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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 60 – Not Quite Strangers: Living Transgender, The Crash Course in Manhood and Womanhood

Not Quite Strangers | Transgender

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Not Quite Strangers: Living Transgender, The Crash Course in Manhood and Womanhood

This is going to be fun and spicy. I'm going to call it a spicy conversation because I have two human beings here who are phenomenal. Both of you have been a member of my spiritual path. Evin, I've known you longer. I've been a part of Unity Church for several years. B’Elana, you and I've met maybe in the last couple of years.

I want to start by sharing why I thought this would be a great conversation to have with the two of you. B’Elana, you are a member of the tech team. I'm an honorary member of the tech team at Unity Church. You have been responsible for producing the live stream and making sure that everything that's happening in the tech world is great and you're amazing at it. You've been mentoring me. When you're not there, I'm able to step into it. You are transgender.

I don't know how I knew this. I don't know who told me. I'm not sure how the conversation started, but in the last few weeks, you've shared some things with me about parts of your transition that you're experiencing that I've found fascinating. I was like, “B’Elana, do you want to be on my show? I want to talk about this in person.” You said, “Yes.”

Evin, you and I have been in the same church. In 2017, you all left the Dallas area, you and your wife, to move to another state. I didn't know that you were transgender at all. I knew this because Reverend Karen showed me some publications where you'd written up a blog or documentation. I was like, “What?” It wasn't that big a deal because you and I weren't super close. There was nothing for me to be shocked about, but I remember thinking, “Does that mean anything? Does that change anything?” I started reviewing interactions like, “Would I have known? Should I have?” I don't know. It automatically came to mind.

I'm grateful that you said yes, in spite of the fact that we hadn't had this conversation at all, but I know that the two of you have spoken with each other in Reverend Karen's podcast. I'm curious. Besides the fact that I invited you, what had you said yes to being on another show and having this conversation about your transgender journey?

Valerie, you mentioned you didn't know. It wasn't because of you. That was because I was living in what transgender called a stealth life, where I only told people who had a need to know and few people I felt needed to know. My job didn't know. Nobody knew. Reverend Karen was one of the only ones who did. Over the past few years, as I've done more work in Unity, I was approached by a couple of Unity ministers who knew and had asked me if I would mind sharing my story. It was in that worthy booklet with Unity that you're thinking about.

Education is key. If I don't tell people, how am I going to help educate anybody? How am I going to give people the opportunity to ask me questions? It's also me being able to let people know fully who I am because I'd always felt like there was this piece of me I had to keep quiet about that I was keeping hidden away. It's been freeing to me to talk about it, especially in situations like this, Valerie, because this is the first conversation we've had together since you've known. It's good to be able to share that with you.

I appreciate your openness about it. It's not like you needed to make an announcement or anything like that. This is interesting because we will go into more detail, but the need to know about any aspect of people's lives comes up quite often in this topic. I had a friend who shared he's gay, and people already knew that, but in this particular space we were in, he shared that he felt that every time he was in front of a new group, he had this responsibility to come out somehow. He's like, “Why is that? No one has to come out as hetero.” I was like, “I've never thought about it that way.” I'm getting what you're referencing there. B’Elana, what about for you? What made you say yes to having a conversation like this?

It’s along the same veins, but mine is because I like being open about it when it's necessary to be open about it. It's not that I try to live stealthily, and I'm out about it. You want to have this conversation, and like Evin, I believe in the education of it. I also believe in proper education because I've been a part of actual trans support organizations.

I had to take a step back from them for a while because some of them were pushing what I call the saber-rattling message. I would rather people see a normal human being who gets up, has a cup of coffee, goes to work every day, pays my taxes, and pays my bills. I date and do normal things. That's what I always want people to see. I tell people where I work all the time, “You all need to stop paying attention to social media because we're not all like that.”

What is the saber-rattling you're referring to? What does that mean?

We call it the ones that go to the extremes like, “Everybody must accept all of this. You always use proper pronouns.” I come from a school of all the people all the time that you'll never please. There's always going to be someone out there no matter how much you try. It's a lesson I taught my daughters and anybody I've mentored in the trans community. It's going to happen. No one is ever going to be perfect. You're never going to get everybody always on your side. The best you can do is mitigate it. The way I mitigate it is by educating people on the normality of what I am.

We are all in for a treat, those of you who are reading, and me included, because we have two people who are educated educators and committed to sharing this. I can imagine not everyone who is trans wants to educate. I had this conversation about someone in this case when all this stuff has happened around racial equity, for example, being concerned about tapping people who are Black or somehow in some minoritized community, to ask them to be the spokesperson of some sort, or come and educate us feeling like that was a tokenism approach.

