Some people who read Paige’s story might have strong opinions regarding the issues that she so bravely addresses in this guest post. I ask in advance that everyone in our community read her story with a tender heart, and that all comments regarding this post and her journey remain committed to that tenderness.
In this week’s “Tell Me More Tuesday,” I am honored to introduce you to Paige Sears. Paige and I met on a Facebook page of a mutual friend, and her bravery, honesty and willingness to help others instantly got my attention. After “meeting” online, Paige and I have been able to meet in person for coffee, conversation and connection on multiple levels. When she asked to share her story on the blog, I didn’t hesitate to type YES!!!! in font that can only be described as an “e-scream.”
Thanks for sharing your story of changing lanes, Paige. Your bravery and honesty are a gift to all that know you.
Finding the courage to come out as a transwoman was not an easy thing for me to do. I grew up in an Independent Baptist home where my parents were extremely religious and I had attended a very strict Christian high school and college. However, as a 48-year-old transwoman, I quickly realized I was going to have to start not really giving a shit what other people thought of me. I know that I have to do the right thing for me and I have learned not to feel guilty about it. This is my story of making that transition.
Around 2008, after spending about 10 years going through a Christian gay-to-straight sexual retraining program, I came to the conclusion that this type of “therapy” was not working. Although I consider myself bisexual, I realized that my sexual interest leaned toward men and I needed to finally admit that to myself and to the rest of the world. At this time I was still presenting myself as male (not female) and I saw myself as a gay man. I came out to world as gay on Facebook. That resulted in some shockwaves that I felt after I received some less than positive responses from my family and religious friends.
Still, through the help of a lot of accepting friends, I was able to work through my new identity as a gay man and began to accept myself as gay. However, looking back now, even at that time I knew something still did not feel right. As soon as I came out as gay I started to dabble in cross-dressing, but it took me quite a while to accept and realize that it was more than an interest, and that I truly was a transwoman.
Breakthrough #1: Realizing I was not alone
Before I could find the courage to transition, I had to find the courage to revisit my religious upbringing and decide for myself what I believed about God. There were definitely difficult days during that process. I was kicked out of the Facebook group created by former classmates of my Christian high school for talking about questionable practices that had gone on in the school. Determined to have more open communication about these past events, I decided to create my own Facebook group with former classmates to continue the discussion.
Something amazing happened when I started this group. Over 250 former students have joined the group and we started to share experiences of abuse at the hands of religious leaders. It was quite eye-opening for me to see that many others who attended the school had similar stories of religion being used to control people. I started to realize that much of the homophobia and transphobia from the Christian community that I had experienced was just plain wrong and misguided. It was both heartbreaking and healing to read the shared stories of others.
Breakthrough 2: Seeing a counselor for past spiritual trauma
One of the great results of starting the Facebook group was that I created a friendship with a former classmate who had similar symptoms of psychological and emotional damage created as a result of our Christian school experience. She was going to a counselor who helped her deal with her past trauma. After my father passed away in March 2016, I began seeing her counselor. Later, I found out this counselor is an expert in dealing with those wounded at the hands of out-of-control religious organizations.
This counselor really changed my thinking about religion and myself in a very positive way. It was gradual, but after seeing him I began to realize two very important things:
- There is not one way to achieve spiritual or mental health. This was probably the hardest one for me to accept and be willing to explore. What really led me to this conclusion is that I have known many Christians who are unhappy and very unhealthy in their relationships and in their thinking processes. Many of the “unsaved heathens” that I know or have known really have their shit together.
- I need to trust my instincts. It truly amazes me how often my instincts are right because it basically goes against all of my upbringing.
Ready to Make the Change
After these breakthroughs I knew I was ready to transition and start presenting myself as a woman full-time, but I wanted to relocate from my current home and make a “fresh start.” The timing was good, as my two kids were getting older and would soon be leaving the nest. It was time to find a new place. In April 2017, I found a downtown condo and moved in. People seemed to be much more accepting in my new area and I felt comfortable right away.
By the summer of 2017, I was presenting myself more and more as a woman. My watershed transition moment came in August 2017. I had just bought a pink dress, pink shoes, pink stockings and pink glasses and I decided to ride the Kansas City downtown streetcar wearing my outfit.
I was extremely nervous and self-aware the whole time I was on the streetcar. I honestly tried to avoid eye contact with anyone and I wouldn’t dare talk to anyone. The streetcar eventually got crowded and a lady sat next to me. Still to this day, I have no idea what she looks like because I did not want to look anyone in the eye. But she complimented me on my outfit and that was it–I knew I could transition. IF I COULD RIDE THE STREETCAR DOWNTOWN I COULD DO ANYTHING. By September 2017, I had informed my employer that I was transitioning to a woman.
