From Zac to Zoey

This is a longer post, for which I must apologize.

Imagine what it would be like to wake up and feel like you’re not in the right body. That something is askew, yet you don’t know how to confront these feelings, or really want to explore them, as you’re afraid what others might think of you. Are you a freak? Are you insane? Get it together, you are who you are. Even as a creative type, it’s hard to fully describe the emotional turmoil that one who is trans must face. To know you’re one thing, but society and a mirror tells you otherwise.

So for far too many years I decided to hold a secret in. To keep myself from being the true me. Do I have regrets on waiting so long? Yes. But ultimately I needed to wait until the time was right. I need to wait until I grew some balls, metaphorically speaking, and to be able to even accept and talk about this on my end. For 37+ years I never said the words I needed to say, to tell someone (though some saw the signs), and to finally be able to blossom.

I was raised in a caring family that was a little turbulent, I won’t go into details as that is their own battles, but just know that there is a reason why this all took so long to come to fruition. Even at such an early age I knew not to rock the boat and ended up being the placater in the family dynamic. I’m not sure how young I decided this would be my fate to hide, but I never remember a time I wasn’t. So instead of speaking my mind or expressing my feelings, I would just bury them over and over again.

Sure, I was a happy child for the most part. I had great friends, I loved to read, I was a nerd in school and always was at the top tier of my class. I also loved to write, to be able to disappear into worlds that I could create and explore who I truly was. The creativity was a wonderful outlet, even if I never shared them with anyone. Instead of playing sports that my parents forced me into, I would rather be balled up into some sort of make believe. It kept my brain distracted and allowed me to keep a side of me buried.

When the teen years hit, the depression started to creep in. I knew what it was, yet I didn’t have words for what I felt. There was no one for me to talk to, as instead of just being a bit of a nerd, I didn’t also want to be a freak. For those who haven’t caught on or had assumptions based on my FB posts, once the hormones kicked in, I for sure knew I was born into the wrong body. But how could that be? I look male, I have male organs, and I’m attracted to girls. What the fuck is wrong with me? My teen years were hell, as the body hair came in, the voice deepened, and the T continued to wreak havoc on my body, I became a mess. The first time I ever attempted suicide was between my seventh and eighth grade years. As I started to slice my wrist (the wrong way), I got scared and stopped. No one knew, and I made it a task to squash and bury this as best as I could. My female alter ego on the local BBS boards were deleted. I would lose weight, and do my damn best to be male.

Before I go too much forward, I’m going to back up a bit to a couple times. When I was 3 and 4, my earliest memories from those years are being dressed as a girl for Halloween. I don’t know if I asked to be dressed that way, or if my mom just did that, considering there’s some early memories that I told her about that she doesn’t remember. But I remember it so clearly, and I even remember one house stating, “You have such lovely daughters.” When i was five, my baby sitter had a daughter the same age as me. We would play with female toys and occasionally she would dress me up. One time she even let me take some clothes home in my backpack, and when my mother found them, I was scolded that “those aren’t boy clothes.” I somehow understood the anger in those eyes and made sure to never dress again. Another babysitter a couple years later had me wear a girl’s bikini bottoms in their pool as I “forgot” my bathing suit. All these times, minus the scolding, were happy times for me. I felt comfortable and right for once.

Now if I haven’t lost you, or made you think badly of me, I guess we can continue on a little deeper into the story. Most of the high school years just flew by. I kept my head buried in books and was making sure I would graduate with honors and finally be able to get out of this hell hole of a hick town. The internet was a great escape. Chat rooms where I could be anything when asked “a/s/l?”, and I could start to find other people out there that were dealing with the same thing I was. I ended up finding TS porn, but it wasn’t really my thing, but it showed things could be done with surgery, though then again, would I just end up being a fetish?

Gender dysphoria is a bitch. I had hair on my chest, on my back and could grow a beard faster than anyone in my class. I could shave and get a moment of comfort, but by the evening hairs would be poking into my shirt making it uncomfortable. I could wax, but that shit is so fucking painful, be grateful if your woman ever does that shit. I was depressed and put on so much weight. If I couldn’t have a curvy body, at least I could have a soft and somewhat curvy one. Though, looking back, that was a bit of a wall to hide my true feelings.

