Straddler On The Street: Natalie

Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.

Header by Rory Midhani

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Straddler On The Street: Natalie, 30

The first time I properly met Natalie was on a hike at A-Camp, and once we started talking we just couldn’t stop! She described herself as a “completely open book” and I found that was true – it was really exciting and refreshing to be around someone so genuinely honest and open.

Natalie and I talked a lot about her job at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, how to build community while still holding on to one’s independence, the trans* community she has sought out at home, and her desire to be part of a larger queer community in the rural area in which she currently lives. I knew I wanted to discuss all of this with her in more depth (and when we weren’t avoiding icy patches on the mountain trail that threatened to trip us up and send us plunging to our doom!) so as soon as we got home I insisted on interviewing her for this column. And now here we are! I love when everything works out.

Natalie on the first day of A-Camp 4.0!

Natalie on the first day of A-Camp 4.0!

Hi! How are you?

I’m doing awesome today! I don’t typically get to dress up for work – what I do is more a ‘jeans and t-shirt’ kind of job. But today was a meeting so I was able to straighten my hair and put on makeup and all that lovely stuff! Other than that, I’ve been super busy the past month… but it’s a good busy.

That all sounds awesome. What do you do for work?

I’ve had numerous awesome jobs, but the one that currently occupies my time is as a Wildlife Biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Oh neat. Where in Wisconsin do you live?

I currently live in Random Lake. Before you ask, yes, it really is named Random Lake. I moved back home when I left my job in Oregon in 2008. There are some definite perks, and some definite downsides! But it’s home, at least for now.

Can you talk about some of the perks and downsides?

[When] I moved back in 2008, I didn’t have a job, so I moved back in with my mom. I’m so fortunate that I had this place to move to. I was unemployed for nearly two years before finding the position that I have now. [That said,] I miss living in a place that I can call my own. A place where I can make the decisions about how things are decorated or how often I have to clean – I hate to clean! I just really miss my independence.

But there have been some really solid perks that I can’t dismiss! First and foremost, finally having a stable living situation has allowed me to move forward with transitioning. I’m transgender, and living here allows me to put all of my limited financial resources towards costs like traveling to doctors appointments, laser hair removal and electrolysis, and buying a completely new wardrobe. It’s so expensive, even shopping at thrift stores. Living at home has also allowed me to pursue my passion with falconry. After 14 years of dreaming, I’ve been able to obtain my license and take care of my hawks because of the stability I’ve found here at home. Plus, my relationship with my mother has never been better.

Natalie hunting with her Harris's Hawk, Bam Bam.

Natalie hunting with her Harris’s Hawk, Bam Bam.

I definitely empathize with missing your independence – I’ve been living at home for the past few months and feel the same. I want to talk about your age; when we spoke originally you said you’re 30 but you feel more like you’re in your early twenties. Can you elaborate on that?

Sure! Feeling like I’m in my twenties is a function of my transition. I was 28-29 years old when I began transitioning. I spent 18 years sort of drifting through life. I followed society’s plan and did what I was supposed to do, but I don’t think many, if any, of the major decisions I made were really ‘my’ decisions. I didn’t start actively participating in my life until I came to terms with my gender identity. I didn’t really ‘own’ my life, and the direction I was headed, until I began transitioning.

So here I am now, 30 years old, yet feeling like it’s all just beginning again! I’m going through puberty. Again. I’m struggling to find my identity and my place in the world. Again. And I’m searching for my community and trying to find my passion in this life. All over again! Perhaps I’m wrong in assuming that every other person my age has their shit together and knows what they’re doing, but I feel like I’m back at square-one. I also feel like I’m so much younger because of the changes in my life physically. Since accepting who I am back in 2011, I’ve lost 70 pounds and kept it off, and I’ve run one 10K race and two half-marathons! I’ve never been in better physical shape in my life. I feel amazing. I feel like me.

That is so incredible. I’d love to hear more about how you came to your transition, if that’s okay.

That’s definitely okay; I’m seriously an open book!

I spent my life pre-transition keeping secrets, [but] all that did was keep me disconnected and closed off from all of the people who loved and cared about me. I knew I was ‘different’ right around the age of 11 or 12, but I didn’t have the vocabulary for what I might have been feeling. And I’ve always been a very perceptive person and a quick learner, so it was apparent to me from a young age that what I was feeling was not okay for a boy. So I hid it deep inside.

