I arrived to the party a bit late. At the age of 31, I finally came to terms with my gender identity. At that point, I had been married for 10 years to my best friend and wife. I had two beautiful children. I was working my dream job. I should have felt successful, but I only felt confined. Fake. Out of place.
As a kid, I was frequently tagged as a girl. There was femininity in me that I hadn’t yet recognized myself, and I wasn’t ready to accept. I didn’t want to be treated like an outcast, so I did everything possible to project masculinity. From wrestling in junior high school to summer football camps, I did it all just to prove that I could. I played trombone in band because it was the biggest and heaviest instrument I could hold. I joined stage crew so I could build sets and lift heavy objects. And I was always studying my peers — I needed to learn to hide the parts of me that drew negative attention.
It was during my adolescence that I discovered my love for computers. Computers never judged. They were never mean. When I wrote code, the computer executed it without a second thought. Computers were easy, and my identity didn’t affect their ability to function.
My love for coding worked out well for me. As I graduated high school and entered into the dotcom bubble, it was easy to find a tech job right out of school. I advanced through my career (sans a college education), and continued to develop my skills.
But all the tech skills in the world couldn’t suppress the unease I felt inside. I was still wrangling with my identity. As the days passed, I felt more and more like an imposter.
It was then that I took to the Internet and began researching my predicament. I was relieved to find that I wasn’t alone in my feelings — there were lots of people out there with similar experiences. These like-minded people were transgender women and other, gender-nonconforming individuals.
I didn’t know how to wrap my head around what I was reading. Because I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, my exposure to the trans culture was limited to Jerry Springer, punch lines in the media and Buffalo Bill fromSilence of the Lambs. But those were all negative images and jokes. This wasn’t a joke to me — it was real.
I tried hard to find examples of successful trans women, and they were few and far between (especially for those post transition). It was even rarer to find those who stayed married. Rare that they were happy and successful. And downright impossible to find someone who checked all of those boxes. It was daunting, but I had reached my threshold. I needed to change something.
So I sat on the couch with my wife, hoping I could find the words to explain this feeling inside. And through a tearful explanation, I told her I thought I was transgender. The following months were terrible — accepting this new chapter in my life didn’t just affect me, it affected her too. It affected our relationship. We didn’t know what it would mean for us. Finding myself and sorting out my gender issues was hard enough. Add on the additional stress of trying to keep our relationship intact? Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe it. Eventually, though, we did it. It took some time to rebuild trust and get us back to a good place, but we did. We’re still together now, and we’re even closer than we were before.
After dabbling into the world of being a female, it became clear to me that I needed to transition and live as a woman all the time. While my company's nondiscrimination policy covered gender identity, I was still nervous. My life was already stressful — I couldn’t afford to lose my job at this critical time.
So when I approached HR, I didn’t know how things were going to pan out. They had never had someone transition while on the job. But they worked with me to develop a plan. My coworkers rallied around me and showered me with support. They accepted me. The real me.
My journey wasn’t easy, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier. Now, several years later, my life is better. Easier. I’m able to live openly as a transgender woman, I still have my amazing family by my side, and my work supports me. I’m able to #BeBrave and act as the successful role model that I wanted and needed to see during my transition.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
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Ryanne Fox is a systems engineer at a large Internet company. In her little free time, she enjoys old whiskey, fast cars, and socially responsibility. She resides in Arizona and attempts to keep up with two children and a wife whom are much smarter than her.