Becoming Me

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| This is the 86th story of Our Life Logs |


It’s strange for me to look back on my old self, old photos, and old clothing. It’s like looking at someone else’s life that you’ve been following on TV for years. You know every aspect, every struggle, and every success, but it’s not your life. It’s theirs. It wasn’t until recently that I felt comfortable addressing my life before transitioning. That is, my life as Josh, instead of Kim. So, before I begin, know that my name is Kimberly, I’m an artist, and this is my story.

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Josh was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in the late 1990s. As a child, he was a little chubby, quiet, and extremely insecure. When Josh was about seven or eight years old, he would sit at the dinner table while his parents who scolded his extra weight. Even then, Josh knew that his physical form didn’t matter, that his body did not correctly define who he was. Still, Josh began to hate himself.

In school, Josh was surrounded by great friends who were accepting, encouraging Josh to keep talking. He found out that he was a bubbly person who was always trying to make people laugh, that he was sassy, and he just wanted to be noticed, like every young person wants.

Josh sensed that he was different from a young age, but when he had a few romantic relationships with girls in middle school, Josh realized that he wasn’t feeling any connection to them. He found himself checking out men instead of women. It felt normal to him, but he knew others wouldn’t see it that way. It wasn’t until high school that Josh told people he liked men, which was true. However, the term “gay” didn’t feel like the right term for him, either. Josh just used it as a placeholder, just to have some kind of definitive identity.

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When Josh came out to his family, they did not take the news well. His mother rejected any idea that this information could be possible, while his father asked invasive questions about the homosexual lifestyle. He’d never felt more alone.

As a junior in high school, he decided it was time for a change after years of being shamed for his weight. Josh completely changed diets, started working out every day, and counted calories to a strict standard. Body dysmorphia took over any healthy weight loss tactics. Josh was unhealthy and lost 90 pounds in a year. For some twisted reason, he thought his family would finally let go of their resentment. He was so wrong! He started to believe that they would never like him and began to feel hopeless. Despite these negative feelings, Josh continued to walk out the door with a pasted smile on his face, pretending that he wasn’t crumbling inside.

Kim Kells (Josh in 2013)
Pre-transition, 2013.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Josh went through dark periods when he questioned his identity. Though he liked men, he never felt like a man himself. Many of his peers referred to him as a woman or someone with “so many feminine qualities.”  Many guys in high school hit on Josh or tried to place their hands on him, awed by how feminine he was. His breaking point was one night when he was becoming intimate with another man. After a few moments, Josh stopped their touching because he knew the other guy didn’t want him. Sure, the other guy wanted Josh’s body, but that fact didn’t settle well for Josh. It was as if the guy had fallen for Josh’s costume, and that wasn’t right. He didn’t know what it all meant. He felt like he didn’t want to live.

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After years of being a wallflower in his own home, Josh was able to connect with his family through art, though not in a very healthy manner. Josh had taken a few classes in school and found that he had a knack for creating. Josh’s mother used him as a tool because she was crafty but needed Josh’s illustration skills for her projects. Still, Josh continued pursuing art in high school since it was the one thing that made his family acknowledge him as a person. Thankfully it was also personally fulfilling, and he never stopped.

When Josh started enrollment at a liberal arts college, he took it as an opportunity for a fresh start. Since he was often mistaken for a girl, he decided to embrace it by choosing a different name for the first few years of college.

He went from Josh to Kim, and that’s where my story begins.

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Around the time I began college, Bruce Jenner had announced that he was transitioning to become a woman and going under the new name Caitlyn. Before Jenner, I didn’t really know transitioning was an option. I remember being annoyed at the tabloids. I became angry, thinking that somebody couldn’t just change genders. In hindsight, I was just jealous. I felt like that could never happen for me. I thought I was forever destined to pretty-up the costume I was given. Thank goodness I was wrong.

About two months into Caitlyn’s transition, a stunning realization hit me at a stop sign on my way to work. I just froze and realized, “oh my god, I’m a woman.” People had been telling me for years, but I just didn’t put it together. This was a major life-changing moment in my life. I realized why I had been miserable all my life and I never felt like I belonged to my body. I was a woman stuck in a man’s body. Everything seemed to click in that moment. I don’t look up to Caitlyn Jenner today, but it was through her transition that I learned that the science and technology was out there for this to happen, so I’m grateful for that.

Kim Kells painting
Self-portrait, 2017. | source: https://kimberlykells.wixsite.com/kimberly-kells

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Coming out a second time to my friends and family went more smoothly than I anticipated. All my friends and classmates were supportive. I was so thankful to be enrolled in a college so liberal because I was accepted immediately and given support.