Complicating matters greatly was going through puberty fueled by testosterone. It was so confusing trying to sort out all of my feelings, so I just did my best to keep them repressed and hidden away. There was a great deal of guilt and shame attached to these feelings back then. The very darkest days of my life came in high school. Knowing I was different, but not knowing why. Not feeling like I could do anything about it left me in a terrible depression. Of course I did my best to hide that from everyone too. But every now and then I would just stop talking to everyone. My best friends didn’t know why and I couldn’t fathom telling them. I openly admit that it was during this time that I briefly considered suicide.

Moving to college allowed me the freedom to explore who I was, when I let myself. But I usually found a relationship to bury myself in. It was easier to help everyone else with their problems than to face my own. So I traveled in emotional circles. One month I was certain I was going to transition. Two months later I was convinced I could purge my life of all the clothes, and all the feelings, and be happy being a man. A husband. Possibly someday a father. It was exhausting.

Did you have a moment when you decided for certain that you would transition?

One night in February of 2011 I knew I couldn’t go on that way. Denying the feelings wasn’t working. It hadn’t worked in the 18 years I had been trying. The one thing I hadn’t tried was accepting it. Accepting that I am trans*. That I am a woman. I had let fear run my life for too long. For the first time in my life, I was moving forward, free from the vicious cycles. I found support in YouTube channels. And I found the courage to write and reach out to people. I began sharing who I am with my friends, and later my family. It took me a year before I could work up the courage – and work past a pretty good case of social anxiety disorder – to attend a support group meeting in Milwaukee. Slowly, I let go of all the vestiges of a life I had been hiding behind and allowed the world to see me for who I really am. I was terrified! But that was no longer a good enough reason not to move in this direction. I came out publicly and [told] my job on March 28th of this year, and honestly, my life has never been better! It’s such a cliché, but colors are brighter, sounds are clearer, smells are sweeter! I feel so freed. I’m such a bright, positive, extroverted person now. It’s amazing!

Natalie getting her hair colored at a salon for the first time. "I love having long hair that I can do all sorts of femme things with," she explained.

Natalie getting her hair colored at a salon for the first time. “I love having long hair that I can do all sorts of femme things with!”

That is really, really wonderful to hear – seriously, I’m grinning! How did the people in your life react?

I mentioned how much I had let fear run my life, and one of the greatest fears of all is rejection. I truly believed that if anyone found out, they would disown me, and I would be alone. So I came out in stages. Each time, I came out to a modest size group of friends and evaluated their reactions. I worked my way from people on the periphery of my life inward to those who meant the most to me. And each time I outed myself, I waited for the shit to hit the fan. I waited for the negative reactions I just knew I was going to get. And they never came! All the preparation for things going badly was for naught!

I may be tempting fate here, but I’ve had almost zero negative reactions since transitioning. It’s been completely the opposite from what I was convinced was going to happen in this rural part of the Midwest where I live! I know how fortunate I am, and often I feel guilty about it. My story is not typical. I still have the support of my family, my friends, my job. Too many others can’t say the same.

That’s unfortunately true, but it is really heartening to hear how positive your story is, particularly because you weren’t expecting it. Do you like living in the Midwest?

I’m such a Wisconsinite! I love my home state. It really has it all for anyone willing to give it a chance. That being said, I do want to move. I have a nomadic spirit, and there are so many other places in this country, and world, that I want to experience, and explore. I also hate humidity. Summers here can suck that way. And I hate what it does to my hair, now that it’s long and gorgeous. But the winters, with all the snow, are wonderful. Don’t believe all the haters. Snow rocks, if you’re willing to get out and embrace it!

When we talked at A-Camp you mentioned that despite loving your home state, one of the downsides right now is that you feel disconnected from a queer community. Can you speak to that a bit?

Yes, that would be one of the major downsides to where I live. I’m about an hour north of Milwaukee, and two hours north of Chicago. Before attending A-Camp, I had never been in the company of more than one or two queer women. One of my current sources of frustration in life is with how disconnected I feel from any sort of queer community. I don’t have friends who I can easily or regularly spend time with. I don’t have a whole lot of outlets for this aspect of my life.

