Transgender voices rise to new life

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Bruce Jenner rose to international fame at the 1976 Olympic Games as a record-breaking men’s decathlon athlete, which he parlayed into a successful living with commercials and public appearances.

In a recent television interview, however, he revealed he has known since childhood that his primary sexual characteristics didn’t match his internal gender identity.

“He” is now, and always has been, “she.”

This is the first time the American public has to adjust which pronouns they’ve applied to a person renowned for a gender-specific accomplishment.

Her public transition opens a dialogue about what it’s like to be transgender.

42 year-old Wendy Franks didn’t come out as transgender until she was 40.

“I lived as a man and hid who I was, but I had to transition to my female in order to save my own life because it was killing me to hide,” said Franks.

Franks remains happily married to her wife of 19 years, Mariam.

Together they’ve raised two daughters with the moral center of Christian faith.

“I still believe in God, we still go to church. We go to Central United Methodist right across from UOP, and it’s a reconciling congregation, so they accept the LGBT community,” said Franks.

When not advocating for transgender rights, her home life is similar to anyone else’s.

“I play games on the computer, I Facebook, we watch TV. We just spend time as a family,” said Franks.

Amberlynn Cothran, 31, is a former Delta student. She was 27 when she chose to begin her transition.

“When I was two, that was the first time I told my parents. They didn’t accept it, they thought they could fix it, and they tried,” said Cothran.

Sending Cothran away from her older sister and younger brother to live with godparents did nothing to change who she was, except to deprive her of potential support.

“It’s the worst feeling when you’re living in the wrong body and you can’t tell people, you feel like you’re lying to people,” said Cothran.

After months of talk-therapy and support groups, she started hormone therapy to block testosterone and increase estrogen.

“I didn’t dress like a female or anything until I was on hormones for about a year, so when I did I didn’t do it half time I just went full time, but I looked like a female already so I didn’t have a lot of people going ‘is that a dude?’” said Cothran.

When she began dressing as a female, she faced sexual harassment at work where she had been a successful manager for more than three years.

“I went from a white male that had a good education to a gay white male that had mental issues, who was mentally unstable,” said Cothran of how her change was perceived at work.

Now unemployed in preparation for a fresh start, she’s at peace with her identity and in the final stages of completing her transition.

Cothran focuses on planting drought resistant vegetables in her small garden, and taking road trips including a recent one to the Grand Canyon.

“When I’m at home I don’t really think about transgender issues, it’s definitely on the backburner and I don’t really think about it anymore,” said Cothran.

Ryn Drake, 18, is studying Early Childhood Development at Delta to become a first or second grade teacher and teach children fundamental skills.

“I was lucky enough to come out in a time when [President] Barack Obama talks about transgender interests in his speech, and then Bruce Jenner [comes out],” said Drake.

She also has a large and supportive family who has adjusted along the way to her process of becoming herself.

“I remember up until I was about 12, I told everybody that I was a girl and I didn’t really understand that it wasn’t socially acceptable,” said Drake. “When I was in high school I couldn’t really hide that much anymore of who I was so I came out as gay because it was the next best thing to being trans. Even that was hard because I always wanted to go the next step and I wanted to wear a dress, or I wanted to wear a skirt, or I wanted to paint my nails.”

Drake decided starting her college life was the time to start her physical transition with hormone treatment.

“‘Passable’ is the phrase that is commonly used, and it’s not just passable as in when you can go out in public in a dress and heels and nobody’s going to question you,” said Drake. “Passable is a point that every trans person reaches in their transition when they start to feel comfortable within themselves.”

Aside from a quirky love for Greek mythology plays, Drake spends her time as many other teenage girls do, singing in the shower, cooking, going to the beach with friends and family, or just “being ridiculous at Target.”

Each woman is trying to catch up to who she would be if she’d been born in the right body.

In the world, there are millions of people coping with some sort of gender identity issue, whether it’s as “simple” as being born in a body of the opposite gender, or as complicated as feeling genderless, dual-gendered, or other.

“If you can’t love the person for who they are, or at least respect them for who they are, then just leave them alone. Don’t ridicule people just because they’re not wearing the same kind of clothes you are, or they don’t look like they should be in the clothes they’re in,” said Franks.