"Michelle, look at the letters again, then turn to me and tell me how to spell your name. You can do it!” my father said encouragingly. I am standing in front of a life-sized cutout of an Indian chief with my name spelled out along his tall frame. I have tears of frustration running down my face, and I am angry because I can’t remember how to spell my darn name, even though it’s right there in front of me. And I can’t figure out why I was given such a silly girl’s name anyway!

I was born Michelle Marie Girard on Good Friday, April 4, 1969. According to my mother, I was a restless baby girl who was in an awful hurry to be born. The doctor almost didn’t make it into the delivery room on time because I was already halfway out of my mother’s womb by the time he got there. I was shortly thereafter taken home to my older sister and brother. As I grew, I tended to attach myself to my brother and played only with him. I really didn’t “get” my older sister. She was only two and a half years older than I, and all she wanted to do was play with her dolls and get me to play “house” with her. I wanted nothing to do with her games or “girlie” ways. I just couldn’t fathom anyone wanting to involve themselves with such things. I had thought myself a boy and therefore had no time for “frilly” things.

Little did I know but I was in for a rude awakening. One day when I was around the tender age of five, my sister, brother and I had decided we would all play “doctor”. When we got around to showing what we had to pee with, I was truly shocked to see that I was “built” the same as my sister! What?!? What happened to my “peepee”???

Surely, it would grow soon and catch up to being like my brother’s! Wouldn’t it? This somehow seemed to explain to me why my mother kept insisting on doing awful things to me like curling my hair and making me wear dresses like my sister instead of letting me wear suits to church like my brother. Until then, I couldn’t understand why they kept trying to turn me into a girl. I had put up many valiant struggles against my mother to try and show her how wrong she was about me, but she just wasn’t getting it! But on that fateful day the awful truth came slamming home. I was a girl! But I just couldn’t understand how this could be since I sure didn’t feel like one! I just couldn’t accept this to be true of my inner self.

I was fortunate in one respect, though. My parents did indulge me in purchasing boy toys and clothing. I felt natural and more like the “real” me when I got to dress as a boy. But I still had to please my mother on occasion by wearing a dress to church, or when we went out for dinner, and no amount of screaming, crying or foot stomping would change her mind. I just had to put up with it. It was sheer agony and such sweet, blessed relief for me when we would come home and I could rip those dresses off of me!

By the time I was ten, my parents had divorced and my father had remarried a woman with a Pentecostal background. She had fallen away from the faith of her childhood, but was looking to return to her roots. At this point in my life I was already forced to face the “fact” that I was of the female persuasion because boys stopped playing with me and the teachers kept scolding me for the way I talked, sat, and walked. My father especially would also harp on me about these things. I was forced into playing with the girls, but they were so boring! I couldn’t understand them nor could they understand me. Suddenly, I was in a “no man’s land” and felt very much like an outsider. Who was I? WHAT was I? I just didn’t seem to fit! Making friends was starting to become difficult for me because I could not relate to anyone, so I began to try to be with the grownups. Maybe they were “where it was at.” At least my parents were still letting me dress as a boy and letting me keep my hair short!

Then one day the bottom dropped out of my world. By this time, my stepmother had found a church she wanted us to attend and a family meeting was called. We all agreed to attend this church so we could learn more about God. I did not know at the time what this would mean for me. The church my stepmom had found was a “holiness” Pentecostal church where the dividing line between men and women was very strict. Soon I found myself forced to wear skirts, and I couldn’t cut my hair – not even a trim! I was taught that my salvation depended on my obedience and submissiveness to men since this was “biblical truth” as God ordained things to be. Wanting to be pleasing to God, I fell in with this teaching and could not have known just how wrong it was at the time. To go against these things was to be in direct rebellion against God Himself! I couldn’t allow that to happen, but it did almost cost me my life. I found myself contemplating suicide many times because I could not stand to live this way, and found myself at odds daily with my parents over these teachings. None of the things this church taught made me feel any more female than the man on the moon. I felt like I lost myself in all of this. I came to know of God as someone who loved me enough to send His Son to die for my sins, but was very exacting and demanding of what He wanted of me and I felt that I never measured up in pleasing Him. My image of God remained the same throughout my teen years and young adulthood. You can imagine what happened to those skirts and the long hair as soon as I had a say in things!

But because of all that I had learned about God, I didn’t realize just how much of myself was lost to me for many years. Just how detrimental things were, I can only now see in hindsight. I have at present five failed marriages behind me, and one and a half years of hard won sobriety from a deeply entrenched alcoholism. Over a period of seventeen years it took ever increasing amounts of alcohol just to make it through a day and cope with my existence. It reached a point at which I was drinking over 1.5 liters of wine every day ... EVERY DAY! I couldn’t make myself desire any of my husbands sexually, and I tried! If only they didn’t insist on having sex! I would stay up late at night sometimes wondering what was wrong with me. Also, on some days I would try to “glamour up” in an attempt to make myself feel more “womanly.” I would study the way other women dressed and behaved, but I only ended up feeling like I was in some kind of play or theater role. I would try so hard to walk like a lady, but to no avail. I only ended up coming home and washing off the makeup, tearing off the girlie clothes and quickly getting into my T-shirts and sweats and feeling much relief at the end of the day.

