“Penis, vagina, breasts, and facial hair would be a lot less of an issue if society would just accept people for who they say they are.” – Andrew Leigh-Bullard
He came out as a transgender individual in spring 2011 to an audience at a drag show on campus. And since then, Andrew Leigh-Bullard, 23-year-old library science graduate student, has continued to live as the man he says he’s always needed to be.
“I’ve known that I was different my entire life, but I never understood what it was until (March 2011),” Leigh said. “That was when I started putting the pieces together. I came out first to myself then to a couple friends, then family, then at P.R.I.D.E.’s Alternative Beauty Pageant, I came out to a room full of 50 people and never went back.”
P.R.I.D.E. is a group at Emporia State that exists to support gender and sexual minorities. Leigh currently works as the graduate assistant for the office of Ethnic and Gender Studies and the Great Plains Center.
Although he’s now living as a man and has found acceptance – for the most part – in the Emporia community, the road to Leigh’s new identity has been a bumpy one with equal parts highs and lows.
Born Amanda Bullard, Leigh spent the first 20 years of his life alone and usually depressed. He knew at a young age that he wasn’t anything at all like other girls, which did not go unnoticed by his peers. A favorite taunt was, “It’s a man. Duh.”
“Looking back, it’s actually a little ironic that they were picking up on something I had no idea of – they had something right,” Leigh said.
Before coming to terms with his transgender identity and beginning the transition, Leigh “had a lot of problems,” said Luke Wolford, 30, a former ESU student and close friend of Leigh.
“Amanda was not a happy person,” Wolford said. “She was depressive, never happy, hated herself, and I almost think threw herself into everything as a means of escape…she purposely kept herself busy, to the point of exhaustion, because she wasn’t happy with herself. Once ‘she’ decided to become ‘he,’ it’s really a whole different person.”
Leigh began transitioning almost immediately after coming out. He was on hormones by June and had his name changed by July 2011. He chose Andrew because it means “male” or “warrior” in Greek, and that dual connotation was what drew him to the name, he said. Leigh means “meadow” in Old English, but he wanted to keep his father’s last name, so he decided to hyphenate his surname as Leigh-Bullard.
Once living as a man, Leigh’s personality changed entirely. His self-confidence improved, and the depressive tendencies that once consumed his relationships with those closest to him disappeared.
“Now that the transition has happened, he’s so much more self-assured, so much more well-adjusted,” Wolford said. “It was literally like watching someone go from 13 years of age to 20 years of age within a matter of months. The confrontational attitude really scaled back. Amanda constantly had a chip on her shoulder. The littlest things set her off. She was hyper aggressive with people close to her, like she always had something to prove. Andrew is much more level headed, a lot more thoughtful, a lot more together.”
Leigh said since beginning the transition his energy level has noticeably increased, and he finally feels awake and active.
“So many different aspects have clicked or started to feel right,” he said. “I started to experience sexual attraction for the first time, really, when I got on hormones…I started seeing myself as an adult.”
Today, Leigh stands a little over five feet and sports a neatly-buzzed haircut and glasses. The testosterone treatments are working, not only for his libido – his voice is a high tenor. And his optimism is almost infectious. Most of the interview, even the parts that are painful to talk about, is full of laughter and smiles.
“Now that Andrew has transitioned, he’s finally happy with where he is, and it hasn’t been an easy road…it’s been hell,” Wolford said. “But I think that process of becoming someone who he feels he was always meant to be has had a profound impact on him.”
The transition, still an on-going process, has been a “roller coaster,” Leigh said, both physically and emotionally. When he first came out to his family, the reaction was not what he expected.
“I’d come out before as lesbian, as bisexual…I came out a lot, and each time it was just treated as, ‘Okay, you’re just figuring out who you are,’” he said. “When I came out as transgendered, I got the, ‘What did I do wrong? Do you understand what you’re doing?’ It really took time for them to accept that this has been here all along.”
