Ian Syder opens up about being coming to terms with being trans, his transition, and how he’s helping the transgender community.
(HOUSTON) — My name is Ian Syder. I’m a 34-year-old married man who plans to have kids one day. There isn’t much special about me.
Except that I was born female.
When I was a child, my sister and I used to play house, just like all kids do. Even then there were clues as to who I really was. I always introduced myself by male names and took on more masculine gender roles. My sister, who is now my brother (and they say it’s not genetic…) often did the same. Back then we had no idea what transgender even meant or that it was possible to do something so radical, so life-altering. As an adult, I look back with amusement. Knowing what I do now, I wish it could have happened differently. I have, however, no regrets.
We won’t go into the turmoil of my teenage years. It’s the typical unfortunate story. Self-medicating, drug abuse, promiscuity. Anything to drown out what my mind was screaming at me. I presented as a very butch female, so people assumed I was a lesbian. It was so much easier to go along with that. I let people sort me into this category and never allowed myself to think about what it really meant. But that’s a story for another day, so let’s skip ahead to the point when I really found myself.
When I was thirty, I was invited to an amateur drag show here in Houston. I had been to shows a few times in the past, but never really thought much of them. This one was different. It felt like I was watching real people onstage. My then-girlfriend told me I should try drag. I had the personality. So why not? The friend that had invited me said the same, which led me to make the decision to give it a whirl. A few weeks later, there I was with street clothes and a horrible makeup beard (I’ve gotten much better since). I introduced myself as Ian and the people there called me sir. The entire night I was in a daze. It just felt . . . right. I was hooked. I suppose I did all right that night, though I really don’t remember, to be honest. Still, I feel like that’s the moment that my life began to change.
It took a few months for me to start coming out to the people I had met in the drag community. I was met with joy and acceptance from all sides. I’m still amazed as to how accepting these people were. Once I started telling the people around me, I dove into research with a fervor I never knew I had. I watched every video, read every blog. I looked for information about how to do this venture down this path I’d been pondering. I found every tidbit you can imagine, positive and negative, but not quite what I was looking for.
I found myself lost again, even contemplating how to end my life. I felt alone and desperate, and had no idea where to turn. In my weakest moment, I went to Legacy Community Health. I knew nothing about what they did and continue to do, but I had a friend that worked there who I thought might be able to help me. I had done a benefit for them once and the person who helped me set up all of the details was one of the most amazing people I’d ever met. He was so open and kind. He explained that if I ever needed anything that I could look him up. So I found myself in his office, crying in his arms begging while for help I was sure he couldn’t give me.
But I was wrong.
He took me downstairs to talk to the people who would help him save my life. Some long months and an arduous process later, I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I feel like that was the first real day of the rest of my life. Legacy has since done a lot of work to improve the services they offer the trans community, and have been one of the greatest advocates for us of which I know. They have literally saved the lives of thousands of men and women, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am for every single one of the people there.
Since then I have changed more than you can imagine. I am a completely different person. The parts of me that make me who I am are the same, but transitioning has allowed me to become confident in ways that I never thought possible. I learned to be happy, not just content with my life. The happiness applies to all aspects. From my clothing to my sexual preference, I am who I was always meant to be. I will, however, always be grateful to the woman I used to be.
Valerie. Without her, I would not be the man I am today. Her experiences molded me, and I promise I will never forget that.
Transitioning allowed me the confidence to help others find what I couldn’t all those years ago. I still perform regularly, and use it as often as I’m asked for anything it can do. I’ve organized “top surgery” benefits for several trans men, all of which have been able to get the medical surgery they needed to live their lives happy and healthy. I use my drag performances as a platform to promote understanding and acceptance with people who may not have ever met another transgender person. I don’t shy away from any question, and make no secret of who I am. People sometimes find it easier to approach a personality than someone they meet on the street. I’m just glad I can be that guy.
Currently, I facilitate two different support groups here in Houston. One meets on Monday nights at Grace Lutheran Church. I’ll open the doors at 7:15, so maybe one day I’ll get to meet you. This group allows people of all types to come, so don’t hesitate if you aren’t like me. As long as you come with an open mind and a kind heart, you’ll be welcome. The second group meets the first and third Tuesday of every month at the Montrose Center. We start at 7:30, and it’s only for transgender men. We also need a space to be ourselves, so please don’t feel left out! I know I couldn’t do what I do if it weren’t for the ability to live my truth. I’m lucky, and that allows me to give other people hope. I don’t feel that I deserve the breaks I’ve been given, so I do what I can to give back to those that aren’t as lucky as me.
In January I was able to get my name and gender marker changed legally, with the court system in Travis County. It took months, and was not the easiest process at the time. No one I spoke to could tell me how to get this done, because in Texas there wasn’t a way to change your gender marker. There just isn’t a law specifically saying you can. It’s left up to the judge’s discretion. Usually that means that it was denied for almost everyone. I wouldn’t take no for an answer though, and made sure to do everything I could to get this done right the first time. My husband had his name changed years ago, but that was all the courts in Harris County allowed. So I did what I do best, and started researching.
What I found first was that Travis County was the most likely place to get the approval for the gender marker change. I also found a document that was written by a law student as part of a class. It had never been tested. I took the leap and started editing the petition to match my information. A few friends found out what I was doing and asked if they could tag along. I couldn’t say no, which led to the petition for me and my husband turning into one for a group of eight. I was terrified that this wouldn’t work and that the trip would have been made for nothing.
That day in court, one of those friends was asked by the judge who was responsible for the petitions and the editing. I was pointed out of course. The judge thanked me, told me that everything looked good, and asked that we call ahead next time we were bringing such a large group. That day, eight people walked in with a name they never chose and left knowing that they would never have to hear it again. They would never again be questioned when showing their ID. They could live exactly as they always knew they should. We all cried that day, and they were finally tears of joy.
To date I have given this information to 147 transgender people. Felons, minors, foreign nationals, even a few lawyers who wanted to help but didn’t know how. Not one has been denied. The clerks in Austin took my calls and emails in the beginning, and we have worked out a system that makes the process much easier – especially for the judges! I’m still getting the requests, but so far it has been word of mouth, and word is slow to spread. I’ve held several “clinics” for various groups and look forward to hosting as many as I can. This information just isn’t available in a Google search. If you know someone who might need this, please find me. I would welcome the ability to get every one of us taken care of. Without proper identification, we face discrimination in housing, employment, insurance, and many other ways. There is no situation that can’t be worked around, so please don’t think that you can’t get this done too.
When I realized that I was transgender, I felt like there was no hope for me, that something was broken inside and could never be fixed. I know now how wrong I was. We have a long way to go, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day that we go out into the world is a triumph. Every conversation that we have is a victory. I was able to find out who I am, and I know for a fact that there is nothing wrong with me. There are so many others out there who do what I do, but they stay in the shadows. There are more of us than you might think. So the next time you see someone who looks a little different, don’t turn your head and whisper behind our backs, just say hello. We are more like you than you can imagine.
If you would like to reach out to Ian for assistance with changing your name or gender marker in the state of Texas, you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.