Earlier this year, gender neutral bathrooms were quite the controversial topic. When Target openly announced that any transgender employees or customers were free to use whichever bathroom corresponds with their gender identity, conversation about the transgender community became more prevalent. But what does it mean to be transgender?
Transgender is defined as being a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s biological sex. According to Gary Gates’s study at the Williams Institute, transgender individuals account for approximately .03% of the population in America. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey revealed that over 40% of those that identify have attempted suicide due to harassment and bullying — a staggering statistic for a small community.
DIME sat down with Dillon King to discuss what it’s really like to be transgender in today’s society. Biologically born female, Dillon grew up in South Louisiana and started transitioning at the age of 25. He currently lives in New Orleans with his wife Missy where he is a personal trainer and hair stylist.
DEV LADNER: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you know you wanted to transition?
DILLON KING: Well, I didn’t know what that meant until I was much older, but I have always felt different. When I was little, I used to argue with my mother about wearing dresses and bows. When I kept being put with the girls instead of the guys, I knew something was wrong. I always wanted to do what the boys were doing.
DL: So your parents were pretty accepting of everything then?
DK: No. Definitely not. My mother and I have never gotten along and this kind of added to it. We talk and associate with one another, but I would not call her a friend. She was really abusive to me growing up. One time, she stripped me out of my clothes, sat me in front of my mirror, closed my door and told me to come get her when I grew a penis. She body shamed me at a very young age. It was really difficult growing up.
DL: So even before taking testosterone, you’ve always dressed like a boy?
DK: Oh god, yes. <laughs> I would go to the mall and my mom would give me money, but I would have to spend it in the girl’s store. I didn’t want any of that shit. I was like, “You can keep your $300 for the girl’s store. Just give me $30, and I’ll go to the boys.” Before I even knew what transitioning was, I would tell people that I know biologically and physically I am a female, but mentally I am a male. I didn’t even like being referred to as a lesbian. If I had to label myself, it would be heterosexual trans-male.
DL: What was the process to transition like?
DK: I had to get a letter from my psychologist to give to my doctor, so I could be approved for top surgery [chest restructuring] and hormones. Not everyone in transition wants those things, but I wanted top surgery. I wanted hormones. I wanted to have the facial hair and the deeper voice. I wanted to be physically male.
DL: How long have you been on T (testosterone) for?
DK: Next month will be two years.
DL: Have you struggled with it at all?
DK: I’ve had bad acne but other than that… Everyone talks about the rage, but that didn’t happen for me. Maybe road rage. <laughs> I did, though, used to be super emotional, but now I’ve cried less than ten times in a year. I love it! It feels great to not cry over everything. I used to be more emotional than Missy.
DL: <laughs> That sounds very freeing.
DK: It is. Before, you feel so trapped in your head. Like you can’t get out of that mood and it would ruin your entire day. Now, I feel like I can take one thing at a time. I think the sense of confidence I’ve gained from transitioning helps that, too. When you are insecure, all of the insecurities build on top of that, and it makes it worse.
DL: Do feel more confident now?
DK: Dude, it’s like night and day! The first time I tried committing suicide I was eight years old.
DL: And that was because you felt like you were in a body that didn’t belong to you?
DK: Yeah, and I also had a lot of family issues. I mean, a lot of it was just me and my mom, and a lot of that was based off of her shaming me for not being the girl she wanted me to be. There were always fights about it. I think I can remember being in second grade and her yelling at my father, asking him if he saw a little boy in the delivery room. So, I always felt like I was wrong, like I wasn’t wanted, like I was a big disgrace. When I finally came out about being gay, I was 16. I finally was like, “I like girls!” My family is Spanish, so some of them didn’t accept that lifestyle. Some of them embraced it and I’m grateful for them, but not everybody. I got kicked out of my house quite a few times. At that time, I told them I was a lesbian. That was before I even knew gender identity was a thing or could be changed. I can remember praying to God before I went to sleep at night. I would say, “Please, God, let me wake up and be a boy. Please, God,” and then being so upset when I would wake up and that didn’t happen. Like come on, God, you’re supposed to answer prayers! Overnight! <laughs>
DL: How’s everything with your dad?
DK: My dad finally divorced, remarried and moved away. He was like, “So you’re finally doing that for yourself, huh?” My dad is very relaxed and laidback. A country guy, but he really doesn’t care. He’s very liberal — started calling me Dillon and (using the pronoun) “he” immediately. He has no issue with it. He was like, “You always wanted remote control racecars so that’s what I bought you, and I always got in trouble with your mom about it.” He always treated me like his little boy. He took me out and let me wash his car and shine his guns. It was just the body shaming with my mom, and you already face that enough on your own.
