Local transgender teen speaks about identity struggles

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — Bruce Jenner’s announcement has the world talking about being transgender now more than ever.  8News continues the conversation with a look at one young man’s first steps to being true to himself.

Dan Oster sings while he plays the piano.  It is part of a project that has been a lifetime in the making for him.

“I record myself now, and I’m going to compare it when I’ve been on T for several months,” explains the 18-year-old.

“T” is testosterone, the hormone Dan will begin taking in just a few weeks.  “On May 26th and I’m really excited about that because it’s been an 18 year wait.”

Dan was born Danielle and has known he was meant to be a male since childhood.

“Other kids would draw themselves as the princess or whatever and I drew myself as a prince,” Dan says, adding that he kept his gender struggle inside for years.

In Middle School, Dan finally mentioned it to counselors, but it was not until age 16 that the Hanover High School student knew it was time to truly talk with his family.

“I would run home after school and  go upstairs and put on a huge sweatshirt and put on a hat and put my long hair under it and go about my day and take pictures of myself and try to convince myself everything was okay, but then I realized my parents were going to realize what was happening,” Dan remembers.  “When I did come out, it took that year or two to kinda be like this is how it’s going to stay, this isn’t a phase or anything.”

“I was quite blind-sided by it,” says Christina Oster Butler, Dan’s mother.  She says it took time and counseling for her family, including Dan, to get to where they are now:  acceptance.

“It does feel like the death of someone for a while until you realize it’s not.  It’s the same human being just a different pronoun,” Christina says.  “Transgender, you look in the dictionary 20 years ago there was nothing, it was a disease a sickness and now definitions have changed so much.”

In Richmond, Keri Abrams knows what it was like growing up in the mid-1950’s when words like transgender did not even exist.

“I kept it hidden, and I hid it all my life,” says Keri, who was born male.  “I was married four times, thinking I could find the right woman to fix me.  Well, the only way to fix is accept yourself and live as who you were supposed to be born as.”

Keri hit an especially low point five years ago at age 55.  “I had to make a decision in life. I would either commit suicide or do what I knew I needed to do for most of my life.”

Keri, who has worked as motorcycle technician for decades, came out to family and friends as a trans woman.  Now through support groups she helps young people.  “If one person gets anything out of it, then I’ll do whatever I have to do.”

Back in Mechanicsville, Dan’s younger sister Brianna Oster says she is part of his fierce support system.  “Being accepting is the most important part.  It hurts, but I try to stay strong to help him and just want to help him.”

Right now Dan is balancing high school, two jobs to save up for surgeries and daily challenges.  “It’s everything from bullying to, like, not wanting to use a credit card because my birth name is on it.”

There are those reminders of who he was but also excitement for who he has become.

“You’re very brave.  We’re very proud of him, we’re very proud of him,” Dan’s mom says.

This summer Dan will leave for college.  It will be the early days of his medical transition and his voice project.  With every word he records, Dan will capture the greatest change he is making in his life.  He has this to say to anyone who questions if he is really ready.

“How long have you been sure who you are?”

The American Psychological Association says it is so important that families offer support to children and teenagers with gender struggles.  Feelings of isolation or being forced to wear certain clothes or act a certain way can lead to depression or suicide.

The APA recommends loved ones educate themselves about the issue.  Also, use names and pronouns that go along with their gender identity and talk with mental health professionals.

As the Osters learned, a gender transition does not just affect the people going through it; it affects everyone close to them.

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