At 5 years old, Robin Galbraith didn’t necessarily know what the words “homosexuality” or “transgender” meant. But she knew she was different. In her mind, she didn’t believe boys had cooties. Instead, she wanted to be like them.
It was during this time, combined with a family vacation to the lake, when Galbraith first recognized a desire many young girls may not experience. With her eyes focused on her male cousin, she watched as he took off his shirt and darted off, wearing nothing but his swim trunks, toward the water.
“I wanted to rip my shirt of and go too!” Galbraith said. “But no. I had to go inside and put on my little girly bathing suit.”
WHERE EVERYONE KNOWS YOUR NAME
Transgender is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender identity or expression differs from what they were assigned at birth.
“Your gender identity happens at a really early age,” Galbraith said. “You’re born into this body which is your gender sex. Then you have gender expression, which is your demeanor, what you wear and how you connect with people. Mine have never matched.”
In the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM-V), the term “gender dysphoria” is used as an updated diagnostic name for “gender disorder” to characterize individuals who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Previously, DSM-IV used the diagnostic name “gender identity disorder” however; DSM-V was updated to exclude the controversial word “disorder,” as gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder.
“Hopefully it will open doors for some people,” John Conrad, a licensed clinical social worker at BayView Professional Associates (a service of AltaPointe Health Systems), said of the updated diagnostic name.
According to Conrad, gender dysphoria “is really quite rare” with national statistics for adult males .005 percent and adult females .002 percent. However, Conrad said more and more children and high school-age individuals are coming out as transgender.
“They find their assigned sex repulsive,” he said.
Though Conrad notes “a lot of misinformation” regarding transgender information, he said the changes over the years and the changes in cultural norms have led to more acceptance.
“You’re constantly uncomfortable in your own skin,” Galbraith said. “I’ve been told this is what you do, this is how you act and this is who you are supposed to date. So, I was living based on what my environment was and what I knew I was supposed to do, but I didn’t feel that way.”
DSM-V states gender dysphoria manifests in a variety of ways, including a strong desire to be treated as the other gender, having feelings and reactions typical of the opposite gender, or a desire to be rid of one’s own sex characteristics. The presence of clinically significant distress is a critical element in the diagnosis.
“I don’t shop in women’s sections, and I haven’t for decades,” Galbraith said. “I’ve always had a wallet in my back pocket, trying to fit in this world but never really fully fitting.”
At the beginning of the year, Galbraith made the decision to transition.
One of the biggest hurdles he had to overcome was sharing the life-changing decision with his family.
Galbraith, who had already begun counseling and a self-awareness process that included attending lectures and seminars to educate himself further, decided it was finally time to involve his mother.
“Her first statement was that she was not surprised and that my Facebook told a story of change without me really saying it,” Galbraith said.” She said, ‘you’re my child. I’m OK, you’re OK. This will be a process and adjustment.’”
During their second major conversation, his mother said she would go through a grieving process because she is losing a daughter.
“But she has not lost me as her child,” Galbraith said. “She is gaining a son. She wants me to be happy and at peace — to live an abundant life.”
“I began piecing everything together, and my mother said a couple weeks ago, ‘I look at your [childhood] pictures, and I can totally see it,’” Galbraith said.
In February, he also informed his brother and sister-in-law who were both supportive and encouraging.
“I always tell my community to speak what is their truth, so I had to speak mine.”
Transitioning refers to altering one’s birth sex, but it is not a one-step process that can be completed with a simple surgery. The entire transition process occurs over a significant period of time and the counseling accompanying the decision may last a lifetime, if needed.
“You have to get emotionally prepared,” Galbraith said. “This changes everything. You can take your shirt off.”
Galbraith began the physical transitioning process about two months ago, with the prescription of a regimen of testosterone hormones. He is also in the process of changing his legal name.
“Since I’ve come out as transgender, I realize that’s who I am, and I want to change,” Galbraith said. “The part that has to change is my physical self. Then I will be able to fully connect like I’m supposed to. My name is Lane. That says it all. I just want to be a regular guy.
I’m like a cowboy that has been handed this journey and I have to walk it. I don’t have a choice.”
Once a person decides to transition, it usually requires a year of counseling before hormone therapy can even begin, Galbraith said, but just because an individual identifies as transgender, they may not always choose to alter their bodies surgically and/or hormonally.
“It’s a daily battle, but I’ve been happier because I’ve been able, little by little, to identify better as male,” Galbraith said. “I am blessed to have family, community, co-workers at my favorite restaurant Lap’s on the causeway, who call me by name when I walk in the door. Like Norm on the show ‘Cheers,’ but of course they say Lane.”
OUR TROUBLES ARE ALL THE SAME
Lane Galbraith experienced a very traditional childhood. He grew up in Mobile, attended Cottage Hill Baptist Church and had very loving, supportive parents.
Raised in a Southern Baptist environment, Galbraith was very embedded in the denomination from a young age, especially with a grandfather who was a minister and a father who was a minister of music.
