My Story | Leo

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I grew up in Thailand from the age of 1, on the edge of a city with my happy little family - we had bananas growing in our back garden, holidays away at the beach & good lives for the most part.

I started questioning my identity at a fairly young age. Whilst I had no idea what was going on in my head, or what this was called, I was still struggling. One of my first memories is being bribed to wear a dress for a nursery photoshoot with a teddy bear - I was allowed to keep my shorts on underneath but you could tell I’d been crying prior to the shot. I refused to wear the “girls” uniform for the years I was there and would go in with my sports kit every single day.

Around the same time, my mum spoke to me about a woman at work who had just undergone sex reaffirming surgery and I turned around to ask when I could have the opposite done. When a kid comes out with things like that, the unfortunate, but most common response is to pretend that it means nothing - but it did.

I taught myself how to wash my hair and shower alone when I was 7 - I cringed at the very idea of being born naked because I was so ashamed of my body. I hated the thought of people being able to imagine it let alone see it. I hated being different to the boys I knew at the time. 

At 11 my family went through some difficulties, my older sister had passed away from cancer and we were all really struggling. Though it was an awful period of time, it lead me to a group of friends that were fairly proud of who they were - although they were mostly just experimenting with their sexuality, they taught me that I didn’t have to be so stuck to the edge of the gender binary. 

Over the next few years I started making subtle changes to make myself feel more confident, I bought clothes from the “mens” section, I cut my hair short (after persuading my parents I just wanted to look like Keira Knightley), I got involved with the boys in school and started challenging the separation between men and women in my classes. 

There were a few months, in the midst of my exams, where I was coming to terms with my gender identity. I found recourses online about being transgender and it terrified me. I had already been diagnosed and struggling with depression for around five years, but it seemed like this had pushed it to a whole new level. I was constantly dreaming of surgery, wanting to die, and hiding away from everyone in my life - at my worst point I had fallen asleep crying, in a dirty toilet cubicle, at school where teachers had been sent out to search for me.

Things just got really bad, and I realised that my only options were to start living as a boy, or stop living all together. I couldn’t face putting my mum through losing another child, so I decided to come out to her by asking for a binder - a chest compression vest that a lot of trans masculine people wear. Thankfully she was supportive, a little confused and reluctant in the beginning, but after a few months my immeadiate family was working on my new name and pronouns. 

My mum and I had had conversations about top surgery since puberty started at 11, we made a deal that we’d both get reductions as soon as I turned 18 because we were very large chested. I was 16 when I came out and 2 months after my 17th birthday she and my dad had saved up enough to pay for my surgery privately. 

Obviously that came with conflict as some people thought I was doing more harm than good by making this decision so young - but since my sister had already lost her life, and we all knew how fragile my mental health was, they didn’t want to risk losing me through suicide. We weighed up the pros and cons of different surgeries and realised that a mastectomy would be much more beneficial than a reduction. 

I underwent surgery in July 2012, and to this day, it was the best moment of my life. I’d go through it all again just the feel the way I felt when I woke up. I started testosterone a few weeks after I had recovered and began a new school as Leo. I’m really thankful to them for helping me take the first steps in my medical transition. 

Surgery didn’t solve everything. It takes a lot of hard mental work to feel comfortable and okay with who you are. I still struggled with major internalised transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny years after surgery and it took multiple support groups and pushing myself out of my comfort zone over and over again to feel proud of who I was. 

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I took some time after college at 19 to work on my mental health and build on my confidence, allowing myself to explore, grow and learn. I found myself becoming more and more comfortable with my own sensitivity & softness again, and less interested in being this tough, defensive, scared person I began to create more than a decade ago.

Here I am, at 22, working my way to be an out and open counsellor for LGBTQ+ youth, talking about trans issues to thousands of people online and really being able to see my future - a happy one at that.