Imagine being born into a world where you were never able to be your true self. A place that forced you to manifest from the outside in, rather than the inside out. My desire wasn’t the kind that could hurt anyone or anything, but it was against every moral and societal code that existed in my world. In all honesty, I didn’t want to write this article, but a deal is a deal. Join me on part of my journey toward enlightenment and learn how I removed the shackle of judgment.
It was October 2011. I was 30 years old, overweight, an alcoholic and unhappy. I was shopping for a new diet; one that would not only help me become healthier but help me transition into the life I felt I needed to live.
At the time I was in the marketing research industry and traveling for a living. Let’s say I was comfortable. I was able to purchase myself whatever I needed, whenever I needed it and had about 22 weeks off per year. I was debt free and had investments and a perfect voting attendance. Overall, I was going with the flow of being an American.
I had a vision for myself, however, and it was going to take radical change. I was planning on progressively changing my gender from man to woman. This wasn’t something I decided as an adult; this was something I dreamed about ever since my earliest memories as a toddler.
I have always gravitated toward femininity. I can’t explain why, but it’s just the way my brain works. The problem is, in the world in which I grew up, boys weren’t allowed to be feminine. As a child, I would be corrected and told no when I would be caught playing with makeup or girl’s things. This wasn’t my parents’ or teachers’ fault; this was just how society was programmed. So I conformed but continued embracing this side of myself in secret.
I remember the first time I saw a trans person. She was on TV, and, at that time, her label was “transsexual.” The show was called The Jerry Springer Show, and, boy, did I feel humiliated. This was the first time I could sort of relate to another human, and they were being made to look stupid on national TV. She was fist fighting with another guest on the show, and her wig was ripped off, too. This person, who I had something in common with, was made to look like an animal, and I didn’t want to be associated with anything like that. So once again, I buried my secret even deeper.
As I grew up, I found myself conforming to society’s paradigm. I was living as an ordinary guy, doing guy things and setting guy goals. I would play baseball, build forts, ride ATVs, shoot guns, etc. I tried to find a girlfriend but never had much success. The few times I did date someone, all feminine desires would disappear for a short period of time, but they would always come back full force. After high school, I planned to join the military in the hope it would turn me into a normal guy. Thankfully, that never worked out because that path wasn’t what I truly wanted.
I started drinking alcohol when I was 13. An occasional beer here and there turned into drinking to get drunk by the time I was 15. This helped numb the pain and depression I was experiencing. It almost seemed as though all my decisions were based on avoiding the fear of facing my true self. I just couldn’t imagine the humiliation I would have to endure by telling my secret to my world.
My transition began during the fall 2011. I had had enough of living a lie and couldn’t continue anymore. I was so unhappy. I weighed 242 pounds, had a size 42 waist and could barely tie my shoes without losing my breath. I also tried to quit drinking alcohol many times without any success. I knew I needed to start planning my escape from my current life. So I started to shop for a new diet because I figured my body would need to be functioning optimally with what I was going to put it through.
I stopped watching TV earlier that year, so in my free time, I read books. My main interest was U.S. history, but I would occasionally throw in a book on healthier eating. The very first dieting book I read was You: The Owner’s Manual. This book was good, but it didn’t quite have all the information I was looking for. It did inspire me, however, to learn how my body works. The next books I read were about being a vegetarian and vegan. Both of these diets sounded OK, but neither really caught my attention because, at the time, I wasn’t sympathetic toward saving animals. I was really just searching for a diet that would help me lose weight, provide me with the nutrients I needed and help me stop relying on doctors.
And then I found it. Raw food. The information was so simple and exactly what I was looking for. I first learned about eating raw while watching the documentary Food Matters. The rest was history. I loved eating raw so much. I knew I had a future in it but wasn’t sure where.
For some reason, I associated eating raw foods with being a hippie. I figured this was the perfect reason for me to grow out my hair, so that is exactly what I did. People were so confused when they would see me with hair longer than a buzz cut. Not only was my hair longer, but my body was looking good. I was quickly losing weight and looking younger. My plan was working. I was finally becoming more comfortable with my appearance, but one thing was wrong: I was still living as a man. I had no clue how I was going to make the change over to a woman, but I figured if it was my path, it would just happen.
During summer 2014, I found a clinic that would evaluate me as a candidate to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT). They diagnosed me with gender identity disorder (GID) and started me on HRT. I was so nervous but felt ready, or so I thought. I still talked like a guy, however, and wasn’t confident in my feminine appearance. Also, I was thinking about the new raw food café, Nucleus Raw Foods in Luzerne, Pennsylvania, I had just opened. What would my customers and peers think? So I started HRT and found myself superdepressed and stopped two days later. I was afraid to start showing people my truth. I was also scared of the judgments my friends in the raw food world would cast on me.
I know I didn’t give it a fair shake but guess I wasn’t ready for it. So I wrote off transitioning without ever having the intent to revisit it again.