I was a little more hesitant when telling my parents. When I told my mom, I begged her not to kick me out. Instead, she said, “I always knew you were a woman, but I didn’t know what to do about it.” Uh what? I was so relieved. My father gruffly accepted that I was going to transition, because he knew I no longer needed approval. I feel that my parents were okay with it because after the transition, I’d be a straight woman, and therefore, “normal.” So yes, I was happy that they accepted me, but ultimately saddened by their internal dialogue.

I wasn’t able to be put on medication to transition until I was 21 when I had saved enough money to pay for the appointments. During that time, I was sexually assaulted by a coworker that laid his hands on me. It happened when I was so insecure and vulnerable. I had just abandoned Josh and was trying to come into my own. This assault made me want to draw myself in again. I wasn’t that same after it. I closed myself off more and to this day, I’ve been afraid of intimacy.

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My ink work, 2018. | source: https://kimberlykells.wixsite.com/kimberly-kells

 

Before the medication, I did my best to look more feminine. In the beginning, I had a lot of self-loathing for my body while I waited for the changes to begin. Josh always had stubble, so transitioning was hard before I started doing laser hair removal for my face. A girl at school was nice enough to donate old clothes she didn’t need, which helped so much. I had just a few pieces—let alone any bras—that made me feel like myself.  When I did go out shopping, I exhausted myself to try to avoid the eyes of others, picking apart my body, because I was so insecure. Online shopping saved me.

In 2017, as my body was changing at the beginning of my transition, one of my professors started sexually harassing me at school. I didn’t feel safe in the one place that had given me safety and support. When I reported it to the school, they drilled me with questions to determine the outcome. In the end, he did get fired, and I was safe at school again.

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Me, 2018.

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The changes took some time, but through the estrogen I was put on, I began to see the changes. My body type essentially changed from an apple to a pear. I had lost a lot of weight, but now I was gaining some of it back in the form of curves. Transitioning was like going through puberty all over again, but as an adult. I was hormonal, moody, and tired all the time. I had a lot of growing pains in the beginning, but they simmered down over time, and I began to feel more comfortable in my own skin. My confidence rang louder than the sounds of the skeletons in my closet.

I still hadn’t told a single soul about the assault by my coworker. The unrequited feelings crept into my artwork, seeking some sort of release. I was proposing my senior art thesis in front of my entire senior class. I knew that it was time to talk about my assault because it had been eating at me. I was never afraid of public speaking, but I was shaking up there. I told them every detail including the assault and my family issues while I cried the hardest I had ever cried. It took a lot for me to feel comfortable owning up to what had happened to me. I don’t think I could have if other women recently hadn’t paved the way for starting conversations about assault. It was liberating to let it all out and feel free from the weight of it. Talking about it many times after that day for my thesis helped me accept that I’m not an assault victim, rather, a survivor.

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One of my pieces from my senior thesis, 2018. | source: https://kimberlykells.wixsite.com/kimberly-kells

Months later, I graduated college as Kim. It’s been a crazy journey, and it’s not finished yet. Now that I’m on medication, this is just the beginning of a new life for me. The longer I’m on estrogen, the more feminine features I will gain. It’s crazy to look at a photo of myself from a year ago. You see the differences even in the structure of my face.

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Me at my graduation, 2018. And yes, I did dye my gown pink.

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Since I’ve been put on medication, one of the side effects is memory loss, so much of my life as Josh is fuzzy these days. Sometimes a smell or object will trigger a memory but it’s more like I’m reminiscing with an old friend. I feel that if Josh had continued living the way he was, he wouldn’t have made it this far. He was trapped and depressed, ready for his pain to fade. Seeking Kim is what kept me alive.

It has been less than a year since my true journey began, and I feel like entirely different person than I was the first 21 years of my life. Normally, people look to the past and can gain a sense of progress or relapse. I don’t really have either of those options. It feels like my past wasn’t mine, and now I’m starting over, starting fresh. While terrifying, the newness of my life is freeing. My past is incapable of defining my present. I am who I am in this moment, and that is a strong, confident woman.

Section Break

This is the story of Kimberly Kells

Kim, 22, is a recent graduate from The Art Academy of Cincinnati. Kim was born uncomfortable in her own skin because she was born the opposite gender that she was meant to be. To discover this about herself, she had to go a lot of self-reflection and searching. She also had to abandon the past self that helped get her to become the person she is today. Kim loves painting, illustrating, and drawing. She hopes to find a job that will make her a stable income to help fund her transition, hopefully in an art-related area where her passion lies. For her senior art thesis, she delved deeper into her identity, including her experiences dealing with two sexual assault instances that occurred early into her transition. In her future, she plans to finish up a few more laser hair removal appointments, get her name legally changed, and hopefully schedule reassignment surgery within the next few years. In her spare time, Kim loves playing video games, especially fighting games and Animal Crossing. Today, Kim finally feels happy with herself.

 

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Kim, 2018.

 

                            

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This story first touched our hearts on May 29, 2018.

 

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