It’s raining on a cold December morning in Athens, the kind of heavy, splattering rain that makes it almost unbearable to crawl out of bed.  Justin Moore, however, seems unfazed this early in the day.  With a playful grin on his face, he asks with unconcealed excitement, “Oooh, wanna see my ID?” and pulls out a thin piece of plastic. “I just got it yesterday.” After months of waiting for an official name change, these tiny, printed letters—“JUSTIN”—affirm a new beginning for him.   

Moore, a recent UGA graduate, identifies as a transgender male. Months of testosterone boosters have softened his feminine features and now he says he’s been able to blend in so easily that people don’t even look twice.

Although in the past many believed that gender and sex, or one’s reproductive anatomy, were inseparably linked, transgender people—a term for those whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth—prove that gender is more of a personal and social construct.

For four transgender individuals from the Athens area, making a gender transition has been a challenge, but ultimately has granted them greater freedom and helped them find genuine love.

Origins

Every journey has a beginning and for these individuals, discovering their true gender identity came earlier for some than others.

“Like kids throw coins into the fountain and ask for ponies,” Moore said he “always wanted to be a boy.”           

Kayleigh Fitzpatrick, a former opinions editor of the Red&Black, spent semesters following the ups and downs of SEC football—like any raving sports fanatic at UGA—before coming to terms with her identity as a transgender woman.

Another recent UGA graduate, Brooke MacDiarmid, who identifies as a transgirl lesbian, questioned her gender throughout college and beyond.  An eloquent speaker, she described feeling pangs of jealousy after noticing the delicate swish of a classmate’s skirt in the hallway. Initially, MacDiarmid rallied for men’s rights to wear women’s clothing, but later realized she felt something deeper.

Raquel Willis, former Lambda Alliance president, knew she was a transgender woman only after exploring why she enjoyed performing in drag so much.  A gifted dancer, she’s been performing as her glamorous alter ego Roxxi Deveaux for three years.

The Process

The gender transition process, though different for each individual, requires patience and great inner strength.  Fitzpatrick, with ringing emotion in her voice, described her transformation as the most difficult experience of her life.

For McDiarmid, with her long hair hidden beneath a bandanna, taking two rounds of pills a day—a testosterone blocker and an estrogen supplement—eased her through the first year of her transition, when the most noticeable physical changes usually occur.

After screenings by psychologists, trans individuals will begin a similar regimen to hers, a process that spans several years.  To alter their appearance and balance their hormones, they will choose from gels, creams, pills and injections, in some cases followed by surgery.

The Trans Community in Athens

As with any group adjusting to changes, the UGA trans community has its hardships and rewards.  The Lambda Alliance is one of its largest supporters, offering educational and social events like gender-neutral ballroom dancing and queer jeopardy.

Another segment of the trans community, drag has great appeal for a wide variety of individuals because it reverses traditional gender categories.  Moore and Willis became best friends through drag; and with his light feet whirling around the floor and her body moving fluidly to the beat, the duo is a show-stopping force on the stage.

But Willis says that even with such outlets in the community, trans people are still very isolated.  They don’t often seek each other out, she said, because many are simply trying to blend in.

Establishing a Support System

Though Willis said her transition has been surprisingly smooth and that she’s had support from all the people who matter, MacDiarmid noted that “you have to expect to lose some friends and be willing to make that sacrifice.”

Fitzpatrick, the only boy in her family, came out to her parents a few years ago. While her mother embraced her new identity over time, Fitzpatrick was devastated when her father disowned her completely, sending her birth documents in the mail.

Despite these losses, Willis calls the transition an “evolution,” saying that you find out who “unconditionally cares about you.”

Moore, for example, said his relationship with his mother has “improved tenfold” and that he recently met a woman that he’s “crazy about.”

MacDiarmid found that taking hormones helped her “to be much more confident and sociable.” She met her girlfriend long after beginning the transition process and  said she was lucky to find a partner “so supportive and non-plussed by it.”  

Short-Term Victories in an Uphill Battle

With new avenues in the future, these individuals now move on with greater assurance and sense of self.

“I feel better about who I am,” said Moore. “My relationship with God has improved because I feel I’m here for a reason, and not in a sinful way.”

Fitzpatrick also describes how the transformation has “allowed me to live my life,” giving her peace after years of struggling with depression. “It’s given me inner fortitude, this thicker skin I never thought I had.”

There is still progress to be made, though. One of Fitzpatrick’s continual aims is for society to see transgender people “as the gender that we are.”  

Willis agreed, saying people should be less focused on “where I was coming from” before and “what [my] body looks like” now.

“Without all the transitioning…no matter what I looked like, I was still a woman,” she said.

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