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Kelly at her home in Saranac Lake. Photo: Kelly Metzgar.
Kelly at her home in Saranac Lake. Photo: Kelly Metzgar.

On self-discovery: Kelly Metzgar, trans woman

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As 2013 comes to a close, we're looking back at some of our favorite stories from the year. Some are newsy, some are just for fun. This piece is about a personal journey.

Kelly Metzgar was born a boy. Now, in her mid-fifties, she's starting to live publicly as a woman.

Zach Hirsch brings us the story of how one person has finally stopped living in hiding.

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Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

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On a weirdly warm night in mid-November, a charismatic, bearded young guy is about to give a talk in a lecture hall at St. Lawrence University. Noah Wagoner is in his early twenties. He’s handsome and muscular. About 30 people have gathered to listen to Noah’s story.

If this weren’t a discussion about what it’s like to be transgendered, put on by the LGBT club, you’d really never guess that Noah was born a female.

Noah tells the audience, "So, around the age of 12, I told my parents I was a boy. Again. I told them often. You’d think they would’ve caught on."

A handful of people in the audience are transgendered like Noah. One of them is Kelly Metzgar. She asks, "How would women feel if there was a trans woman, or a cross dresser in the ladies’ room?"  

Kelly is starting to do some advocacy work herself, and she’s here to learn a few talking points. Kelly is in her 50s, but she looks a little younger than that. She only started becoming a woman a couple of years ago. In fact, she still goes to work as a man.

Kelly meets with Noah Wagoner after he finishes giving his talk. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Kelly meets with Noah Wagoner after he finishes giving his talk. Photo: Zach Hirsch
When she looks at the twenty-something Noah, speaking with such ease at the front of the room, she wishes she could’ve come out that early on.

She says, "It makes me very jealous. I wish I could be 20, 30 years younger, ‘cause it would’ve been a much different life."

Kelly says she always felt she was meant to be a woman. As a little kid, she’d wait for her family to go out shopping, so she could secretly try on her mother’s clothing.

Her parents were pretty conservative. They caught her cross-dressing more than once. Kelly says her parents weren’t physically abusive, but they did punish her by embarrassing her in front of her brothers and sister. And it’s not as if she could’ve easily explained herself if she tried. She was only 10. 

"So I knew I wasn’t gay. Didn’t know what I was. And I had no one to talk to."

For a lot of people, this is where it gets a little confusing. And that’s actually kind of the point: being transgender can be complicated. Kelly was born male, and is attracted to women. She just wants to be a woman herself, too.

Kelly says she has "Never been attracted to guys. Having been one, I knew what it was like. There was nothing really great there!"

If that sounds strange, well - that’s exactly why Kelly and other transgender advocates say they have their work cut out for them.

She says, "That’s one of the misconceptions, that trans people are gay or lesbian. And actually sex and gender are two different things. And orientation - who we’re attracted to - is something else even besides that."

Kelly wasn’t so versed in this vocabulary as a kid. At a very young age, she was convinced that there was something wrong with her, and that idea really stuck. Even in college, cross-dressing was still a big secret - so big, that it drove Kelly to break up with her fiancé.                                       

"She was my first real love," Kelly says, "and I just couldn’t tell her. I would rather have her hate me, and think, 'What a jerk that guy was,' than risk her finding out who I really was."

But after college, she started to meet some open-minded friends she felt safe around. Little by little she began going out in public as a woman. She says she got tired of hiding.

It’s only been recently that Kelly has started to really redefine herself. A couple of years ago, she started hormone therapy so she can permanently become a woman. And just over this past year, Kelly started coming out to family members. In April, she told her sister. Kelly was blown away by how supportive she was: "She actually came up to Saranac Lake this summer. And after 51 years, my sister met her sister. You don’t know the weights that are lifted. The chains that you carry around with you? They’re becoming lighter and lighter."

But she still has a long way to go. She has two kids, and they don’t know yet.

The LGBT event at St. Lawrence University has turned from a lecture into a discussion. Kelly’s chiming in a lot. She feels like this is her time to become more of an activist.

"I realized that all these people were working on my behalf. I have to do my part, too," she says. "We’re not looking for special rights. We’re not looking for more rights. We’re only looking for equal rights."

She says there’s a lot left to do to educate people about transgendered life, and that starts with telling her story. 

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