I'm like, “Find people who want to educate.” There are plenty of Black, Latino, or Brown people who want to educate others. You have to find the right ones. I feel like I found the right ones. Thank you. I am compelled to start from the beginning, whatever the beginning is. Let's start with when you were born. As much as you can be deep and brief, think about at what point in your life you noticed or felt that your gender, orientation, or gender assignment. What do you even call it?

The public terms are assigned to males or females at birth. Those are the new technical terms we've come up with. They'll probably change it another several years.

They say in the trans community, “AFAB.”

What does AFAB stand for?

Assigned Female At Birth.

AFAB and AMAB. Whoever wants to start can go, but at what point in your childhood did you notice or discover that something wasn't as other people were portraying it to be, or somehow, internally, you felt some dissonance? What was going on?

That's easy for me. It's my second childhood memory. I had a conversation with my mom a couple of years ago when I finally came out because few people knew up until this point. I said, “This is my first one.” She goes, “No, I can verify.” That was the day we moved out of East Dallas and moved into Mesquite. I was like, “My other one is this.” She's like, “That's when your grandparents came to see your sister, who was about a year old at that point in time.”

I remember some of the earliest memories I had. I knew I didn't want to be a boy, and I didn't know what to think of it. It persisted for years until I got older. I saw girls developing differently than boys. That's when it sunk in. I knew what was going on. I didn't know what to make of it. Eventually, I did meet someone in the mid-‘90s who was transgender. That's when I had some terminology to put to it. I knew from early on, and it was haunting me from an early age. It was one of those I knew. People were like, “You mean you identified.” No, I knew from a young age. I knew for a fact. Some people don't know until later. From an early age, I knew that wasn't me I was seeing in there.

I have not had this conversation before. I may not tread as lightly as you would want me to. You let me know. What were you called then? What was your name when you were a male assigned at birth?

We call it the dead name.

What's your dead name?

I'm okay with mentioning it. It was an old Irish name because I'm from an Irish family. I don't know if Evin has this experience, but I had people ask me, “What happens if you're somewhere that you hear your dead name?” I'm like, “One, it's rare to meet anybody named that. Two, I stopped reacting to it.” Once I got all my legal changes and my driver's license said something else, I didn't have to answer that name anymore. It doesn't faze me at all. I got to a point where if anybody would say, “Sir,” by accident, Six Flags wouldn't even acknowledge it.

You say Six Flags, not because it happens to be a densely populated area, but because you work there.

We can get into that part of the conversation later, but it is a good company to work for LGBTQ. They are protective of their community there.

Evin, what about you? What was that moment, and what was your dead name?

My story was similar to B’Elana's because I've always known. I most specifically remember the first grade. That's because that’s when I started going to school. I remember watching the boys chase the girls on the playground, and I did it too. I wanted to do it. I always had this feeling that something was wrong with the way I was born. Even as a child, I would pray to God to make me a boy. I don't know how old I was, but I remember laying in bed one night, shaking my fist at the ceiling, and I said, “God, why didn't you make me a boy because I knew that something was off?”

Mine was different than B’Elana's because when I started developing into a female body, I went into this depression. I was like, “What is going on?” All of a sudden, the boys I was hanging around with started treating me differently. They knew that I was no longer one of them. It was difficult. You would always hear about these talk shows like Maury Povich and these people who had gone through this sex change. There was a stigma around it, but I still always found it fascinating because I'm like, “You can do that.”

My final turning point was when I was watching this documentary. It was on the Sundance channel. It was called Trans University. It followed these two trans males and females through college. It took us through their transitions. Watching them go through that and watching what testosterone did for those trans men, I was like, “That is me. That is what I need to do.” That's when it hit me. As far as my dead name, I do not give mine in public.

We'll not reveal your dead name. Maybe you can tell me off-camera. I'm curious. It's a need-to-know thing.

It's been a long time for me. I transitioned several years ago. It's been a while.

B’Elana, when did you transition? How long has it been for you?

Three years of HRT this November 2023 and two years post-op this December 2023. I jumped. That was the thing that Reverend Karen was always fascinated with was how hard I jumped into the process. I was like, I saw a window of opportunity and said, I'm doing this period.

What's HRT?

Hormone Replacement Therapy. That's why I'll throw the dead name out there every now and then because there are still people, even in my family, that I'm like, “Do you want to be that way? That's fine.” I got to the point where I don't care because I am me, like it or not.

What has been the most fulfilling aspect of the transition process in all these years that you guys have been figuring out the next thing to do and put away on the shelf, the shifting, and the narrative in your families or friends?

It's people seeing me on the outside as I have always felt on the inside for the world to see the male that I knew I was inside for the world has been the most fulfilling for me, and to be treated, seen, and to navigate the world as a male. There's been no experience like it for me.

I would honestly have to echo that because, being treated like one of the girls, I remember my first bathroom experience with the girls. It was interesting. There's a funny story behind that one. I echo this with Evin because of the experience of being able to do things on the side of that line that you've always wanted to do, and now you get to do it.

