Audrey knew at the age of five years old that she wasn’t destined to live her life as a boy. When playing pretend, she was her next-door neighbor’s little sister or the princess in need of rescue.
“And if I played with my friends down the road, I loved answering the phones and telling the Ghostbusters that there were ghosts to go catch, you know, like Janine Melnitz. Same thing with April O’Neil. I resonated with anything female-oriented.”
At eight years old, Audrey’s gender identity was reaffirmed. It was at this time she was sexually abused.
“I saw my next door neighbor’s privates and did lots of things that kids probably shouldn’t do. That came from the fact that I caught my parents having sex. I told my neighbor about it, she wanted to do it and when I saw her privates, I kinda, almost say, had an epiphany.”
The moment was like a lightbulb went off in her head. In Audrey’s mind, it was, ‘Why didn’t I have this? This is what I should’ve been having all along.’ But after several sexual encounters with the neighbor girl, biology kicked in. Audrey said it was the most traumatizing thing that can happen to an eight-year-old boy.
“I did anything and everything to get rid of erections. They were horrible. From self-harm to laying on it to bending it, trying to break it and ultimately crying to mom and dad, ‘What’s wrong with me, why is this happening?’”
Audrey’s parents had no idea that she had underlying issues with her gender. Her father believed that if she wasn’t the typical boy, there was something wrong with her. If her mother caught her acting in a feminine manner, she was told, ‘Don’t behave that way because you’re acting gay.’
“Which was weird because my mother always had gay friends and it was okay for them to be gay, but if it was me acting any type of homosexual way, it was horrible. Joke’s on her; little did they know that I am gay but not quite the way that they thought. I’m definitely as lesbian as you can get.”
During her teenage years, Audrey was forced to hide even more as a recluse from society. Her family made the move from Toledo to Whitehouse. According to Audrey, the small community created an even more unwelcoming environment. But soon Audrey found a way to feel more like her true self.
“I snuck into my sister’s bedroom, started wearing her clothing and I idolized myself in front of the mirror. I felt right. The same thing with stuffing a bra and making it fit right. I loved every bit of myself, but I knew that if my parents came home, clothes all quickly came off, hide everything back to the way it was and prayed not to get caught. And that went on for years.”
After she got her driver’s license, Audrey made several secret late night trips to Meijer and had her first experience of buying female underwear. Wearing the new garments gave her the confidence to come out.
“I tried to come out and nobody believed me, except for one friend. But I didn’t know he believed me until I came out for good at 29. Anybody that I told at 19, they just laughed it off as that typical, ‘What guy wouldn’t want to be a lesbian?’”
Audrey said her friend group wasn’t homophobic, but were just repeating the anti-gay stereotypes and actions that most teenagers say.
“They would use those slurs of, ‘Oh don’t do that, that’s gay’, which you know, that’s obviously harmful for society. Very reinforcing of that. If people ball tapped or grabbed people’s junk, those jokes going around of, ‘Oh you know you like that type of thing’. Never anything seriously homophobic went on; it was frowned upon or looked at negatively, with the exception of that one person who believed me. But they all seemed to go along with everybody.”
It was hard after her first try at coming out. Audrey said that after nobody believed her, she started to go down a very dark path.
“I developed an eating disorder, lost a 100 pounds like nothing because I stopped eating. For six months, I lived off of water and Gatorade. That caused some serious health repercussions. Months later, I ended up having a knee injury, a back injury and developed a migraine issue as I started to gain weight again.”
In addition to a myriad of physical health issues, Audrey was dealing with some deep-rooted mental issues.
“In my twenties, I had three suicide attempts, each progressively worse than the one before. One of which, one of my friends learned the hard way not to encourage somebody who is suicidal, because they happened to be in the vehicle with me when I attempted to roll my car. Instead, it just kind of went over a ditch into a cornfield and bump, bump, bump some more. I don’t recommend going 80-90 in a 35 where a sharp turn that recommends going at 15; that’s just not good.”
Her second suicide attempt was just as unsuccessful as the first. Audrey tried to overdose on painkillers but ended up throwing them all up. Her friend Josh, who was the only friend who believed her when she came out the first time, helped her through the aftereffects.
