I Am Trans, And I Am Beautiful: Haley
HA note: Melissa, Haley’s spouse, will be sharing her thoughts tomorrow. Their courtship and coming out stories have been shared by Melissa on Patheos.
I grew up homeschooled from age 8-16 when I started taking classes at community college. I am the oldest of five with four sisters younger than me. My dad was a pastor and my mom stayed home to homeschool all of us. We were very conservative politically and religiously. Almost all of our friends went to the church pastored by my dad and another pastor homeschool dad. Almost every child in the congregation was homeschooled. It was a very conformist place. Diversity was measured in curriculum of choice, whether Abeka, Bob Jones, Sonlight, etc. Almost all of my social outlets happened at church under the control and observation of the homeschool parents. If you didn’t like that control, tough luck, you didn’t have access to anything else.
As a means of survival growing up, I figured out that agreement with the system was the only way to survive. I watched some other kids try to buck the system and suddenly they had no homes or they lost the ability to drive a car, or their parents stopped supporting their education. I also observed families where kids were given very little academic education in favor of gender role based education for girls to become wives and mothers while the boys were taught how to learn handy practical physical labor skills. I lived in a family that tolerated higher education as long as you kept saying the right thoughts. I was part of a forensics class in community college that I enjoyed but my parents seemed to dislike the gay professor who coached the team and they worried about influences over my life. I quit forensics after only one semester because of their worries.
The gender bias towards men becoming big earners with power while women were supposed to tend home and hearth and be a man’s helpmeet was kinda weird to observe for me. You see, ever since I was a child I’d wished I was a girl (at birth I was assigned male and raised by my folks that way). When I was 11 I read a history book (a secular one that sneaked into the home) about Christine Jorgenson the first American to publically transition from male to female and I immediately thought, “Someone else like me.” But I already had heard the denouncements of gay people. I had been hearing the strict, strict, strict conceptions of gender all my life. I knew that this awareness was something I should never ever talk about. In fact, I spent my adolescence on a roller coaster of simply hating myself for my sin and perversion. I accepted the lie that there was something seriously wrong with me. I plowed myself into my religious faith in an attempt to save me from my “sinful” desires to be female. No amount of repressing would put it out of my mind for long. I’d look in the mirror and wonder what I’d look like as a woman. I’d sneak moments of untraceable internet access to look up transgender people and information about them. I’d secretly hide elements of women’s clothing in my room, and then often feel super guilty and throw them out only to buy more later. As I considered a career, I felt that the ministry was the highest calling, it was all that I knew growing up as a preacher’s kid, and it was a career that I could never gender transition in because that wouldn’t be possible. I needed to protect myself from myself or so I thought.
Oddly, homeschooling in some ways had a couple of upsides to being transgender. And here is why. It was easier keeping up appearances around your peers when you only saw them at most a few times a week. I didn’t suffer some of the bullying that my trans sisters experienced in public school settings. Also the exclusive homeschool setting gave me opportunities to day dream and imagine. During these times I would often image myself as a woman. However, the homeschool setting was a terrible place to be transgender overall. You couldn’t meet other people like you and if they started giving clues they might be like you, they’d be kicked out of the church and the community. It has been fascinating as an adult to meet other queer homeschooled adults. We were there the whole time, it was just we all knew that saying anything about our identity would get us thumped and humiliated. I feared my parents somehow figuring out I was trans, I had read in Christian publications like World about therapies to try to make people straight. I knew these therapies sounded awful and I didn’t want to ever be subjected to them.
Basically, growing up homeschooled I had had no access to life on the outside. I didn’t know anything about jobs, taxes, how the government actually worked, basically nothing. The closet was an act of self preservation while homeschooled. You couldn’t let that get known. There were times when I got very mad about not being able to change my feelings so that I wanted to be a male. I would get depressed and contemplate suicide over feeling frustrated that I couldn’t change and not wake up wanting to be female. I also had severe anxiety about everything. I developed an ulcer when I was 17 and a college student. My parents were very focused on my grades. I performed well gaining magna cum laude in community college, and summa cum laude for my undergraduate degree at a local Christian College. When I went off to seminary, working for my dad’s ministry, and with him holding the purse strings, I poured my life into school and work. When I was excessively busy it would reduce the amount of thoughts about being a woman. But it would never go away or even let up for whole days. I could maybe have an afternoon of work where I didn’t think about trans people and being a woman but never more than that.
