Barbara(not her real name)is finally happy with who she sees in the mirror each morning.
That is a good thing, because that has not always been the case for Barbara, now in her mid-20s, who grew up in Yorkton as a male.
Asked how old she was when she realized she was essentially in the wrong body, Barbara, who now lives in Regina, said it was initially a more subtle feeling of disquiet in regards to who she was.
"Idon't think it was ever 'the wrong skin"'," she told Yorkton This Week, adding "something always did feel off though. I attributed it to my Asperger's syndrome, but that didn't cover it."
Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviours, according to www.autismspeaks.ca
Barbara said as she grew older the realization she was not who she was supposed to be became more apparent.
"There were certain events that happened when I first hit puberty that made me start questioning my identity," she said, adding that while she wouldn't go into detail "it was around that time when I started to trust myself less and less, and started trying to copy my older brother... badly though.
"I ultimately wanted to impress my older brother back then. I assumed he was the embodiment of manhood, so rather than depending on my own instincts I followed him around like a lost puppy dog.
"I joined the football program because I assumed that would impress him and didn't enroll in choir because I thought he would disapprove for instance.
"I even started listening to the same music as him because my music was 'screamy trash'."
Barbara said it was a case of just feeling out-of-sorts in the common course of a day.
"I couldn't understand men despite being around them all the time . . . I never felt right surrounded by men and was extremely self-conscious, especially when it came to the change room," she noted. "I would often wait for everyone else to change first and leave before I started to change my clothes and sometimes even went out of my way to obtain any sort of privacy that I could.
"In my dreams I was often a woman as well."
The combination of dreams that had to have felt forbidden to a young teen, and the feeling of discomfiture in day-to-day activities was difficult to come to terms with for a youth in their early teens.
"Emotionally that time was one of both confusion and crushing myself," she said. "I didn't trust my own instincts, and I had high anxiety.
"I was also lonely and jaded due to past loss, though I put on a face for people around me.
"I also cared deeply about what others thought of me, I still do."
The often harsh dynamics of school life added to the pressures Barbara felt.
"I had put up walls in elementary school due to the bullying, and had done my best to convince myself that I didn't care about others opinions following the logic of if you tell yourself something enough times it becomes your truth.
"Telling myself that just evolved into me being selfless to the point of putting the well being and opinions of strangers before myself."
Finally, when most youth are simply worried about acquiring their driver's licence, Barbara began to understand her feelings, not that she accepted them immediately.
"I kind of figured out what was going on when I was 16, but I rejected it," she said. "I tried to deny it and it led me down a dark path especially considering I didn't have counselling back then.
"I kept on rejecting it until it became impossible to because I knew deep down how my family would react to me coming out, even though I tried to fool myself into thinking otherwise. I had past results to go off of due to my great aunt transitioning. I even joined the family against her when that happened. She got disowned though for more than just transitioning. Family is and was the most important thing to me, even if I sometimes I had a funny way of showing that."
Barbara said family has always been viewed differently in her mind, not that they were aware early on about her inner struggle.
"They were completely unaware because I was trying to be someone other than myself," she said. "They assumed that other person was me in entirety."
When they finally were made aware, family reaction, as you might expect, was mixed.
"At first both were open-minded concerning it, but my sister rejected the idea," she said.
"My brother pretends as if absolutely nothing has changed, even pretends that I'm not transitioning. He is helpful when he is around though, and is probably the most supportive person in my close family, though that is likely due to his girlfriend."
But there is resistance too.
"Both (parents) have stated that they will never call me by my chosen name," noted Barbara. "Neither my mother or father support my decisions. Though they likely don't know how important transitioning is for me as I thought dangling suicide over my parents heads was not the right way to go about coming out of the closet."
While the first realization that she should have been a female came to Barbara in her early teens, it would be nearly a decade before she realized she needed to 'transition' from the male she was born to the female she knew she truly was.
