The Transgender Experience: Tricia Russell
TransAction Florida Council Member
For the first 55 years of my life others knew me as Patrick, but I always knew myself as Tricia. I hid my female gender identity out of fear for all the things I might lose if anyone ever discovered I thought of myself as female even though I was born with a male body.
My fears stemmed initially from the reaction of my parents as they came to the realization when I was still a small child that I thought of myself as a girl. Through their reactions, including my father’s verbal, emotional and periodic physical abuse, they taught me to see myself as unnatural, unacceptable, and – to use my mother’s words – “an insult to God”. That controlled the way I viewed myself and lived my life well into my 50’s. It became a central focus of my life to do everything within my power to keep anyone else from ever discovering or even suspecting my true gender identity. I did a very good job for a very long time of keeping my gender identity a secret. For those on the outside looking in, my life likely seemed enviable – a good job, big family, nice home.
The problem was that I was essentially an actor living someone else’s life and I was paying a high price for burying such a fundamental part of who I am. Little by little, I was dying on the inside. I finally came to a crossroad about 5 years ago. I was in a dark place and I really had to make a choice. I feared what would come next if I continued trying to hide who I really am. The alternative didn’t seem much better – if I came out as transgender I would risk losing my job, family, friends, acceptance within my faith community and expose myself to an array of potential abuse. I haltingly chose the latter path, and, to be sure some of my fears were realized through the loss of numerous family ties and longstanding friendships, as well as harassment, including police harassment, as I navigated the awkward early stages of transition. Notwithstanding, life has been so much better for the path I chose.
I wish it hadn’t taken decades for me to learn a couple of simple lessons, but I’m thankful I did finally learn them –
- The worst prisons are sometimes the prisons we create for ourselves
- No matter who we choose to present ourselves as to the world - and no matter how successful we are at it – there will be people that love us, people that dislike us, and everything in between. So, why not leave fear and deception behind – which were killing me anyway - and just be myself? And know that the friends that I make along the way will know me for who I really am, and be true friends?
It also occurred to me that in hiding my true self for so long I didn’t just forfeit a lot of living along the way. I also missed so many opportunities to help others – to be a resource for others like me as well as others NOT like me that could benefit from a deeper understanding of transgender people. The day I stopped imprisoning myself in fear and came out to the world as Tricia was also the day I found the courage to be transparent, vulnerable and actively involved as an educator and advocate regarding transgender people and rights, as well as other LGBT people and rights. I often run short on time to do everything I’d like to help acceptance, humanity and equality flourish in our community, but I will NEVER run short on desire or passion to be involved. I’m honored to be a board member of Equality Florida, a member of the TransAction Florida Advisory Board, a member of the steering team of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality (JCE) and a member of the LGBT Pride leadership council of Bank of America (my dynamite and progressive employer) as avenues through which to pursue my advocacy work.
My greatest dreams are of a coming time when we as a society truly embrace diversity as simply another word for beauty, and where transgender and gender non-conforming people, and ALL people, experience the understanding and support of parents, teachers, neighbors – it truly does take a village - to be uniquely and comfortably themselves, from their earliest days. #AllLivesMatter.