BRIAN THIELE has a deep raspy voice, facial hair, and even a swagger about him which befits his masculine stature. No one really thinks twice about Brian’s gender. What is not obvious about Brian is that his family and friends used to refer to him with female pronouns. Brian is a female-to-male (FTM) transgender person, and it has been quite a journey to become the man he is today.
If you know the daunting, yet humanizing process of coming out and saying the words “I am gay,” you know the questions that come first. Who to tell? How will it affect life, work and relationships? You understand what it is like to come to terms with a part of yourself which does not align with what society has accepted and expected of you and how alienating, frightening and sometimes even dangerous the process it can be. You also know the importance of honesty and integrity to being your authentic self. Imagine having to go through the process of coming out twice. Brian, like many trans* individuals, has come out twice: once about his understanding of his sexual orientation and once about his gender identity.
Brian grew up in a small town just north of Chicago. As a child he liked to play with trucks and to dig in the mud. His two best friends were boys. He always kept his hair cut short and from the perspective of his actions, he was a gender-normative boy. By the time puberty hit, things began to get more confusing. Everyone in his life may have regarded him as a tomboy, but they still saw Brian as a girl.
To fit in, he started dating guys because that was what the “other girls” were doing. The intimate relationships did not go anywhere since he simply did not feel anything for the guys. For Brian, guys were his buddies, not crush material.
Around age14, with the help of a friend, Brian accepted that he was different. As is true for many who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the journey that brought him to this point was confusing and in some ways very painful. His body being female-assigned and his natural attraction to women being apparent, “lesbian” seemed to be the only fitting description. Not fully understanding the true nature of his gender identity, he came out as a lesbian.
Brian’s evolution of thought and acceptance of himself would progress through the next decade of his life. Brian was 16 when he first saw Boys Don’t Cry, the movie about the life and death Brandon Teena. It was the first time he had the thought that perhaps it was indeed his perceived gender which felt off. Being young and still somewhat ignorant of the possibility and ramifications of being trans*, he joined the U.S. Air Force at age17. Nine months later he was honorably discharged under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy due to his sexual orientation. After a brief time living back in Chicago, Brian found a home here in Columbus. As a lesbian, Brian felt our city allowed him to find his niche.
As with all geographic cures, the excitement of his new home faded, leaving him again with that nagging uneasiness which drove him to make the move in the first place. A deeper depression set in. It was during this time of feeling alone and completely misunderstood that Brian contemplated taking his own life. With a bottle of pills in hand, a series of thoughts crossed his mind including his memory of watching the movie Boy Don’t Cry, and he considered the possibility that perhaps he had not completely explored his gender identity.
Soon thereafter, his friend verbalized the conflict for him for the first time, and with that the metamorphosis from his old-self to his new-self began. Their conversation opened the platform he needed to finally come to terms with the newly understood aspect of his identity and helped him get to know himself all over again.
The moment he realized that he was indeed a man, his life began to make more sense. The depression was replaced by the joy of contentment and liberation. The years of not fully understanding himself were finally over. And the necessity to come out a second time became clear.
Brian decided to move back to Columbus since it felt most like home. Now, almost two years since the realization, Brian feels more in tune with who he is than he has ever felt before. For Brian, coming out has been much more than a single revelation that changed everything. It has been long, difficult journeys through which his self-realization has indeed become compounded joy.