My first experience was we were on a business trip for the company in St. Louis. We came back from visiting downtown St. Louis because I hadn't seen it in years, and it was awesome. I had to go to the bathroom, and one of my bartender friends who went with us was walking with me to the bathroom and chatting. We're chatting, and we get into the bathroom. She's still chatting, and we're sitting in the stalls. She stops and she goes, “Are you okay?” I'm like, “Yes.” She goes, “Still getting used to talking in the bathroom.” I was like, “Yes.” When I said it, I jumped into it. It was a crash course in how to be a woman. According to my friends, I've handled it quite well. Being socialized in one direction because guys don't talk in the bathroom.

I had to get used to it. You could hear a pin drop in there. It's completely silent. At work, guys will acknowledge each other. In public, you go to a restaurant. You better not even look at anybody. You go in, do your thing, wash your hands, and get out. That's it.

You were socialized differently. These are fascinating anecdotes. Talking in the bathroom. We do that all the time, during, before, and after we go in pairs or groups. That's a normal thing. Evin, you're saying for you, it’s dead silence. What was it like for you? Did you start off by having them talk?

I'm curious about that. Even pre-transition, I was able to use the men's room some because I had a hard time going into women's rooms because I'm taller than most cisgender women. I wear my hair short. If people look me dead in the eye, they usually would be able to tell. In men's restrooms, they don't look you in the eye. I was able to use the men's room a lot easier. I got to where I was good at finding family or gender-neutral bathrooms before I transitioned. I already had the experience of using men's rooms, but I talked to cis men before I started doing it.

I had a good gay male friend, and he filled me in on etiquette in men's rooms. He helped me navigate through that. I was in enough trans men's groups online. I had wisdom from those who had gone before me. I was able to share some of that wisdom of what you do and don't do in there. I like being able to go in there, do my thing, and not worry about anything. Men don't hold anything back in the restroom. No matter what you have to do in there, you can go in there and do it without any shame. Going into women's rooms was different.

I'm afraid to ask what that means.

We'll say passing gas. Men do that out loud in the restroom. There's no issue or stigma. I did have to get used to that because it was funny.

Have you had to curb your instinct, B’Elana?

I have had to be a lot more conscious about my manner than that.

The most fulfilling is having that moment where you feel that your inside and outside matching was acknowledged by other people. What would you say was the most confusing or unsettling portion of your transitions?

It would be the early years because it's a patience game and everybody tells you that. I'm the worst at patience because, in that first year, everybody was like, “What changes am I going to notice?” For the male-to-female side, it takes a lot longer. Testosterone works a lot quicker than estrogen does. We have to come back from testosterone and work our way through estrogen.

The first year or two is the most frustrating. All of a sudden, in year three, you noticed a lot. I had facial recognition software for something I was doing at work. I had to teach my iPhone how to read my face again. It wasn't until year three that that started happening. The most frustrating part of it is in the beginning. You want to be there and be that. It's different for everyone. That was mine.

It sounds like your physical transition took a lot longer.

It's the patience to wait for it because I learned the first year easily, and 80% of the pronouns are wrong. That percentage dropped significantly in year three. Being a statistics person, I studied it. One of the biggest things I would teach people in any trans group I was in is that, in the first year or two, your statistical chances are high. Once you get into 3, 4, and 5, as long as you get your hormones right, that'll go way down fast.

You're talking about other people identifying you with the appropriate pronoun.

The hardest thing is the first year or two waiting for enough of those changes where people don't scrutinize you. They go for the pronoun.

B’Elana, you dress much better than most of the women that I know, including myself. She's always wearing heels, shorter skirts, and body-fitting stuff. I'm like, “B’Elana, seriously?”

Karen mentioned your heels, too, B’Elana. I'm going to have to Sunday when I'm there to see this.

One of those funny social things, even as a kid, is that's how I knew because I got involved with Rocky Horror Picture Show for several years. Because I could walk into that theater on any given night, I never told it to a few people in that community. I would walk in, and somebody wouldn't show up. They were like, “They didn't show up. Put on the dress.” I'd have to put on the dress and heels and get in those things and be like, “Yes.” I indulged in that because I could throw on that dress and play that part, and no one would. It is interesting to hide because everybody was like, “I never knew.” I don't know the reaction Evin got, but everybody who looked at me went, “No.”

Evin, what would you say to that? What was your confusing or unsettling moment?

The transition from female to male goes much quicker because by about four months in, I was already being read as male 95% of the time. In six months, that was it. I was being read as male. It's different in society for females to dress in men's clothes than it is the other way around. I don't think I've ever worn female clothes. It wasn't that part of it, and it was a cinch for me.

The most difficult thing, and it's something that I still find difficult sometimes I still navigate, is socialization. Being in women's circles is something that I sometimes still miss a lot because A, I was socialized as female, and I feel more comfortable in women's circles. B, I don't feel like I have a lot in common with a lot of cis men.

