A Transition Journey - Moving Towards Myself

 

Gender identity and expression are two of the fastest growing conversations in the field of higher education in recent years.  They are hot-button issues in both national politics and in our local institutions, the outcomes of which affect how we relate to our students and our fellow staff.  While many people have no thought to their gender at all, a growing number of people in Oregon and in the world at large struggle with these questions and thoughts on a daily basis.  

Three of Oregon’s universities have consistently scored high on the Campus Pride index each year, making these universities prime candidates for LGBTQIA+ populations to consider when finding a school of choice.  It makes sense to consider our knowledge and viewpoints related to gender identity and expression. To that end, I’d like to share my story with all of you so that you have a narrative (one of many, I hope) that may help you relate to those of us for whom these questions are far more than academic.

I was born in July of 1979 as Mathew Cable, and assigned a male gender at that time.  That means that my body conformed to the medical understanding of what it means to be male.  Normal, healthy and perfectly typical, my parents set out to raise a son in the best way that they knew how.  They were nominally religious people who wanted to be more devout in their ways, and I can remember through my life many times when we would have spurts of going to church each Sunday, interspersed with times during which Sunday was for football, lounging around the house, and getting things done in the yard.  I would say that my parents were sporadically religious.  

Even so, that didn’t mean that they lost the beliefs that came with their faith.  I remember vividly many times in my life when my parents and those around them spoke harshly with condemnation about LGBTQIA+ people. “Those gay people are freaks,” they might say.  And there were more than a few times when the words “sick,” “deranged,” “disgusting,” and “perverted” came to their lips.  

My childhood involved a great deal of hewing to gender stereotypes. No dolls, no “girly” toys or school accessories.  Boys liked blue, sometimes black, and that’s what I got. Boys like war toys, GI Joe and Star Wars. In school, it was very similar.  I was expected to stay within my gender and not step out of the predefined role and path for whom you were perceived to be. Girls were supposed to be icky, they weren’t people with whom you were friends.  In fact, if you spent more time with the girls on the playground than the boys, you’d start to be called gay, or worse yet, a girl.

I grew up with all of this in a time when there wasn’t a term for someone like me, or at least not an acceptable one.  But I knew something didn’t feel right, and that the person in the mirror wasn’t who I was. It was a time when transgender folks were portrayed at best as comedy and at worst as freaks.  

All of that had an impact on how I saw myself, and how I saw that doubt and that insecurity.  I couldn’t possibly be a freak, so I had to prove, with extra vigor, that I was the most manly of men, that I was perfectly normal.  A man in a man’s world.

I found the most masculine things that I could when I left high school.  Ever the protector, ever the guardian, ever the rescuer, I had jobs in law enforcement, emergency medicine, and even a tour in the Marine Corps.  I went into anything that could be considered a “man’s occupation.” I did so partly because I wanted to help people, and partly because if I was brave, self-sacrificing, and heroic, I couldn’t possibly be anything other than a man, right?

I had built a façade about myself, a vision that I showed to everyone around me, and one that I saw for myself as well.  But even with that façade, I could still look in the mirror and see a stranger. Everything that society told me was that to fix that, I need to be even more masculine, so I pushed myself harder than ever, working out, lifting weights, and pushing myself further and further towards that “ideal” masculine body.  But every time my body changed towards that end of the spectrum, the more I felt that something was even more wrong.

Finally, in 2015, when I was 36 years old, the dam of emotions broke free and I had to face the fact that something was very wrong, and that all of the things that I did to make it better was actually making it worse.  It took a lot of soul searching for me to realize what it was that was wrong, and even more introspection to figure out what to do about it.  

Transgender people face more than discrimination by the general public.  When one comes out as transgender, they risk losing family, friends, jobs, and even housing. All of that was going through my mind when I considered what to do about all of this.  I’m fortunate in that I married a woman who is open and accepting, but even so, it was a tremendous burden on our relationship, and it required a lot of work on both our parts to be able to make it work.  I was also blessed with a group of friends who truly do accept me for who I am, and a career in which being transgender is celebrated rather than stigmatized.  

My transition included a great deal of therapy to help come to terms with the differences in my upbringing with how I knew myself to be, and even more to help my wife and I come to terms with the way that things are now.  It involved hormone therapy and some surgery. Every step of the way, there was fear, there was hesitation, and there were questions. I was afraid of being “trans.” I was afraid of what people would think, and I was uncertain about what my life would look like when it was all done.

I’m happy to say, though, that my transition has been privileged in that I’m still married, I still have a job, and I still have an outstanding family of choice.  My family has not written me off, but neither have they accepted my transition, so I still face the challenge of working with them, but I’m happy to say that now, when I look in the mirror, the face looking back at me, is mine.  

Now you know my story, I hope that it has helped you understand the pressures and the background of some transgender people.  Everyone has their own story, and I encourage you to listen to every person who is willing to share theirs.  

Katherine Cable (she/her) is the Academic Records Coordinator at Southern Oregon University. You can connect with her​ through email: cablek@sou.edu and on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katherine-cable/

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