Part 1: Being Transgender In The Northland

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FOX 21’s Dan Hanger begins a special report on what it’s like to be transgender in the Northland.  You might be feeling uncomfortable about this topic because it may be unfamiliar with so many unanswered questions.

Or you may be instantly thinking about Hollywood’s Caityln Jenner and her highly publicized transformation from who the world knew as Olympics star athlete Bruce Jenner.

Whatever your thoughts, put them aside for this three-part special report as two transgender Northlanders open up about transitioning their everyday lives to reflect the gender identity they overwhelmingly feel inside.

Their goal in life is something we can all relate to.

“I’m a person who tries to be happy,” said Nathalie Crowley, of Duluth.

“I really want to be me and live a life I feel happy with,” said Sean Hayes, of Duluth.

But there’s a complicated, personal layer Sean and Nathalie so deeply share in common.

“I’m Nathalie Crowley, I’m 36 years old and I’m a transgender woman.”

“I’m Sean Hayes. I’m 28 years old and I’m a transgender man.”

Both believe their internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth

“Yeah, the doctor looked [and] said I was a boy. And that’s what we went with for … 31 years,” Nathalie said.

“There are lots of people who are trying to figure out their gender identities — trying to figure out where they fit,” Sean said.

GLADD, a leading advocacy group, estimates 700,000 transgender people live in the United States, with only 18 percent of Americans personally knowing someone who is transgender. Compare that to 87 percent who say they know someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual.

 “It is a lot of weight to have that kind of internal secret — wanting to be a girl and knowing that society sees as being wrong,” Nathalie said.

But Nathalie and Sean are hoping their stories will help make it easier for others to come out as transgender and realize they’re not alone.

“I’m the same person I was, ya know, 20 years ago — as much as one can be. But I’m definitely not a guy. I don’t use my old name at all. But I don’t want to bury my past either,” Nathalie explained.

“When it first started hitting me was probably around kindergarten — first grade — that something was, something was different,” Nathalie said.

Definitely when I was 10 or 12, I did want to be a girl. That was top of my priority list kind of thing – in my head – but I did not tell anyone,” Nathalie said.

Since then it was years of struggling for Nathalie while in her 20s because the manly outside did not reflect the gender identity developing inside, which is when around the age of 32 she decided to start fully transitioning with hormone therapy and medical procedures.

“It’s a lot of money, it’s a lot of time, [and] it’s a lot of stress on yourself and on family members to go through all of that. So yeah, it’s not something you do on a whim,” Nathalie said.

Meanwhile for Sean, the struggles are similar but not at all the same. He first came out as a lesbian at age 21.

“Had always felt more drawn to the masculine side of the binary code, I guess,” Sean said.

But when that still didn’t seem right, he says a close friend had the answer.

“A friend of mine — probably two or three years ago said — have you ever considered you might be transgender,” Sean explained.

“The more research I did and watched a lot of videos of other trans people kind of sharing their stories, it all just clicked for me. It felt right. It felt like who I was and who I wanted to be and it felt possible,” Sean.

Sean has been going through hormone therapy for the past five months and says he couldn’t be happier, as physical changes like a lower voice begin to develop.

“You know, when I get someone who says ‘thanks, sir’ … it’s a win because that’s how I feel inside. And for the world and other people who don’t know me to see me that way, it’s awesome,” Sean smiled.

While Sean and Nathalie are showing happier days, there are dark and even deadly realities affecting the transgender community – from serious discrimination to suicide and even hate crimes.

Thursday night on FOX 21 News at 9, Sen. Al Franken calls for federal action to better protect transgender men and women.

You’ll also hear about the fear Sean and Nathalie have dealt with in their coming out as they transition. 

To reach the Duluth “Trans+” group that meets every month, e-mail: Transplusmn@gmail.com

Transgender resources can be found on GLAAD’s Web site. 

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