I attended A-Camp this past October in an attempt to find a community and to make connections to people, and I think I’ve made some wonderful connections indeed. But I’m still very isolated living where I am, and it’s one of the major factors I think about when considering moving.

In the meantime, I’ve started the Badger Straddlers group in an attempt to connect to all the amazing and wonderful Straddlers that I know must be in my home state. Please join and let’s hang out!

I’m so glad you started that group – consider this an open call for all the Midwesterners to join! How did you find out about A-Camp?

My introduction to Autostraddle came during my earliest days of transitioning. I mentioned watching a lot of YouTube channels for information and support. One of those is Translabryinth. The lovely M, whether she knows it or not, brought Autostraddle into my life!

I followed, and fell in love with the site over the next few months and years. I knew about A-Camp, but didn’t know if I’d ever be able to go. Or if I went, if I’d ever be accepted. I’d done a lot of reading about how a large portion of the lesbian community does not recognize transwomen as women. But Autostraddle’s unequivocal support of the trans community put me at ease, and the personal recommendations of my friends Jen and Morgan sealed the deal! Only a month or so before camp was to begin, I committed to go. 2013 is my year, and October A-Camp could not have been a better way to enter this chapter of my life.

Can you talk about some of your favorite parts of A-Camp?

I still can’t believe that, as a native of Wisconsin, my first snow for the season fell in Southern California! It was a wondrous snow kingdom and it made me so happy to see all the campers who experienced snow for the first time in their lives. I sort of take it for granted, growing up where I did.

I had the very best canoeing experience of my life on that crystal clear water of Jenks Lake surrounded by so many beautiful queers. And prom! I danced for the first time since puberty – the first one – and it was so much fun! But most of all, what I take away from camp are the connections. Connections to strong, courageous, intelligent, beautiful people.

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Natalie and Shelby at the A-Camp prom photobooth (with Kai making a guest appearance behind the silver curtains…)

Do you have a celeb crush?

I have far too many! Natalie Portman… Amy Adams… Zooey Deschanel… and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention DeAnne Smith and Hannah Hart.

You said 2013 was your year – what comes next?

I’m looking to find some financial stability and get out on my own! I’d love to be able to travel more. I’m looking to get more involved in my local trans* community, as well as get more involved with Autostraddle. I’m also looking to find a partner to share this amazing life that I have.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share with the Autostraddle community?

I’m so very open and excited to meet and get to know all of you! I’d be honored if you’d join the Badger Straddlers group and help me build an awesome community here. Don’t be afraid to face your fears. Don’t be afraid to fail. Just be you… ’cause you’re awesome!


If you would like to be featured as a future Straddler on the Street, please email vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com. Include a few photos, 3-5 sentences about yourself and put “Straddler Submission” in your subject line. Approximately a million people have submitted so far, so please be patient as Vanessa goes through her inbox — you’re all sexy with really smart brains, and don’t you forget it!

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Vanessa is a queer feminist writer, NYU grad, crush monster, and Jewish Grandma In Training. She has a radical brain, a mushy heart, and a million floral print dresses. She's currently on a big adventure but she'll be back one day, pinky swear. In the meantime, she can sometimes be found on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 198 articles for us.

63 Comments

    • Thumb up 1

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      Thank you! I’m here to confirm that I am a cool person with a really great story. It makes me happy that the interview accurately conveyed these truths. ;) In all honesty, Random Lake has been a pretty decent place to grow up and call home. I could do worse! Also, adding hawks to the mix makes EVERYTHING more exciting!

      Vanessa did an amazing job with the interview! I can’t say enough how wonderful she is! And all of the AS staff are!

  1. Thumb up 4

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    D’aww! I’m so happy that your coming out process has been relatively smooth. And falconry is such an amazing skill/hobby/awesomething– I’ve been fascinated with it for a while in that do-real-people-actually-do-that way. I know I should probably write about queer somethings, but something about seeing you with Bam Bam was so incredibly reassuring. Like, okay, you overcame all kinds of societal odds and in the end you get HAWKS. That’s so cool. I’m just… going to go and hyperventilate in my corner now that I know that real people can actually work with hawks. Hawks. Sorry, it’s a funny word. Okay, I’m going now.

