JoAnne Wheeler Bland was the guest speaker for the Gender and Women’s Studies last “Genderations” lecture series on Friday, speaking about her experience and transition.
Born as the eldest male child in her family, Bland said she was expected to do things such as hunt, fish and play basketball growing up. However, she was never interested in doing those types of things, and knew it made her different.
“I knew I was different, but I didn’t know what it was,” Bland said. “I used to call it ‘it.’”
Bland said growing up was troublesome for her. She felt out of place in locker rooms and questioned if her feelings were a punishment from God. As she grew older, she attempted to stay busy and suppress ‘it’, and would have nightmares in which she was discovered.
“If anyone found out what I was thinking inside my head, I would surely die from shame,” she said.
As a married man, successful lawyer and evangelist, Bland said she lived with depression for the majority of her life.
In 2009, Bland was on five different anti-depressants, and three different medications to help with the migraines that had plagued her since childhood. Bland said she was suicidal, and weighed the options of how to deal with her life.
“I had two choices. Do something about it, or commit suicide,” she said. “It was a tough call.”
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2009, at the age of 65, Bland came to a realization.
“I am transgender,” she said.
Bland said she thought it would have been “so much easier just to die.” However, knowing that she would lose people and things in her life, Bland still came out and began to transition.
“If you’re not happy, possessions don’t mean anything,” she said.
Bland turned to an online community of people in similar situations for support.
“I have tried many times — have gone through the awful purges and the DESIRE keeps coming back, only stronger. Since I can not quit, I have come to accept who and what I am – and that makes a whole lot of difference once you can accept your femininity,” she said in a post on crossdressers.com in September 2009.
Bland went through several processes to fully become a the woman she “always wanted to be,” including undergoing 26 hours of reconstructive surgery in one week.
“But when I woke up, my body matched my brain,” she said.
She has since been an advocate for the transgender community, and has become comfortable with who she is.
“I’m a lipstick femme lesbian,” she said.
Bland said that she feels has made a difference throughout the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and in Kentucky.
Jade Wilson, a junior said attending the lecture made her look at it differently.
“All people are the same,” she said.