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Gus' father didn't believe that he could have children. He was content to raise his wife's three girls from a previous marriage. But at the age of 45, Gus' father received startling news: His wife was pregnant. It was a girl. They would name her Tina.
The world saw Tina, but Tina saw Gus. When Gus' mother scolded him for not sitting "ladylike," he wondered what that meant. He used a boy's name to join his cousin's flag football team because girls weren't allowed to play.
"I remember watching Pinocchio and seeing the part about starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight," Gus says. "After that, I started wishing that God would fix me."
But Gus didn't become a real boy overnight. When he went to college, he was labeled a butch lesbian. It was easy to meet girls, but the joy of being able to publicly date — Gus' two high school girlfriends were secret trysts — was overshadowed by the feeling that this wasn't his true identity.
"I still had breasts, and I didn't want them to be acknowledged," Gus says. "They [other women] wanted to touch parts of my body that I hated, and then I wasn't interested anymore because that desire made me confront the fact that they saw me as a woman. I knew they weren't attracted to me."
When Gus came out to his parents as a lesbian, their relationship was rocked. His parents refused to accept his admission. Gus couldn't accept it himself.
Less than a year later, Gus dropped out of college to pursue a new dream: transitioning from female to male. It was 1998. Then 19, Gus moved to Kansas City and found support at the Kansas City Passages LGBT youth center, though not much of it elsewhere. Gus' first doctor refused to provide any advice or resources when he asked about gender-reassignment surgery.
Gus met two older trans men (biological women who transitioned to men) through acquaintances, and they told him that this was a journey that he'd have to figure out for himself.
Gus learned that a therapist had to diagnose him with gender identity disorder — the American Psychiatric Association's formal clinical term for people who identify as the opposite sex — in order for a doctor to approve hormone therapy and the reassignment surgeries.
"My life went on hold," Gus says. "I just wanted to survive day to day until I could transition."
Gus had to figure out by himself how to transition. Fourteen years later, the generation that refused to help Gus is supporting young trans men and women through their identity changes.
Sandra Meade, a member of the Kansas Equality Coalition's board of directors, has resigned herself to the idea that she may never have a long-term romantic relationship (a reality not helped by her policy of disclosing to potential partners that she's a transsexual). But the 50-year-old says this doesn't have to be the case for the students and activists she meets across the state of Kansas through her presentations for the Transgender Education Project.
"People are transitioning younger," Meade says. "They can have a full life and relationships. They don't necessarily have to live with the shame that I did."
Through her work with the Kansas Equality Coalition, Meade lobbies to get gender identity added to anti-discrimination statutes in municipalities throughout Kansas — like Missouri, Kansas is not among the 16 states that have made that decision — although former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed an executive order in 2007 protecting state employees from discrimination based on gender identity.