Once again, between formidable years like in junior high, when I was starting my senior year, I knew I was destined to be a man. I had to hide this side of me. Say goodbye once again. I purged what clothes I had and ended up falling for a girl I worked with. Time to be a man. To lose my virginity. To fall into the stereotype. I played the part, but part of me wasn’t happy. I ended up missing more than one day a week of my senior year. I would play sick or just ditch and go off into my femme world online or at home. It was the only thing that made me happy, until my life started crashing down. There were some issues arising at home, my grades were slipping, and then my girlfriend cheated on me. The one chance to be a man, and I couldn’t even do that right. On top of that, I was a class three truant and on the cusp of being kicked out of school, and because my grades slipped, a real college was out of the question. All within two weeks. I was lower than low, and at that point, I decided it wasn’t worth living anymore.

I went home to do the deed, but no one would know why. I typed up a 15k word letter, yet the last page only stated “I need help.” I sent an AIM message to the now ex telling her there was a letter on my porch and she needed to read it right away. I prepped everything and awaited the letter to be acquired. Once it was, I took the first step. Part of me knew I needed the help and I was stalling. Hell, I couldn’t be the “man” I was supposed to be, nor could I be strong enough to take my life. There must have been a bit of kismet because my father had on a police scanner in the next room and I heard it squawk to life, “we have a possible suicide attempt for a Zac Sanford.” I was crying (as I am now reliving the moment). Someone cared enough to make the call. To get me the help I needed.

But things didn’t go as smoothly as one would assume. Both my parents were in that room and they were now banging on my locked door. My mom was shouting “Call them and tell them it’s bullshit.” My dad busted through the door to see me on my bed. Police arrived (one who would pull me over for my first traffic stop two months later and let me slide) and I ended up getting admitted on a 5150. Those three days were some of the best of my life. While I talked about how much I hated my body, I never brought up my feelings of being born into the wrong gender. I was given the wrong diagnosis as manic depressive. Also I realized some people have some real fucked up issues and I could tell story upon story of what I witnessed there. Plus the amount of friends that came to visit showed I had a strong support system.

When I got out, things got better at school as they realized I was dealing with some major shit. For the last two months I had detention every day after school and morning detention three days as part of the deal to be able to graduate. I also got a job at the new multiplex and gave me the passion for films that I have today. Though things still were rough at home. But I would power through, and ultimately learn to survive for as long as I could there while going to the local Junior College.

Cut to a few years later and I met the love of my life. We both fell hard and fast. She was the first one that knew anything of the dressing, supported it and probably saw it only as a fetish. I wanted to tell her all, but I couldn’t. This is the girl I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and as long as I could be a “dude in women’s underwear” or whatever other things behind closed doors, maybe I could be happy. I was going to propose to her at Christmas, and every day on the week leading up to Christmas, I would go into the mall and chicken out before hitting up the jewelry store. The part of me that I was hiding didn’t want to be silenced forever, so I couldn’t pull the trigger. On Christmas Eve I finally got the nerves to go inside, and as I was waiting, I chickened out once again and ended up buying her diamond earrings. The downside, they came in a box the size of a ring, and when she opened the bigger box to see the smaller box, her eyes lit up, only to dim when she saw it wasn’t a ring. We would never be the same after that. I ended up becoming a dick to her because I couldn’t come to grasp the true identity. I would like to believe she would have accepted it, but that’s a lot to ask of a 21 year old, even if they love you with all their heart.

When I moved to LA it really opened my eyes to the trans scene. My favorite Del Taco was the Trans Hooker hangout and was both exciting and scary around two a.m. But so many people saw them as freaks. To top it off, my nickname for my nephews is “uncle freak”, but to them it is a term of endearment and has been since they were born. But then I realized I was seeing trans people that I didn’t realize were trans. Great things could happen if I had enough money, and that was the main reason I sold my house with almost six figures in profit. Instead, I quit work to work on this so called dream, but would still keep some stocked away once I got the nerves.