- I am very excited for the next chapter in my life. I am looking forward to rebuilding and reshaping my spirituality after deconstruction.
- I am presently dating and living with another transwoman.
- I will be looking for ways to give back to the trans-community.
- Cosmetically, I would like to either get a hair extension for my bald spot or possibly hair treatment.
- I would like to get back to writing more often.
- I hope to perform stand-up comedy based on my experiences
Advice for others
If you or someone you know is thinking about transitioning, here are a few of the things that helped me:
- Transgender Counseling. Most people are not aware of all that is involved in transitioning, but in order to be prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or estradiol and hormone therapy one must get approval from a prescribing physician. I went to the Transgender Institute in Kansas City, Missouri and they were and are such a valuable resource for transgender men and women in the Kansas City area. My transgender counselor asked me to write out a detailed feminine history in which I documented from birth to the time of my transitioning (less than a year ago). What I came to realize as I was writing that document is that I have always felt like a girl, even at the early age of 4-years-old. I have heard Female Gender Dysphoria described best as feeling female in your mind and soul but your body parts do not match up with your mind and soul. Based on the recommendation of my transgender counselor, I went to KU transgender clinic and was prescribed estradiol and a testosterone blocker. Hormone Therapy begins the process of properly aligning the female “soul” and female “mind” with the correct body adaptations. I also found out that like many transwomen I suppressed my feminine side. I have heard people compare this to holding a beach ball down in water–you can do it for a while but eventually the beach ball will pop out of your hands and into the water. That is what my life was like. For years, I suppressed my femininity by overcompensating as a male.
- Blending In One of the best ways to be affirmed as a transwoman is to begin the male-to-female makeover process. I hired someone to show me how to apply makeup. I hired a personal shopper to revamp my wardrobe and teach me about fashion. I bought a nice blonde Jennifer Aniston-looking wig. And I started to get laser hair removal treatments to get rid of my facial hair. This allowed me to “blend in” with cisgender females (women born with female anatomy).
Side Note: I prefer the phrase “blend in” much more than “passing as a female.”
- Supportive Workplace I work at a local community college and I think that educational environments are one of the most inclusive workplaces for transwomen going through the transitioning process. My boss was very instrumental in encouraging me just by listening to me. For years prior to coming out as trans I would often say to her things like “I have thought about transitioning as a woman.” Because of her and the supportive workplace it was a much easier transition for me than what other transwomen experience.
- Finding a Transwomen Support Group Of all the things that helped me this is the one thing that helped me the most. I was in awe the first time I went to the transwomen group held in Kansas City. There were about 25 different women, all from different walks of life and all at different stages of their transition. As soon as I met these women I knew I had found my tribe. I cannot possibly describe how valuable it is hearing different transwomen who are going through the same feelings as you are and able to provide you a sense of an encouragement and belonging.
- Building a Supportive Online Community Another way that I have been affirmed during my transition is through a unique selfie/discussion Facebook group I created that caters to transwomen posting selfies and receiving affirmation from cis gendered women, cismen, transwomen and transmen. I have especially heard a lot of positive feedback from the cis gender women in the group because they learn so much of what transwomen go through. It is truly a unique group of about 30% transwomen, 65% cis-gendered females and 5% cis-gendered males or transmen.
GENERAL ETIQUETTE AND ADVICE WHEN MEETING TRANSMEN AND TRANSWOMEN
- It is OK to ask what pronouns to use such as “she” “he”, “him” “her” or “they”.
- It is not OK to ask if someone if they have or plan on having “the surgery.” People vary from person to person. You will find some trans individuals do not mind being asked questions such as these. Many see questions like this one as an opportunity to be friendly and educate at the same time. However, I would err on the side of caution until you really get to know the person. This one truly is common sense. You would not want someone asking you evasive questions about surgery.
- Avoid the phrase “You ‘pass’ as a male or female.” Personally, I prefer “blend in.”
- If you are not sure what to say or how to compliment a trans-person, remember everyone appreciates a compliment. A simple compliment such as “You look nice today.” Or “I love those boots on you” does wonders for self-esteem.
- Try to treat the individual just like you would anyone else of that gender.
Thanks for letting me share with you some of my experience. Please feel free to send me an email if you have any other questions at email@example.com and please visit my website at www.theworldofpaigesears.com
Paige Sears is a 48-year-old transwoman with a B.S. in Communication from Liberty University and a Masters in Marketing Journalism from Kansas University in 2005. Paige has been married and divorced once. From that marriage she has 2 sons, ages 21 and 18 respectively. Paige presently works as the Adaptive Technology Coordinator for Metropolitan Community College where she has worked with students with disabilities for over 13 years. Paige Sears has her own website www.theworldofpaigesears.com