Paula says that 20 years ago, it was pretty hard to come out as a member of the LGBTQ community – partly because at first, she didn’t know she was part of it.
“I was never happy back then. I always knew there was something different with me, but I never knew exactly what it was. I faked a lot of things to be a macho person so I wouldn’t get beat up. There was no Internet or anything like that, or any places that you could go to be safe. There was nobody back then, very few people, especially in Pittsburgh. So, I would go up to Erie. A couple girls that I met up there really helped me to come out. When I did find out what a transgender person was, I was really relieved. I really felt that this is where I fit. It was a long time coming, but when I did realize, then things for me really changed.”
When Paula told her family and friends, she said everyone turned their backs on her. Even her daughter, who Paula really thought would be ok with everything. It was a tough decision, but Paula – who was 50 at the time – said she just couldn’t hide from her true self anymore. She wanted to live the rest of her life comfortable with who she was, even if those closest to her didn’t understand.
The doctors she sought for help through her transition weren’t really willing to work with her. They refused to give her hormone treatments until she saw a psychiatrist first, and some were afraid to touch her. She decided to do without doctors all together and started ordering hormone therapy through the mail, where she couldn’t be certain that what she was getting was safe.
Then she heard about Dr. Steven Wolfe, a primary care physician who specializes in transgender medicine, and things seemed to finally click.
“When I went in there for the first time, I was finally going to get somebody that would see my side of things, and how I felt about things. He was the first doctor that I really went to who sat and gave me the time. He seems to understand not only the hormones, but also how you feel. He fits in with the community. He understands us.”
Paula says that in the two decades that have passed since she started to become herself, there is a lot more information and acceptance for the transgender community. She has stepped in to be a mentor for others who are just beginning their journey and haven’t yet found the medical or emotional support they need. Along the way, Paula has celebrated a lot of important milestones herself.
“My actual best day that I ever had was when I got my driver’s license changed. I walked in there and had a new picture and a new name. I think that was really the start of being happy, and being where I should be.”