Late 2008 I was looking into therapy to start discussing this journey. Then the market collapse happened, knocking out a good portion of my savings that I had in the market. Plus Prop 8 came along, and my parents both voted “yes”, meaning marriage should only be between a man and a woman. They did this not knowing that deep down their child is a Lesbian. I was crushed and I buried it all again. The weight came on and I ballooned fifty pounds in no time. I was low and I figured I would never say hello again to that side of me. Had I started a year earlier, maybe things could have been different.

Over the next couple years she came and went, and in 2014 I met one person that would correct this path for me. Her name, Kim Petras. We started a music department and she would be the first person we would take on. Meetings were had and we even hung out. She was the sweetest thing and an amazing songwriter at 19 years. My boss asked if I knew her backstory and if I didn’t, I should Google her. Here is her wiki page that comes up first:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Petras

What the fuck? I had no idea, but now a lot of her lyrics made more sense. And she passed. Real boobs, real hips, real female voice. Yet she started so young and T never ruined her body like it had mine. I’m so fucking male and it hurts. So I made a plan, I’d start losing weight and once I hit 200 pounds I’ll go to therapy. That worked for a bit, but the dysphoria would come back, making my weight go up and down and all around over and over. The beard would come and go as I tried to fight it one last time. My work will reject me, my friends will reject me, and most of all, my family will reject me. I’ll never pass and I’ll never be a woman.

I was doing great in the weight loss journey finally, but then in August of 2016 I hit my lowest of low. The saboteur spoke up saying “no matter how much weight you lose, you’ll never have the body you want.” The voice was right. I would never have a perfect female body because I have a 42 inch chest when not fat. I’m hairy as Bigfoot. I have a receding hairline that will never come back. So I wallowed away in a full pizza and a pint of ice cream (and lots of tears). While weeping away, I found a thread on Reddit that finally gave me some hope for my situation. And within that thread there was a post to this timeline video:

Fuck, every time I see this video it just gets to me. And around the 5:45 mark, it makes me tear up. Since watching this video, I’ve know seen over 300 transition timeline videos. The one thing 99% of them have in common, you can see the happiness finally emerge. The light returns to their eyes and the smiles become genuine, and god damnit, that’s all I want in this life. So the very next day I called my insurance to see what sort of mental health coverage I had. I dug through the site to find one that dealt with MTF/GID/Gender Dysphoria, and after pestering with multiple calls, I finally had my first meeting on the books.

That session was stressful. On the way in I wanted to throw up so bad. My stomach was in knots. The anxiety train was running rampant. As we were discussing my upbringing and all the bullshit in the past, I noticed the time was slowly ticking down. Five minutes left. It’s now or never. “There’s one more thing i wanted to discuss.” I couldn’t make eye contact. “I’m pretty sure I’m trans.” And the tears flowed. I never told anyone before this fateful night, and thankfully I was the last patient of the day, considering the session went on 15 minutes past the allotted time. I told him a lot of what is written here. The inner battles. And I even joked saying “A part of me hopes I have a split personality so I can just take a pill and no one will know how fucked up I am.”

The thing is, that night I slept like a baby. I toss and turn constantly, and my Fitbit has me anywhere between 8-15 minutes (and sometimes more) of restless sleep. That evening. Not one minute of restless sleep. A big huge boulder was taken off my chest and I could finally have some peace of mind. It was glorious. After that meeting I told several friends. All went well, but my biggest fear was telling family. See, I’m the lone vocal Democrat in a sea of mainly Republicans/Christian. The day before the election my therapist and I had finally talked about moving forward into getting a proper diagnosis and getting me on HRT (hormone replacement therapy). When the results started rolling in, I knew it didn’t look good for those in the LGBTQ+ (along with many other groups), and I told two friends that I was done. There was no way I could ever be the real me with T and P at 1600 Penn. They both told me I can’t give up. I’ve come too far and I need to be happy.

I’ve recounted this experience in the video that may have lead you here, you can watch it by clicking here:

Pieces of a Nation: Zac Sanford

And that’s exactly what I did. I continued with the therapy and have been slowly switching my services over to the LGBT Center in Los Angeles. I had my intake, met with a counselor, and was then sent to an Endo to talk about the risks involved with transitioning and to get my blood drawn. For those on FB, this is what all those pics were about. Considering blockers and hormones aren’t the most healthy thing for a body, they need to make sure you can handle it, and I realized this was far safer than the DIY I was looking at in late 2015.