That's been something difficult for me to navigate, and it's something I still navigate and miss about being more in the female world. I used to hang out more in lesbian circles, and I'm not in that anymore. That's something that I'm still navigating and still miss after all this time. I don't know if that makes any sense, but learning how to navigate now, being more in a man's world is different. For my wife, it was different because she's a cisgender heterosexual woman. She wasn't used to being with men who were friends with mostly women. We navigated that together. She's had to get used to having a husband whose most friends are females.

What do you notice is different between being in groups that are predominantly female and predominantly cis male? What do you notice for you?

I'm not putting a blanket statement on all cisgender men, but men's conversations don't go as deep. It's like, “Let's not talk about any feelings. Let's keep everything service level.” With women, it's accepted. The conversation can go deep. You can talk about personal stuff, and it's different. It seems to me that there's more of a deeper relationship that women have with each other. Cismen can develop those over time, but it's not as well accepted in cisgender men's circles.

It’s the depth of conversation, the revealing, and being more personal. I have three brothers. They'll have those levels of conversation with me. I notice when we are together. I'm like, “How are you not telling him what you told me? That doesn't make any sense.” They don't talk that way to each other, which I'm stunned by sometimes.

I do that when I'm with men because my wife Mindy will be like, “Did you ask him about this?” I'm like, “No.” She's like, “How could you be with him and not ask him that?” I'm like, “I’m kidding.”

I know that's a difficult thing to do because of the socialization of it. I grew up with that. A guy is not sharing feelings. I never understood why one guy would want to punch another because he looked at his girlfriend. This mentality never made sense to me. That was my key trigger about how I knew. The persistence of not understanding any of that was how I was like, “I don't know why, but this is not me.” I’m finding a way to change that.

I thought about doing this in the mid-‘90s when I was in my early twenties, but something stopped me. My only regret is maybe not doing it sooner, but I wouldn't be where I am. I have two daughters who are fantastic and in college. Things turned out well. It's one of those odd things. I'm glad I got to make the jump.

Socialization took a long time for me. One of which was getting involved in jobs like being an auto mechanic. There's something called the Society for Creative and Acronyms. That's a reenactment group where they put on armor and smack each other with retaining sticks, like actual sword fighting. That is a macho thing to get into doing.

I desperately tried to hide what I was, even as scrawny and small as I am now I was then. I'm trying to fit into this society of these big, burly dudes where that's not what I wanted to be or do. That's why when none of my friends had figured me out to the point where I finally full-on socially came out in 2019 to all my friends and family, they were like, “We never saw this coming.” I'm like, “Yes, because I had to play the game, be this person, and act the part.”

That has been the hardest thing up to pre-transition. You asked me about the hardest thing about my transition several years prior to that. The hardest thing was having to live this lie to the point where I created personas. I tell you the dead name, but I mean it when I say that was only a persona. The next dead name I used was a nickname that people gave me years later. That guy was no better.

Not Quite Strangers | Transgender
Transgender: The hardest thing was literally having to live this lie to the point where I created personas.

It's this whole show that you wind up putting on, and socialization is the hardest because you're expected to be this. Deep down, you're this. It's hard because it's like looking at a dam of water, knowing that it'll crush me. If I have to do this, that'll crush me. It's interesting having to learn about the bathroom incident.

On the other side of this, it has been one of the greatest adventures in my entire life because I'm the epidermal scientist and Indiana Jones at heart. Watching the physical changes, going through the social changes, and putting all this data together in my head is the most fascinating science experiment I have ever seen. It's cool. I wouldn't give it up for anything.

You guys have met before. You've had questions where you've talked about some of these topics. What questions haven't you asked each other that have bubbled to the surface since that first interaction when you met on the other podcast?

One of my questions was going to be for B’Elana, and it was about socialization. I did want to ask you, are you finding that a majority of your friends are cis men or trans women? What are the majority of your friends as far as their gender goes?

I'm starting to fit in with cisgender women crowds because I never changed. When you go male to female, there's a lot that tries and overdo it on the feminization and over this and over the top that. I never did because I'd always had female friends. At least 1 or 2, I had mostly confided in. I've started noticing. I have groups of guy friends. That's that socializing thing.

I got used to getting involved in guy conversations that I have to be careful about because I'm not one of them anymore. I can't necessarily have the same conversations. I'm not a guy anymore. I've had those moments where I've had that split second of like, “I can't go that anymore.” We're all walking somewhere, and they all duck in the men's restroom. I'll start turning and go, “Not for me.”

In general, the cis females I have in my life have, most of them have been accepting anyway. A lot of them are open-minded. I tend to try and seek out people who are not toxic. They wind up being good people. I wound up having a lot of female friends now. It's nice because matching everything outside and inside, it's easier for me to hang with the girls than it used to be because I used to be like, “Are you gay?” Not exactly. That used to be my response. People would be like, “What?”