Seven months later, I fell in love. She was wonderful and, for the first time in my life, a woman loved me back. We were together only for a little more than a year, but she taught me more about myself than any other human had. She knew about my secret, but she also saw how scared I was to show it to people. The relationship didn’t work out for many reasons, but something that stuck in my head was that she kept having nightmares about me leaving her and changing my gender to woman.
After we broke up, I did a lot of soul searching and couldn’t stop thinking about my ex’s dreams. I kept thinking: “Why am I fighting with myself? If this is what feels right, then find the courage to make the change.” So I revisited my doctor and found myself back on HRT. This is when my life changed forever.
Before I continue, let me explain the effects I experienced being on HRT. Not only did my physical body start to become feminized, but my emotions changed. I was more sensitive and loving. In fact, I felt true love for the first time in my life. I also was able to cry like I used to when I was a child—the kind of cry where you get everything out. Not the kind where you get some of it out and then quickly recompose yourself to avoid looking like a baby. These were real tears. My heart was no longer hardened.
I was taking things slowly and going at my own pace. The changes were subtle, and as time went by, my clothing choices progressively became more feminine. After being on hormones for about three months, the holidays were approaching, and I needed to start telling people before I saw them in person. My family, who already knew my secret from my first round with hormones, didn’t know I was back on them, and my closest friends had no clue. What were they going to think of me? What would happen to my reputation? I am a small-business owner. What would happen to my business? Would I lose everything? The idea of having to tell so many people and losing any of them was terrifying to me, but it had to happen because I didn’t want to run away from everyone and everything I knew.
I felt lost and had a heart full of fear, and this is when I had my first real conversation with God. The interesting thing was, I wasn’t close with God, but I think once I hit rock bottom and had nobody else to put my trust in, I handed myself over in complete surrender. At the time, my ego was kicking and screaming, and it was time to put it in its place because I was no longer willing to live my life like a prisoner.
I was alone in an empty warehouse, sitting on a chair with my arms folded across my lap and my head resting on my arms. I was experiencing a moment of truth. Tears were running down my face, and I started to pray for the first time in years.
“I don’t understand why my brain works this way. I don’t understand why I must go through this. Why couldn’t I have been born normal like everyone else? If this is what you need me to do, then I’m going to carry it like a cross and do it to help other people. I beg you, please just help me stay strong during my weakest moments.”
And then it happened. I sent the first text message to one of my closest friends. And then another and another. A minute or two went by and no response. I was so afraid of being judged, but I reminded myself, “Don’t expect the worst, and be patient.” Finally, responses started to come in, and they went something like this: “We have been friends forever. This doesn’t change anything.” I felt so relieved, so then I posted the news on Instagram and told a couple of hundred people at once. The replies started to come in, and people were supportive and showing me their love. There were a couple of people who judged my path and told me I was going the wrong way, but other than that, everything was good.
I did hit resistance with some people, and it caused me anxiety but also made me think. I didn’t want to take the route of “Well, screw them. Who needs them anyway?”, so I started to wonder if the people who didn’t accept me were just people who I didn’t accept. So I started to reflect on their lives and the things I didn’t accept about them. Why didn’t I completely love and accept them? I wondered if I did figure out how to make peace with all their life choices, without saying anything, would they start to accept me? This was my first experiment with Love.
I was quickly able to identify things that I didn’t accept in those people, so I started to work on loving them unconditionally. This was now my new way of living my life. If I didn’t like something someone else did, no matter what it was, I identified the hypocrite within myself. For instance, there was once a superlazy person in my life who was causing me stress, and I would catch this person slacking off whenever I wasn’t looking. One day, I decided to look at myself and evaluate whether I was lazy. Actually, I knew I was lazy. So, I started to work harder, and whenever I felt slothful, I would fight it off by getting busy. The next thing I knew, this person was no longer a part of my life. It was almost as if they were there to teach me lessons about myself and once I improved myself, their work was complete, and they vanished into thin air. Now that I was working harder, the people who surrounded me were following my lead. It was almost as though my perspective on life improved and the world I was experiencing was more harmonious. This way of looking at things confirmed a biblical passage I had remembered from years before.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Everything was going great, and my new perspective on life was constantly improving my world. It was all starting to make sense. I was quickly correcting my judgments against others and experiencing a smooth transition. There were some arising problems, however. First, not everybody knew about my secret, and I started to become afraid of telling more people. Second, I was having complications with the HRT. One of the pills is an anti-androgen (testosterone) that was making me extremely drowsy and, at times, depressed. I talked with my doctor about changing my dosage but wasn’t able to get an appointment with him for as long as two months. Third, I started to have extreme guilt about the possibility of no longer being able to procreate as a result of being on HRT. Lastly, I met a new friend who I really liked spending time with, and Danielle, the name I had chosen for myself, slowly started to fade away.
I kind of wanted to remember what it was like to be Daniel. Was Danielle still a necessary part of my path? So I stopped HRT and mourned hard for three days. I cried because Danielle helped me grow as a human and a spirit. She allowed me to see truths about the world and myself that I have been blind to throughout my life. I missed her but knew I needed to revisit Dan. I was happy, but after a while felt extremely challenged. I didn’t have a connection toward being transgender anymore, but that was because my new lady friend had my attention.
