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From One Country to Another: Being Trans in America

Karina Florez, Co-Editor

Please note that the subject of this interview asked that he remain anonymous. The name
Alex Gutierrez is a pseudonym

When Alex Gutierrez came to the United States when he was 18 years old, he had no idea that
his life would change forever. Coming from a third world country to a place like the United
States was a culture shock for him, but any place was better than the one he left behind.

When Alex first came, he didn’t go by that name; he went by Alma. At least, that’s the name his mother gave him when he was born. Born to a poor family on the coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia in the San Jose barrio, Alex realized that his life would not be like those of the people grew up with. He recalls that as a child, he felt more comfortable wearing masculine clothing that he even wore his grandfather’s suits in secret.

Growing up, Alex was always around family. He lived in a religious household in Barranquilla with his mother, grandmother, grandfather, three aunts and several cousins. His father was never in the picture. He was closest to his grandfather, who had heart problems. Alex’s mother, the youngest of ten children, gave birth to him when she was 18.

“From the time I was born until I hit puberty, I was comfortable in my body type,” he said. “I
was neutral and didn’t have a sense of genitals. To me, I was always a boy.” He recalls that as a
child he felt comfortable being shirtless, and his mother didn’t have an issue with that. “I was allowed to hang out with boys and run around shirtless.”

After Alex hit puberty, he started to realize there was something different about him. “When I started to grow into my feminine body, that’s when things started to change for me,” he said. “From being 11 years old to three years ago when I started to transition,” he continued.

Born in October of 1988 in Colombia, he felt disconnected from the world due to the lack of
technology. Since he didn’t have a transgender role model to look up to, he felt that he was at
an impasse. Even television was difficult to come by for him, since there was no cable. “There wasn’t anyone or anything that I could compare myself to,” he said.

Alex also recalls that his and the new generation have been raised differently. “One of the things that I’ve learned with time is that transgender kids have resources now, even when they’re little,” he said. “We don’t even play the same games. The type of games I played when I was little was climbing a tree and waiting until after school to be let out of the house to play with other kids. There was more human contact.”

As Alex was approaching his high school graduation in December of 2006, he made the decision to move to the United States. This process was not difficult for him since his father was a naturalized citizen. Alex made this decision on his own without consulting his family. He saved up as much money as he could, bought a plane ticket and left to a foreign land.

After landing in New York City, he moved in with his uncle in West New York, New Jersey, and got a job at a fast food restaurant. “I never had a job in Colombia,” he said. “I had to save up the lunch money I was given for school in order to buy my plane ticket.”

With the money he made at his job, he was able to attend classes at Hudson County
Community College. He graduated with a degree in business in 2011. Afterward, he got a full ride scholarship to New Jersey City University (NJCU). It was at this point that Alex began to feel symptoms of depression.

“I felt like I was detached from my body,” Alex said. A friend had suggested to him that he start
going to therapy. His first reaction was, “I’m not crazy,” but as he started seeing a counselor at
NJCU’s Counseling Services, his outlook on therapy began to change. He chose not to tell his family about this because he says, “mental health in my family is not a thing.” Now he
recommends therapy to anyone. “It saved my life,” he said.

Alex admits that he never discussed topics of gender with the counselor he saw at school. Most of their sessions were about what made him happy, to reflect on those things and act upon them.

Once he graduated from NJCU with a master’s in accounting, he wasn’t able to speak to the counselor anymore since she only worked at the school and only saw students. She referred him to another place in Jersey City. That’s where he found the therapist he’s been seeing for the past four years. It was with this therapist that he first started discussing gender identity and gender issues.

After graduating, Alex received a job offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), a
multinational professional services network, to work as a certified public accountant. He
accepted the offer and began working there in January of 2015. At this point, he was still Alma.

“When I was hired at PWC, I had no idea of the name of the things that were happening to me,”
he said. “I had no idea there was a medical term [for it] — or that I could medically transition. I had no idea that I would be able to grow facial hair. All these things that I imagined myself having, or the way I always imagined myself being, I thought it was impossible. I thought I’d be living the way I was forever. Knowing and learning that I could transition, it was crazy.”