“This [transitioning] is not a circumstance based on [when people say], ‘Oh, they were just abused and that’s why they didn’t turn our right,’” Galbraith said. “I had a great childhood, a great upbringing. We didn’t have a lot, but I needed for nothing. And that’s what my childhood was. I was surrounded by a lot of love.”
At the same time, he recalled living a “very sheltered” life.
“When you’re raised in a society and environment that [says] ‘This is what you do, this is how it works’ and [says] ‘You’re supposed to get married and have babies,’ that’s just the way it is,” he said. “That’s the environment I grew up in, and I’m not saying anybody was right or wrong. It’s just that’s where society was at that time.”
When Galbraith reached a point in life where he decided getting out of Mobile was the best option for him at the time, he joined the U.S. Navy, which led to living in various places across the country like Seattle, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Hawaii and Texas.
“I was able to be open and out there,” Galbraith said. “I would go to the grocery store and hold the hand of the person I was with. I never got any threats. I was out at all my work places and during school. It wasn’t a big issue there, and I haven’t dealt with some of the things I’ve heard people have had to deal with. I was not discriminated against. It was the complete opposite. I was respected because I was telling the truth.”
But having lived in Houston for more than 16 years, Galbraith noticed significant differences between the nation’s fourth most populous city and Mobile.
“Coming back to my hometown was an awakening to the oppression that was here,” he said. “I thought after being gone 20 years that some things would have changed, or things would have evolved more than what I was already accustomed to in other places.”
Galbraith lived his life openly in Houston but never involved himself with advocacy or felt drawn toward others struggling with their own sexuality.
However, upon returning to Mobile in January 2006, he noticed a need in the community, but it was not just a lack of a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community that opened his eyes. It was a complete lack of diversity in several social aspects.
“I would see the white band go by, then I would see the African-American band go by, and I was like, ‘after all this time?’ and it broke my heart,” Galbraith said of a Mardi Gras parade he attended shortly after returning home to Mobile.
Galbraith then worked to enact LGBT Wave of Hope in 2009, filing for non-profit status in 2011 with hopes of providing legal, medical and counseling resources for the local LGBT community.
“I get a ton of calls about the legal situation and discrimination,” he said. “They just don’t know what their rights are, and they need to know what the Alabama law says.”
According to the LGBT Wave of Hope website, the organization’s mission is “to educate, empower and inspire so that everyone understands they have a voice … That our gifts and talents were given to share for a better world … We as a Gulf Coast LGBT community can bring change where we are.”
“It’s not just about marriage equality. It’s not just the discrimination factor,” Galbraith said. “This is saying we are human beings, and we deserve the same pursuit of happiness and the same entitlements of protection and the same right to have freedom of expression.”
Galbraith said LGBT Wave of Hope is stepping out to be a more visible support staple in the community by facilitating education and becoming allies with other organizations like Mobile Pride, Cornerstone Metropolitan Community Church, Open Table and Equality Alabama, among others.
LGBT Wave of Hope has also partnered with LGBT groups at local colleges including the University of South Alabama, Faulkner State Community College and Spring Hill College to expand their community of support.
“I’m trying to bring everyone to the table and share information,” Galbraith said. “We connect you with organizations that will help you through this process and are more equipped to help in all these different matters.”
The goal of LGBT Wave of Hope is to educate, share information and ultimately bring the community together in Mobile so people will not have to travel to places like Birmingham or New Orleans for resources and support.
“I might be the face, but I have a huge community behind me who needs this,” Galbraith said. “I’ve always told people, ‘I want you to get to [the point in] your life where you know you’re worthy.’ Once you have that awakening, you’ll realize, ‘what have I been waiting for? What have I been afraid of?’”
Galbraith has seen people in the local LGBT community struggle with eating disorders, self-mutilation, drinking and drug abuse, which he noted as the most prominent issue, because people are hurting and trying to suppress pain they are experiencing.
“They need to find a place of peace within themselves first, in their own confidence, to go to their family or go to their coworkers and friends they’ve had for a long time and say, ‘you know what, it’s time for truth,’” he said. “And this is who I am. You can choose to love me and get to know the real me and all of me, but I’ve been carrying this for a long time, and I don’t want to carry it anymore.”
Last week, thousands, probably millions, of LGBT supporters celebrated Pride Week across the country from San Francisco to New York City. It was not a practice of forcing unwanted information or beliefs on anyone. Rather, it was a celebration of love.
“They have hearts, they have minds, they have souls, they have mortgages, they pay the same taxes, they’re productive members of their city and they deserve the same rights,” Galbraith said.
While the Empire State Building lit up to display the brightest colors of the rainbow, the streets of Mobile remained relatively quiet.
“This community really internalizes because it’s the South and a lot of it is faith-based,” Galbraith said. “I speak my faith. I don’t try to tell people this is what you should do or this is what you should believe — I’m never going to do that. We as individuals have to take responsibility that in society, we try so much to put people in a box, label them or define them. You don’t need to understand me. You don’t need to agree with me. You just need to see me as a human being. Is there going to be negative people? Absolutely. But do I think the percentages are going to be greater of those who think love is going to win and prevail? Yes. I think it’s great. I really do.”