Perspectives of a Transgender Scientist
Imposter syndrome is something I think all graduate students can relate to. While I’ve had my fair share of struggles with imposter syndrome in my academic career, I want to talk about a different kind of imposter syndrome, the one I felt for 25 years of my life.
Being born a woman, something always felt off. I never felt comfortable in my own skin and any attempt to appear feminine felt like wearing a mask or putting on an act. I was blessed with loving, adoring parents who always told me they just wanted me to be happy in life. I excelled in school and enjoyed learning. I played softball throughout childhood and high school and I loved the friends I made through it who became like family to me. Despite all the reasons to be happy in my life, I always felt like true happiness was just out of my grasp.
Since I was young, I had wanted to be a boy, but it was never something I thought was really possible. I was born a girl. It was the role I was cast into, so it was the role I had to play for everyone. I didn’t have the resources or the representation to understand that I was transgender or that I could live life as the man I wanted to be. By the time I had the knowledge and life experience to accept I was trans, I still wasn’t ready to make this giant change and come out to everyone as such. I had played the role of woman for so long that I was afraid there was no way to stop now. Even if I did, would the people I love accept my truth? I had so much fear, so I just held it in. I let the truth sit and eat at me, secretly knowing I’d be much happier if everyone just saw me as a man.
It wasn’t until I was 25, halfway through my second year pursuing a PhD in Genetics and Epigenetics, that I was finally ready to live for my own happiness. There isn’t one defining moment or experience that I can point to that made me finally ready to come out, I just wanted to be happy. After my now-fiancée, my PhD mentor, Dr. Swathi Arur, was actually the first person I came out to as a man. It felt far less daunting than the task of coming out to my parents, and I wanted my lab, who I saw and worked with every day, to know my truth. Swathi was supportive from the start, which if I’m being honest, I knew she would be. My lab was the same. I was absolutely terrified to tell them, but they were so happy for me. They accepted my truth and felt honored that I felt safe to share it with them. And lucky for me, I’ve received immense support from my immediate community and in graduate school since coming out. It’s not lost on me how many transgender people do not receive this same support, so I want my friends and family to know how much their love and acceptance means to me.
Since coming out, I feel like I’ve been able to thrive, despite the obvious challenges of being in graduate school and pursuing a PhD. For one, I no longer feel like I am wearing a mask around people, trying to be someone I’m not. I held so much anxiety inside me from trying to pretend to be a woman, that I didn’t even realize it was possible to live without that constant anxiety until coming out. Simply put, I feel so much more at ease with myself and in my body. That’s not to say there haven’t been stressful or awkward moments during my transition. There’s been the occasional accidental misgendering from colleagues. There was navigating doctor’s appointments and learning how to inject myself with testosterone. And there were bureaucratic piles of paperwork to get my name legally changed. So. Much. Paperwork. But it really was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. Transitioning has brought so much joy to my everyday life, and at the risk of sounding corny, it’s helped me to see that life truly is a blessing.