June is pride month, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, often regarded as the tipping point in the modern gay rights movement. The Houston Press met with members of the LGBTQ+ community to learn more about their experiences as being part of this group. These are their stories.
When she was young, all she dreamed of was emulating her Day-to-Night Barbie. Pert and perky, and dressed to perfection...showing just enough sass balanced by just enough class to get the job done and looking good while doing it. She swiftly and almost effortlessly goes about her day being a working girl in a high rise building in the city and then meeting Mr. Perfect afterward for a cocktail.
That was Michael Lynn's aspiration. There was just one tiny, little detail standing in her way. That pesky Y chromosome. She didn't ask for it. She never wanted it. Yet, nonetheless, there it was. That crooked letter Y, standing in her way, like a stubborn nag who didn't know when to close out and leave the office happy hour.
Just like her Barbie role model, she never let it sway her. She straightened her skirt, put on her good heels and marched confidently forward with her eyes on the prize, moving in a direction that felt the most natural for her. She was a professional business woman for goodness sake — she wasn't going to let that one tidbit cause a ruckus.
But for a while, it did.
She said, "When I was in elementary school, I would tell everyone 'I’m a girl, I have a vagina.' And everyone was like, 'Stop lying, Michael. No you don’t.' And I was like, 'No I do, I really do.'”
Lynn was convinced she was a female, even though her body parts didn't match what her brain was telling her. Yet, still she persisted to follow her truth. She was a female whether others liked it or not...biology be damned.
"Very early on as a kid, I was drawn to all things girl. I think on some level I thought I was a girl until my family had to tell me, ‘This is what makes a girl a girl, and this is what makes a boy a boy.’ And even once I found that out, I still didn’t believe it. It didn’t fit for me. When I envisioned myself growing up, I thought of myself as being prom queen, a cheerleader in high school, marrying a prince and being a mom," she said.
Lynn grew up living life as a young lady, despite what society told her to do. She dressed as a girl, bought makeup and grew her hair out...all things any other female would do as a right of passage into womanhood.
It felt natural to her, but it didn't come without its growing pains.
"Back then in the late '90s, we didn’t have words like 'social transition.' Maybe some places did, but where I grew up, it was a smaller minded community. 'Transgender' wasn’t even a word we were using. I started dressing as a girl, and it was a hot mess. I didn’t have anyone telling me 'No girl, you need to wear this.' Everything was a crop top or low rise flared jean," she said.
As she matured, things started to iron themselves out. Elementary, middle and high school were a part of her past, and now she was a free woman - someone able to shape her own identity and forge her own path in life regardless of social construct.
Yet, she still struggled with her life. Questions plagued her and those around her. Is she a woman trapped in a man's body? Is she odd? Does she have a place in society? All these questions flooded her mind, which is a natural response to someone in her situation. She was finding her place in this world, and the answers didn't come easily.
"There was a moment when I though it wouldn’t happen for me – and I thought I‘ll just be a very effeminate, womanly looking gay guy…then I started making friends with lesbians and gay guys. It seemed like 'Okay, this will be simple, and I’ll find love.' But really, it was finding these friends that were like 'Honey, wait a minute. This is not a gay thing, this is a bigger thing. We’re all gay, but none of us want to look like a woman. Yeah, we might put some lip gloss on going out to the club on a Friday night, but we’re all happy and comfortable being men.' So then I started questioning what I’m doing with my life and what it all means," Lynn said. "I didn’t know my place, and finally reading, going online, talking to other people, I became comfortable admitting that this is what it is. I don’t know how it’s all going to fall into place. I don’t know how people are going to treat me or how the world will embrace me, but I have to do this...because this makes the most sense and it’s the thing that makes me the most comfortable."
Talk about an eye-opening experience.
"I got to college where I really was able to start over because no one really knew who I was. I learned and developed who I wanted to be as a woman," Lynn said. She thought to herself, "Well, wait a minute, what kind of woman do you want to be in this world? I started hormones, and then transitioned seamlessly. I say seamlessly, but there were challenges. But once I started taking hormones, everything really changed mentally and physically."
The challenges, she says, can be frightening. They can range from inner thoughts to uncomfortable family talks to overall societal acceptance.
"My parents thought, 'Oh, this is just a phase. It will go away.' They assumed when I got into the real world, I’d have to give it all up. When they realized that wasn’t happening, it was an adjustment for them. They’re very loving and accepting now, but there was a period of time where they were challenged by what was happening and how they were going to deal with this," she said. "Once they saw I was able to be successful and happy, it shifted their mind that there is something to this. They saw I was forming my own path to become who I am."
Beyond that, there's also the inside thoughts of self survival. Little data and research exists regarding the long term effects of hormone replacement therapy. Add in the questions of finding a great job, love and the financial steadiness to remain on hormones, and it's a doozy. It's enough to drive someone insane...but Lynn knew her path and was determined to see it through.
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"The thing is, when I was in high school and started college, I knew these were options, but I didn’t have access to the health care. This was the late '90s and early 2000, and I know those services were available to people, but I was in an area of the world where I didn’t have access to care or even know who to go to. It wasn’t until I was in college and met people who told me about the doctors and where to find legitimate care. You’re not going in a back alley somewhere — you're getting adequate care from someone," she said.
To date, Lynn has transitioned and lives her life just like any other working gal. Built from nerves of steel and an unwillingness to settle for anything less than the best, she exemplifies the best in womanhood - and she still goes by her birth name.
She said, "I have the very fortunate privilege of passing. Maybe someone clocks me every now and then, but I can’t tell you the last time it happened. Sometimes it raises an eyebrow when I’m introduced to someone as Michael. I never changed my name. I refused to change my name. For me, growing up, I always thought of myself as a girl and that was the name that was always with me. There was a point when I thought I should change my name, but I don’t know. What would it be? Michelle? I don’t even know who Michelle is. I know who Michael is, so that’s going to be my name."
And just like her Day-to-Night Barbie, she still is rocking her stilettos at her job in a high rise building in the city.
"I’ve certainly worked through college. I have a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in family therapy. I’ve been working for a nonprofit for 11 years," she said. "I have a family that loves me and sees me as their daughter and sister. I’m a daddy’s girl. I have friends who I have had for nearly 20 years and support me, and they’re my family too. I have a wonderful man in my life. There are a lot of great things in my life I’m very honored I get to have."