I used to have a lot of female friends and hang out with the girls. If the girls were like, “We want to go to the store to get a soda.” I would go with the girls and come back. My guy friends were always like, “I know you're not gay. You're not gay. Are you gay?” No, not exactly. That would be my answer. They would look at me like, “What?”

What's been interesting is I've listened to the two of you share that for you, B’Elana, the physical transition took a long period of time to manifest physically as male, but socially, it sounds like the transition or the shift was not as big. Whereas Evin, it sounds like for you physically, it happened quickly, but socially, it's taken a little bit more time, and you've to finesse more.

I would have to ask you, Evin, because my dad, sister, and mom travel with me. There were always girls that lived next to us no matter what neighborhood we were in. My sister's friends would always come over. Socially, I had those moments where I looked like I was the big brother tagging along. I was harmless in a conversation. I wasn't creepy, big brother. Your brother is okay with hanging around and has a lot of female friends. For you, did you think that anything in your life like that contributed to yours because I had three daughters in the house at one point in time?

In the family I grew up in, there was my sister, my mom, and my dad. I did have an uncle that was gay, and he was effeminate. I had never been around any other transgender people that I knew of. I knew that I had always felt different. My mom knew because, on Easter, she would sew my sister and me these Easter dresses. She had to force me to wear that stuff. I hated it.

I remember I was upset. She and my sister thought it was funny when I first started developing a female chest. They got me a training bra for Christmas, and I was upset. I was like, “No.” My mom made me put it on. I was like, “This is the most uncomfortable thing I've ever worn.” It got to the point where I had to do something. I've always known that I was male. When I finally did tell my parents, I told my mom first because she's always been the one who's been more accepting, at least initially. She had always known in the back of her mind. I don't think it took her and shocked her too much. Does that answer your question, B’Elana?

Sometimes, there's the influence of it. I'm like, “No, we're always this way.” You'll notice that we gravitate toward it because, with most of my friends in my life, I would rather talk to females and hang out with girls. I was a horrible guy. I couldn't date. I was that kid who was awkward on a date. It was ridiculous.

Probably, you made women trust you more.

The funny thing is everybody used to joke about, “You're always in the friend zone.” Early on, I accepted that. I thought about doing it when I was younger, but one thing that a couple of people have said is you slipped easily right into the beam. There wasn't much to change. All I did was change my clothes. Some of my mannerisms, like the way I walk, were changed physically. Thanks to the HRT. I went through the pelvic rotation, which is one of the physical possibilities.

The pelvis will rotate. The way your muscles and ligaments change on HRT. For trans women, you have this chance of it, and I lost an inch of height. There were other things like that but as far as the social, I had grown up with female friends. I'd watched them. I'd seen how they operate. It doesn't matter whether you're going in one direction or the other. You're still that person. You have to learn to socially be something else.

It doesn't matter whether you're going in one direction or the other. You're still that person. You just have to learn to socially be something else.

Something that I have watched forever is how women socialize. I listened to my friends talk about the conversation in the bathroom. Experiencing it was a different story. I paid attention to all that when I was younger. I don't do the phrase I identify as because it was never identified. I was a girl. I was born in the wrong body. That's where people are like, “What do you like then?” I was born in the wrong body. It didn't feel comfortable in this one. When the opportunity came to change it, I did. I've had the most amazing confidence since then.

When I initially started hanging out with groups of men, I was afraid to let them know because I was afraid they would suddenly treat me differently. I realized that one of my fears didn't come true. When I am with groups of men, and I do let them know, they don't treat me any differently because they've never known me differently. That's been a relief for me. I can tell them, and they're like, “Okay, whatever.” They don't tend to ask a lot of questions. It's a non-issue anymore. I like that.

I've had a lot of questions before, but one that keeps coming to mind is both of you are married. With the attraction, were you attracted to the same gender or the opposite gender? What was your orientation and attraction?

It's funny because the one thing I used to teach in one of the trans organizations as a board member is there are three things. There's your gender expression, your sexual expression, and your romantic expression. I am a woman. I am bisexual, but I lean heteroromantic. It can be that complicated. My gender expression is female. I am a woman. I have gone through the whole process. I am a woman now. I have always been bi. When I met my exes, I was attracted to both.

What was the other piece?

I lean toward dating men. Everyone is different because I know trans women who only date women and are only attracted to women things. The attraction was the hardest part because, romantically, I do lean towards men as a person. Being uncomfortable in my body, I never could express that. Now that I'm in a comfortable territory with myself, I'm more expressive toward it. It was the sexual attraction, but as far as anything else with my exes, I felt like I was going through the emotions.

I don't know if it makes sense, but that's neither here nor there. I imagine you'd have to tell. If you're attracted to men, you'd have to say something about your transition. You'd have to say your transgender upfront.

