35; vegan 8 years; hometown Portland, OR
It’s not the typical conversion therapy experience. With most people it’s religious and if you’re a minor, it’s probably because your parents or your guardian sent you. This was not the case with me. What happened was I was already in an in-patient maximum-security mental ward in a hospital for juveniles. I was there involuntarily and against my parents’ wishes as well. I got taken in on a suicide attempt, so legally, they were allowed to hold me for X-many hours without any representation. I had a therapist and an advocate at the time, and everybody wanted me out, but they wouldn’t let me out. So I’m locked in this place. I was 15 years old. I was already on hormones at this time for my transition for over a year, and my name was already legally changed at this point and my surgery had already been scheduled, for having top surgery, which is what we call it for female to male surgery. This was all already in motion, yet I did still attempt suicide. It’s a thing that happens.
The random doctor that got assigned to me took it upon himself to take this course of treatment and he didn’t tell anybody. There was no accountability or oversight. You don’t have any liberties anymore, they all go out the window when you’re in mental care. I didn’t have any adults who had a vested interest in me who could protect me or even knew that it was happening. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my parents without the doctor’s permission, and even then it was monitored. And if I said anything that they didn’t like, they cut the calls off. So I couldn’t tell anybody what was happening to me. So I’m in there, I’m depressed, suicidal—not because of my gender identity, but because it’s hard being transgender, imagining a future for yourself even if you go through the surgeries.
At this point I’ve been robbed of my education. I haven’t been in school for over two years. I’ve been cut off from any peers, and looking forward I don’t see myself going to college. I don’t see myself having friends, relationships, any kind of career, anything for myself. I’m clinging to hope for the surgery so I can at least have myself.
I got picked up for attempting to run in front of an active train. While I was there this doctor felt that the root of all my problems was that transgender does not exist, there’s no such thing as gender spectrum. He was very black/white, male/female. I hate to think what he would’ve thought if I was homosexual or bisexual.
I went into a room not knowing what to expect the first time. I meet this guy and he’s calling me by my dead name, a term transgender people use for the name they’re given at birth. This is very disturbing to me, startling, jarring. I hadn’t gone by that name in a long time. He’s looking at me and trying to tell me I would just be happier if I could except how beautiful I am, what a lovely young woman I am. I was waiting for him to start talking about my place with God. He was going down some roads that were making me very uncomfortable. I feel like my gender identity comes through. It’s pretty obvious without me having to point it out, so what’s it like when you’re in the nuthouse and you feel like you’re the only sane one there? It didn’t make me start distrusting myself and my feelings about myself. It made me start questioning my reality around me.
I only sat through one and a half sessions with him. The first one was about an hour long. At the end, I was crying profusely. I was shaken. He had stolen all of my power. He had completely erased my identity. I’ve described it as being like a ghost having an argument with a wall, where he’s the wall and I am the ghost and I have no effect on him. He’s just completely erased any piece of me that was authentic from the conversation. That was probably my first time being objectified, if you want to put it that way, where someone stripped me of my humanity and put a label on me that was completely of their making. That feels awful, especially for someone who is already wondering if there’s a place for him in this world and is in desperate need of help, critical need of help.
Halfway through my second session, he went down the same line, and it was unlike other sessions where usually when you’re in therapy, people give you a chance to talk. This was just lectures. It felt like a sermon. He was very careful not to mention particular religions, but that’s what it felt like.
I just snapped. I tried to tell him that I can’t sit here and hear this anymore. I was done. I got up to leave the room and he yelled after me and he dead-named me through an open door. I’m locked in this place with people who don’t know I’m transgender, and I’m 15 and he outed me to a bunch of crazy people, to a bunch of addicts and staff members who are not doctors, to orderlies, to people who have access to me in the middle of the night, who have keys to my room. He outed me to all of them without any concern for my safety or what this would do to me and this is a professional who’s supposed to be healing me and helping me.
I didn’t know what to do. I ran down the hall to my room and tried to close the door. He came in after me and he’s just yelling to me, ‘I don’t understand why you’re so upset,’ and saying my dead name over and over again. I’m getting more and more agitated because I’m concerned for my personal safety. At this point someone comes in who was maybe a nurse or a person in charge. This woman was asking me, by my correct name, what’s going on, because I’m so upset. I said that I tried to leave the session and I told him that I need space, that I need to calm down. She turned to the doctor and said that’s my right, to take space if I feel that I need refuge in my room. He would not back down and he dead-named me again and I hit him. I hit him in the mouth and drew blood. I’m glad that other person was there and she backed me up. That was one of the few times an adult, especially a stranger, has helped me in a situation where the easy thing and the right thing aren't the same thing.
They switched my doctor the next day. The new doctor just didn’t try to help me at all. To this day, it’s disturbing to remember feeling so powerless and like someone’s fucking with you, they’re trying to make you think you’re crazy. Fortunately for me, unlike a lot of people who’ve had conversion therapy, my parents support me. So once I got out of that doctor’s hands, I’ve not had anybody try to convert me.
I do still struggle with depression. What changed for me was socialization. And gender-affirming surgeries really do help. Being able to live as a man relieved a lot of the anxiety and stress and tension, not trying to pretend that I’m something I’m not, not having to bind my breasts every morning. That was very uncomfortable. I ended up with sores from it that turned gangrenous. I was 15 years old and this is what I was doing to myself just to get by. When you took that away, it was easier to focus on other things. Being transgender, the incongruities can be so overwhelming that it takes up so much of you. When that falls away, all of a sudden I could have hobbies. I didn’t have any fucking hobbies. I just sat around being a depressed lump. So then, I was getting out, meeting people. That helped.
One of the things that makes me happy now is just being vegan. That to me is something that really ties into transgender and totally clicked in my head. The concept of respect of sentient beings, having autonomy over their own body, the right to have a say or even just for others not to have a say in your destiny, a lot of that makes sense to me. Because of that, I found people who feel like I do, because I care about other people and I’m finally making friends and having relationships on a level that is meaningful to me and interesting and engaging.
For a long time after my top surgery I didn’t tell people I was transgender. I didn’t even tell the women I was dating, because it did not become apparent to them until pretty far. You basically have to be taking bottom clothing off, so when you’re a teenager, that doesn’t necessarily come up every day. I had ongoing friendships with people for over a decade who had no idea I was trans. I blend in very well, and a lot of people don’t pick up on it. I felt great having people for the first time see me as me.
I want you to know me and see me for other things, other virtues or values, other interests. But being transgender is part of it. I don’t want to be your transgender friend Lukkah, but I do want to be your friend Lukkah who happens to be transgender.