A Long and Painful Journey of Growth and Discovery

I’ve always had to battle challenges and adversity far larger than being transgender.
In this blog post, let’s focus on the transgender part of my story…
I was born in 1971 and grew up in a time, a conservative geographic region, and surrounded by people who never asked me why I was so unhappy and hid away in my room for days on end. When I did make attempts to try and tell them, they didn’t listen. This began when I was 3 years old…
By the time I was 5 years old, I stopped trying to tell people that I was actually a boy inside the female body they perceived. Instead, I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Maybe I didn’t quite belong in this world? Maybe I was just broken?
When finally, at the age of 20, I figured out that I was transgender, it was the beginning of an odyssey. This was now over 30 years ago. And the odyssey is still ongoing.
I used to say “I was born in the wrong body” to explain my situation as simply as possible to people. But, I don’t want to say “in the wrong body” anymore, because I have realized this is basically negative self-talk. There is nothing wrong with me or my body. I am not broken. My soul and my biological body were simply mismatched. Why, we’ll never know.
Well, I do have a theory (with a slight twinkle in my eye):
Since I was a kid, I like to imagine a factory high up in the heavens, where exhausted workers toil around the clock at long assembly lines. Their task is to stick souls into matching bodies before those little bodies are then put into wombs. Obviously, every now and then an assembly line worker does not pay attention. As happened in my case when he, she, or they stuck my male soul into a female body… a second of complacency which has cost me dearly my entire life.
For it has taken truly until now for me to realize that I do belong in this world. And that I have as much right as everyone else to take up space, be heard, be seen.
For the longest time, I felt as if I had to apologize for being who I am. I was terrified whenever I needed to come out at work, or in private.
It was during those days as well, that I got rejected in job interviews simply for being transgender.
And then, one time, in the year 2000, the head of human resources of a prestigious company told me after I mentioned that I am transgender, “That’s not a problem at all, Mr. Klenk. You are a very good fit. We’d like to hire you. Just don’t tell anyone else in the company that you are transgender.”
And you know, what? I actually said, “Yes, sure, I understand.”
Because I was so grateful that someone wanted to hire me.
Today, 23 years later, I am fully aware just how discriminating, and disrespectful the HR representative’s request was. And that I should have gotten up that very moment and said “NO”.
Yet, only recently, after years of work with my psychologist did it finally dawn on me that I have prioritized the needs of others my entire life.
How often was I hidden away and still am. To this day, my adoptive father thinks it’s better to not mention to anyone in his village that I am transgender. He can’t even bring himself to use the word transgender. Instead, he refers to it as “your thing.”
My adoptive mother still struggles with finding the right pronouns, 32 years after I came out to her and transitioned. She is concentrating like mad when she speaks to me but often falls back into the female form. And, to this day, she is lying to everyone she knows and only speaks to them about her daughter. When I visit and people she knows walk towards us, she grabs my arm and literally runs with me in the other direction. Because she is at a loss as to how to explain who the young man at her side is. So, to protect my mental health, since a couple years ago, I stopped visiting her.
My ex-wife and her siblings insisted throughout our entire marriage that it will be better not to mention to their parents that their son-in-law is transgender. Since it would make their parents uncomfortable and would possibly break their hearts.
What about my heart?
But you know what? I went along with all of it. Always put myself second. Always understood. And always aimed to do my best to prevent others from ever feeling uncomfortable around me and my reality. I became an amazing diplomat, regulating the feelings of others long before they even felt them.
Even after I wrote a book about my life and basically outed myself with utmost authenticity and truthfulness to the entire world, I still had abundant understanding for everyone else and did my best to never inconvenience anyone.
And I wasn’t even aware I did this to myself.
In the process, I realize now, I undermined my sense of self-worth and my self-confidence. I hurt myself.  Didn’t have my own back. De-stabilized the ground I walked on. The tremors and earthquakes became stronger with every single year, until I fell more often than I stood.
I realize now, I committed the ultimate betrayal. Did the worst we can do to ourselves. Because if we don’t have our own backs 100%, if we don’t love ourselves exactly as who and how we are, we literally have nothing.
It is the loneliest we can possibly ever be. No matter how many loyal and supportive friends we have. No matter how many people we inspire.
My odyssey has thus far been chock-full of challenges and adversity. Thankfully, I never took any of these hurdles as being the end of the line. But rather as opportunities for growth and learning. So, grow I did and do. Painfully and slowly. I always will.
Nowadays, as I am in the process of – for the first time in my life – building a healthy base layer of self-confidence and self-esteem. I am beginning to truly stand up tall.
And while I have already been an active supporter and public speaker for the transgender, non-conforming, and non-binary community since as far back as 2016, it is only now that I feel true belonging – to myself, as well as to the world around me. I am allowing myself space. I am finding my place. And as I love myself more and belong more, my voice grows stronger.
Most importantly, I know – as firmly and clearly as anyone ever can – that I will never let myself be hidden away or silenced again.