I had a friend that jokingly said, “When is the best time to tell?” When you're getting ready, that might be a good time to discuss it.

It'd be intimate.

That might be a good time. We all laugh about it. We're like, “No, that is a good time.” It is up to the person. I've gone as far as dropping Easter egg hints. With the guy I'm dating, I dropped an Easter egg hint. He came back with the most interesting way of asking about my trans journey that I have ever been asked. It was like the most intelligent, thoughtful way of responding.

Care to share?

The Easter egg I drop is a line about divorce, two kids and one surgery later, and enjoying a new life. I dropped it on a dating profile. In the first private message chat we had with each other, he came back with, “You've seen life from both sides. What do you think of it?” I was like, “That was the most creative way to ask that question.” I make it a day-to-day life. I try not to make big of a deal out of it, but that's what attracts and intrigues me.

Evin, what about you? You're married to a woman. You said she's had hetero. What did you notice as you were going through this transition process?

I've always been attracted to females, and I'm still attracted to females. Before I transitioned, I identified as a lesbian. That hasn't changed at all. It's interesting because we met after I had transitioned. She didn't know. We met at a Unity church in Austin, Texas. We had become friends because we had met in the new membership class. We had started hanging out there.

We were friends. We would hang out before and after class. We go to service together. I was like, “I like her.” I asked her out, and I hadn't told her yet because I had been on lots of dates. If you have one date, what's the point of telling to somebody? I was like, “If this looks like it's going to go somewhere, I'll have to let her know and let her make that decision.”

By the third date, I was like, “I need to let her know because this is looking like it's going to develop into something.” I remember she got this look on her face, and she's like, “Are you a man about to transition into a woman? Which direction are you going?” I said, “No, I was a female, and I transitioned to being a male.” She says, “I had to make sure you were going in the right direction.” She seemed shocked. It took her by surprise, and we had left. I was like, “I'm going to give you some time to think about it, and call me if you want to chat.” She called me the next day and said, It doesn't matter. I like you, and that's what matters.

That's what I tell everybody. If you want to think anything of me, think of me as a woman who wants to be loved and live a good life. I'm not here for any re-shaking agendas. You'd be surprised how many of us are out there because we're not public. We're men and women living lives.

Not Quite Strangers | Transgender
Transgender: "If you want to think anything of me, think of me just as a woman who just wants to be loved and live a good life."

Right out of college, I took a job with Up With People. I don't know if you're familiar with Up With People. It's a nonprofit leadership program with students from all over the world. Performing arts was a big part of it. There were gay people in that organization. This is back in the ‘90s. We stayed with host families as we traveled all over the country and all over the world. One of the families I stayed with was a gay couple, two men. I knew gay people, but to be in the home with a couple was different.

I remember walking away from that experience and even throughout it. I’m going, “These two guys love each other.” I don't know if they're together now. At the moment, they were not married. That wasn't legal then. It was one of those moments where I was like, “That's what love and care look like.” They were great partners to each other. That completely shifted any preconceived notions that I had about homosexuality at the time.

In the group, we would have different cultural presentations. People from different nationalities or ethnic groups would do a presentation for the rest of the cast and share, “This is what our ethnic group is like. Here's what are nationalities like.” They had this presentation and there was a whole group sharing this is what it's like and how they came out to family and friends.

I'm, by nature, a curious person. I shared this with Karen and Lindsay, who were the non-binary guests that we had. We talked about this. Spiritually, we all have opportunities to live life many times over. I believe in reincarnation. Whatever that looks like, I don't believe we come back as animals. I do think we come back as different iterations. Our souls have a lot of different iterations. Some of those iterations present male and female assigned at birth, and some transitioned.

Not Quite Strangers | Transgender
Transgender: "I do think we come back as different iterations of our soul, which has a lot of different iterations."

I remember starting to ask questions. One of the girls in the group thought perhaps that I was exploring. I felt awkward because I didn't want to reject it. They shared many things openly. I'm like, “No, I don't.” I got awkward about it at the time. I didn't know what questions to ask without seeming like I was exploring something. I'm like, “I'm not exploring other humans. I love exploring humans and different expressions of humans and understanding, but that's it.” If she's out there reading, and if I came across as judgy, I was not the most open, generous self in that moment. I apologize because I didn't know how to express it in a more caring way.

I'm grateful for conversations like this because it is an opportunity for all of us to be educated, and check our own biases, judgments, and expressions of humans in different forms. What's something that you would like for people to know more about you personally, the movement, the transition, or any of those things that people maybe don't know or need to know better? What would you like for them to know?

There's a lot of talk around pronouns. A lot of people are confused about what pronouns you think that person wants. Is that person a boy or a girl? First of all, it doesn't matter. Secondly, if you are ever in doubt about what pronouns someone uses, ask. I guarantee. People would rather you ask than for you to refer to them by the pronouns they don't use. What pronouns do you prefer? They'll be happy. They'll tell you. Everything is ready to go.

