WATCH LIVE: Public hearings continue in impeachment inquiry

Transformnation: Transgender in Salt Lake City

Data pix.

Becca is a digital producer at Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, Utah. After coming out as transgender to her friends and family, Becca decided to talk about her transition and her coming out at work with the hopes that others who are trans will realize they have a right to exist in public.

In my experience, many of the hardest things about being transgender don’t actually have all that much to do with being trans.

Before I transitioned I was presented with this hellscape of horror that would befall me if I tried to live authentically. It has certainly been a difficult process, but a lot of the obstacles and pitfalls come from the way our society reacts to trans folks—not from being trans.

For me those lessons were learned early. In a hundred small ways, and in some very direct experiences, I learned that I was expected to be a boy and boys behaved a certain way.

I don’t think I heard the word “transgender” until I was in my late teens. For most of my life I had these feelings but nothing to relate them to. When I was a kid, the only people even somewhat like me on TV were murdered sex workers on crime shows, bad jokes in comedy sketches, or overly dramatized stereotypes exploited for a laugh on “The Jerry Springer Show.”

Some of the most devastating moments of my young life were hearing the people I trusted and loved saying ignorant, dehumanizing or even hateful things about trans folks without them realizing they were talking about me when I couldn’t stand up for myself.

I was also raised in mostly religious and conservative areas. When I spoke to the adults I trusted about my identity questions, those feelings were treated as an obstacle to overcome on my path to being the man I needed to be. Religious leaders and family sent me to see religious-based counselors, who told me this was not only something shameful to overcome but something I should keep secret—even from members of my family.

While I never went to a camp, the ideas behind conversion therapy were drilled into me at a formative age. My family’s faith has strict ideas about gender roles, marriage and starting a family. For most of my life it was inconceivable to consider anything other than graduating high school, going on a mission, finding a wife and fathering children.

I tried my best to be that person, to live that life, and it made me deeply unhappy. My first suicide attempt was a cry for help, the cut too shallow to do any real harm, and that was my first trip to a behavioral ward. The second was pills, and I woke up in a hospital a couple of days later. That one was the scariest for my family, and my second time in a ward.

The third I don’t like talking about beyond saying I was alone and it’s a cosmic coin flip that accounts for me still being here today.

I engaged in a lot of self harm in my 20s. At a certain point I was filled with so much self-loathing and dissonance in my life I was what I would later jokingly call ABS—Anything But Sober. I tried a cornucopia of drugs and alcohol to avoid reality, but opiates became my demon. A dance with pain pills led to an off, and on, and off, and on again addiction to oxycontin and later heroin, then back to oxycontin.

I’m incredibly fortunate to have loving parents of means. We may not have had the information we all needed to deal with my deeply closeted identity and resulting dysphoria, but they were there to catch me when I fell.

They were able to put me in hospitals or get me therapy when so many others in my situation end up homeless or falling prey to monsters who profit from the way we neglect certain communities in this country.

There were also several times during my years as an addict where I had close calls with police and probably would have gone to jail if not for the color of my skin.

I started getting help, and while I wasn’t ready to confront my identity quite yet I was learning how to take ownership of my existence. This is around the time I made my fifth change of major  and landed in a couple of communication classes. One was an introduction to writing for media, and I was hooked. I also had the opportunity to publish my work, and that was a powerful and validating feeling after spending so long steeped in self-loathing.

The professor for that class, Rhiannon Bent, saved my life. She pushed me to be better and in just a handful of semesters I had fixed my sinking GPA and become the editor-in-chief of that paper. She saw my potential and wouldn’t let me keep making excuses for myself.

That part of my life was so focused on salvaging my academic career and dealing with drug addiction that I didn’t have time to unpack the boxes I’d compartmentalized my identity into. Aside from a few stupidly dangerous Craigslist encounters with men, I did my best to hide that part of myself—convinced it would bring me nothing but misery.

I graduated in 2011 and by the start of 2012 I was working for Senator Orrin Hatch’s reelection campaign. After fixing so many problems with my life, that’s when my gender identity began to claw its way back into the forefront of my mind.

There are a few things that convinced me this wasn’t something I could, or should, hide forever.

Seeing Janet Mock and Carmen Carrera in interviews and interacting with people online made me realize that I could be openly trans and still demand and receive respect, all while living a life far from the doom and gloom I’d been led to believe awaited me.

Another was spending time in online spaces with transwomen who were coming out after 20 years of marriage, or 10 years into a military commitment. I started to realize that these feelings weren’t going away and that the advice I had been given to throw myself into masculine pursuits, to date and marry a woman and just be a man, were not going to “fix” me.

The third was having overcome enough of my demons to recognize that even though on paper I was living a responsible and productive life, I wasn’t happy.

I came out to close friends and family around this time and made an online dating profile. My experimenting with feminine presentation became more frequent and something I could share with people close to me instead of something I flailed at in brief, hidden bursts of alone time.

The first time I told someone in person, I cried for about a half an hour before I could manage to just say the words “I’m transgender.”

I remember walking into the Utah Pride Center and into some poor man’s office. He looked at me and could see it in my face, that I was in pain. I honestly just stood in his doorway and cried for 15 or 20 minutes before I managed to say “I think I’m trans and I need to talk to someone.”

I got some free counseling, and that helped, but I was still too afraid, too damaged to push forward. I continued to flounder, but now it was two steps forward and one back instead of that constant pendulum swing between embracing and purging those parts of myself.

Between finding a supportive boyfriend in Dexter and the encouragement of my friends, I began to spend more of my time away from work as myself, and I begin to appear more androgynous, even at work. For the last year or two before I started HRT I didn’t even own male clothing—just a carefully curated collection of women’s clothing that was andro enough to get me by.

