I was born into this world as a boy to a socially conservative, Christian couple who immigrated from South Korea to the United States. I was born here but I was raised most of my early childhood in South Korea until my parents brought ourselves back to Oregon when I was five years old.
I’ve been transgender and have always wanted to be a girl and closely identified myself as a female for as long as I could remember. Way back as a 3 or 4 year old, I was growing up in the South Korean capital of Seoul. At the time, neither the English word nor the Korean word for “transgender” has registered into my toddler vocabulary. (In fact, there is no Korean word for“transgender” that I know of. The Korean language borrows that word from English.)
However, even at the age of 3, I could tell I was different from the other boys. Average little boys in Korea are not that different from the average little boys in America. They love sports, video games, and action figures that resemble anything close to Star Wars or GI Joes. (You could say the same thing the similarities between American girls and Korean girls). However, I knew I was different from the other boys. Unlike other boys, I didn’t like playing aggressively. And if my childhood memories serve me right, I enjoyed playing with the girls more than playing with boys.
When I was spending the early years of my childhood in South Korea, I would occasionally play with boy toys if that’s all that was around for me to play with. But I enjoyed even more playing with dolls, doll houses, and toy kitchenware. My aunts gave me all their toys that they no longer played with. And one of them was a really beautiful plastic doll of a little girl that would close her eyes when you put her to “sleep” and open them when you put her upright. I don’t remember if I named her anything. But, she was my most favorite doll. She was so special to me that I remember calling her my baby. I would pretend to breastfeed her by pressing her plastic lips up to my nipples. And a funny thing I remember about my relationship with this doll is that I would tuck her under my shirt around my belly and pretend that I was pregnant with her.
I remember, one time, I was at my grandmother’s house with this doll. I tucked her under my stomach, went to my grandparent’s bedroom where I was alone. I laid down on my back, and slowly began pulling this doll out of my shirt from the under while SHOUTING LOUD NOISES GOING “GRRRRR!!! AAARGH!!! AAAHHHH!” like a woman giving birth. I must have been so loud that one of my aunts must have heard me. Because when she came into that room, she saw me lying on my back with my baby doll tucked halfway under my shirt on top of my belly.
And as I recall, she asked me in Korean, “What are you doing?
And I replied, “I’M GIVING BIRTH!!! AAARRGH!!! AAAHHHH!!!”
I’m not sure what my aunt was thinking when she saw this, but from what I remember, she played along with me pretending to help me deliver the baby. I would imagine that she might have thrown in a tongue-in-cheek “CONGRATULATIONS! IT’S A GIRL!!!”
Unfortunately, there came a time where I had to part ways with this doll. At age 5, my parents brought me back to the United States where we stayed permanently since then. All my other toys were shipped from South Korea to the our new home in Oregon, but I never saw that doll ever again. And even to this day, I still wonder where she is and what happened to her, as if she was really my baby real, living baby. Has she grown up? Does she remember me as her mother giving birth to her, feeding her, and playing with her? Is she looking for me?
Now, the thing one bothered me the most when I was growing up as trans child, and still bothers me to this day as an adult, were my male genitals. I remember feeling uncomfortable having a sausage and walnuts between my leg was. (Yes, I called my penis and my testicles “sausage and walnuts” because that’s what they looked like to my child mind LOL!) And this discomfort grew more intense as I grew older. So intense to a point that I would often fantasize about myself cutting off my genitals. The only thing stopped from cutting was my fear of the pain. And looking back as an educated adult now, I know there would have been complications like infections and excessive bleeding that could have killed me. And the modern male to female sex reassignment surgery techniques actually uses the remaining parts of the penis (after removing erectile tissue) and the scrotum and fashion them into a remarkably realistic female genitalia. (There are video documentations of this surgery on YouTube for educational purposes.)
Anyways, by the time I was 10, that was when I began wondering about the possibility that I was girl born in a boy’s body. And the seed of curiosity about my unique condition was planted. But it didn’t start to bud until 8th grade and freshman year in high school. It all made perfect sense to me. I liked sitting with the girls at lunch in grade school and playing with girls more during recess than I did with boys. I remember when I was playing “house” with the neighborhood kids, sometimes I got into arguments with other girls because I wanted to play the mom. I continued to enjoy playing with girl toys like Barbie and Disney princess dolls whenever I could get my hands on them. And on my 8th birthday the following year, when Disney’s Pocahontas hit theaters, I remember having all my friends over and my mom (ironically which I’ll explain later) got me this large chocolate cake with a cream circle in middle painted with Pocahontas’s face. I remember feeling like the princess that I wanted to be at that moment. These moments were how I became convinced that I was a girl in a boy’s body at age 10. And it started to make perfect sense to me as it also explained why I liked wearing girl’s panties, short shorts, and skirts, anything that looked “girly” whenever I could find them. I also had a longing to grow out my hair and had a hatred of hair cuts. But age 10 was also when my puberty sank it.
