One of my good friends is the first to know. He picked me up from the hospital.
Cold, so cold, stomach rolling, itchy hospital bracelet, hospital socks because the medics forgot to grab shoes. Before he even asked, I blurted out, “I think I’m transgender.” He hovers after. It adds to the fear that someone will suspect.
My first Sunday after is brutal. My skirt brushes against the top of my boots as I limp to the bathroom and I freeze. Someone asks a question and I don’t have time to force my voice into a lower register. Three people compliment my hair. I feel like tearing it out.
“There’s my favorite little sister. Feeling better?” I can instantly tell the Branch President hadn’t told the rest of the presidency the truth about my visit to the hospital. It’s been a month since 'my diagnosis.’ I’ve been asked not to say anything about it.
“‘Cuse me, ma'am.”
I rehearse what I'd say if I had the courage. It's Mx, I'm Non-Binary.
"Look at the bearded lady!"
My stomach drops painfully at that. Words get caught in my throat. It’s like I’m choking. I'm not a lady. I like my beard, even when it itches. I am not a freak show attraction.
“August? That’s an unusual name for a girl. It’s pretty.”
I picked it because I’m not a girl! My brain screams. I end up with my forehead digging into the sign for the member custodian closet, leaning against the wall next to the picture of the First Vision, or sitting in the back of Relief Society. Even in a crowd of God’s people, I am utterly and completely alone.
“I’m proud of you for trying. Heavenly Father’s going to bless you. It’ll get easier. You’re actually really pretty, by the way.”
The line doesn’t help but I try to smile. Everyone wants me to smile, as if I’m not on a combination of antidepressants, anti-anxieties, and estrogen in an attempt to turn it off. I’m gaining weight and all I want is the opposite, especially in my chest. My body mimics the early stages of pregnancy, complete with morning sickness. My Branch president swears this and faith will make me able to cope. After all, your spirit is made either male or female. Your body has to match your spirit as closely as possible. That includes hormones.
Our now weekly conversations fill with me vile dread. I once liked this man, and liked his son a lot more. Anger boils under my skin. I'm a wild and trapped animal, snapping at the hand that only feeds me lies. Then, like a turtle, I retreat to myself.
My mother, not a member, not even a theist, takes a sick delight in it all. Me being trans means she gets everything she wants from me.
Excommunication, sterilization, the son I wasn't born to be. Nevermind that I'm not a boy either.
Yet, she still refuses to call me by name. My chosen name, a source of pure joy, crossed a line. I'm still her daughter, I'm still my old name, until I pass. Or I'm 50. Praying she doesn't make it to 76 feels like a sin but I pray it anyway.
At one point I finally break. We're getting around to winter again. I'm sleeping outside some nights, or crammed into a mother-in-law apartment at a friend's place down the road. Said friend is another hoverer. I book a one-way flight to Florida, nagged by the feeling that if I stay I won't make it to spring.
No one else likes the idea.
We get a new branch president before I hop on that plane. He decides I should be the Relief Society secretary. I laugh, say fine, and then admit I'm leaving soon anyway. I, unfortunately, excel.
I speak on my last Sunday. It's not something I do very often or even well. Yet, I'm not nervous this time. I'm speaking about following promptings. I sail through my talking points and then come to my example.
Me. The real me, and following the prompting to be myself. There's a strange power in saying words most members won't even whisper. "Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. For those of you who might not know what that is, it means I'm transgender. I've been praying to know what to do about it. Right now, the answer is to wait and see. It's hard but I have faith."
The second I sit down, my phone begins to vibrate. Buzz, buzz, buzz in the pocket of my new jumpsuit. The response, surprisingly, is 100% positive. I try not to cry.
The people I know in Florida already. Online I'm complete. I'm Non-Binary. I use they/them pronouns. At one point early on, I shave my head. When I sit down with my new YSA Bishop, foot tapping nervously against my wheelchair's footrest, I've been told he's been told someone like me is coming. "Hey, so I think the Stake President sat down with you about me?" I lead.
There's no recognition on his face and my stomach drops.
"I'm Non-Binary. I use they/them pronouns."
"I was going to ask why you were disrespecting our Savior by wearing pants on Sunday."
"You don't understand. Have you met a trans person before? I'm respecting Jesus by respecting myself." Rage courses through my body, settling in balled fists. "I wouldn't call myself an LGBTQ+ educator but I can try."
It's an uphill battle from there. Constant correcting, constant coming out, constantly accidentally breaking pronoun pins, and then one day, it pays off.
"Hey, August, right? Can I talk to you privately? I promise I'm not trying to ask you out. Everyone knows you don't do that."
That gets me to laugh. "It's not that I don't date, it's that I'm older than most of you. But come on."
This young member of the YSA looks nervous. They sit down, take a deep breath, and say, "You're safe, right? The pronoun pin."
I honestly have no idea what they mean. Sometimes the fight is exhausting and my thoughts spiral. "Like safe as?"
"I think I'm on that acronym somewhere."
They're the first to come out to me. Another does, and I can't tell anyone why we never see them again. Yet another admits they almost said yes the last time someone of the same gender asked them out. Everyone single one admits that they don't feel safe enough to come out.
The rage boils past my fists and I become stubborn. Insistant that this is who I am. Out for all the near-kids in my ward who can't be. Cis straight people get annoyed. Once the Bishop asks me to stop wearing my pin.
But slowly, it gets easier. People correct other people. People apologize. I still cry easily, but people listen. I even successfully renew my recommend. I still don't know if the pain is worth it and there's still rage bubbling deep inside but it's a start.