I had no idea how much things would change for me after my fifth and final divorce. We had divorced because I suspected my husband was gay. I had caught him in some awkward moments that gave rise to my suspicions and decided the marriage was over. We had an amicable divorce since I thought, “Hey, if he’s gay he can’t change that!” I was hurt but felt that the marriage had actually died long before we made the decision to split. Out of eight and a half years of marriage, we only consummated our marriage during the first year and then not too often! I was just never comfortable having sex! At the time, it seldom occurred to me that I just wasn’t attracted to men sexually. I could not begin to acknowledge that I might be attracted to women because homosexuality was such an abomination in the eyes of God that I just couldn’t offend God in that way! Or so I had been taught for very many years. I would also flash back on occasion to my crazy hopes I had when I was very young – that I would grow up to be a man, and if they only had operations for that sort of thing, how I would have pursued that to no end!

I let these things go and stopped giving them serious thought because ... that would be an abomination to God. Wasn’t I already sinful enough with my alcoholism?

I forgot to mention that by the time of our divorce we had converted to Catholicism, and I felt like I finally found the Holy Grail! I had found THE Truth!!! However, my beliefs about God remained the same and were even more solidly entrenched because now I knew the Truth and somewhere in the book of Hebrews, it mentions that it is impossible to bring back a soul to repentance once that soul has learned the Truth and tasted the “heavenly gifts,” so now what?

Just at a time when I was considering looking for another husband because I hate to be alone, my ex-husband came out to me as a transsexual. Wow! Suddenly a lot of the things “he” did throughout our marriage made so much more sense! She even loaned me some books on the subject and I devoured them. I felt like the scales had fallen from my eyes and I was relieved and shocked by what I came to know about myself. Things made a lot more sense to me about myself, too! I was so glad to know why I always felt like an outsider among women, and people in general, throughout my life. But what about God? How was I going to face God and deal with my increasing desire to transition from female to male and be more fully myself while trying to be pleasing to God as well? At this point, I also finally admitted that it was women I wanted to be with and not men, so the search for a male companion abruptly came to an end. I realized I would only be repeating the same tired old cycle in my life unless the man didn’t ever want to be intimate.

The revelation of my own transsexuality and my determination ... no, NEED to transition, coupled with the desire for female intimate companionship, very nearly shattered my faith in the Catholic Church and in God. What kind of God would do this to a creation He is purported to love so much? It was at this time that a very kind priest suggested that I meet with Sister Monica, a Catholic nun who ministers to such weary souls as mine. I am very grateful to the priest and to Sister Monica, because if it were not for these two people, I most likely would have abandoned religion and a large part of hope that I have overall as to my final outcome when I finish this life of mine.

I don’t have all of my spiritual issues resolved and my walk with God is far from close! Sometimes I am still tortured by society’s attitudes toward people like me, and by many who call themselves Christian who would desire that we just go away and not disturb their “neat, orderly” worlds anymore. We are still shunned, ridiculed, and even killed just for being different. I envy other people for their “normalcy” almost every day! I still fight the waves of pain when I go into Church and see men with their wives and children who don’t have to struggle with who they are because the gender of their brain matches their body. (At least, I think so!) What a feeling of wholeness it must be when brain matches the body! Not having had any surgery and not knowing if I ever will, I don’t know if or when I’ll reach that feeling of wholeness. I hope I find it whether I ever have surgery or not.

Sister Monica reminds me that it’s okay to be me just the way I am and that God loves me and has a purpose for me anyway! I struggle to see that in my daily life and am only now beginning to enjoy the Catholic Church again even though the Vatican considers me very disordered. I do finally realize this though ... Who are they to say? They are but mere men who have a difficult job of trying to maintain orthodoxy of faith in an ever changing and shifting world. In the words of Jesus, I must forgive them because “they know not what they do” concerning individuals like me. But I deeply hope that they do come to know people like me, even if it isn’t in my lifetime!

I also still feel like an outsider because I’m not fully male, but not female either. Though I feel apart from gender congruent people, for the first time I am beginning to see my condition as a gift that can be used in service to other people, and hopefully, being a bridge for the perceived divide between the “two genders.” I also hope to see that humankind comes to realize that there really are more than two genders. They are not monolithic states of being but truly a continuum, like so much else in this world.

This is my story and it is far from over. My transition from female to male is very much in process, and so is my understanding and relationship with God. I am grateful to the many others who are like me and have gone before me. Their stories continue to touch me and to enrich me, for they are witness to such courage and strength, the likes of which I have not seen before.

Sean Thomas