The “Bible Belt” is an informal title for a collection of states in the southeastern United States, a place where the humidity stays thick in the air as though it could pull you down, if only you would allow it to.  It is a place where the words “y’all” and “ain’t” reign supreme and, as beautifully dubbed in Steel Magnolias, “Sweet tea is the house wine.“  It is a place where accents are as thick as the subtle skill our women have at throwing shade.  It is where I was born, and it is where I have lived for 28 years.

My name is Krystal, Krystal Rhiannon Stone.  It was not the name given to me at birth; it is the name I chose for myself.  I was born and raised in Dothan, Alabama, and for as long as I can remember, have not been your typical southern male.  When I was a child, when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I let loose with a little smile and responded with, “A girl!”  I stepped into my mother’s high heel shoes and never left them until I got a pair of my own.  I never knew what transsexual was.  I just knew I wasn’t a boy.  I didn’t look up to sports athletes.  I didn’t want to recreate the achievements of powerful men.  I wanted to be Pat Benatar.  I wanted to be Stevie Nicks.  I wanted to be Nancy Kerrigan and Oksana Baiul.  Most men in the south idolize the Super Bowl; my annual event was the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.  That was where I wanted to be.

I grew up in a less than ideal environment, but that is a story within itself that could not be contained so easily.  In high school, I went from jeans and t-shirts and slowly altered my style and presentation to be sleeker, more feminine.  I manipulated my parents into believing nothing was changing by using the idea of “going through a goth phase.”  This allowed me access to makeup, form fitting clothes and leather boots that hugged the legs as though they would never let go.  The phase morphed, becoming more.  The heels on the boots got taller, inch by inch.  The makeup became more and more refined.  The sleek black clothing became trimmed in fur and the shirts clung to my torso.  I was slowly changing my wardrobe to that of a woman.  My parents, if they even noticed, never said a word.

I graduated from high school and met a man who was in the Coast Guard that I stayed with for seven years.   Events during this relationship have partially molded me into who I am today.  While working as an entertainer at a Dothan nightclub, I met a transsexual from Atlanta, GA named Bianca Nicole.  Bianca was an intensely beautiful woman with a soul that lights up the room.  She was a beacon unto herself and was, in a simple description, everything I’d ever hoped to be.  That was when it clicked; I am transsexual.  I am a woman.  I am Krystal.  No one called me by my birth name anymore.  It was a chain that I shrugged away from my shoulders, and I opened myself up to the world as who I WANTED to be, who I would be.  I learned so much from Bianca and look up to her as a second mother.

Working in the drag scene, I traveled a lot.  I started to realize what could happen to people like me on a trip to Dallas, Texas.  After helping a friend in a pageant, I was outside a bar and noticed the person I was riding with had left.  Since everyone was staying at the same hotel nearby, I decided to walk with a group I had been talking to throughout the evening.  A group of men passed and I could see their expressions slowly warp as they got closer.  It went from a look of curiosity at what carnal acts could be, to a look of complete revulsion.  Their eyes were filled with malice and venom spilled from their mouths.  Granted, I was beyond used to the uninspired grab-bag full of insults by this point, but there was something different.  They didn’t want to just offend us, they wanted to hurt us.   One of them pulled out a gun, a black pistol darker than the night we were enjoying was held in his hand.  He gripped it like his pressure on the grip would somehow alleviate the hatred that was pulsing through every vein in his body.

Fear froze me in place.  I was going to die here.  I was going to die in Texas.  The ultimate insult, TEXAS?! REALLY?!  Couldn’t it be somewhere nice?  Not Tokyo or Paris, but Texas?  Well damn, just pull the trigger.  He leveled the gun at us and screamed all the usual, “Faggot, queen, tranny, freak.”  I just stood there, no tears, no movement.  There was nothing I could do.  If I was going to die, I was NOT going to give him the satisfaction of seeing a reaction.  It felt as though time had stopped, and so did the world along with it.  All of a sudden, a voice cut through the heavy silence, it was a security guard from another club and the men ran away.

It was during the coming weeks that I started to feel something inside me break.  I told no one what transpired in Texas.  My husband had no clue, my friends didn’t even know.  A thread of humanity was torn away, and I started to grow cold.  I saw what people were capable of doing, the darkness that lurked just under the surface of the general populace.  I promised myself to become darker, I distanced myself, causing a rift in my relationship that would years later, bring it crashing down.  I was, strangely, fine with it.  I never mourned the finality of that goodbye.  I never looked back.