After a year of seeing his therapist, Alex realized he was transgender. His therapist told him that all his thoughts, experiences and feelings were similar to what his trans patients had been going through. At first, Alex was confused and asked if he could elaborate. It was then that his therapist started talking about gender dysphoria, which is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.

His first reaction was denial. “Oh, hell no. Are you freaking kidding me?” he recalls.
His therapist told him about other patients who had undergone transition. “The reason I was in
denial was because I thought, ‘Holy shit, I’m going to lose my job, get fired and move back into my family’s house,’” he said.

Another concern was how he was going to be able to pay for treatment. “I thought I was going to have to walk around in this weird, androgynous body for a long time,” he said. He was also concerned with how people would view him. “At that point, I cared a lot about other people’s opinions, and I had a religious mindset. I was still very compliant to whatever my family’s opinions were. I wouldn’t challenge anyone or anything. I lived my life by the book so people wouldn’t bother me.”

Alex was afraid of disappointing his family. “I was the poster child,” he said. “I thought it was
going to be the biggest disrespect. I was the kid who went to a different country and went to
and graduated college, and no one in my family had ever done that before.”

“Instead of thinking that my family loves me, I thought they weren’t going to talk to me
anymore,” he remembers thinking prior to transition. “I never thought to myself that I’m a
professional and that I’m a capable individual. I could find a job somewhere else if this doesn’t
work out [at PWC].”

Once his therapist started talking to him about treatment options, Alex began conducting his
own research. He started to follow blogs and people on YouTube and read articles to find out
more. His therapist also recommended books that he could read on the topic. “It was the first
time in my life that another person understood what I was going through and I didn’t feel alone anymore,” he said.

“Once I realized I that I was trans, I never even thought about the alternative treatments,” he
said. “Some people are okay with cross-dressing. I know [trans people are] all put in a bucket like we’re all the same thing, but we’re not. Like any human, we’re all different.”

Alex described that there are some trans people who will just get “top surgery,” which is a
double mastectomy, and never use hormone treatment. However, Alex wanted to fully
transition. At this point, he was forcing himself to act feminine. “I bought myself a bunch of
female clothes,” he said.

He also made a clear distinction about sexual orientation and gender identity. When one
identifies as female but is treated by other people as male, he says, there is a conflict and vice versa. “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with, gender identity is who you go to bed as,” he said. “The way that your partner treats you is either a validation or a rejection of who you are. When I was faking [being feminine], I felt like I was dating guys who didn’t know the real me. There was never a connection with them. How can you have a relationship when you can’t even be yourself?”

Alex’s therapist was concerned with how quickly he went from being in denial to deciding to fully transition. “I wanted to go to sleep and wake up with a full beard,” he recalls.

In 2016, Alex started to cross-dress, and his family was quick to notice. “My family started to question why I was binding my breasts down, but meanwhile I was happy that I was doing it,” he said. He even started visiting the male clothing section of stores, something that he had never done before. “I was so scared of wearing male clothing, even though it’s normal for women to do that, because I was afraid of being found out.”

Once he started buying clothes from the male section of the store, he started to cut his hair
short. By the end of 2016 going into 2017, he started hormone therapy, had a double
mastectomy and a hysterectomy. He now injects himself with a certain amount of testosterone every week as a part of his hormone therapy.

“I’m going to be injecting myself [with testosterone] until I die,” he said. “Even when I’m old, my children are going to make sure that I do that,” he continued with a smile on his face.

His family now knows that he goes to therapy, but they don’t talk about it. “It’s the elephant in
the room that no one talks about,” he says. “It’s like that one family member who’s an alcoholic
and no one says shit. Yeah, we know, and no one talks about it, but when shit happens,
everyone is surprised. If you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.”

Alex still works at PWC as a certified public accountant. His coworkers know that he’s
transgender, however he’s still afraid that he may be rejected at work because of his gender
identity. “A lot of my friends are supportive, but the ones that are not, I don’t talk to them,” he
said. “I feel like I have a better relationship with people now than I did before because I’m living as the person I want to be.”

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