Born a male, or more appropriately, born in a male body, Sophia “Sophie” Jean Featherwind felt disconnected physiologically at a young age. Named Robert, after her father, Sophie says in her memoir, Freeing Hummingbirds: How I Learned to Embrace Myself, that one of the most difficult things a transgender individual struggles with is his or her name. “The names we are born with correspond to our birth gender and cannot be used in today’s rigid society. …” The self-published book traces Sophie’s transitioning from 2007 to 2010; she incorporates childhood difficulties, a marriage to a woman and their two children in an enlightening and poetic memoir.
Sophie says she began writing as a therapeutic tool during transitioning. “I was trying to recollect anything that would help me understand my emotions. It all started with an assignment from my counselor to explore what I needed. And since blogging was available on the chat site I was using, I used the media to record my thoughts. I wrote about my plans to be lovable and respectable, and eventually I started writing about dreams and sharing my poems.”
“My ability to express my emotions in word slowly improved from day to day,” she continues. “Then one day, as I was reviewing what I had written, I realized I had a story that I wanted to share with others, to help other people like myself, people facing transitioning in mid-life with a family. I wanted to inspire hope, because there was too much self-inflicted tragedy.”
Born into a military family, Sophie indicates the constant moving could’ve been one precursor to her disconnection; she says in her book: “If I had to put a pin in a map to indicate where I’m from, maybe I should put it in the ocean.” And later in the chapter: “Maybe I should just leave the pin unplaced, instead indicating I am coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”
More importantly, however, was the disconnection she felt between her male self and the girls at her schools. Noticing her middle school classmates begin to develop breasts, Sophie remembers felling envious. She says in the book: “My gender identity had awakened. Prior to that I didn’t really care. It didn’t really matter. But now I knew I was a girl, and it just didn’t make sense. How could I be a girl with boy parts? How could I be a girl that would never develop, never grow breasts, never be beautiful?”
For many years following, she had kept up the “male” charade — married a woman and bore two children. “Before transitioning, I felt that I really didn’t know who I was or what I wanted,” Sophie says. “I wasn’t supposed to be too familiar with other women, with whom I felt the most comfortable, and I felt really uncomfortable in all male environments. I was really afraid I would lose my family and my job and wind up on the street.”
Yet, 10 years into the marriage, Sophie had fully realized that it was time to change, and began hormone treatments in 2008.
“My ex-wife and one of my children didn’t take my need for transition so well,” Sophie recalls. “My oldest child felt embarrassed at her worst moments. But there was hope in my kids. The youngest would almost always start to call me Mommy and immediately correct it to Dad. So I always got the very cute ‘Mommy-Dad’ and I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate.”
Today, Sophie Jean Featherwind (her spirit named derived from the Cherokee tribe, of which her bloodline is one-sixteenth) says she feels at peace with herself, though there are still struggles that she faces, including some workplace discrimination and health care issues. “Health insurance right now is rough. I am in the middle of an appeal process because a lot of my medical coverage is now being denied from complications due to treatment for gender dysphoria,” she says.
Since transitioning, Sophie says she has found herself to be an extrovert and an advocate, deeply compassionate for people’s struggles. She is a member of Transcenders Global Social Support Network, an online Facebook community that has 80 members from all over the world who lend support to one another. The members are comprised of anyone who is any state of transitioning, family, friends & WPATH-oriented caregivers, she says.
For those who are in turmoil over their gender identity and/or making the transition, Sophie advises, “Take your time. There are so many little steps you can take. Find the one you feel most comfortable with now and try it out. There’s no rule that says once you start transitioning you have to ride the train to the end non-stop.”
“It is not an easy road,” she continues. “While things are improving, you must be prepared to make sacrifices. Unfortunately, we don’t know ahead of time what those sacrifices will be. But you will gain something. Something that makes you a better person. Having self-compassion, recognizing that’s OK to be who you are, losing the anxiety and the shame help you become a much more loving person.
“And network with others. There are many brothers and sisters out there. And we need to support one another on our journeys. Find a network and find two or more friends within that network that you can build a pact of support and responsibility. In the end, the decision is yours. Not your therapist’s, not your family’s and not your friends. Do what you need to do to be a fully-engaged and loving person.”
Freeing Hummingbirds: How I Learned to Embrace Myself is available at Amazon.com, Lulu.com and through iTunes, and at Golden Braid Books, 151 S. 500 East. Copies of the book are also available for loan at the Utah Pride Center.