Transgender woman redefines the most important relationship of all
April 7, 2016
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As I drive to meet my interviewee, there are a thousand thoughts running through my head – mainly concern over saying the wrong thing, using the wrong words, or offending unintentionally. Images of David Bowie dressed in his women’s glam cabaret attire, and the film I’ve just seen, “The Danish Girl,” flash through my head.
There is one priority; going into this interview with an open mind, ready to interview a woman who has, in the past three years, gone through the transition from man to woman.
Pulling into the driveway, stomach filled with butterflies, I am preparing myself to have a conversation with a woman I’ve known for quite some time. But this is still a first in our relationship.
Now, we’re going to talk about a delicate, significant topic; we’re about to discuss anything and everything about being trans.
I sit down across from Tessa, in the attic of the three-story house that’s carefully tucked into the landscape of Buckingham; an adorable Airedale stretches out across the hardwood floors. Tessa’s childhood home gives off nothing but warmth and comfort, obviously the best place for a conversation such as this one.
Subtle music comes from the speakers around us, as Tessa begins to tell her story. “You always hear about the typical trans story, where the boy or girl had this awful upbringing, and sh—y adolescence, but that wasn’t the case for me at all.”
Tessa grew up, as the youngest of three boys, with two committed, accepting, parents who never enforced gender stereotypes.
It was a tight-knit family, the kind most dream of having. She recalls when she came out, “It was 10th grade, I had nothing but love and support from my parents.”
Despite coming out as a gay man, Tessa realized her mindset was about more than just being attracted to men. Something was just different.
“It was a strong feeling, and I didn’t have the language to express it or really understand it.”
Tessa was aware of this throughout her high school years but her full epiphany didn’t come until she graduated and continued on to college.
Tessa left for Chicago an eager and curious freshman.
After she met her significant other, John, she continued to meet other people, and things began to change. She realized she wasn’t being seen the way she wanted to be viewed.
“The way I viewed myself in my head was very different then the way I was being portrayed to the world.”
This sparked the match that led to a series of realizations about who Tessa already was, but never was able to be seen.
“Sexuality is who you go to bed with, gender is who you go to bed as,” Tessa says matter- of- factly.
As David Bowie once said, “Gender is between your ears not your legs,” gender is open to interpretation and it’s just in recent years that finally there is a dialogue about this opening up.
The National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, did a study in 2014, finding that out of 6,450 individuals affiliated with being transgender, 71 percent of those people hid their gender or gender transition to try to avoid discrimination and 57 percent delayed their transition for the same reason.
“Sexuality is so much easier to figure out then gender,” Tessa tells me. As Tessa began to do substantial amounts of research, and had conversations with friends throughout her senior year of college, she reached the conclusion that she wanted to start the transition to become a woman.
Naturally, questions started to come up about the medical process, hormones, surgeries and what it would entail. Tessa looks up, “Well yes, I take hormones, and we can talk about the medical process if you want, but you should realize that’s one millionth of the whole transition.”
Coming to terms with that is hard for those that identify themselves as gay or straight, not comprehending that transitioning from a gender, isn’t just about the physical changes.
Uniquely for Tessa said she had nothing but positive reactions from friends and family.
Her two older brothers, David and Christopher, are happy to have a sister.
Tessa’s longstanding relationship with John never faltered because of this change. John identified as pansexual from the beginning of their relationship.
“We consider each others soul mates, best friends, we’re in love with the people we are, not the gender we identify with.”
She recalls telling her grandparents on her mother’s side. With such a large generation gap some might think it would be hard for them to understand.
“I remember Meme saying, ‘In all I’ve learned in my life, it doesn’t matter what people think of you.’”
So Tessa started “monin” (slang for using hormones) which started the social and physical change.
The social change being how she was viewed by the world, and more importantly the change in the relationship she had with herself.
Tessa before her transition reached model status at 6 feet tall, rocked dirty blonde hair; the wardrobe and attitude are really the only things that have changed.
Tessa walks with a swagger that all notice when she walks by, something she’s always had, now with more confidence and a feminine touch.
Living in New York City for a couple of years has provided her with a cosmopolitan fashion sense.
Tessa has always had this person inside her, now she’s able to freely express it. As the transition continued, she noticed how specifically women started to look at her differently, positively and negatively.
“As a gay man, women tended to immediately want to become best friends and treat you like a girlfriend, but now my female friends have started to realize that I understand typical female things I didn’t understand before, it’s become more like a sisterhood,” Tessa explains.
It’s been known that women are in constant competition with one another. So when another woman gets added into the mix, females can be down right vicious. Tessa is starting to get a taste of that, even with just a subtle glance on the street.
Tessa continues on about the dating world and the stereotypes of dating straight men and how sometimes it’s fitting and other times not so much, but the dating world is still very different being a woman.
Though Tessa has for now decided not to go through any surgeries and isn’t sure if she will need or want to take hormones forever, she can confidently say she’s happy.
Though is the process ever over? I begin to ask the question, though I realize before I’m even finished the thought, are any of us ever done growing, are any of us ever done making mistakes, learning, changing?
“It’s a lot about self reliance and I’m still learning,” Tessa responds, humbly. It’s an ongoing process. If the world continues to progress and evolve, so will the people, and maybe society will learn to open up to gender fluidity and give every individual the opportunity to be who they want to be, sexual preference, gender, ethnicity, aside.
That would give those like Tessa the opportunity to explore the most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all, the one you have with yourself.