It's like asking for someone's name or nickname. What do you want to be called? B’Elana, what about you? What's something that you want people to know better?

The biggest thing that I would say to take away from any of my conversations is to stop believing all the junk you see on social media, all the extreme examples of this, and all the negative rhetoric because there's a huge percentage of us out there that live normal lives. We don't want to get involved in a pride parade here and there, but we get up, have coffee, go to work, pay bills, and cuss at the entire IRS, like everybody else. Every February, I'm sitting down with TurboTax.

Stop believing all the junk you see on social media.

With any social group, there is always that one. Don't use that one to judge me, because trust me, if you hang out with me at Chili's, I'll tell you some funny stories. I told the joke to the guys that worked, and they weren't quite sure to laugh at it. I was like, “No, it's okay. That's funny. How many times do I have to tell you I'm not one of those?” It makes me madder that you guys constantly go, “I'm sorry, B’Elana.” Stop. I get it. Guys, man, and dude, there are generic terms. I'm not one of those. I use that as an example to emphasize the point of stopping and paying attention to the extremism on social media. Because most of us are like Evin and I, we're people who have jobs and do podcasts.

It's funny you mentioned that example because, throughout this show, I've said, “Hey guys,” a couple of times. After I said it, I was like, “ Valerie, do better.” I would do this to any group of people. If it's two women, I wouldn't say, “Hey guys.” I would, but I'm conscious.

I've done the same thing. I've caught myself. I'm like, “I shouldn't do that.” I did have one woman call me out on that once. I was like, “Okay, I'll say, ‘Hey, everyone.” It's hard to keep up with all of it.

I remember Lindsay saying this. I don't know if it happened in this show or not. I've interviewed them a couple of times. Even then, I have to be conscious about they/them, but in those conversations, having guys and girls, neither of those terms apply. That can be trickier or require a lot more intentionality.

It’s something different. It's not something we've had to be conscious of before.

It doesn't roll off the tongue the same way. I get that, and that's why Evin is correct. If you don't know, ask. 90% to 95% of us will tell you, and it'll be awesome. The other one is if you make a mistake, don't make a big deal out of it. Say sorry and move on. That's the best way to do that. We don't want to be treated like a special case. We did something unconventional.

If you make a mistake, don't make a big deal out of it.

I have one other last question and it's interesting. I've taken some courses around understanding men for my own romantic relationships as well as relationships with my brothers. One of the examples that they shared in an understanding women workshop. It was fascinating because that one is co-ed. I would recommend it to either of you. It might support the socialization that you're seeking.

In the understanding women's session, the facilitator asked, and she started with the men and asked for the men, how many of them had felt their safety, their life had been in danger, or they felt physically threatened by their environment in the last weeks. Out of the ten men in the group, one raised their hand. She said, “What about in the last several months?”

It was interesting when she asked that question. How many men related to their personal safety in that timeframe? She asked the same question of the women. She said, “Ladies, how many of you have felt your personal safety was at stake?” All of us raised our hands. How many of you have in the last several months? It’s 80% of us. How many of you have in the last few months? It’s a large number. The men were shocked because the relationship to safety was different.

My brother would go to half-price books and take a nap in the parking lot if he was tired. The windows are rolled down. I'm like, “I would never even be in the parking lot. My windows would never be down. I would always have my phone.” That doesn't happen. I'm curious for the two of you, what have you noticed in that sense? For your personal safety, what difference has it made in having now transitioned?

My dad is a retired police officer. People don't bother me anymore. Guys don't look twice. I've even noticed it more with Mindy, my wife, because we pulled up in front of a convenience store once, and she said, “I'm not going to go in there.” I was like, “Why not?” I pulled up for her to run in and get some drinks. She's like, “I've only seen men go in there.” I walked in fearlessly and didn't think anything of it. For me, it's been a complete change.

I've noticed, professionally, that I've gotten job offers as a female, and I've gotten job offers as a male. As a female, every time I got a job offer, I was always offered the lowest of the pay scale. As a man, I'm all always offered the top of the pay scale without even any question. There’s negotiation. We can have that as another conversation.

You need to start your own show. That's what I'm thinking.

There are differences as far as safety goes. I haven't felt threatened in years.

I'm at the other end of the spectrum because that drives a lot of personal choices. I used to get asked all the time, “How do you know if people are clocking you or figuring you out?” I'm like, “I don't look for that because as soon as you have that look of paranoia like that on your face, they've got you.” That's part of it. The other part of it is I am looking to see if people are trying to figure me out. In some way, I can deflect or play it off because now, not only am I a woman, but I'm a trans woman.

