This story was originally published on March 6, 2015.
Gavin Grimm, 15, Gloucester, Virginia
When I was little, I didn’t think of myself as a boy or a girl. I thought of myself as a kid who did what I wanted. When I started school, though, that gender divide became more apparent. I noticed that boys didn’t want to play with me. I had a best friend in elementary school, and one day he just said, “Hey, we can’t hang out any more.” When I asked why, he said, “'Cause you’re a girl.” I was indignant. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “What does that even mean?”
I never, ever, in a million years envisioned myself growing up to be a woman. I don’t think I thought of any alternatives, but I knew for sure that I was not going to grow up and be a woman. When puberty hit, my biggest struggle was not only feeling betrayed by my body, but also the increasing pressure to become a little lady.
It was around this age that my leg hair started growing in — and I did not want to shave it. I loved having leg hair; I thought it was cool! But, my classmates didn’t agree. My mother, of course, put a lot of pressure on me — because I was “blossoming into a young woman” and all that — to conform to feminine archetypes. That caused a lot of conflict in my family relationships. I was a very volatile, angry kid in that time period.
But, I didn’t give up; I just continued refusing to shave or wear dresses. I gravitated towards boys’ clothes. It started slowly: Oh, here’s one Pokémon shirt because I love Pokémon. Soon, I was only shopping in the boys’ section. My mother (and I want to make it very clear that she has come a very, very long way) is Christian. She had a lot of problems with homosexuality, and she perceived me to be a homosexual female because I was very masculine in how I acted and dressed. At one point, she came to me and said, “You’re so angry, and I know why.” I said, “Wait, you do?” And, she said, “You’re a lesbian.”
I was about 11 or 12 at the time. And, I knew I liked girls, but I’d never, ever, ever identified with the term “lesbian” — calling yourself a lesbian means asserting yourself as a woman, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to live in that gray area where I didn’t have to say that I was anything. So, the conflict started again. Apparently, being a lesbian doesn’t excuse you from shaving your legs.
I found out about the word “transgender” when I was watching YouTube. I clicked on somebody’s video, and he looked like a girl. Then, I watched another video from, like, two years later — he was a dude! And, you know, I was 12 and thinking, Holy crap. What did he just do? I want to do it!
By the time I was 13, I started questioning things that the Christian Bible considered “sinful.” My body was betraying me more and more, the older I got. It was a horrifying experience — one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. There’s nothing that I can think of that compares to the emotional and mental anguish. I was bullied a lot for being masculine and for being perceived as a lesbian. I was chubby and I was different. It was a cacophany of bad.
That’s when I finally revisited the idea that maybe male vs. female wasn’t all there was to it. I actually came across a scientific study showing differences in the brains of cis males and trans females — despite both being born with “male” bodies. I thought, Wow, maybe I’m not crazy.
Just before my 15th birthday, I told my mom. I was going to wait longer, but it just became so much mental trauma to live as two people. It was such constant, extreme dysphoria that I realized if I didn’t tell her, I wasn’t going to survive. She took it pretty well.
On my birthday, I knew that everyone was going to roll in with “birthday girl” cards and things like that, and I knew I couldn’t handle it. I came downstairs that morning, and there was our birthday cake — mine and my twin brother’s — but it had my wrong name on it. That sent me into a catatonic state of anxiety and sadness. I went back up into my room. An hour later, my mom called me downstairs; she had wiped the name off the birthday cake and had written “Gavin.”
From there, we just took off. My mom and I made an appointment with a therapist, and she almost immediately recommended me for hormone intervention. When I returned to school in the fall, I was granted the ability to use the male-sex restrooms — then, that decision was revoked by the school board. Currently, I use the restrooms in the nurse’s office.
The ACLU filed a complaint on my behalf, and while it’s too soon to make predictions, my hope is that I will secure the right to use the correct restroom — not only for myself, but for any other trans youth who ever attend the Gloucester County Public School System.
The biggest change has been being able to be myself. I struggled with depression for a very long time; I was diagnosed when I was eight. My childhood was pretty unhappy: confusing, painful, full of anger and loneliness. But, after coming out, it’s a new experience to finally be authentically happy. It took a lot of getting used to — waking up and wanting to experience the world.
A lot of people have a relationship with their identity where they celebrate it; they really feel like it’s some sort of gift. I don’t fault people for feeling that way. But, I don’t celebrate it. I don’t hate myself for being trans, and I don’t hate my reality. But, if I’m being honest, I don’t love it. It’s a challenge, and it’s painful. I would trade it for a lot of things. I’d rather pretend like I’m a “normal” boy. I don’t want to have to deal with every birthday being a reminder that I was born with this reality — and that parts of that reality will never change.