Young, transgender and way, way out in Seattle
YouTube, Reddit form virtual community as men, women broadcast their gender journeys
Updated 10:58 am, Thursday, July 21, 2016
The young woman speaks through the screen, her voice light and rising, stretching toward a soft touch at each statement’s end.
Claire Michelle talks about her new reality, her path from boyhood to womanhood. She tells the little stories – she gets colder now than when she had a man’s body, she wonders aloud about the width of her shoulders – that build her larger one.
Michelle, 23, was born male and mostly lived that way until October 2014, when she made two big changes – she left her central Michigan home for Seattle, and she started hormone therapy as she left her birth sex behind.
In the years before her gender transition, she’d turned to Reddit and YouTube for guidance. She saw broadcasting her own story as a way to return the kindness.
“I felt the best way to give back to those who’d really helped me on Reddit was to vlog,” she said.
Here is one of her favorites. (Like the other videos included in this story, this one features descriptions of medical and sexual matters.)
YouTube was the starting point for Cole Hayes when he began changing his body to match his gender.
“In the beginning, I started watching YouTube videos,” Hayes, 25, said earlier this week. “That’s basically where a lot of trans guys get their information and connect with people.”
YouTube is now home to a large community of transgender diarists sharing their stories and offering advice. Hayes pointed to one of the better-known, Skylar Kergil, as an early inspiration for him.
Hayes, an Everett resident, began making his own videos when he started hormone therapy in January 2015. He wanted to tell his story.
“I wanted to go deeper and go into my own anxieties about transitioning and what that really meant for me,” he said.
Hormones meant no more tears for Hayes. He said he used to cry instantly; now he finds himself getting mad before he gets sad.
Other men, especially older men, treat him differently, more respectfully. He’s a millwork specialist at a hardware store, where he says he’s found lots of support.
Hayes said he’s also received a steady stream of encouragement from his viewers. A lot of the warmth comes from other transgender people, though he gets interested onlookers, too.
“We’re pushing the boundaries of human existence and we’re finally allowing people to be comfortable in their own skin,” Hayes said. “Your gender is what you say it is.”
Michelle said her gender changed by shades.
As a child, she realized something didn’t fit. She would wear girls’ clothes. As she grew, it stopped feeling like cross-dressing.
Michelle says she’d heard Seattle was a great place to transition. So, needing a change of location, she headed west in 2014. She started therapy not long after with the help of people at the Ingersoll Gender Center.
Life now matches her expectations.
“I don’t have to think about how I should act, and that’s something I really struggled with living as a boy,” she said.
Michelle recalled a revelatory moment during a recent visit from her mother. Her mom was doing her hair when it struck.
“She said to me, ‘This is so weird! It doesn’t feel weird!’” Michelle said.
Now Michelle is fitting her gender into her passion, music.
“When I really connect with that music, it’s a full-body experience. Not just an ear-gasm,” she said during an interview atCouth Buzzard Books in Greenwood.
“Has that experience changed as your body has changed?” I asked her.
Claire Michelle – that’s her stage name – started playing heavy metal as a teen. The genre didn’t stick but the guitar did. She recently recorded her first album and plays shows around Seattle; she’s taking the stage July 30 at the Rendezvous in Belltown.
Transitioning has changed her music some, informing her songwriting. She’s had to find her voice again, she said, though her voice teacher keeps reminding her not to ignore her low range.