In case I haven’t made it clear enough elsewhere on this site, I’m not cisgendered. For those of you not in the know, “cisgender” means “denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.”

I have never completely identified myself as female. My longing for various aspects of masculinity (primarily the strength and facial hair and, especially, lack of prominent breasts—they are, unfortunately, extremely prominent) has always defined my self-image. I’ve never seen myself as wholly female. At best, prior to coming to accept my gender dysphoria, I saw myself as androgynous. It was the best I could do at the time when I was forced to try and align my real body to the body I wanted to have.

The shorthand explanation for this is, “trangendered” or “transsexual.” And these are used, by some in the LGBT and especially the trans* community, in specific ways at times. I dislike both of these. I also dislike “trans” and “trans*,” though I use the latter. It just looks more complete to me to have the asterisk there. In my personal usage of the terminology, I generally use “transgendered” for all and sundry who fall under the trans* umbrella unless they specifically ask me to use a different word. For myself, I’d much prefer to use “tranny,” but that invites disrespect, scorn, and mockery (if not worse), and it would offend quite a number of people, both trans* and not. So I use “trans*.” It’s my second favorite of the various words we can use.

It’s always, always important to refer to anyone with the terminology they request. I try to do this at all times. Because I want to be given the same respect.

I fought the truth about myself for most of my life (at this point of it). It’s only been within the past few years I’ve become comfortable and confident enough with myself as I am to be able to deal with being trans*. It’s impossible for me to guess what has brought or could bring someone else to the point where I am today. But for me, it was the fact I’d dealt with enough of my other psychological issues successfully enough to uncover the deepest part of my psyche—the disconnect I saw between my actual body and the one I believe I have.

I believe my body is male. This is in complete disregard of what I see when I look down at myself. When I see myself in a picture which shows any of my body from the neck down, I’m shocked, not only ’cause I’m fat (because I am, and it’s always a surprise to see how big I look), but also because I have breasts. I don’t mean the kind of breasts overweight men get. Even when I was young and much thinner—even when I was at my thinnest in the Navy—the fact I have large breasts always made me feel upset, a reaction I shoved deep inside and ignored until I was alone in a secure place where I could cry over it.

I have never expected to find a male body below my neck. In fact, my most favorite childhood picture of myself is one where I have a bowl cut. I’m wearing not a traditionally girly outfit or shirt or dress, but a red-and-white striped sweater with grey snowflakes. I have no idea why Mom didn’t think this was a boys’ sweater, but it looks like one to me, and I adore that school picture. Between the sweater and my boyish bowl cut, I look like any seven or eight year old boy. And I love it.

When I was a child, I’d play with any toy I was given. I even remember begging for real Barbie dolls as growing up. I was lucky with that. Mom didn’t restrict my playing according to visible gender. Because I asked for all kinds of boy toys too. Trucks and Hotwheels, I loved my blue Smurf Big Wheels tricycle toy, and I ran and rough-and-tumbled with the boys as well as the girls.

It wasn’t until I was eleven or twelve when I started to focus more on girl-things. About the time I got my first training bra, it came to me I was stuck in my girl-body and nothing could change that. I was surrounded by people I didn’t think would understand me, so I didn’t say anything about my boy feelings and made myself focus on girl things. I was a girl, so I had to do girl things.

I wasn’t consistent with this behavior, particularly once I got to high school. I didn’t feel the incredible pressure to fit in any more, so I did more things that were Ashe things, regardless of what gender the activity, or book I was reading, or show I was watching was marketed to.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-late twenties when I began to consider what I could do to change myself, and even then, it wasn’t much. I lived in North Carolina still then. And, a friend who’d moved away returned to visit. Seeing Marsha (not sure that’s how she spells her name; I never saw it written), spending those few precious hours I was able to, taught me more about myself than I wanted to learn right then. I still wasn’t ready to accept my feelings of masculinity. Was still too afraid of all it would mean to be the Ashe I saw in my head.

So, I joined the Navy, came back out West. Ended up here in Utah, and spent a few insane years meandering around, becoming Catholic, and losing friends I made because they moved out East due to financial reasons. Half my friends I had when I first came out here moved away—and I had only four (not including the kids). After that, I kind of drifted away from my other straight cisgender friends (all two of them, the ones with the kids).

Then, in 2009, I volunteered at Salt Lake City’s Pride Festival. I’d worked out I wasn’t straight, though I still hadn’t gotten to the point where I am now. I had, in fact, pretty deeply buried my trans* feelings. But I volunteered at Pride and discovered the square dance group I’m now secretary for.

I laugh now. All my friends back in North Carolina were straight cisgender men and women. Here, all my friends are gay men and women. I’ve met some other trans* folk in the past year or so. My life has completely flipped. And it’s wonderful. It’s my gay friends who’ve given me the confidence and courage to face the truth about myself. The truth that I am trans* and it’s all right. I’m finding my place, and I’m finding myself—the real Ashe. I have a long way to go—and I may never even get to where I want to go with my trans* issues—but I’m in a much better place, and much better frame of mind for dealing with it all now.