In 2018 I finally found the courage to start hormones, and from there things moved so much faster than I’d expected.

I took my first dose in June. In October I was a bridesmaid, and I spent a glorious week as one of the girls as we got everything ready. This was around the same time I started getting ma’am from strangers in public, and that week was my first taste of what life could be like as myself. It was incredible.

Even though I have passing privilege, it has always been —and remains to an extent—difficult for me to see it in my own face. But around this time I started having awkward encounters in men’s bathrooms and had more than one girlfriend tell me to stop using them for my own safety.

I had planned to go home for Christmas as that other person one last time, but then I spent Thanksgiving with some friends. It was the first time in my life that I took pictures at a holiday gathering and wanted to see them later. Everything about that day was pure magic, and I went home and sobbed into my boyfriend’s chest because I knew I couldn’t spend another holiday as that other person.

My parents were caught off guard by this change of plans, but largely they rose to the challenge admirably. That week was the best Christmas of my life. It was nearly perfectly normal, and that meant the world to me.

I went back to work on January 1 as Rebecca. I had spent several months working with HR, my news director and with Amy Ciacco—who, to steal a line from Firefly, is a Big. Damn. Hero. I am incredibly fortunate to have a workplace that never asked me to be patient, never said slow down or questioned my right to exist as myself. Instead they asked me when I wanted to come out, how I wanted to handle it, and what they could do to help.

At my request they sent a letter to all staff that included my name and preferred pronouns and explicitly stated I’d be treated the same as all female employees, including use of the women’s restroom. While they haven’t been perfect, we’ve treated each snag as a chance to learn and make the road easier for the next person who transitions in this company.

I’m not well-known by any means, but my job puts me in the public eye to an extent. The process of navigating the transition online seemed daunting, but Amy just took care of basically everything for me. This allowed me to focus on getting myself ready and navigating the circus that is documentation for trans folks.

Utah lacks a formal process for changing your gender marker, but—and I am honestly thankful for this every single day—I was born in the great state of Hawaii where you just need one signed, notarized form from yourself and one from your doctor to change your birth certificate. Still, out of fear of conflicting jurisdictions we hired a lawyer to get me through the process here in Utah.

I remember talking to my boyfriend about the expense, around $2,000 in total for the court and attorney fees, and wondering if we should just change it with Hawaii and try to boldface through Utah’s lack of a process. But we decided it wasn’t worth the risk of spending five years and several million dollars as the textbook plaintiff in a landmark case.

Geography can be a major factor in a trans person’s happiness, and, again, I am lucky to live in Utah’s Third District—where a judge held my hearing in chambers and reassured me as I sobbed through the process. Folks in other parts of Utah face a coin flip in judge selection, or just can’t get congruity in their documents at all because judges won’t sign the order.

But even with a judge’s order, nobody cares until you can show them your new photo ID. Fortunately Hawaii came through and got me my new birth certificate in just a handful of weeks and I was off to the Utah Driver’s License Division.

While Utah lacks a system for your birth certificate, the Driver’s License Division has trans folks’ backs. The process was simple. The clerk cried with me. Her supervisor called me brave and told me how much his family loves their trans in-law.

The day my license came in the mail was one of the best in my life. Before, I had to out myself anytime I flew, anytime I ordered a drink, or anytime I handed someone my credit card. In so many ways that piece of plastic and the little “F” on it is my right to exist in public. To use the bathroom at a movie theater knowing I’m not going to get arrested for it and booked into a men’s ward in jail if a bigot decides to give me a bad time.

It was incredible to have a workplace serve as my refuge during this process, which is still unfolding. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and so many places to make the change—and it can be draining to be constantly explaining yourself to people. If I had to be doing the same thing at work, it would overwhelm me.

The last year has in some ways been the most chaotic and challenging of my life. Doing puberty 2.0 in my early 30s is quite an experience. But my life has never been better and I’ve never been happier despite the roadblocks we’ve put in trans folks’ way.

I connect with people so much more deeply, thoroughly and authentically. My friendships have never been stronger or my social circle wider.

While I still grapple with feelings of self-hatred, fear and doubt: I find that the more I am allowed to settle into myself and live without fear, the more I’m able to achieve and the more I am able to uplift those around me.

Everyone should move at their own pace, but for me I have so much regret for the years I spent waiting. There are so many messages of fear out there, and I let myself be governed by them. Now that I am living my life as myself, people keep telling me how brave I am.

I don’t think I got any braver, but I do know that fear is so much more manageable when you are making progress, when you are facing it instead of hiding from it. And when you fight your battles openly, sometimes you’re surprised by how many people join your struggle.

Fear makes the wolf seem bigger, as the saying goes.

And that’s why it is so important to be a voice in support of trans people. The permission to be our authentic selves is life-changing, and for many people—especially trans women of color—that permission is just as much about our physical safety as our emotional well-being. While you may not think you know a trans person, you probably do. And whether you realize it or not, they are looking to you and to everyone else for clues about how they’ll be treated when they muster up the courage to be themselves.

Lastly, I just want young trans folks to know that even if your life is filled with people who are telling you that your identity is wrong, or a sin, or that you can’t find happiness and fulfillment while being true to your identity: They’re wrong. They’re just wrong.

And you can show them my byline if they don’t believe you.

Useful links:

Toolkit for employers:
https://www.hrc.org/campaigns/trans-toolkit
Best practices for employers:
https://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-inclusion-in-the-workplace-recommended-policies-and-practices
IBM’s best practice study and employee transition approach:
https://www-03.ibm.com/employment/inclusion/downloads/IBM_Gender_Transition_in_the_global_workplace.pdf
Coming out at work tips (Human Rights Campaign):
https://www.hrc.org/resources/coming-out-in-the-workplace-as-transgender

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.