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      I’m here to tell you it’s ok. Just breathe. Hawks DO pretty much rock, so you’re reaction is perfectly normal. You’ll learn to get it in hand soon. Until then, just keep repeating the word ‘hawks’ until it loses all meaning in your mind.

      My current day job doesn’t always involve hawks (it’s much more varied than that!) but the rest of my life does! And I have had jobs in the past (falcon breeder in Oregon; Raptor trainer/naturalist in Missouri) that had me working hands on with some of the most amazing birds of prey, and birds in general!

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      Meeting you the day before I left for A-camp blew my mind! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me at the conference! It is nice to know there are more Straddlers in the wildlife profession!

      I like to use our encounter as proof that we Straddlers ARE EVERYWHERE! Mwah-ha-ha! ;)

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        Thanks Savannah! I would love to meet you someday as well! Thank you for taking the time to write a comment!

        Falconry is pretty damn cool. Thats how cool it is. Participating in a human-animal relationship that is well over 4000 years old is humbling to say the least.

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      The honor is most sincerely all mine Shelby! I want you to know you had a profoundly positive affect on my A-Camp experience! One of the greatest and most memorable experiences of my time on the mountain involves sitting at a table talking with you and several other of the most articulate, deep, and intelligent people I’ve ever met in my life. I was blown away by the level of conversation everyone was able to engage in, free from judgment and criticism! You, and your friendship, mean the world to me! You rock, and I’m always here for you! So much love to you Shelby! Thank you for being YOU!! <3 <3 <3

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      It’s honestly my pleasure to share with everyone! And the pleasure was mine as well to get to know you at the Femme meet up! Since then, you’ve never ceased to amaze me with the depths of your creativity, your intellect, and your overall beauty as a person! Love and hugs! <3

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    You are so incredibly brave for coming out in the rural Midwest! Although not transgender, I was in a similar situation last year in which I was unemployed, living with my parents about 80 miles from the nearest straddler (hey Amanda!), and somehow deciding that was a great time to start thinking for myself and living up to my full homosexual potential. I had to move to a place where I was sure I knew absolutely no one before I could even think about coming out. I’m so glad things are working out for you and you have such great people in your life!

    Also, your job sounds so cool! Although I am not really a big fan of hawks, as they have a tendency to eat my pet chickens :(

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      I don’t consider myself brave or courageous, but I appreciate the kind words! I just became exhausted from keeping everyone at bay and living a life that was not my own! I’m fortunate to be surrounded by caring, supportive, and loving friends, family, and coworkers. I wish everyone were so blessed. The isolation is difficult, but I’m making due for now. And lets be honest, after this interview, it shouldn’t be a problem at all, right? ;)

      My job is REALLY cool! Working as a wildlife biologist/technician is a challenge. I have an incredibly varied job description and I never really know what each day or week is going to bring!

      As for the hawks, they do indeed have a tendency to find and eat what is easy to catch. Unfortunately, this brings them into conflict with some people. But I remind everyone that hawks need to eat too!

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      I admit that I had no idea for the longest time what my Cylon cabin-mates were referring too when they found out about my hawk! I still haven’t seen the movie, but I assure everyone I have no intention of following the storyline (as it’s been described to me)!

      And I could be persuaded to do a remake. How hard could it be? ;)

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      You’re too sweet Kasey! I’m so grateful that I was sitting near you in the peer counseling workshop and had the opportunity to spend a few minutes getting to know you! It wasn’t nearly enough time! Thank you for the kind words; you’re equally spectacular! Much love to you as well! <3

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    Yay Natalie!!

    I really admire how you are an open book – I’ve been thinking a lot lately about living honestly, and your story seems like an excellent example of how fulfilling and empowering this can be.

    Also I’m surprised you didn’t mention the part of A-Camp prom where you stunned Hannah Hart with your beauty!! :)

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      haha we totally did talk about the hannah hart moment, i just always have to edit the interviews down for length/coherency and sometimes the best moments end up on the cutting room floor. i always joke that i should put together a “Straddler B Roll” cause some of the BEST content doesn’t make it up on the website.

      but LET IT BE KNOWN: hannah hart stopped in her tracks and complimented natalie at prom, because duh, she looked fucking fierce.

