The teen years are tough for many of us: the struggles of school, figuring out who you are as a person, and, of course, all of the physiological changes happening that make us fighting just to understand and keep up with our own bodies.
Meet Deen Nault. The 17-year-old Bellerose High School student has had an interesting and complicated adolescence, more so than most. You see, this confident young man was born in a female body. He had to fight first to understand what was wrong, then he had to decide how to make it right, and none of that was in any way easy.
Maybe that’s why he comes across as being as mature and expressive as anybody I’ve ever interviewed. Being Deen means that he’s had to learn to be outspoken, and he isn’t shy to tell people about himself.
“I think it’s important for people to know because there’s not enough visibility and education about transgender issues, especially in St. Albert. People don’t realize it, even at my school. There are trans people that nobody knows are trans, and no one ever will know.”
“Probably everyone knows at least one person, but they would never know,” he said.
Growing up as a girl, Deen’s mom described him as tomboyish, but he said that it was an otherwise normal childhood. Sure, he didn’t care for makeup when he got older and dressed with a certain masculinity, but those things don’t necessarily mean anything. He said that it’s very hard to “gender” certain behaviours without stereotyping.
Eventually, however, it became clearer how he felt. Around the time he turned 13 or 14, he knew “absolutely” that he wasn’t meant to be female but didn’t know what being transsexual or transgender meant.
“I tried to talk to my parents about it but I didn’t know the terminology to describe how I was feeling.”
It took a semester of going to school at Victoria Composite in Edmonton to really open his eyes. He said that more students there were “gender variant,” plus there was a Gay Straight Alliance. “Going to a Catholic school, that was just unheard of.”
It took a lot of reflection, a lot of soul searching, and a lot of contemplation on who he really is.
He decided to come out.
“Nobody wants to go through that kind of thing, but after coming out, immediately my life changed significantly. Hiding it is just going to make it worse, and embracing it is going to make it better not only for myself but for other people.”
Thankfully, he has a pretty cool family, especially his mom. Zenda Kropf said that she didn’t expect it but she sure took the news in stride.
“I remember one day, he got out of my Jeep and he just said, ‘By the way, Mom, I’m gay.’ I said, ‘Okay. Whatever. You’re my child and I love you,’” Kropf remembered.
That was barely two years ago, first coming out to family and close friends, finding acceptance around every corner. Even his grandpa was okay with it, something Deen didn’t expect.
“When he came out that he was transgender, it was the same thing,” Kropf continued. “‘Okay, let’s figure it out. What do we have to do?’ That was it. What else can you do? We just moved forward, never skipped a beat.”
“As a parent, it was just acceptable. It was nothing else. Sometimes people say to me that it must have been difficult. No. To me, difficult is seeing your kid who’s dying of cancer in hospital. I have my child. It doesn’t matter to me what colour his hair is or if he has earrings in his nose, or if he wants to be a boy. He’s my child and I love him no matter what. It’s not difficult at all.”
The process of becoming a man has a lot of steps to it, and the psychological and emotional side of it is just the beginning. There’s also the bureaucratic formality of getting a birth certificate reissued and, of course, the various medical professionals that must play their roles, all on their own time.
“It’s a super-long chain of doctors. It’s very hard staying organized.”
The waiting list to see the psychiatrist who can refer you to the specialists in charge of gender reassignment can be long, up to two years even. There are only two such specialists in the entire province, he said, and they both work out of Edmonton. Still, Deen was lucky to catch a break – “a miracle,” he said – that he got in after only six months because of a cancellation.
The website www.AlbertaTrans.org is a good starting point for resources and information. A PDF brochure entitled ‘Transsexuality: What It Is; What Is Isn’t’ describes Gender Identity Variance or Transsexuality as “When the mind is completely opposite in psychological gender to what the birth sex appears to be.”
It wasn’t a matter of how he behaved or whether he played with dolls or not. Some of his mannerisms might be new since he decided to become a man but who doesn’t change their mannerisms as they age? His voice has dropped though, one of the effects of the hormone therapy that he’s been on ever since the week before he turned 17 last summer.
“It was a really good birthday gift.”
Kropf said that the only differences are superficial, and that he’s still the same person with the same personality.
It isn’t hard to spot Deen from a distance, with his purply hair and facial piercings. He has a fair bit of style and a fairly broad smile. Perhaps figuring out his identity was just the ticket to giving himself the chance to express every facet of his personality.
Even in his writing. Poetry also started to become an important part of his life as he turned into a teenager. Since then, he has had poetry and short stories published, has been a featured poet at poetry slams, and was nominated for last year’s Youth Artist Award at the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts.
Expressing himself is important to him in so many ways.
“Reading my old poems is so heartbreaking, knowing that I was going through those struggles, whereas at the last open mike I read a poem with the line that said, ‘I love my gay transgender body!’ Going from writing about all these negative feelings to be able to read that to a group of strangers – I was shaking … I was so nervous – but it felt so good.”
“Poetry has definitely helped me through it so much. A lot of people have approached me saying that they’re very inspired by what I write. It feels really good to be able to help other people just by being yourself.”
That love of poetry is also evident in his love of music. Scratch that … his great love of music. He’s seen 70 bands, travels to music festivals across North America, and particularly loves the Seattle grunge bands of the early 1990s. “I could talk about it forever. Seeing bands is my passion. Live music … there’s nothing that gets better than that.”
He pays for those trips himself, as he holds down a part-time job while he finishes Grade 12. Sure, he’s still a teenager but it would be a stretch to deny how he has faced so much of adulthood and some tough choices already, and still come out smiling.
“He’s far above his years – way beyond,” Kropf said, praising his decision-making skills and outlook on life.
Deen agreed that there are some things that make him stand out in the crowd.
“I’ve had to do a lot of thinking. A lot of thinking. In that sense, I have made a lot of adult decisions as a minor. I would hope that I’m more mature but I still like to do teenager stuff.”
“I just like to be doing my own thing.”
Deen Nault Q&A
What’s your favourite book?
“Uzumaki by Junji Ito or the Yolo Pages (poetry compilation) by Boost House.”
What’s your favourite movie?
“Back to the Future.”
When you were still a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a CSI.”
What do you want to see on your tombstone?
“Can we still hang?”
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
“Singing along to the song I named myself after in three states/provinces.”
What did you eat for breakfast this morning or supper last night?
“I actually cooked eggs and hash browns today but usually it’d be Lucky Charms. Last night, I had two cheese pizzas (I don’t like the toppings).”
Do you have any superstitions?
“Aliens are 100% real … if ghosts exist I hope they want to be friends.”
If you could change anything, what would it be?
“The way N64 controllers are, I don’t have three hands!”
Rolling Stones or Beatles?
What would be the title of the book of your life?
“Everything I Am," from the quote ‘Everything I’m not made me everything I am’ by Kanye West.”
Trans Equality Society of Alberta
Pride Centre of Edmonton
PFLAG St. Albert
OutLoud St. Albert
Institute for Sexual Minorities Studies and Services
EGALE Canada Human Rights Trust – the only national charity promoting LGBTQ human rights
MyGSA – EGALE’s National LGBTQ safer schools and inclusive education website
Gay-Straight Alliance at Bellerose or Paul Kane high schools
Crisis Support Centre