We’re not Caitlyn Jenner: Stories of transgender transitions

02:29 - Source: CNN
Transitioning: It's complicated

Story highlights

Most of the transgender community does not experience the support that Caitlyn Jenner did

" 'Transitioning' is frequently treated as this monolithic process, when it's not," Aaron El Sabrout said

CNN  — 

After Caitlyn Jenner’s glamorous debut as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair, the transgender community pointed out that Jenner’s transition, while well-respected in the community, is not typical.

Many transgender people do not have the resources or support that Jenner enjoyed. While every person’s transition is unique, most transgender people experience a lack of understanding or support from their family members. In addition, it may take them years to fully transition, if they ever do.

CNN iReport asked the transgender community to share their own stories, trials and triumphs. These are a few of them.

Editor’s Note: Throughout this article we use the preferred names and gender pronouns of those that were interviewed, which may differ from what they were assigned at birth.


‘I lost friends, family and 150 pounds’

Name: Jo Avelyn Grey

Age: 27

City: East Palo Alto, California

When she came out: Age 11

Grey came out as transgender when she was 11 years old, but did not begin to medically transition until four years ago. Once she decided to transition from male to female, the computer engineer says her self-esteem rose considerably and she lost 150 pounds, something she attributes to the comfort she felt in outwardly expressing what she had known for years: She is a woman.

She has completed several medical procedures that have cost her over $20,000. She is trying to raise another $34,000 for facial feminization, surgery, a set of reconstructive procedures to make her features more feminine. Although she explained that lack of funding for surgeries and lack of support upon coming out have been some major obstacles, Grey feels that the experience was worth it.

“My favorite part of the process is just now starting really, I am just now getting to the point where when I look in the mirror who I see is more woman than man and that is super exciting!” said Grey. “There is this feeling of completeness and connectedness with my body that is slowly but surely creeping up on me. It is like nothing I have ever experienced.”

Grey explained that one of the hardest parts of the process for her was the initial coming out at age 11 and later when she decided to outwardly transition.

“People didn’t know what to think or how to handle me,” she explained. “Many did not understand how someone who has so many “masculine” interests - cars, motorcycles, military, etc. - could possibly be transgender.”

However, Grey says she is happy with the changes she has made so far and is excited for her future.

‘Transitioning’ is a complicated process

Name: Aaron El Sabrout

Age: 20

City: Victoria, British Columbia

When he came out as transgender: Age 14

El Sabrout has been out as transgender for six years, but has not completed any medical procedures. While his friends call him Aaron, El Sabrout’s parents still refer to him by his birth name and gender.

He says he would get “top surgery” – the procedure to create a male-contoured chest – if he could afford to, but he’s ambivalent about taking hormones or undergoing other medical procedures.

” ‘Transitioning’ is frequently treated as this monolithic process, when it’s not,” Sabrout said. “It’s a lot of really personal little things. For me, ‘transitioning’ has been cutting my hair and buying more clothes from the men’s section.”

However, the fact that he has not transitioned beyond cutting his hair has been difficult. He said he is frequently mistaken as female by his professors and strangers, contributing to his depression. Even if he had the funds to obtain the procedures he wants, Sabrout maintains that he would not look like someone who was born male at birth, but he would do only what was necessary to make him comfortable in his body.

“We should no longer judge trans people (and by extension, dole out acceptance and rights) based on their ability to ‘pass,’ ” said Sabrout. “We need to stop forcing trans people to feel like they are required to undergo a lot of pretty harrowing medical procedures that they may not want or might be beyond their means.”

Things have changed in 40 years

Name: Holly Ahlberg

Age: 81

City: Sedona, Arizona

When she came out as transgender: Age 45

Ahlberg made the bold decision to transition from male to female nearly 40 years ago during a time when coming out as transgender was far more dangerous and less accepted than today.

The first person Ahlberg told was her wife, who supported her decision (they later divorced). She sent an announcement of her change to her clients at the advertising firm where she worked as a photographer. Some clients ended their professional relationship with her while others congratulated her. Ahlberg looked into having medical procedures done, but ultimately decided not to have them.

She said that one of the hardest things for her when going through the process was the hostility that she faced from some people. Many people had a “fear of the unknown” because this type of announcement was far less common 40 years ago.

Her favorite part? “Breaking through the wall that I had built around me and finally admitting to the world that I existed,” Ahlberg said. “There are uncounted variations of human sexuality and all should be equally recognized, if not all approved.”

Why Caitlin Jenner’s experience is far from the norm