“Much like a good majority of Wisconsin, it’s a very rural, religious, conservative community,” Robyn said of Wautoma, her hometown.
She was raised there with her mother, brother and now-stepfather, where they all attended church every Sunday and Wednesday.
“When you’re growing up, the community you’re surrounded with really defines who you are as an individual,” she explained, “until you get to the age where you can sit there and really think, ‘OK, is this really what I want? Is this really who I am?’”
Even from a young age, Robyn knew something was off; something wasn’t adding up.
“I was that little boy that played with Barbies and Hot Wheels,” she said. “In kindergarten, I said I wanted to be a fire truck [when I grew up]. I didn’t really know the whole idea of gender. Lights and sirens; I’m gonna be flamboyant, I’m gonna be out there. They’re gonna hear me and they’re gonna see me.”
She could pinpoint the moment at age 9 or 10 when she could put a label to how she felt: her mom was watching Oprah one night and they had a transgender guest on.
“My mom thought I was completely clueless, but I was interested,” she said. “In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘This is me, but I can never tell my family. Or anyone, for that matter.’”
And a “very real” fear of hers was coming out someday and having her friends — her family — disown and hate her.
“I just bottled that up and thought, ‘I’m going to be a good Christian boy, and this is the devil,’” she explained. “Going to church and hearing, ‘If you’re gay or if you’re transgender, you go to Hell,’ I’m sitting here thinking, ‘I’m a terrible Christian.’ I can fake it till I make it, but internally, I’m sitting here screaming.”
At the age of 17, Robyn decided to stop attending church.
“A religion based around love, forgiveness and understanding to be so critical of people didn’t settle with me at all,” she said.
In 2011, Robyn enlisted in the Navy. A couple weeks before this, her mother had an aneurysm that required surgery.
And for years, Robyn bottled up the biggest secret of her life.
Robyn first came out to her grandmother in 2015, who was her best friend before she passed last year.
She drove to her house in Wautoma, sat down, had coffee with her and “hurled insults at each other like we usually did,” Robyn explained, though every word was meant with love.
After some chatter, Robyn gained the courage to do it.
Her grandma’s response to Robyn’s recollection was, “Oh, that’s completely fine, I’ve always wanted another granddaughter, and I have a gay brother and transgender brother. You’re OK, hun.”
“It really went off without a hitch,” Robyn said. “I felt understood, I felt validated. I felt like everything was gonna be OK. To have the acceptance and continued love from her was fantastic. At that point, I could have cared less if anybody else accepted me or didn’t accept me. As long as she did, that’s all that mattered.”
Robyn then came out to her mother over the phone just days after coming out to her grandma, and the response wasn’t what she expected.
“That’s OK — I’ve always wanted a daughter,” her mother replied.
Robyn recalled her mother saying that after the aneurysm, she realized how short life is and that she shouldn’t worry about such little things.
With all going well with Robyn’s grandma and mother, she wasn’t quite concerned about how her quiet, reserved biological father would say. In fact, it happened as she sort of anticipated it.
“I wasn’t blindsided; it was pretty much par for the course,” she said. “Him and I are really good friends; I love him to death.”
She was dating a girl around this time who asked her if they knew she was trans yet. Robyn replied no, and the girlfriend at the time asked, ‘why not?’
She gave her dad a call while he was out working as a truck driver about a month after she came out to her mom.
“We’ve built a pretty decent relationship as father/child,” Robyn explained, “but he said, ‘No matter what, you’re my son. You’re still my boy. No matter what, you’re still my kid. I’m gonna support you. I don’t fully understand it and I think it’s a bit weird, but I love you.
“The biggest thing that we’re trying to work through is the whole name and pronouns thing. But at some point we’ll get there when it’s abundantly clear and blatant that I present as female. It’s gonna take time, but he’ll come around to it.”
And after she came out to her family, she decided to just post something about it on Facebook.
Robyn said that most everybody was incredibly accepting. She unfriended only about two or three people who weren’t.
“If somebody doesn’t accept me or they don’t like me because I’m transgender, I don’t chalk it up to be because they don’t like me as an individual. They don’t know me as an individual,” she said. “They don’t like me because of a narrative that has been placed in their mind by the media, by religion. They haven’t taken the chance or the time to get to know me.”
Robyn chose her preferred name by making it similar to her deadname, which was after her grandfathers.
“My grandparents were my go-tos for support and love, so I decided I wanted to keep some form of that to honor him in some way. It seemed really fitting and it flowed,” she explained.
Robyn’s next steps are to change her legal name and gender marker on her license. Down the road, she also wants to do vocal chord surgery so her voice is at a higher pitch.
“I’ve tried to do vocal therapy, but it just sounds terrible,” she explained. “I’m not enthused about it.”
Her experience getting hormones was quite long-winded. In 2015, she scheduled an appointment with a doctor in the Chicago area, but accidentally went to the wrong building.
But fortunately enough, she said they could get her in the location she was at in about three hours. So she sat there the whole time, got in and got medication almost immediately after the appointment.
“Despite the three-hour inconvenience, I got my pills,” she said. She was prescribed 100 or 200mg of spironolactone and 4mg of estradiol.
After some regular checkups, the doctors expressed concern that her potassium levels were too high and could cause damage to her kidneys. They had to take her off the medication to make sure things were alright.
“At that point, I pretty much said screw it, it’s not meant to be. I’m not going to drive back and forth to Chicago,” she said.
Robyn then did some searching for a new doctor that was closer than Chicago. In around 2018 or 2019, she found one in the outer Milwaukee area that said her kidneys were fine.
After her appointment, they prescribed her 200mg progesterone, 200mg spironolactone and 6mg estrogen. She’s been on those ever since.
“That finally kicked things off for me,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is it. I’m going to embrace this; I’m gonna do this.’ I’m not going to spend the rest of my life living in regret because regret is poison.”
Eventually, Robyn wants to get bottom surgery, but she said that health accessibility for transgender people is a “nightmare” right now.
“It’s hard, trying to find a psychologist who will sign off, and it’s hard to find a decent price depending on insurance and everything else,” she said.
Today, Robyn works with the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Police Department while she studies organizational leadership studies. She already has her associate’s degree in criminal justice.
“They’re incredibly important to me and my work in being visible in the community,” she said. “They are also resources for the LGBTQ+ community as we push for continued visibility and equal rights.”
For those who can’t or choose not to come out, Robyn said to be patient.
“I finally got the ball rolling at 29 years old,” she explained. “I’m 30 now and finally really getting in the swing of things.”
And that even though things may not look up, it’s important to keep transparency in mind.
“I think it’s important, especially now more than ever, for the young people as they’re comfortable enough to share their story and provide more visibility, especially within this community.”
But most importantly, Robyn said, “continue to love yourself, but surround yourself with a support system when you have days where you’re struggling to do that.
“Don’t let anyone else define who you are as an individual: that’s for you yourself to define, because nobody else is going to dictate your life. Be safe, be smart, be tactful about it.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted February 16, 2021.