    • Thumb up 4

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      Not only did I mention it, I mentioned it TWICE! ‘Cause it was that amazing! I hold nothing against Vanessa for editing it out though. So no worries Vanessa! It isn’t exactly like I’ve been shy about spreading that tidbit of information elsewhere! ;)

      Thank you for bringing it up!!! It would have been kinda tacky for me to throw it out there, though that wouldn’t necessarily have stopped me. You saved me making the decision, and for that, I kinda love you! :)

      And THANK YOU Vanessa, for the lovely compliment! I’m blushing…….

  4. Thumb up 3

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    Nat, I am so glad you shared this article! It is awesome because it is about YOU! Much love from your brother in falconry from the other side of the lake..(the big one called Michigan, not the Random one!)!

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    Hi Natalie! Thanks for sharing your story about transitioning in the Midwest. And A Camp sounds like it was wonderful! My wife transitioned at college in Missouri. Then she moved to the small town where I live and as much as possible is not out about her transition. I’m glad to hear that it has worked for you to be out in Wisconsin!

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      Thank you for taking the time to write! And you don’t need to thank me, for it truly is my pleasure to share my story! Congratulations to your wife for transitioning! I understand that not everyone is as fortunate as I have been. Really, I’m not sure if the people in my area are simply unaware, if they are practicing denial, or have a really strong case of midwestern politeness where they just don’t talk about it (except behind closed doors).

      I decided early in my transition that I wouldn’t settle for living less than ‘out and proud’. If by opening up my life and sharing my individual story I can help influence peoples understanding and acceptance of all Trans* people, then I want to do just that. Even if it means my life is awkward. Even if it means I give up some of my safety and my privilege. I’ll do it now so the next generations won’t have to later.

      I have no judgement or criticism of how other Trans* people choose to live their life, or are forced to live their life because of where they are. This is simply my decision in regards to my situation, and it is no better or less than how anyone else chooses to live their life. :)

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    Great interview, Natalie! I am proud to call you a fellow Cylon. I have always appreciated and admired your openness and honesty. We should definitely talk more sometime. I’m pretty much an open book too, and I love good conversation–something I need more of!

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      Alyssa! My fellow Cylon! Thank you for commenting! And for the kind words! I would love to talk more with you, as you are a fantastic conversationalist as well. It was so refreshing to meet another person who is such a bright spirit, and who is genuinely open and painfully honest! YOU ROCK GIRL!!

      People, did you see this girl rockin’ the basketball court at A-camp 4.0! So HOT! Check out the photos to see what I mean!

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      So much of my life, I was a closed book. I hid my true self from everyone I cared about, and for that, I suffered. And my relationships suffered. I had walls built up around myself, and I was trapped inside, alone. I never want that experience again. I want openness and sincerity and honesty to be my default settings. I want people to know me and to see me and to feel they can connect to me. I don’t want there to be anything standing between me and the spectacular people who everyday fill my life! It is so nice to have met you, if only briefly, at camp! You did such an incredible job with your camp talk! Thank you for sharing a bit of yourself with us in that way! You’re so very beautiful! <3

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    Oh man, I love hearing from other Wisconsinites that love where they’re from. I am super proud to be from WI and I love it. Like you said though one of the downfalls is finding a queer community. I grew up in a small rural town so I hear ya. LOVE the interview :)

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      I know! Isn’t Wisconsin just the greatest! I figure that if all my amazing state is missing is a queer community, then that is something that can easily be fixed. Because I KNOW there have to be beautiful, strong, amazing queer girls out there, all around me, looking for the very same thing. They just need to know they’re not alone.

      Thanks for writing, and I’d love to get to know you more! And definitely join the Badger Straddlers group here on AS and on FB! <3

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      Hey Tracy! It was such a pleasure to meet you at camp as well! I hope you had an incredible time on Mt. Feelings! It was one of the greatest atmospheres I’ve ever encountered in my life and I’m doing everything I can to be able to get to each and every camp in the future!