Things died out with this new friend rather quickly, and I found myself reaching out to my ex. I made a commitment to her, and I needed to know if we had a future together and, if we did, I planned on living my life by denying my desire to be a woman. She was very clear with me and let me know our relationship was over. I took this as a sign that it was time to fully embrace my true self. I started by cutting bangs into my hair. I was shocked with the results. In fact, I had never been happier with my appearance. It was almost as though I saw myself for the first time in my life. I then contacted my doctor and was back on HRT.
It was time for me to make the next step and start living full time as a woman. My final obstacle was that I didn’t know how I was going to do it, and then one day I got a black eye.
After work, I go home and play with my cat. This usually involves me chasing him around the house and play fighting. One day we were crawling around on the floor near my upstairs banister. As I went to playfully jab at him, I turned my head and accidentally hit it on the banister right above my left eye. It swelled immediately and hurt terribly. When I woke up the next morning, I had a black eye, but the black looked like eyeliner. And this is when I said, “Screw it.” So I lined my other eye, put on a little bit more makeup and went to work wearing makeup and dressing in gender-neutral clothing. People seemed to be confused, and I had trouble returning eye contact, but for my first day, I was doing OK.
Overall, the journey from then until now has been trying. There were times I would pace back and forth behind my door, afraid to walk into the public eye. This had a lot to do with my depleted energy levels resulting from fear of judgment. Imagine having to tell your deepest secret to hundreds of people, face to face. In the beginning, it was difficult, but it did get easier with time.
And then I found myself with one last person to tell, and I was scared to death. This person is critically important to my professional life and has tremendous leverage over me. Let’s just say I was anticipating the worst. The day finally came where I mustered up the strength to tell this person my story, and, boy, was I put in my place. The response I received was this: “I once knew somebody else who went through what you are experiencing and you have our complete support. You need to go through with this or you will live a life of misery.”
I now had confirmation that all the fears I have had over the past few months and years were a complete waste of my energy. Altogether, I “came out” to my world and didn’t really lose anything. Business didn’t change. Friends: I lost a few. Family: They’re still family. If only I chose to trust that I would have been provided for by God, I wouldn’t have had to live in the hellish world of fear I was creating. All those years of hell on Earth were the result of my fearing judgment from my peers. I would have saved myself a lot of anguish if I realized it was my judgment of them that was causing me all of my pain.
Redefining a gender role is difficult and requires extreme patience. Every human you meet immediately downloads data into their brain about you, and if you want them to identify you as the gender of your choice, you have to help reprogram them. This includes a lot more than changing your clothing style. I needed to completely re-create my perceived existence, which involves altering my voice and how I communicate different emotions through speech while also learning and adopting more feminine mannerisms and body movements, etc.
Some people who knew me as Dan still call me Dan and use male pronouns when addressing me if I haven’t recently seen them. This puts me into a difficult place because I really don’t like correcting people or telling them what to do. So I respectfully ask them to make an effort to start calling me Danielle or Dani and use the pronouns she and her. Being misgendered causes me to doubt my overall progress, and even worse is being misgendered in public because it is humiliating. People who I meet now use the pronouns she and her and call me Danielle or Dani. This is very easy for them because they immediately identify me as a woman.
I have many more stories I could share in regard to how I have grown as a human since accepting my path. I’ve literally had to deprogram my way of thinking and peel away the false layers of reality that have been suffocating me since childhood.
So here is my advice to you: Your ego is your own worst enemy, and as long as you keep feeding it, you will experience hell on Earth. In order to defeat it, you must go against your grain and experience discomfort because the entitlement of comfort is the equivalent of a filthy puddle harboring mosquitos. Just in case you do not know, some things that feed the ego are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth. Wait and see how good your heart feels when you challenge these vices and win. Every human you meet and situation you find yourself in is God’s showing you a reflection of yourself. Write down a list of what you don’t like about other people and once you’ve got it down, title it, “A List of Things I Don’t Like About Myself.” Trust me, just do an experiment with one thing on your list. If you don’t like someone who constantly gossips, do some soul-searching with yourself and think about whether you gossip, too. If you do, fight with all your might not to converse about anyone else behind their back. Your world will improve, and you will start vibrating on a higher plane.
As you can probably tell, not only has this been a human journey for me but a spiritual one. Searching for a way to live as a woman has brought me tremendous joy in my life and has had nothing but positive effects on my surrounding environment. It took me from a miserable life of judging people while sitting upon a barstool to owning one of the healthiest restaurants and food-manufacturing companies in America. Nucleus Raw Foods has helped tens of thousands of people since its opening in 2014, and every time my personal life flourishes, Nucleus soon follows.
In closing, I want to thank you for your time. Always remember that you are loved and a beautiful human being. I am grateful for you.
Check out Danielle McGrogan’s transformation story!
Check out Danielle McGrogan’s feature story on her café, Nucleus Raw Foods!