I'm a woman. All the stigmas that come with the safety there, and on top of that, add the transness. If they don't figure out the trans, that cuts the risk factor in half. Every decision I make is based on how people are looking and staring at me. I'm trying to figure out if it's a guy gawing at me or trying to figure me out because he's going to follow me home and shoot me. It's completely changed how I interact with the world around me.

Thank you guys so much for sharing. There are many more layers. You need to take this on the road somewhere to talk more. I want to be on the upper end of the pay scale there for this.

We'll include you, Valerie. You can help us produce. That'd be cool.

I would ask the final couple of thoughts here. One is if you were to encourage the audience who've been reading this to do something or say something, what would you encourage them to do? What's an invitation? It’s something to challenge or perhaps expand their knowledge or experience of working, dealing, and living with people who are transgender.

Treat transgender people as people because that's what we are. We've lived both genders, but we're still people. That makes us special to have lived in both roles. It’s the true definition of two-spirit.

I've always loved that term because we've lived two different lives. It's okay to be curious as long as you ask appropriate questions out of curiosity. That's fine, and don't be afraid to ask those questions because the more you know, the more you can tell somebody else down the road. The more the butterfly effect happens, the more it is because what we're fighting is ignorance or the lack of knowledge and information.

Don't educate yourself on the crazy stuff you see on the internet. Don't necessarily go out stalking one of us and be like, “I want to ask you questions.” There are a lot of resources and people who are willing to share their stories and talk. Get to know us. Put down your prejudices and whatever religion is telling you that you should persecute us. Have a conversation. Trust me. A lot of us have done some interesting stuff.

What did you guys take away from our conversation in addition to what you've already discussed in the past? What are you walking away with?

B’Elana has made me think about some things with trans women that I wasn't aware of before. It hadn't ever hit me that there's that much longer period there of the physical transition. Trans men take it for granted because testosterone makes changes quickly. I didn't even think about that. I appreciate that, B’Elana, because it's something that is good to think about. There is that in-between period, and knowing that you've been in that for much longer than I was gives me a more sympathetic place to come from.

I had a lot of exposure to socializing. That's why I asked Evin the question, and knowing that Evin grew up with a sister, a mom, and a dad, there was not much different dynamic in the family. There weren't a lot of brothers there. It was fascinating. Your mileage may vary. Everyone's story is different. That was interesting to hear.

I always wondered if my ability was there because it was me, my mom, and my sister. My sister turned out to be a butch gay. It's fascinating to hear other people's stories that you are who you are.

You didn't get to share what you were going to share around your workplace.

I did all of this in front of everyone at Six Flags, including a maintenance department. That is male-centric and the good old boys that aren't quite used to this. It was funny because a lot of them started coming across me as I was going through this process and wearing the longer hair. I changed the name, and the story I tell people is there was something the carpenters were supposed to do. I walked in there one day, and I was like, “Are you guys going to do this, or am I going to go to Home Depot, give you the receipt, and let you explain it to the park president?”

It’s like I would've before the transition. They looked at me, and they said, “We'll get you done.” I was like, “Okay.” I walked out and it was after that everybody started interacting with me the way they did before because they realized, “I'm going to yell at you the same way I did before. Nothing is going to change.” That's why I'm open about it.

I appreciate the two of you for sharing your stories of transitions of difficulty, challenge, and fulfillment. We laughed. Some of these conversations can be uncomfortable, especially for me. I respect both of you so much. I would not want to offend you or anyone who's reading. I’m trying to bring that. You allowed a lightness and an openness in the conversation that made it enjoyable. Thank you so much for that. To anyone who's been reading this conversation, would it be okay for them to reach out to your social media?

I'll be okay with that.

I will make sure to put your contact information in the show notes. If people want to connect with you, you can share more to educate, or perhaps someone needs the wisdom that the two of you have brought to this conversation. They might need to read some inspiration to deal with whatever they're dealing with. Any final words before we close?

Thanks for inviting me, Valerie. I had a good time. B’Elana, it was wonderful to see you again, and I'm going to friend you on Facebook.

It was awesome to see you again, Evin. Thanks for having me, Valerie. One of the mottos I teach any of my young ones in the trans community is, “Never give up. Never surrender”

Thank you both so much. I'm excited that you had an opportunity to share what you shared. For those of you who've been tuning into this episode, look out for their contact information so you can connect with them personally and follow their path and any additional wisdom or education they might be able to guide you in the right direction. Thank you for joining and reading. Remember to subscribe, like, rate us, thumbs up, or favorite us so that you get access to this episode and many more. Have a wonderful rest of the day, everyone.


Important Links

Strangers: Meet B’Elana Dow & Evin Wilkins

From: Texas, USA & Texas/Washington, USA


Connect With:

B’Elana Dow

·         Email: 

·         Book: The Tough Love Guide to Transition


Evin Wilkins

·         Email: 

·         Facebook: Courageous Living in Unity


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