      Thank you for the kind words! I hope to see you again soon! <3

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    This interview was fascinating. I really look forward to meeting you at a future camp. Thank you so much for improving access to straddler activities for your fellow Midwesterners, it’s really important and meaningful and everyone deserves a group of their own. Everyone. So thank you again.

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      It’s so very sweet that you found the interview fascinating! Thank you! I look forward to meeting you at a future A-camp as well!

      I know I can’t be alone in my search for a community. In my search for connections to other people who I can identify with. I was very surprised that there wasn’t already a straddler group for Milwaukee, though I understand there is a kick-ass group in Chicago as well as one in Madison. My hope is that the Badger Straddler group can augment, rather than replace, these other groups. I wanted to provide a space for people from across the state to start talking and planning and networking. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

      Thank YOU Melanie!

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    GREAT interview and I so identify with transitioning in a rural area (W Va here) before heading out again into the wider world. Thanks Natalie for sharing of yourself (falconry, how cool is that?) and I hope you have a great holiday and coming year!

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      Jess! You’re beautiful and you’re strong and I’m proud of you! Transitioning is difficult anywhere you do it, but going through it in a rural area adds another layer of isolation to the mix. I’m happy to put myself out there and to let others know they aren’t alone! I’m also looking to connect to other people, such as yourself, who can understand these particular aspects of my life. Please know you have my support, and my friendship! I hope to see you around, whether it’s at A-Camp or the Trans-health conference in Philadelphia or wherever else! Have a wonderful holiday season as well! <3

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        Very nice to hear from you Natalie. I plan on going to the next A-Camp get together so I’m sure we’ll see each other somewhere along the way. I have always been the type of individual who ‘goes it alone’ in my life and it has been difficult at times to unlearn the emotional isolation (which is kinda ironic given that encourage such openness in my work as yoga instructor / holistic therapist … definitely a case of taking my own advice that I so freely give to my clients, ha).

        I am glad to hear you have the support of your family and friends. Like many Straddlers, I lost my blood family and others when I realized I HAD to live my life as I truly am. So it has been a process of rebuilding a new family and social life which is typically all part of the process.

        Anywho, I look forward to talking further and if you ever find yourself in the Wash, DC vicinity (moving up that way in a few months) I would love to meet you in person! : )

        Shanti Om Namaste

        Jess

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    I know this is kind of late, but hi! I started the Madison straddlers group and you should join! (how far are you from Madison) I loved reading your profile, it sounds like you do really interesting work. I almost went into environmental science in college in the U.P. but decided it involved too much science, ha. This comment reads like an OK Cupid message but I’m just always excited to hear about and meet new Wisconsin autostraddlers. Here’s the link to our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/530612153626302/

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      Hi Emma! No worries, you’re not late at all! I was very aware that you had started the Madstraddlers group. I even requested to join the group several months ago, but was never accepted. I’m sure it was a mix-up of some sort. No big deal. So I’d be happy to join the group now.

      I LOVE Madison! I went to undergrad and grad school there! In all, I spent 6 years of my life calling Madison home, and I miss it dearly. If only I had been out and transitioned then…… Oh well! I’m only about 2 hours away, and I try to find every excuse I can to visit. I will certainly let you know so we can meet over tea or something!

      It’s funny you mention the U.P.! A large portion of my family is from the western U.P. and I have spent most of my life vacationing there! It’s SO BEAUTIFUL! I try to swim in Lake Superior every time I visit, and I usually come home with a cooler full of pasties to eat!

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        I love the U.P.! I went to school in Eastern UP but I love the Houghton/Hancock area and the Pictured Rocks Nat’l Lakeshore is probably my favorite place in the entire world. Definitely hit me up if you are coming to town- I’m thinking about hosting a holigay fundraising party. I added you to the Facebook group too!

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    I feel blessed to have such incredible people in my life! Thank all of you for your love and support. For anyone who cares to dig deeper into my experiences transitioning, I’m sharing a link to an online journal I kept at the time. There are only 9 entries, and they are raw and unpolished. They are deeply personal. But they are real and they are me. And I want to share them. My life was filled with secrets and closed doors for so very long, and I don’t want that anymore. Especially if any part of my story, my journey, can help anyone else. So feel free to read, if you’d like. And I won’t be offended if you don’t!

    http://falcoperegrinus.bigender.net

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