about the author:
Mallory Dupree is a 30-year-old transgender woman who was diagnosed with DMD at age 9. She graduated from Southern Methodist University with a B.S. in Biochemistry.
Mallory has served as a Patient Representative for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, a consumer reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, and a consultant to pharmaceutical and clinical groups. In her free time, Mallory enjoys playing electric guitar, building computers, playing video games, and reading Japanese comics.
Mallory can be reached at Mallory.Dupree@FamilyFriendsAndDuchenne.org
Since coming out as transgender, I have often been asked for advice I can give others with DMD who may be questioning their own gender identity. As a millennial who came out in my late-20s, my thoughts may not be entirely relevant to younger generations, but I do think some of the realizations I had throughout my journey can help others through the process.
It’s Different for Everyone
I think, for many of us, there is a tendency to want an explicit answer to questions like “What will the progression of DMD look like for me?” or “What is my gender identity?” However, the actual answer to both of these questions is “it’s different for everyone”.
For example, at the time of my diagnosis, my mother was told that I would never see my 20th birthday, and it was assumed that my muscle function would rapidly decline. Both of these turned out to be exaggerations. I am now 30, and I’ve maintained much more function than was ever predicted for me.
Similarly, gender identity can be a lot more complicated than just “boy” or “girl”, or “male” or “female”. Even within those binary categories there can be a huge discrepancy in how each individual interprets their own gender.
For young individuals with DMD who are questioning their gender identity, as well as their parents, I would suggest trying to avoid looking at this in absolute terms.
How I Wanted to Express Myself
Even cisgender people (people who are not transgender) have varying ideas of what their own gender identity means to them. Not every woman wears makeup, does their nails, has long hair, and wears dresses.
Similarly, not every transgender person transitions in the same way and has the same goals for themselves. Some transgender individuals only socially transition (expressing themselves differently, changing their name, and/or changing their pronouns) without taking hormones or undergoing surgical procedures. Other transgender individuals go through surgical procedures so that their body aligns more with their own sense of self.
Some people have a much better idea of what they want from the outset than others, but oftentimes a person needs to figure this out as they go along. At the start of my transition, I did not know the entirety of what I wanted for myself.
To identify what I hoped to achieve with my transition, I experimented in many different ways. Sometimes I tried things and found out that they weren’t for me or made me uncomfortable. Other times I tried things and found out that they made me feel much more comfortable in my own skin. Identifying what felt most comfortable took a great deal of trial and error since I hadn’t taken time to try those things while growing up.
I tried painting my nails, getting a manicure, and eventually went to a salon for acrylic nails. I started to grow out my hair to see what length I wanted it to be. I looked up YouTube tutorials for applying makeup, tried a variety of products such as mascara and eyeliner, and got makeup lessons from my sister. I tested out several different names and sets of pronouns with friends.
Though this was incredibly exciting at times, there were times where I felt incredibly awkward trying something new. For example, when trying new clothes I often felt like a little kid learning to dress themselves for the first time. Many times the outfits I put together were mismatched, costumey, or fit poorly. Although this was difficult at times, I had to go through this awkward phase to identify how I wanted to express myself.
A Safe Space
What I benefited from the most throughout the process of questioning my own gender identity was feeling like I had a safe space to try these different forms of self-expression.
Much of my anxiety about exploring my gender identity and self-expression came from fears of being misunderstood, ostracized, or shamed by family and friends. Things which are sadly common for people who are transgender.
Being around family and friends who understood that I was trying things to learn more about myself, and feeling like they wouldn’t judge me for my sometimes goofy attempts at dressing, was a big factor in making this process a whole lot less stressful for me. Without this support from those around me, I think that I likely would have continued to suppress my own wants and needs, which would have had a negative impact on my mental health.
Thankfully, there were many people I felt comfortable sharing myself with, and I didn’t feel pressured to conform to what I thought society wanted from me. I found that, by clearly communicating what I hoped to achieve for myself, I was able to alleviate much of the uncertainty that I and those around me had about what my transition would mean.