I actually jumped ahead a little in that last paragraph, but I promise I’m coming to an end shortly. My family knew I was going to therapy, and at Thanksgiving they were asking what I was dealing with. Did I have diagnosis? I was so afraid I would never see them again, so I wanted to give them one more holiday with their son they’ve always known. Since I was only seeing a therapist, they couldn’t give me a diagnosis (which was true), so I didn’t want to give them anything until it was verified. Christmas rolled around. I drank a little too much at my sister’s because I knew I would eventually have to broach the subject. As extended family was leaving, my aunt who is a licensed therapist asked if I was alright. I broke down and told her as her boyfriend waiting patiently for 15 minutes in the car. She had no idea, but said she would be a support for me with the parents if/when it was necessary. After everyone had left, my sister and I started chatting as we were the only ones left. And then I told her, and surprise, we both cried our eyes out. I mentioned I was afraid considering she hadn’t been back to Target since they made their bathroom stance, but she had her own reasoning, which I totally understand based on things that happened to her in the past.

As I was driving back to my parents, she sent me a text asking if it was okay to tell my brother-in-law, which it was, and if I wanted her there when I told our parents, she would be. The next day was my last with the ‘rents. We went to lunch and I knew I eventually had to leave, considering I needed to pick up my old roommate on the way back home so he wouldn’t have to take the train. Just like with the therapist, I waited until the last possible minute. And you know what? They were accepting. My last five minutes turned into almost an hour answering questions, reassuring my mom that it wasn’t her fault since “I put you in dresses.” I told her about chastising me for the babysitter’s daughters clothes, which she didn’t remember. And by the time I got home, they had watched five episodes of Transparent (and since have been through many more).

On January 23rd, three days after T took office, I took my first spironolactone (50mg 2x daily) and estradiol (2mg 2x daily). The spiro makes you pee like crazy, so that’s a bit of a bitch, but E is never as strong as T, so you need something to block it. A little over a week in, a had a sense of calm that I’ve never experienced in my life. When I had my two week follow up, my endo said that means the pills are doing their job. There’s a million other things I could go into here, but some of them are TMI. My skin is finally getting softer (but damn, it’s so much easier feeling chilly). And I’ve already started the laser hair removal process which hurts like a mother fucker. A month in and I’ve never been happier in my life. Sure I’ll have some ups and downs, but this has been the best thing I’ve ever done. Every friend has been supportive (though one friend is thrown off how I feel I’m a woman yet I’m still attracted to women, yet he also doesn’t want me to transition because “I like you the way you are.”) My family has all been supportive. The few at work who know have been supportive. And I’ve also found two amazing support groups.

If you made it this far… thanks. I know it might be a little off for some to fully grasp and comprehend as it isn’t the norm. We’re such a small minority in the representation of things, but as there has been more awareness, hopefully it allows more acceptance. If you want to know more about gender, this is actually a really great doc from Nat Geo:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/gender-revolution-a-journey-with-katie-couric/videos/gender-revolution-a-journey-with-katie-couric2/

To those of you with kids, all I can ask is to be there for them whenever they need it. Look for the signs. As I said, there was some rough waters growing up, so parents couldn’t see how much I was struggling, and since I placated everything, there was no way they could fully know. The suicide attempt should have been a bigger sign, but it wasn’t… And I don’t blame them for the years after that, considering the misdiagnosis since I didn’t fully explain my problems while in the hospital.

Lastly, a new word I learned is Transtrender, since it has sort of come into the spotlight, some feel that there might be a faction that does this to fit in… That is not the case for me. I wish it was, as life would be a million times easier than the next 12 months of transition will bring. Plus, here’s my results of the Sexuality and Gender Explorer test:

Image

Yep, I’ve been dealing with this for a long, long time. If you want to continue to follow along, you can friend me on FB, or you can watch the transformation on IG with the hashtag #zr365, where I’m posting a selfie a day, and then will post side by side comparisons monthly.

For the tl;dr crowd: After decades of battling my true identity, I’m finally on my way to becoming the person I was always meant to be.

Thanks,

Zoey

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