearly born back then. I was a kid who never felt loved, who felt so utterly and completely distant from those around me that it felt like I was the only one who felt anything like what I was going through at all. My childhood was far from terrible. I had great, loving parents. Maybe ones that weren’t as equipped to deal with the cards they were dealt, but they were devoted and selfless when it came to both mine and my brothers needs. My brother had behavioral issues coming to the surface at this time, and this tension it caused lead his needs to, rightly, be the focus of my struggling parents. No parent is given a guidebook on how to steer a child through the things my brother was dealing with. It was a tumultuous time in our household. My parents were late having us in comparison to those around us, so in some way that just allowed another degree of separation between my peers and I.

On top of all this I must add what many already know coming into reading this. Not only would I come out as a lesbian in a few short years, and take on an entire rural population’s reaction to that, but in my early adult years I would come out as transgender. If i had had the words to describe my feeling then, and the power those labels had, and the freedom to choose my own destiny, maybe I would have felt more at ease with myself. We will never know for sure, and I would like to believe my story unfolded in the way it was supposed to.

So what happens to a ten year old child on the LGBTQ spectrum, struggliing with their self worth and identity, with a tense home life and a big, angry heart on their sleeve? Hurt, pain and a lot of mistakes along the way, that is for sure. I had trouble relating to my classmates because I was feeling raw emotions in a way bigger than most ten year olds can recall feeling. I was obsessed with listening to sad songs and reading sad books to find someone out there who was like me, who felt things like I did. Often those stories and songs were found in the worlds of adults. The only solace I found were in these escapes, and it lead to a gaping wound of loneliness that I didn’t have the means to convey to those around me. It’s difficult looking back to explain the breadth of what I was feeling. All I can say is even now at 23 I feel for that little girl that I was.

I didn’t feel like I belonged in my body, at my school, or in the family I had. How could one person feel so much rejection without ever really being rejected? How could one person feel so unloved while still being so loved? It’s a paradox of my childhood. I desperately sought affection and acceptance in any form I could find it. In many ways I feel like I was numb to myself ever being good enough for anything at all. Until one day my story was turned upside down.

For half of the year in fifth grade, we had a familiar substitute teacher filling in for our class. The woman who was to become our full time teacher was on maternity leave. So, when it was becoming time for second semester start and for this new teacher to take over, my mom and I headed to a parent-teacher conference to meet her. We went into my classroom and sat at my desk. As I was showing my mom some things I had been working on, a short, redheaded, woman turns her attention to us. She remarks that I, too am a redhead and how I must be special. I can recall this moment with perfect clarity even now. I remember looking up and seeing her for the first time. She was, in fact, a red head just like me. There aren’t many of us, and it was a similarity of kinship that began this turn in events for me. I was quite shy in this moments, because I was so afraid of showing vulnerability and being rejected, but she persisted. She made conversation with me, talked with me, and said she thought we were going to get along famously. I had never been singled out as anything but negative things before, or so it had felt, leading up to this point. If I was noticed at all. I was not a gifted athlete, I had walked away from most extracurriculars my parents put me in, due to what I now know as extreme introversion coupled with my aforementioned insecurities  and my grades never really soared due to lack of effort on my part. My confidence was never there to try. I took comfort in knowing that I wasn’t trying and not doing my best, which was far easier to deal with than if I were to try and still not do well.

The first days of her teaching our class we began to blossom a bond. This teacher took the time to listen to me. She listened to my stories, she never belittled or invalidate any of the immense pain I carried around with me. She even let me grapple with my self esteem about my physical body, by wearing hats in class when that was expressly forbidden in our school. But those hats were comfort for me, and I think she knew that, and she cared for my well being. So she let me have those little leniencies. For the first time ever, the shadow I carried around my heart started to ease up. I remember this being the first year I started forming genuine friendships. I started writing as an outlet more frequently, and I was gaining confidence in leaps and bounds. Of course, this was not quick fix for all the years of self doubt I had endured before, but if not for this teacher and her care and thought, I may never have seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

I recall her support in my academic pursuits. She never once was hard on me for not reaching my full potential. She just gently prodded me along the right path, helping me to realize my own worth on my own. One day in class, we were editing another classmate’s papers and my partner complained to the teacher that my penmanship was too messy and she couldn’t understand it. Instead of chastising me for not caring to write neatly, she said to the student that Her thoughts come out so fast, she can’t write them down and keep up with them.”
I never forgot her, and it felt like finally someone saw me.

As the year wore on, and with the unyielding support of this teacher I was feeling ready to take on the next steps in my life. In my town, when you reach grade six you go to the high school. That is a big change for the kids, and without this teacher I may not have ever had the strength to go on and face the challenges that I didn’t yet know lay before me.

After a tear filled end of the year, weeks into the summer this teacher invited me to her house for lunch. My mom and I came and it felt so good to be back in her presence again. We talked and shared stories and at the end she presented me with a gift. I was so excited I couldn’t even speak. I opened it and inside was a figure of a girl holding a star in her hands. The title of the figure was “Bright Star”. She explained that it was because I was, and always would be, her bright star. That gift touched me so profoundly, and now as I write in own household as an adult, that figure sits on my bookshelf.



So I write this post to share my experiences, and to hopefully help anyone realize that they really aren’t alone in this world. Moreover, every day we live our lives we absolutely never know how our actions and our kindness is going to affect someone else. If this teacher hadn’t of saw me, I’m not even sure if I would have survived through the hard times that were to come that got me here to write this story. And of course, after this teacher commented on my photo, I wanted to wholeheartedly and sincerely thank her for what she did for me. That moment at my desk looking up to see my new teacher commenting positively about our shared red hair changed me forever. Neither she nor I knew it would. But it did. And I am eternally and deeply grateful for that.