"I was 25 when I came to that realization that I kind of didn't have a choice in the matter. I couldn't go on not being myself," she said.
It simply was not an easy decision to make.
"It took me years," said Barbara. "It was difficult enough that I almost chose death. I have a person I have played role-playing games online with for well over a decade who I was talking to over the phone at work in the freezer while bawling my eyes out.
"I had decided to end it, and she managed to drag me out of the closet that day. She also uncloseted to me that day, because she actually was a trans woman too but could pass.
"She pseudo-adopted me and another trans girl from Hungary soon after that, and I started to gain a digital family that I could talk about even topics that would send my real family over the edge.
"To be entirely honest, without her I likely wouldn't be here. I know that I can go to her and receive support despite us havingwildly different opinions."
So what exactly in transitioning?
"I guess the best way to put it is that transitioning is necessary," said Barbara, it is a need to be who you truly are.
Today, Barbara calls herself a transsexual.
"It means that you have men at point 'A' and women at point 'B'. My mind has been somewhere in the middle but closer to 'B' and I'm moving my physical attributes and hormones from point 'A' to 'B'. I use the terms transsexual/transgender/trans woman/woman/trans at different times," she said.
Ultimately the transition is making her body female, as her inner-self has always been.
"I am on the path to becoming female physically," said Barbara.
So how is that manifestingfor Barbara?
"So I always had a big butt, but that grew a bit," she explained. "I packed weight on my hips as well as on my chest area and up near my cheekbones on my face.
"I actually have curves now despite being chubby.
"My hair grows faster and it would take me a week to get my hair as oily as it used to be after four-hours as a teenager. That is sort of a double-edged sword though because I have to actually take care of my hair. What I normally do is use just conditioner most days, and brushing my hair two to three times a day. My body hair does grow in slower than it used to as well, not as wiry but just as thick.
"My skin is softer and more sensitive."
Interestingly the voice is not changing to meet the new Barbara.
"My voice has not changed due to HRT, but I do work on it. Testosterone does permanent changes to your vocal tract," she explained.
It's not all physical either.
"There have been mental changes too," said Barbara. "There are some mannerisms that I have now that are considered feminine that I didn't do prior to taking hormones.
"My sex drive has not been destroyed as some doctors say, but it changed. . . .I'm also more open to people in general, and I'm more in tune with my emotions which were always a quagmire.
"In the first few weeks of taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) it felt like a massive weight had been taken off of my brain, perhaps I was even a little light-headed. Life eventually caught up, but I was ecstatic for weeks and am happier now too."
And more change is planned as Barbara becomes who she desires to be.
"I have been on HRT for soon to be two years now," she explained, adding "I'll put in a warning - never self medicate, as the treatment is different for everyone, and self-medicating can cause a hormone imbalance to occur -- increased stress, lack of energy, sleeplessness, weight gain, etc."
Barbara takesa range of drugs; estradiol, spironolactone and progesterone, every day.
One day surgery will occur too.
"When it comes to surgery, my family is completely against it, but I am going to have bottom surgery at some point," she said.
"If I can afford it in the future I will get facial feminization surgery as well.
"I don't think I'll need to get top surgery however.
"I have gotten some laser treatment to deal with my facial hair, but COVID interrupted that. I am currently saving up to just finish off most of the hair in a few treatments of electrolysis once COVID is over."
It has all been a process Barbara notes her family has struggled with.
"My family has been non-supportive in a way that I know that they still love me," she said. "It is a complicated mess and I'm not going to give up on them. I haven't been disowned yet."
Barbara's friends havebeen generally more accepting.
"My friends have reacted with overwhelming support for the most part, with some acquaintances displaying their bias," she said.
But in spite of the hardships, and negative reactions that she has faced, Barbara said it is a path she is glad she finally had the courage to embark on.
"I would never go back and not do this," she said. "Despite the response I actually regret not doing this when I was still in high school."