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StoryCorps In Kansas City: Transgender Woman Recognizes Identity As Gift, Not Disability

Editor's note: StoryCorps OutLoud visited KCUR in June to collect stories from Kansas City'sLGBTQcommunity in partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America.

Living as Sean Power simply wasn't working.

Gillian Power, 43, knew as early as age 5 that she was not comfortable in her assigned gender. But growing up in what she calls the "hypermasculine" culture of South Africa, she repressed those feelings for most of her young life and then lost track of them as her adult life transpired. 

"It would be akin to being born physically-abled but having this idea that you have a limp, and passing through life with a limp that isn't really real. But you kind of adapt to it. You walk differently," Gillian says. "From my perspective now, I realize I never had a limp, that I was actually gifted."

In March 2012, Gillian came out to herself, and then to her wife Jessica, as transgender.

"[I did it] in a moment of almost exasperation, almost at the end of holding an incredibly long breath, a breath that I'd been holding my whole life," she says. "I did it very inelegantly and in a very inarticulate way, but it was out, and I'd said it."

Jessica was not surprised — she had known for a long time that something wasn't right — instead, she was relieved and hopeful.

"Now that it was open we could go forward with helping Gillian claim her right as Gillian," Jessica says.

She started by buying Gillian clothes, helping her choose lingerie and purses. And Jessica and Gillian worked together to inform their two young children, Genevieve and Amelie, though it was a gradual process. Gillian remembers one night tucking Amelie into bed.

"She sensed that the father was going away," Gillian says. "I poured my heart out to her, and I explained that I was doing this so I could love her more completely. And that's all she needed to hear."

Gillian's strong, supportive home front made way for a smooth transition. And, she says, she's been happily surprised again and again. One day, about a year after she started transitioning, Gillian stopped by the Chanel counter at the mall for a free makeover.

"The person was doing my eyeliner, and I was like, 'I'm not good at that, I've only been doing my makeup for about a year,'" Gillian recalls. "His response to me was, 'Oh, I guess you were one of those au naturel women before,' and I was like, 'Well, not quite.' This person was inches from my face, experiencing me for me."

But transitioning, Gillian says, is not just one partner's journey. In the future, for herself, Jessica, and their daughters, Gillian sees a time to let Jessica shine and become more of herself as well outside of Gillian's shade.

Though, Jessica says, shade is not a bad place to be.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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