Meggan Sommerville is a writer and a friend that I've luckily gotten to know over the past few years. Recently she celebrated a victory in a long case with her employer Hobby Lobby. She is smart, determined and interesting and I am excited to share our discussion with you.
At what age did you realize you were the wrong gender?
"Well - the way I see it, I have never been the wrong gender – I have always been a girl. Now what package that girl was in and what did the world see, that's a different story. Gender is not the body we are born into. Gender is at the core of who we are on the inside. Never was so true the saying that you should never judge a book by its cover."
"I knew that the outer package and the role I found myself in was different than what I was starting to feel inside when I was three or four years old. In the early seventies, when the weather was a bit fowl, it was common to find kids playing make believe and playing house. My brother and I found ourselves playing house with two neighborhood girls. As much as I wanted to play the mom or even the daughter in these role playing games, I was never brave enough to speak up."
At what age did you make the transition?
"Though I have wanted to since I was about 16, I didn't make the decision to transition until I was 40."
How has your life changed since you made the choice to live as a women?
"Before I transitioned, I felt as though I was leading a double life. When out in the public, I had to be this person who, as time went on, was increasingly more difficult to be."
"As a kid, I knew I was different but found it easier to hide in those days. But as an adult, the pressure grew inside me. There was a disconnect between who I felt I was, the person I had this intense internal need to be and the outward shell everyone saw."
"I had moments at home where I could shed off the male costume I wore on a daily basis. I could let my hair down (literally), get pretty and be able to breath. But all too often those moments were short lived."
"Being able to live as my authentic self has been liberating. In the last few years as I spent as Mark, I was often angry, disconnected, or just plain numb to what was going on around me. I had lost the ability and desire to hide anymore."
"These days, I'm engaged in my kid's lives. My son and I can be goofy together. My daughter and I can have our adventures dress shopping. Those times would never have happened five or six years ago."
"Life is hard no matter who you are, doesn't matter where you find yourself on the gender spectrum. What makes life bearable is living authentically. Expecting someone to be something they are not is beyond cruel. The mental and physical pressure and stress that puts on a person is unimaginable if you haven't been through it."
"For many trans men, women and youth, there will be obstacles even after transitioning. Just one sad statistic is nearly 90% of the trans population faces some sort of discrimination, harassment or verbal and/or physical abuse within the work place. For over five years, since the very first day I returned to work as Meggan, I have faced discrimination where I work. It has been a long, drawn out process to be treated just like all the other women in my store."
"I am fortunate to have the law on my side, but it is still a process."
What do you want others to understand about transgender men and women?
"We're just like everyone else."
How do you feel about Caitlyn Jenner's transition and how it has been portrayed in the media?
"When she made the announcement, I felt a resonance with some of the struggles she faced growing up. But prior to her public announcement, I knew she was transgender. I saw things years ago, probably long before many in the media really caught on, that she was doing at the time that I recognized as steps a trans woman takes just to feel comfortable in the male body we are born with. They were the same steps I had taken in those years where transitioning wasn't an option for me."
"I am a little more critical of the media coverage than some. Do I think her story is worth sharing – absolutely. In the beginning of the media blitz, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, she was voicing the same struggles many of us have had and there are many many people that needed to hear it.
What has been the biggest struggle of living as a woman?
"I think every transgender individual encounters struggles and obstacles as they transition to their authentic selves. And for me, I have definitely had my share. My marriage ending and all the emotional baggage that that carries with it wasn't easy. I have dealt with dogmatic hurdles with in the churches I have attended and believe me, as a Christian, those were difficult. But those were ones that have come and gone."
"Without a doubt, the biggest struggle has been an ongoing ordeal that started at the very beginning of my transition. It's an ordeal that has put me into the public eye and made me a Google search term. When I was told by my employer that I wouldn't be allowed to use the women's restroom, I was devastated. The thought that my employer recognized me as a woman in my documentation and health benefits yet refuses to allow me to use the restroom like all the other women in the store was something and still is something that I can't quit comprehend."
"The decision forced me to either wait until a meal break where I could go to another business to use their restroom or deny who I am each and every time use the men's restroom."
That is awful, Meggan. What has been the biggest blessing?
"Living authentically has been the blessing. I missed out on so much for forty years. For so long I hid who I was and in that process, I distanced myself from the people around me. The friends I have now, the relationships I have with my kids and parents are stronger than I have ever had in my life. I am very blessed to have parents who have been supportive of whom I am. They needed time to adjust to what was to be the new normal. They needed time to deal with the loss of their son and learn who their daughter is. But in the end, their love NEVER falters.
"When you are honest about the deep internal struggles you face not fitting into what the world has expected you to be, a lot of the other stuff becomes so much easier to deal with."
Thank you so much Meggan. I have learned a lot and I hope others have as well.
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