And for those who might argue being trans is a choice that isn’t the case because women in the homeschooling community are less than men. I understand that now as a liberal participant of society today. There is no reason for a homeschool “boy” to want to be a “girl.” And I knew it even back then. If I was a girl, my options in life would be reduced by the community. If I got married and had a baby, I would never have a career, I would have to obey my husband. I would have very little autonomy. Being a guy which felt all wrong to me had so many benefits compared to the women I’d known growing up that it kinda made it a little bit easier at that time pretending to be a guy to retain that level of control over my life. As I started meeting women outside the homeschooling community and saw how they could live their own lives, I realized that I could be a woman and live a good life and have personal autonomy. Patriarchy is a terrible teaching and it degrades women. It was oozing everywhere in the homeschooling community I grew up in.
But when I was hiding who I was, I was still steeped in the homeschooling community and I started courting this other homeschooled girl named Melissa from a family that then numbered nine siblings and today numbers 11. I was almost 20 and she had just turned 20 when we married. After a quick supervised courtship I proposed to her and we married. Within a few months of our marriage we had already suffered a miscarriage and were just waiting for children to be given to us. I went to seminary the summer I was married and plowed myself into my studies. We tried to live up to the ideology we’d been raised in. Melissa had been denied higher educational opportunities and due to my dad’s “job” for me which taxed me heavily working 80+ hours a week of school and his projects, she didn’t work and was my stay at home wife until our first baby was born. She got pregnant and had our first baby when we were 21.
When I was twenty-three I was burned out working for my dad, trying to start another homeschooler church in the city I’d gone to seminary in, finishing seminary, and becoming a parent to two. I was in crisis. My gender issues were still raging, I was getting disillusioned by the ideology I’d grown up with but didn’t know any alternatives. After a tumultuous summer, I took a call to serve a church in Canada over 1000 miles away from both of our families in Illinois. I served that congregation for three years and it was during that time that I finally was far enough away from the craziness of the Christian Homeschooling Movement to live my own life. We had two children born in Canada. I started reading things I never had before. I started meeting more normal people where women worked jobs. I discovered some of the stuff I’d heard in the U.S didn’t seem all that relevant in Canada. Finally, I came out to my wife as transgender when I was 24 and we started a two year journey to acceptance.
During that journey Melissa realized she was more lesbian than straight and I had always known I was attracted to both sexes and our relationship deepened and grew more intimate than ever before. Instead of being play actors doing our “roles”; we were two people living our lives together. During that time period our marriage became a real partnership. When I was 26 I started the process of gender transition and left the ministry. I was so proud of that day when I legally became Haley. In the 18 months since then, I went back to school to be a cosmetologist and am now employed as a stylist. Melissa entered the workforce for really the first time and she has thrived. Our parents took things badly but really they controlled our lives for long enough. Homeschooling is the ultimate tactic to retain control of children who should be developing into autonomous adults. I am very proud that my oldest child attends public school and will be joined by her sister next year.
Being transgender and homeschooled wasn’t cool. I think everyone deserves to have teachers and people other than their parents who invest in them. I gained so much from the teachers I’ve had in higher education and it was huge that these people were outside of my family system. I also believe that experiencing diversity is awesome. I didn’t knowingly meet in person another trans person than myself until after I was already in the process of gender transition. That is how isolated and homogenous my circle of contact was. I had very little exposure during homeschooling to the outside world. Even ethnic minorities were quite mysterious. This is not okay!
I am so glad that I have met so many vibrant LGBT homeschooled young people who got out. We are okay just the way we are. Growing up homeschooled we had every reason to hide our identity but now that we are adults, we can be ourselves finally. I am the happiest I’ve ever been. I love being me. I no longer feel like an actor in my own life. I am glad to be a woman, wife, mother, friend, and cosmetologist! I love raising my four kids and having them know me for who I really am. I am glad to have the truth out there.
I am trans, and I am beautiful.