Sarah Christy – Daughter. Sister. Aunt. Girlfriend. Deaf.
These are the identities and roles I was assigned with at birth. When I turned six years old, I knew that I was not like other girls. I did not like dresses, skirts, or anything that sparkled. I always wanted to wear a suit and shirts with collars. I wanted what the boys wore. “Me boy,” I told friends. Although I wore boy clothes and said I was a boy, my family and friends knew me as a “tomboy.”
While my gender identity became a long battle, I initially struggled with my Deaf identity until adolescence.
I was sitting on the kitchen floor at my brother’s house when his wife dropped pots and pans behind me and I did not respond. When my parents learned of the incident, they tested my hearing and I was diagnosed with a bilateral hearing loss. At the age of 2, I was profoundly Deaf.
Growing up in a family with eight children, I was the only Deaf child. My parents agreed to have me undergo surgery for a cochlear implant to help me hear after the FDA approved it for pediatric use. When I was three-years-old I started speech therapy. Although I was still developing language, I found communicating a challenge. It was hard for me to express my feelings or what I was thinking. This was also true for me when I knew I was a boy. How was I going to explain this to my family?
Although I knew I was a boy before I hit puberty, I never had much of a problem with my body until puberty started. I suffered a lot of emotional pain during adolescence as I tried to understand what I was feeling. I did not want to develop breasts. Bras were foreign to me. I dreaded periods. I wanted to go through life without them. I liked girls. “Am I a lesbian?” “Why would God be against love shared between same-sex couples?” “It was not my choice that I liked girls.” These were questions I dwelled on that led to confusion and depression. I became more and more disgusted with my body.
My confusion continued when I was told that gays and lesbians go to hell. I grew up in a religious family and we attended church weekly. I was also enrolled in a Catholic boarding school where I lived for seven years from age 7 to 14. One of my classes focused on Catholic beliefs and in this environment I did not learn much about LGBT. I recall one of the girls at school identified as a lesbian and she was expelled because of her sexual orientation. What did this mean for me?
I recognized I had fantasies and wishes about becoming a man. I always felt great when someone said I looked like a boy! I did not know what that meant because the feeling was just so normal, knowing I had felt that way all my life. I thought others had similar experiences, but I did not express my feelings in fear that others would judge me.
My life changed when I learned that one of my high school classmates said she was FTM transgender. “What is transgender?” I never heard about the transgender community until she shared her story. She, now he, helped me learn more about myself and make sense of my internal struggles.
As I started to explore my gender identity, the challenges of being Deaf continued to surface. At age 17, I was in counseling for depression and my counselor disclosed my interest in girls to family. My counselor decided to voice for me without my consent. Once my family learned I identified as gay, I was not welcome at home. Although I was living on my own, I continued to finish my high school degree and find work that accepted a Deaf employee.
The depression continued. After I started college, I accepted my sexual orientation, but not my gender identity. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I had a strong sense of self-loathing, as I knew who I saw in the mirror was not me. My reflection in the mirror resembled a pane of glass with a pantomime behind it pretending to be me. Where was me?
My father recently wrote, “I have this beautiful, intelligent daughter and she wants to change everything about herself…To me you are perfect.”
I do not aspire to be perfect, only to be comfortable in my own skin. My body. “Me boy.”
Shawn Christy. Son. Brother. Uncle. Boyfriend. Deaf. Transgender.