In 2010, Audrey tried once again to end her life. She tried to take a leather belt and stick it in a door jam, but failed yet again. She covered up the marks and bruises with makeup so no one would know of her attempt.
“It finally got to the point at 29, that if I didn’t do it, then the next time I was going to be successful. I learned too many ways to not fail again. Or at least, I presumed I wasn’t going to fail again.”
So she did it. Audrey came out to her parents. Even though it didn’t seem like the best time to do so, she says that she doesn’t think it could’ve gone well in any situation. Her parents did not react to the news well.
“I ended up asking my dad this difficult question that really no parent could answer, which is, ‘What would your child have to do to make you want to alienate them?’ And you know, my dad went to some pretty heinous stuff, like murder, robberies and theft, and ultimately even after such speculation, he said it was a really hard question to answer. How do you answer that question?”
Audrey told her father that she had something to share with the both of them, but not at that moment. Through some pillow talk, her parents exchanged information and her mother wanted to know Audrey’s secret.
“She wouldn’t leave it alone. She kept badgering and pestering and asking what is it and when she asked, ‘Are you gay?’ I was like, well, I’m not gay necessarily; I’m your daughter and I’ve wrestled with this for a long time. She did not react well.”
For a period of two to three months, Audrey’s parents tried to figure out how they would deal with her announcement. Her father, the more conservative of her parents, was initially the most supportive. Audrey says that they have finally begun to ease up on her.
“They still struggle from time to time with pronouns and getting the name right. My relationship with my parents is not very strong. I don’t like to spend a whole lot of time with them.”
Audrey said what helped her mother come to terms was a reflection on her childhood and her choice in playing typical female roles. As for her father, he still struggles with accepting her as his daughter.
“My father still deals with it, at which I want to smash the gender roles there. Because there was a coffee cup that I gave my dad he still has turmoil over. It says, ‘I want to be like my father when I grow up’ and he takes that as all these masculine things. There’s other ways I would want to be like my father. He was a good provider, a good spouse, he was very responsible and those things are qualities that I think anyone would want to have.”
Because of her transition from male to female, Audrey has learned more about her own body and her beliefs on what it means to be a female. She said she is a feminist and is all for gender equality, but at the same time, loves the typical female qualities.
“Obviously, it goes beyond more than dressing up in clothes and putting on the makeup. It goes beyond: it’s being able to be yourself and move with that feminine grace. It’s liberating and it’s freeing. You’re no longer on the lookout.”
She says the absence of testosterone and the influence of estrogen have had a major effect on her life.
“I’ve become a lot more attuned [to my body]. There were so many times, even after coming out, that I wanted to cry. You would always feel that point, but your body wouldn’t let you. Now, I cry for anything, which in some cases is very liberating, validating and feels good. It’s weird to say it, but in a lot of ways, I love to cry. It’s so freeing.”
Gender reassignment is a costly procedure and process, but for many, including Audrey, not having the surgery is not an option.
“Sometimes you even cry because you’re angry, but the happy cries are some of the best ones. I cried the moment I woke up out of surgery. It was a huge relief, knowing that for the most part, your body is finally right.”
Today, Audrey is still trying to figure out her place in the world, just like everybody else. She deals with work complications, apartment hassles and relationship struggles. She said even though she went through her own coming out and gender transition, she found it hard to deal with it when her partner came out to her.
“When I thought about it, ‘Do I think I could date somebody who is like myself?’ It was such a huge undertaking for my own issues and dealing with my own identity; how could I begin to date somebody going through the same stuff? Both of our troubles together, I couldn’t handle it. Then my partner comes out as genderqueer and it was just like, I love you and I couldn’t just break up with you. We have put too much into our relationship; I’m going to stick with it.”
To Audrey, following her heart is the only way to really live. While growing up, she knew she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. She said a lot of the female mannerisms came naturally to her, but through voice training, electrolysis and observing, she has transformed into a regular woman.
“I don’t go out of my way to announce that I’m transgender. It just so happened that I happened to be born that way.”