DL: How do other people react?
DK: I have to say that I am really blessed in the sense that I never really faced anything outside of the home because I always made people laugh. I love laughing, and I love making people laugh. I would take pills on the bus ride home, though, so that way I could just go to sleep and not face my mom. She’ll deny this, but I’m not going to change my story.
DL: Did you lose anyone after transition?
DK: I lost some close cousins. One cousin told me that I was lost, that I didn’t care about the family, that I was just confused. I didn’t invite them to the wedding, and I got shit from my family for it, but my happiness is not going to be jeopardized.
DL: Have you always been like this? That mentality of my happiness comes first?
DK: No. When I tried committing suicide (again at 19), I ended up in the psych ward. When I got out of there, I never wanted to go back… I had survived, and I swallowed a handful of pills and chased it down with a bottle of Nyquil. I asked myself, “Why am I alive? What is my purpose here?” Over the years, I just started letting positivity in, and, as more doors opened and more positivity came in, I realized I could be happy. And then when I started changing my own life and not being shy about it, I started helping other people, and I was like, “Well, if I helped them then who else could I help?” I believe that we are all here for something. Now I’m out of my dark hole, and I’m never going back there. So it’s like who else needs help getting out of their dark hole because you can. If I can, then you can. I had nothing. I ate buttered noodles because we were poor. I had my mother telling me that my father didn’t love me and that’s why the lights weren’t on. My parents were going to let me drop out of school, but I didn’t want my younger sisters to drop out, so I stayed. It literally was a series of unfortunate events that freed me, and now I feel fucking awesome. I don’t care anymore what people think of me. I have an amazing life. I have a roof over my head. I have a beautiful wife, and we want kids soon. I have my own business. What else could I want? I have friends that worry about getting outed. People attack the weak links, though. People attack those they know they can take down. So put your shoulders back and show them that you won’t back down, and they will either try to understand you or walk away. If they walk away, let them.
DL: Missy was with you before you transitioned?
DL: Did that change anything?
DK: I would say yes. See, Missy and I have known each other since high school. She used to say she would never date women. We went to different colleges, but one day I saw her in a gay bar I was performing at, and I was like, “Missy, are you gay?!” right in the middle of my performance. That was my chance! We were together for about two and a half years, and then I proposed. She always knew how I felt, that I felt like a man in my head. I knew that I would feel much better if I started transitioning. Missy told me to look into it, but when I actually started taking the steps towards it, she was hesitant. She already had to come out to her parents and felt like it was going to be a lot for everyone. At first, I was like, “You’re right. I’ve lived most of my life like this. You love me. I guess that’s all that matters. I will be okay.” But I started getting insecure about our relationship. I would get jealous of the guys she worked with, and I think it was just because I was envious. It was always going to be viewed as us being the lesbian couple, and I wanted to be Missy’s man. I wanted to be her husband. I wanted to physically look like I could take care of her. I know it sounds vain, but your mirror image really does affect who you feel you are. We broke up, and I decided then to go through with the transition. A few months later, she came back and I told her that I was going through with it. She was worried that it would change me, and I didn’t know if it was going to… We decided to not get back together. We didn’t speak for two months — I was upset with her. She was everything I wanted, and she had walked away. I understood it, but I was hurt. Missy kept trying to contact me, and, finally, I gave in because I couldn’t deny that I still loved her. We went to dinner, and I told her we needed to go to therapy and figure out how to make it work. And we did. We went to therapy, and we talked about who Destiny was and who Destiny was going to be as Dillon… When we got back together, it was because we wanted to be in it for good, so we got married.
DL: I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that besides dealing with what society thinks about you, you are also going through your own struggles — whether that be your own perception of yourself, figuring out who you are, or the relationships that you are in.
DK: That’s why I wish people would care less about what the public thinks of them. Just make sure you are happy. After that, when you are confident enough in your own skin, it won’t matter what anyone says about you. You have to build your foundation first — your own self-worth. I do feel very lucky, though. Now I just look like your stereotypical, privileged white guy. A lot of my friends don’t, and it is hard. It is difficult for them to get that respect because people are so unknowledgeable about gender identity. Sometimes you have to be more understanding. I feel like people in the LGBTQ community jump the gun and expect the heterosexual community to know what to say, but how would they know if we don’t talk to them in a nice way and educate them in a kind way? We want them to be so patient, but we have to be patient, too. I mean, I’m still learning.