Gender transition a new lease on life
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Sep. 9, 2013
Renee Benoit's life changed the day her mother died. Benoit was 56 years old, and she felt she could finally live the life that she'd wanted to live since she was 13 years old. That was how old she was when she realized her gender identity didn't match her physical identity. It took her years to understand her situation fully. But she did know that some of the building blocks of her identity didn't match up with how she felt inside. She was born and raised as a boy, but she felt that she was a girl.
“The key word is 'confusing,'” Benoit said. “I couldn't quite figure out what it was.”
Benoit started her transition from male to female shortly after her mother passed away. Masking her female orientation had become impossibly difficult for her. The transition was a long and rigorous process. People who wish to make such a transition, and the physicians and professionals who care for them, generally follow a standard of care developed by Dr. Harry Benjamin in 1979. Those protocols cover hormone replacement therapy, sex reassignment surgery, voice therapy, reproductive health and primary care, among a host of other things.
Part of the process required Benoit to live a full year in the gender she was going into. She had to do this before she started hormone replacement therapy. She calls the first time she wore a dress “interesting.” “I drove to another state to buy gasoline,” Benoit said. “It was so obvious. I kept looking over my shoulder.”
While she admits the experience was nerve-wracking, she didn't stop the process. She decided that if she had to make a choice between transition or depression and suicide, she'd opt for transition. It has made all the difference for her. “You become who you're supposed to be,” she said.
She found support through PFLAG, a national non-profit organization that serves the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population. And she found strength through her faith. Benoit attends Mass often. She always has. When she told her priest about her transformation, he wasn't supportive. She didn't go to church for two weeks, stewing over his words. Eventually she made up her mind that it was her church as much as it was his. When she returned for Mass, the priest was gone, transferred to another parish.
Today Benoit's wardrobe consists of dresses and heels. Her fingernails are long and painted. She's fond of wearing earrings, bracelets and makeup. And she is the happiest she has ever been. “I wouldn't have it any other way,” she said.
There have been plenty of challenges. She didn't start the transition until both of her parents were gone. “I loved them dearly,” she said. But it would have been too difficult for them. She had to change all her markers, those things that identified her as male: her license, Social Security card, utility bills, and all other legal documents. She admits that adjusting to the changes took some getting used to, but said that a huge weight was lifted from her shoulders as a result. “I'm ecstatic to be able to live openly and honestly,” she said.
Only on a handful of occasions have people been less than kind to her, she said. Once a woman in a store started laughing at Benoit. “I learned that I had to go forward,” Benoit said. “I had to face up to the situation versus backing away from it.” Benoit went up to the woman. “I asked her if I had missed a joke. She didn't have a comeback,” Benoit said.
Benoit believes education is crucial. “If people were more educated, it would be easier,” she said.
T.A.L.L. is the forum through which Benoit hopes to further that education. The acronym stands for “Transition and Loving Life.” It's a support group that meets at Day Kimball Hospital and is open to anyone. Before Benoit went through her own transition, she worried that she could lose her family and friends. She thought she'd be isolated from the world. Instead, it gave her a way back into a world where she finally feels comfortable. “It's made all the difference,” she said.
T.A.L.L. Meetings are scheduled for the second Sundays of the month, from 2 to 4 p.m., at Day Kimball Hospital. For more information on PFLAG, go to www.pflag.org. For information on T.A.L.L., go to thetallgroup.org.
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