Feature Issue on Sexuality and Gender Identity for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities
A Me With No Limitations
Author Ray Simpson.
What is gender? Some people classify gender as what body parts one is born with. Others classify it as what one feels like inside. Some people don’t believe gender should be a word, while some wish not to conform to it. If I were to classify myself into a category, I would say I am male. It is my belief that the only person capable of assigning one’s gender, is the one who looks at themselves in the mirror each day.
I am 43 years old, and I spent 39 years living in a category I could not respect myself in, and I felt trapped. Not feeling that I was able to look into the mirror and see a worthwhile person was agonizing. I knew I wasn’t a female, but was lost as to what I identified as.
For 13 years, I shared a life with someone who wanted me to fit in a box that represented their idea of a typical gender norm. I felt suffocated and lifeless. I finally shared with them that I could not be what they needed, and we drifted apart. At 36, I went through a divorce.After my divorce, I began asking myself questions, and exploring what was outside of the prison I had created for myself. I experimented with different types of relationships, and forced myself out of my comfort zone. In 2017, I found the person I have shared six years with and who accepts me for my authentic self. In 2018, my child came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community. I then looked at myself and realized I had options. My child had inadvertently helped me see who I had been hiding.
I plunged into creating the life I have now. I changed my name, my clothes, my hair, had gender affirming surgeries, and embraced my real gender identity. I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, like shackles had been taken off. I could be me—a me with no limitations.
I came out first to my friends that I felt safe with, then my job, then my family. The family part was difficult. Some understood, some already knew, but some turned me away. I knew when I came out that there would be risks that could be lifelong and could hurt. I prepared for the fact that some people won’t be able to understand or accept me. I also came to the realization that the people who were in my life who were unable to try to understand me are not the ones worth keeping. I still keep hope for the ones who still want to try, though.
Being involved with the Rainbow Support Group for the last few months has helped me find support and has allowed me to share my story with others. I’ve enjoyed meeting people and getting to know everyone, and I’m excited about getting out in the community as a group.
It is up to the LGBTQ+ community and allies to spread awareness, to be supportive and be willing to be honest about doing our own part in creating safe spaces for those who may feel unheard, or unwanted. We need to create more transparency and accessibility in healthcare, which is frowned upon in many states. We as a people need to unite to find what is fair, not what is biased or based on religious beliefs that are not universal. There needs to be common ground and common sense. Not everyone fits in the same box.
There needs to be more education and questions so that healthcare can be provided to a broader spectrum of individuals. Multiple times, I have been denied procedures or medication for my gender affirming healthcare by insurance companies. In addition, my insurance company requires a new prior authorization every year for my testosterone prescription. I’m expected to jump through hoops that are based on bias and stigma, but I never give up. I believe that once I stand down, I go backwards and stop being the courageous person who I have worked so hard to be. I refuse to ever go back.
If you choose to be an ally, then be one who is supportive, even when the people you say you support aren’t there. Speak up when you hear someone being misgendered. Speak up when you see someone being bullied for being different from the norm. Educate yourself and others on what it may be like to be an LGBTQ+ person. Vote for those who will keep LGBTQ+ rights in place, and who are also willing to create a better life for the community.