Brittany Novotny was born and raised a boy, but from the time she was little, knew she was different. The 29 year old is transgendered, or someone whose internal gender identity doesn't match the outside.
"The first time I really can recall a moment "¦ there was something different, I was, I'd like to say, (in) kindergarten. It was at a time in the 1980s when girls were tying their shirts into little knots on one side "¦ and I did that at school one day, being like the other girls "¦ and thinking, 'Oh, yeah, I identify with them,'" Brittany said.
Her teacher, however, didn't approve, and told her boys didn't "act like that."
"She made me feel really ashamed."
From that point on, Brittany worked hard to fit in with boys. Even at home, she kept her feelings to herself, only acting like the girl she knew she was when alone.
"If I had a moment where I was alone, I would try to "¦ be myself. Those were some of the happiest times in my childhood, where I was able to just be me without fear of any kind of outside pressure or repression."
When she was 8, she was able to attach a word " transsexual " to what she was feeling, but she said that moment was both scary and enlightening.
"The way it was written in the dictionary at the time "¦ it was put in there as some kind of mental disorder, something kind of shameful. But, on the other hand, seeing that there was a word in the dictionary that seemed to explain what I was going through,"¦ clued me in that, 'OK, I'm not the only person on the face of this planet going through this.'"
Entering Westmoore High School, Brittany became friends with an alternative group of girls, people who wouldn't look askance if she painted her nails and wore eye shadow in that mid-'90s alt style. That persona of existing somewhere between genders carried her through undergrad at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and on to law school at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.
With graduation approaching and the prospect looming of entering the professional world, Brittany decided she could no longer live as a male.
"I felt that if people met me as a female, they'd expect the right things out of me, they would kind of get who I am," she said. "If I kept putting it off, I was going to become even more unhappy, even more depressed."
Dawn Singleton, who holds a doctorate, is a private practice psychologist in Oklahoma City who has worked with transgendered people in the metro. She said transgendered people often have body issues because they feel a disconnect between their mental and physical selves. The decision to transition can be transformative on many levels.
"Mentally, once they make that decision," Singleton said, "they feel a sense of euphoria, even though it's very difficult. When they get to express on the outside who they are, it is a relief, and all of the mental anguish they've been going through is greatly relieved."
After graduating in May 2005, Brittany sent a letter to her family explaining her decision. She moved home to Oklahoma and, after beginning hormone replacement therapy in August, went from William to Brittany.
"Frankly, I didn't really look all that feminine yet," she said. "But, I was just like, 'Too bad. I can't keep putting this false self forward.' I was done with that person."
Lisa Price, who had first met Brittany as William at USAO in 1998 and remained a close friend, supported her through the transition.
"Seeing her go through the changes "¦ I was glad I could be there for her," Price said. "After the adjustment, she was much happier, a more positive person and happy to be becoming who she felt she should be."
Singleton said people who have the courage to make the transition are heroes to her. "They are risking everything to be the person they authentically are. Even those of us who are what the world would call normal, it's very hard for us sometimes to be authentically ourselves."
Although the transition process from one gender to another can be completed without surgery, Brittany decided to undergo reassignment surgery in May 2007.
The procedure is commonly called gender reassignment, but Brittany likes to call it genital reassignment.
"It's not changing your sex, I feel like your sex and gender is up here," she said, pointing to her head. "All they're doing is moving around the external stuff that doesn't really make who you are."
TRANSWOMAN IN OKLAHOMA
Brittany's acceptance in Oklahoma sometimes surprised Price, who is also from Oklahoma. "I was like, 'Is this Oklahoma, are you sure?' It's definitely a nice surprise."
But, she said, "people know her, they see that's she's a person, and that makes a difference to people here."
While Brittany claims a "vocal minority" exists that doesn't think the GLBT community belongs in the state, her experience being a transwoman in Oklahoma has been positive.
"I have a belief in my fellow Oklahomans. Having grown up here, I know that "¦ even when I was breaking gender roles, I had friends who considered themselves conservative Christians "¦ that didn't ever not befriend me," she said.
Brittany has become involved in the GLBT movement in Oklahoma. She believes she can be a positive role model.
"I know that I could live my life without addressing this, but I'm not ashamed, nor do I think I should be, nor do I think anyone else should be," she said. "The fact that you're trans or lesbian or gay doesn't have to be something that stops you from having a dream. You can do that right here at home in Oklahoma. You can be yourself right here, and by doing that, we can help bring the rest of the community along in recognizing "¦ that we are productive members of society who bring a good valuable diversity to the city."
Brittany also has political aspirations. Last Saturday, she was elected as national committeewoman for Young Democrats of Oklahoma, the first transwoman to hold a post in Young Democrats of America.
At only 29, that's a pretty big list of accomplishments for anyone, man or woman.
"I have a great life ahead of me."
"The first thing people say to us when we're born is, 'You're a boy, or you're a girl,'" said Dawn Singleton, a private practice psychologist in Oklahoma City. "With transgendered people, the inside of their body doesn't match the outside."
The term "transgender" is an umbrella term for a wide group of people whose genetic make-up doesn't necessarily match their psychological make-up.
According to the American Psychological Association, transgendered people can be transsexuals, or biologically male or female people who consider themselves the opposite sex; transvestites, the most numerous transgender group; and drag queens or drag kings.
The transgendered umbrella term does not dictate sexual orientation.
"Gender is not about sexuality," Singleton said. "It's not about who you are sexually attracted to. Gender is how you view yourself psychologically as a male or a female." "Jenny Coon Peterson
More: Culture Chic highlights gender roles in other countries.