Man trapped in woman's body: Coming out of the transgender closet

Originally Published: April 7, 2000 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: October 11, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I want to become a male but I'm trapped in a female's body. I recently saw "Boys Don't Cry" and everything Teena felt I felt. Becoming a male would make me truly happy but I'm hopeless and desperate for a first step to take. I only cross dress in privacy and around my close confidants. My mother would die if she found out. Lately I have been feeling suicidal over my complete and dire unhappiness and uneasiness. PLEASE HELP ME!

—LOST gender

Dear LOST gender,

You may not realize this, but you just took a great first step by submitting your question.. Thanks to movies such as "Boys Don't Cry" and other courageous efforts, people who are transgender, or who question their gender identity, are beginning to see themselves in the media — confirming that you're not alone, and providing encouragement that resources are available. A very wise person once said to the LGBT community, “It Gets Better.” And you know what? It does!

First, to address your suicidal feelings, please do talk to someone you trust! If you need immediate support, please call:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (-8255); or,
  • The Trevor Project at 1.866.4-U-Trevor

A trusted friend or family member is another good place to start; she or he can help you find resources and the support that you need. If you are a Columbia student you can also call Counseling and Psychological Services at 212-854-2878 to make an appointment. If you are in an urgent situation after normal business hours, call the clinician-on-call at 212-854-9797. If you are on the Medical Center campus, reach out to Mental Health at CUMC to make an appointment..

A next step may be to find supportive people to talk with about your feelings and interest in exploring your gender. It's wonderful that you have some close friends to support you through this search. Unfortunately, there are still many people who believe people questioning their gender identity have a problem and need to be cured. It is important that you find individuals and services that are safe, accepting, supportive, and helpful to you.

Depending on where you live, there may be services in your area that are open to discussing cross dressing, transgender, and transsexual issues. Luckily, there are lots of organizations with websites and hotline phone numbers, which you can access from anywhere.  Not only will they be able to provide you with a wealth of information, but also to connect you with services and organization chapters near you.

Some to try include:

One of the services available to you online, or in person is support groups. In these groups, you'll have the chance to meet and talk with other people like yourself who feel that the biological sex they were born with and the social gender norms that go along with it do not match with how they feel inside. You can learn more about the different ways people express their gender and sexuality, and where else they've turned for support and assistance. Giving and receiving encouragement from other people can go a long way in helping you to feel more content, and help you figure out what steps, if any, you want to take in your quest to become male.

It's understandable that you're nervous about how your mom might react to your feelings. Many people have never had an opportunity to gather accurate information about gender and sexuality, and, in fact, may often fear things they don't understand. Through exploring your thoughts, feelings, and options with caring counselors, health care providers, and other transgender individuals, you can figure out how and when to talk with your mom (as well as other family members and friends) about your feelings and decisions.

To begin a discussion with your mom, you may want to start by feeling out her reaction to some popular media with transgender themes. The movie "Boys Don't Cry," or the documentary about Brandon Teena called "The Brandon Teena Story," could act as springboards to open your discussion. There are also a number of books on the topic area. You may find some books suggestions by visiting the links above.

These and other compelling stories may help your mom become more familiar and comfortable with the subject of gender identity, and allow you to further define your own feelings and experience. For some additional info, you can read the Related Q&As listed below.

Take care of yourself and remember, it does get better,

Alice