This is a story that was written about me, now 2 years ago I would have said no because I was hidden from all for very good reasons. Here is the story:
“Mask,” “cocoon,” “closet” . . . all are metaphors to describe how we choose to hide ourselves before coming out and being free to be ourselves. On this National Coming Out Day, October 11, one Oak Park area resident will be able to celebrate being free for the first time after over 35 years of hiding in a physiological cocoon.
At the age of 11, with pains in his chest, Shawn went to the doctor. The diagnosis, not unusual for a pre-teen, was puberty. What was unusual was that chest pains (also known as breast tenderness) are a common symptom for puberty in girls. The doctor confirmed his diagnosis in an x-ray that revealed an ovary and a partial uterus (hidden within Shawn’s clearly male exterior) and in blood tests that showed lower than normal levels of testosterone in Shawn’s blood.
The information made a lot of sense and explained why Shawn was so different from his brothers: less competitive, less aggressive. Shawn had even earned the nickname “Sis” from his father because he was reluctant to fight. Even so, in fearing for his safety, Shawn and his mother decided that they needed to hide his feminine side from the world. Shawn would continue to hide for 35 years, until April, 2008, when Shawn came out to his family and to the world as Shauna.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Shauna at George’s for breakfast. During our meal together, she talked openly about her life, the process of coming to accept herself, coming out, and the journey ahead of her. She has led a complex life where even the question “What is your name?” does not have a simple answer.
A: My legal name for now is Shawn Eugene. Shauna Elizabeth will be my name in April.
Q: Where did you grow up?
Q: How long have you been in Brookfield and the Chicago area?
A: 35 years I believe.
Q: What were some early indications of your being transgender?
A: As others can, I cannot say that I was born in a male body and have a female mind. I do have an 89% female and 11% male body, and the same goes for my soul. How can someone with one ovary, one testis, and a partial uterus be classified in female and male gender roles? I have no answer for that. I am an intersex person, and that is all I know.
Q: After the medical appointment that resulted in the discovery of your ovary and uterus, how did you decide to continue identifying and dressing as a male?
A: I was 11 years old, and being a boy was all that I knew. Also, my mother believed that I would be safer if I never told anyone about my intersex. She was right. I was more effeminate than I was manly, but I tried to hide that the best I possibly could so as not to be beaten or worse.
Q: When did you come out?
A: April 8, 2008.
Q: At what age?
Q: What support systems do you have/have you had?
A: I have a wonderful family, which includes my sister and three brothers. My friends, who are in the hundreds, have sent me e-mails and expressed their utmost happiness at being friends with someone like myself. Even though my outside appearance will change, it is the person on the inside with whom they will always be friends.
Q: 35 years is a long time to be in the closet. Did you want to come out and embrace your female side previously?
A: I have wanted to change a couple times in my life, but each time I talked myself out of it. It is so confusing at times because there were times in my life when everything was working out. I’ve learned that to be intersex isn’t a sexual mishap. My gender is balanced between the female and male sides. I just think I will be much happier with my female gender.
Q: Do you have a significant other?
A: No, I have been divorced now for eight years.
Q: What are some problems and issues specific to the transgender/intersex community?
A: There is not enough help or enough ways of finding help.
Q: How can OPALGA
help or what can we do to raise awareness of intersex and transgender issues?
A: I am so new to this. Can we work together on this? I think mostly it is making children and teens aware that there are people like us to help them. I was hidden for 35 years because no one was there for me. I don’t wish to see anyone live that kind of life.
One evening in April, 2008, Shawn dressed up as Shauna and went out for the first time. Her blog
describes the anxiety and excitement of coming out as herself, of being Shauna for the first time in public after over 35 years of hiding as a man.
Shauna writes, “I felt more comfortable tonight than I have in 46 years. As it washes over me, I now know where I belong. Being Ms. Shauna has given me more happiness than anything I have ever felt or had before.”
We all want to be comfortable and to be accepted as ourselves. National Coming Out Day is a chance for us to celebrate who we really are. While many intersex individuals remain conflicted and in hiding, this year, October 11 will hold a special significance for one Brookfield resident. Congratulations, Ms. Shauna B, and we wish you well!