When I was between 10 and 11, I began to feel the effects of puberty. By 13, I began experiencing some anxiety over my body. Most of my bodily anxiety was stemming from the fact that my body was beginning to exhibit male secondary sex characteristics, when I wanted the female ones instead. I couldn’t help but grow envious of others girls in school for growing breasts and other feminine attributes that I desire. Even to this day, whenever I see pictures of attractive women, I can’t help myself from thinking, “It would be so AWESOME if I had breasts like those!” or “a body like that”.
The following year, I entered freshman year in high school. That year was 2,001. That was when our household subscribed to the Internet for the first time, which I already learned to use in school since 6th grade. I was already familiar with how to use search engines like Google, Yahoo, etc. And it was at this time, when the seeds of my curiosity about my transgender condition began to bud. And with the Internet at my fingertips, I began to research my condition at home, starting with a simple Google search. And, hilariously, I don’t remember how this happened, but one of the first results I stumbled upon was a transsexual themed pornographic website where it had erotic photographs of models who appeared to be women with penises. And the site had all kinds of slang terminologies that I later learned were derogatory as I matured. Now, of course porn obviously does not offer educational values under any academic standards. Especially to a transgender girl who is trying explore herself and discover her true identity. But if this encounter had left any positive, lasting impressions on my 14 year old self, I would say this was when I discovered that there were terminologies that precisely described my condition. Words like “transsexual” and “transgender” began flooding my vocabulary and creating even greater curiosity about my condition.
It was also at this time, when I realized that my transgender condition, while it’s rare, isn’t unique. I remember reading an English language magazine about contemporary Korean culture where I found articles of a South Korean transgender pop singer and an all transgender girl band who stirred a sensation (along with controversy) in the South Korean media. I realized I wasn’t alone as I was becoming more enlightened about my transgender identity. And naturally, it bore seed of curiosity in me about the LGBTQ subject as a whole. I knew people who were gay; they were my classmates in school. And more personally, during my sophomore year, I also discovered I was bisexual.
But being a Christian and an active youth group member of my church, I was constantly preached about the sins of being LGBTQ. Scripture verses like Leviticus 18:22, 20:15, Romans 1:2627, Deuteronomy 22:5 were constantly beat into my head. And our church was an active supporter of Measure 36 in 2004, which was an Oregon constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Which regrettably passed but was overturned 10 years later.
Now this did not stop me from learning more about myself as a transgender and bisexual woman. I accepted myself as transgender and bisexual in my freshman and sophomore year of college. For the first time in my life, I bought myself some makeup, dresses, skirts, bras and panties. Accepting myself as a bisexual transgender girl was liberating. Because I got tired of fighting it due to my old religious convictions. And I feel really good, even to this day, when people referred to me using “she” or “her” pronouns. However, trying to reconcile my transgender identity and my bisexual orientation with my Christian faith was nothing but an ongoing struggle and, at times, caused nothing but depression, stress, and grief! Because I was brought up to believe that being LGBTQ was grossly immoral. How will I come out to my Christian parents? What will they say? What will they do to me? And because no matter how hard I tried to reconcile my gender identity and sexual orientation with my former Christian faith at the time, I felt nothing but discouragement by my Christian faith from being the beautiful, happy woman I wanted to be. I cried over this sometimes at night.
Then, the worst happened in the fall of 2008, when my mom was going through my things and she found my bra and my make up. She outed me! She was beyond livid! She was mortified! And it’s ironic because this was the woman who bought me that girly Pocahontas cake for my 8th birthday that made me feel like a princess inside of myself! She got extremely emotional and just slamming Bible quotes along with anger and fear and going all fire and brimstone about how my transgender identity and my dreams of becoming a beautiful happy woman is an act of rebellion against God. And how he will send me to Hell if I don’t repent and change my ways. She said my desire to be a woman was “an act of rebellion against God.” Because, according to my mom, based on what she said that night, God gave me a penis because he wanted to be a man, but by wanting to be a woman and identifying myself as one, I’m telling God “Fuck you, God! I want to be woman!” That night was the most terrifying, the most (literally and metaphorically speaking) the darkest night ever.
Fortunately, I was able to recover myself from all the horrible religious, fire and brimstone drama coming from my mom. It made me feel nothing but shame and guilt for being what I am at heart a woman, her daughter. It took me 2 years to recover from that awful night. I ended up going back into the closet. I forced myself to pretend that I’m a happy cisgender male now in front of my family while privately knowing that I’m still trans because it’s part of who I am and I cannot change that. And soon, things went back to the way they were before like nothing happened. But one thing that i never fully recovered (for the better) was my Christian faith. The experience from that night with my mom put a huge dent on my Christian faith which only began to crack. And then in 2010, it collapsed as I discovered science, reason, and then atheism and Humanism. It still took me another 3 years to come out to my friends while remaining in the closet to my family. My brother eventually found out. He still accepts me but as a brother while refusing to accept me as his sister because of his religious convictions as a Christian. But coming out to friends gave me a 2nd family that wholeheartedly accepts me as the woman I want to be known as. And because of those friends in and out of Facebook (I’m referring to you guys, people of No Religion Required family), and in spite of the rejection from parents and my brother, I happily and PROUDLY accept myself as an atheist, Humanist, bisexual, transgender woman.