Lilith Zarling’s roots were set in the Milwaukee area, where she graduated from Riverside High School and attended Marquette University.
Her family was seemingly normal for the region, attending church once a week. But the views they taught never really resided with her.
“I never can think of a time where I completely bought into all of it; I don’t recall a time where I really believed in anything that we were learning in church,” Lilith explained.
And from an early age, she had to take on a parental role to her three younger siblings.
“I kind of floated through my youth, not making choices for myself, doing what I was told,” she said. “I was in such a shell.”
She recalls through her childhood arguing with her parents about how she hated her name and wanting to grow her hair out. Other than that, her appearance was rather normal.
“Aside from that, I didn’t care about what I was wearing, how I looked or how I styled my hair,” Lilith explained. “I was the person in high school who wore a football jersey and jeans every day.”
In those high school years, she was acting differently, and attributes it to “gender confusion” at the time. But even then, she began experimenting with the way she dressed.
“I got a job at [a pharmacy chain], and I would take pantyhose home with me and wear them underneath my pants at work,” Lilith explained. “As I went on, I always had a stash of clothes that I had hidden. The clothes don’t make you who you are but at that point, that’s the only touchstone you have to express yourself.
“I think it was the first time I felt a mental relief. I don’t have to wear a dress to be who I am but it was just something about giving myself the freedom just felt right.”
She then got married a year after graduation, “because that’s what guys do.”
And for 23 years, Lilith just followed her (now-ex) wife around the country, living day to day without ambition or motivation.
“I thought that’s what true love was supposed to be,” she said. “I was just kind of there until my divorce.”
When she was 44, she decided to split up with her wife and move out. Everything was settled by August of the following year.
And when the final papers were signed, that’s when her coming out truly began.
“I’ve carried this with me for so long; it was so painful,” she said. “It was a relief [to come out]. I didn’t care what anyone thought, and I know I’m lucky to not care what anybody thinks.”
The month after she moved out of their house, she emceed Richmond, Virginia’s pride event that she had also hosted the year prior.
“I decided I should just go for it,” she said. “I went shopping with a friend, had another friend come over in the morning to do my makeup and I went out for the first time hosting the music stage at this event in front of a couple hundred people.
“None of them knew me; what better place to be accepted for who you are than coming out at a pride event?”
And the same night she went on that stage, she went to improv theater and performed as well.
“I said, ‘You know what everyone? A couple times a month, I might show up and do shows like this: This is how it’s going to be.’ And the more I did that, I was just getting more confident in myself,” Lilith explained. “Even when I wasn’t dressed, I would go to work and be more confident — it broke this shell off from around me.”
The more she went out in public, the more she realized this is truly who she is. During this period, she started looking to Facebook and other facets of the internet to see how others transitioned and experienced their own gender confusion.
“I had never gone out in public, I never told anyone else,” Lilith explained. “When you transition, you start meeting other people your age and they all have the same stories.”
After about a year and a half from the start of accepting herself, Lilith decided she was going to transition. When all was said and done with the right professionals, it began with her first dose of HRT on April 4, 2018. She actually took her first dose of estrogen on stage during another pride event.
And five years since her transition began, she feels as though she’s lived a full life.
“Up until I started improv in 2000, I was very shy,” Lilith said. “It took me an incredible amount of effort to do anything socially. People even said after I transitioned I was happier; someone said I was happy before but I just had this dark cloud around me.
“For the first time in my life, nobody was telling me what to do.”
Lilith then began taking risks and doing things that she never would’ve seen herself do — today, she works as a professional life coach after getting certified in 2020.
“It’s great because all I do now is talk to people who are on the cusp of where I was,” she said. “I’ve been there. I don’t know if I got everything together, but I have enough of it together.
“I help people going through transitions, if you’re looking to change your career, looking to come off a relationship, whatever. It’s all stuff that I’ve done, and I want to help you figure out how to do it best for you.”
And even though she can’t coach every person out there, Lilith still has advice for folks who are worried about coming out.
“If you never come out to people, you’re always going to have that worry in your stomach and it’s never going to go away,” she said. “You could come out — their reaction is on them, but you can deal with what happens. If you never come out, you’re just going to be worried, which is the last place you want to be.
“If you’re in a place where you can’t come out yet, your day will come. And just because you’re in a bad situation now doesn’t mean you should give up.”
Follow more of Lilith’s journey here.