Carter/Letters from inside: Transitioning to the real me

Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2016
*Archive Article*
When I was a child I played with Barbie dolls and all my friends were girls. I had an automatic bond with everything feminine and beautiful. We had a gorgeous long hallway and every chance I got I would take a few steps, kneel, and pull down my pants. One day when I was five, my mother noticed this and asked, “Why would you do that?” I couldn’t explain it and I was scared, knowing she was angry, so I kept quiet. “Never do that again,” she told me, and I never did. Later I realized that although I was doing it completely wrong, I was imitating a woman I had seen in a movie, curtsying down that hall.

For Halloween when I was 9, my sister dressed me up in an ugly green gown and grey wig. I felt like a beauty queen, walking up and down the street waving at every car that drove by. My mother couldn’t get me in the house, until she finally had enough. That day was the happiest day of my life until I was 22.

It was then I realized I couldn’t live the life others wanted me to live, and slowly begin transitioning. I threw away my boy clothes and gradually accumulated everything that I needed to feel like myself: nails, wigs, makeup, clothing, and even butt pads. I was living two lives, male by day, woman by night. Finally I built up my confidence to present myself to my family as I wanted to be. Many of them didn’t agree with what I was doing.

I wouldn’t say that my family affected my decision to stop transitioning and make that part of my life a secret, because at that time I still wanted to feel accepted. But I fell into a deep depression and life became a roller coaster. First came abuse of pills and then heroin to the point of overdose. I swore off heroin, only to become addicted to cocaine. I was lost among the unliving. When I came home after my first incarceration, I discovered my family had gotten rid of everything I had worked towards.

My dream for as long as I can remember has been to be a beautiful, feminine woman. I started ballet at 18 when I went to college and danced for four years. I did hip-hop, too, but I prefer the elegance of ballet — just to feel every position, the sliding of your feet, the stretching of your arms as the music transports you to a better place. When I’m dancing I feel both joy and sadness.

I have lived through the experiences of the women in my life, doing their hair, makeup, and even dressing them, listening to them talk about their lives. The flaws that these women see in themselves I see as pure beauty. I admire women who think emotionally, who respond to life with intention and grace. I admire women’s bravery, what they have to go through to bear and raise a child, and facing things that men would face in war.

I work as a CNA and always connect with my clients personally. For me, it’s not just a job and I never pity them. Once I was caring for someone who was paralyzed. He hated it when people told him he couldn’t do this or that. He could barely see, but he’d spark a conversation with anyone he’d meet, so I’d take him on excursions and he’d talk to people. I wanted him to feel more than that he was being cared for, I wanted him to feel he was equal to me and others. His family really appreciated the time I had with him.

It was after caring for my own mother for a number of years that I got into that work. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease and cancer, and I started caring for her when I was 16. It’s bittersweet when you have to reverse the roles. She’s a great woman everyone loves, a mother to those who never had the chance to have that sort of love. That’s who I am on the inside, but my shell is someone else’s. It feels abnormal. I am a woman who desires to be like my mother, to be pregnant, bear a child, and be called mom.

No one knows how afraid I am to show my true feelings. Since I was a child I have wanted people to love me for who I am, not for my outer appearance. To allow that to happen I thought meant to say yes to everything they wanted. Still my first reaction is to smile and say yes. That hasn’t served me well. To satisfy others, I lost the value of myself.

I am a trans woman who recently came out in jail, in a male facility. Coming out is not often met with warmth or understanding. Here I’ve been fortunate enough to find compassionate people, both residents of the jail and staff, who have helped me to see that my substance abuse, and the crimes I have committed to support my habits, were an attempt to mask the pain of living. In no way do I pity myself for what I have endured. Every day I strive to stop making myself and others the victims of my crimes. I’m extremely sorry for the destruction I have caused.

There are many challenges I face as a transitioning woman of color in a small community where there are not many resources for people like me. When I am released from jail I will be homeless, so I am looking for a halfway house that caters to transitioning women, and also a mentor on the streets. Most people tell me I’m too muscular, or the transition won’t work, but I don’t have to listen to them. As I learn to advocate for myself, I realize I will need the support of the LGBTQIA community. But I also want to support others, and I will. During my incarceration I have started to mentor one of my peers. Having someone trust in me to guide them increases the compassion I feel for myself.

I am grateful for some time to think, away from the triggers and the path I was on. The addict’s mind, my mind, will no longer imprison me. I am 27 now and see the importance of my life, and of putting myself out there. I look forward to the time I will no longer have to ask myself when I look in the mirror, Whose body is this? Then I will see what I feel internally, and others will feel the warmth of a beautiful woman’s smile.