At this point in time, things had drastically changed.  I switched jobs, altered my outlook on things, and I retreated inwards…almost hermetic.  A friend of mine who I had not heard from in quite a long time invited me to a party.  I was sitting at my house in an extremely oversized sweatshirt and flannel pajama pants, I was not presentable at all. At first, I was lazy and rolled my eyes at the prospect of getting off the couch, but after some prodding she convinced me to come, and I crawled my way to the bathroom to get ready.  Shower and makeup commenced.  My eyes were smoked out like no-one’s business and a nude lip.  I clean up nicely. I have never been one for subtlety when I dress for an occasion, on this night, I paired jeans with thigh-high black suede boots.  It was cute, I finished the look off with a leather jacket and I was out the door.

When I arrived, I said my hellos and sat down to a beer.  It was nice to get out and socialize.  Through the raucous of the party, I noticed there was one person who was watching and observing but had not spoken.  His eyes followed the movements of the party goers and his body language was closed off.  I have never been one for wallflowers so, of course, I challenged myself to get him to socialize and loosen up.  In no time, witty banter between us followed, and he eventually laughed and moved his chair from the corner to sit next to me.  We smoked cigarettes, drank a few beers, and talked.  It was effortless and simple, simple flirtation for the sake of passing the time.  At this point, I had not informed him that I was not born a biological woman, as the conversation did not yet have a goal.  Later that evening, I ran out of cigarettes, and he offered to drive me to the store.  When we got into the car, his flirtation changed tone into a much more serious form.  That was when I let him know what I was.  He knew.  He had known the entire time.  He shrugged and continued the conversation.  Cigarette restock was achieved, and we returned to the party.  He moved his chair closer, and when he spoke, he moved closer so that only I could hear him.  He knew what he was doing.  As the night went on, the conversation remained friendly and casual, discussing video games, comics, and other random topics unworthy of note.  I felt him inching closer over several minutes, and he finally spun me around and kissed me.  He initiated it.  That is one thing about being transsexual that is of utmost importance…. you NEVER cross that boundary… you wait for that line to be crossed.

After that, we spent several months together, nearly every day, hours on end of talking, movies, video games, and learning about each other.  Over time, I admitted I was falling for him.  He shrugged and said he knew.  Nothing changed.  It was like a friggin’ romance movie, all sweet and pure.  Feel free to roll your eyes.  I had met a man who marked my existence in a way that no one else ever has, the one I loved harder than anyone I can remember.  The one I very nearly stepped towards a precipice of self-destruction that could have easily ended terribly.

Six months passed and one night, at my suggestion, we went to a playground and sat on the swings.  We laughed and talked for hours until he slowed his arc to a gradual stop and looked to the ground.  I had been through this next part enough to know what was coming.  He started to speak, and I internally recited the lines along with him as though he was reading from a script.  “Krystal, you are amazing.  You are smart, funny, beautiful, and you are everything I have ever looked for.  I could very easily see myself falling in love with you and going further and further into that.  I have never been able to trust anyone and tell anyone as much as I have told you without them looking at me like I am crazy.  I have never met anyone like you before.  You are everything I want….in a girl.”  This paragraph is something that I have heard many times.  He could not handle dating me because I was transsexual, it says one facet of you defines your entire existence and the rest, while usually important in the list of desired attributes, does not matter.  I had fallen for this man more completely than anyone I had ever been with, and this rhetoric caused me to slide down the side of a jungle gym to my knees in shock.  A feeling like this had never happened.  I felt something in my chest snap.  It was like he had kicked me and the air ‘jettisoned’ itself into the night.  It was a pain unlike any other.  It was a hell I should have seen coming.  It was the perfect heartbreak that altered me completely.  It was the final straw that pushed me into apathy.  It was the thing that turned a heart to stone.  This is the common occurrence in my world, this is the norm.

There is a natural power inherent in who we are.  We have no choice but to go through these things and come out the other side more powerful and secure in ourselves.  We swim unabated through what we know could be an agonizing experience, but we do so and we endure.  We are women turned into powerful beings by circumstances beyond our control.  We are broken by people we love and trust the most and by strangers who want us dead, yet we still look forward and continue on, we never give up.

You wonder what it is like to be transsexual?  This is what we endure, it is difficult, it is heartbreaking, it is terrifying, it is empowering.  This life is not easy and it is not kind.  We endure, that is the beautiful thing.  Through being looked at like a fetish and being told you’re not enough, we ENDURE!!!  Through being threatened with death solely because you sit somewhere outside of a comfort zone, we ENDURE!!!!