But Leigh was dealt an even tougher blow when his brother, who Leigh asked to remain unnamed for privacy, decided he could no longer have contact with him because of career concerns. Leigh hasn’t spoken with his brother directly since June 2011. If he wants to talk, he has to send a text message to their mother so she can facilitate communication between the two.
“It always hurts because he and I were close,” Leigh said. “Our parents divorced when I was 16, and then he and I were our family. And now, I’ve lost him because society cannot allow him to be there for me.”
This February, Leigh’s mother, who asked to remain unnamed, send him a Valentine’s Day card addressed to her son, a gesture Leigh said finally meant she was accepting of his male identity.
Medically, the biggest obstacle Leigh has had to deal with is the lack of knowledge available about transgendered individuals. Doctors are not traditionally trained to be able to work with the trans community, even though being transgendered is a medical condition.
Leigh is formally diagnosed as a patient with gender dysphoria under DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.
The standards of care for treatment of individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria or gender nonconformity are published by the World Professional Association for Transgendered Health.
“The guidelines state the transition is the recommended course,” Leigh said. “It is never recommended to suppress somebody’s gender identity.”
Leigh has been to five different doctors, and only one of them has had any prior experience with trans individuals, so he has had to educate each doctor he has been to – and it hasn’t been easy.
“One of his biggest frustrations is that he knows if he gets a job and he has to move, he’s going to have to start that process all over again,” Wolford said.
Another concern is the type of medical treatment he might receive.
“One of my greatest fears is to get in a car wreck and wake up in the hospital to find that they’ve reverted to treating me like a female because that’s what they see,” Leigh said. “I actually carry a medical card that says, ‘I am transsexual. Use male pronouns, and these are my medications.’”
A major setback to Leigh’s physical progress came last December when he was denied a hysterectomy surgery. Being on testosterone, his internal female organs will eventually atrophy, and he has two options. First, he could start another hormone called progesterone, which would force his body to have a menstrual cycle. But this is not a route Leigh is willing to take.
“It would destroy me…never again. Shark week is over. I’m done,” he joked.
Leigh’s other option, the one he hopes to be able to do eventually, is to get a hysterectomy. He actually had the surgery scheduled last December at KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., but his insurance at the time, TRICARE, wouldn’t cover it, even though there are major health risks without it. The hospital’s payment plan was also undoable for Leigh.
“I had to come up with $10,000 in a week,” Leigh said. “I don’t make $10,000 in a year. So, at first, I just thought, ‘Well I just want to rip them out myself.’”
Leigh’s current insurance agency, United Health Care, also won’t cover the surgery.
Wolford said the setback was rough on Leigh, not only because of the health risks, but it was also the realization that he would have to continue to visit a gynecologist on a regular basis.
“He has to get back up there and basically be Amanda again for a doctor’s visit,” Wolford said. “Even though he’s Andrew, he’s masculine, he has to be subjected to something that men aren’t supposed to be subjected to.”
Leigh knew he couldn’t simply “rip” his female organs out himself, so instead, he went to Men’s Warehouse and bought a tailored suit for job interviews.
“I realized that while the transition as a whole was impossible at that moment, I could take smaller steps to be seen as who I am,” he said.
For now, the hysterectomy is off the table, but Leigh said his transition was complete when he started being comfortable with himself as a man, even though he doesn’t have a traditional “penis.”
“As far as having a penis, that doesn’t make a guy,” he said. “Does a soldier who’s hit by an IED whose genitalia is blown off, is he no longer a man? Would we ask that question of him? But we ask it of trans individuals all the time.”
But since beginning hormone treatments, Leigh has developed a neophallus.
“When you’re on testosterone the clitoris actually enlarges. In the uterus when a boy (starts producing) those hormones, (the clitoris) is actually what enlarges into the phallus,” he said. “So when a trans guy starts testosterone, over time the clitoris will enlarge to two to three times the original size…it’s about the size of a micropenis, if we’re going with strict, medical definitions.”
Leigh used to wear a packer, which is padding or a penis-shaped object worn in the front of a one’s pants or underwear to give the appearance of having male genitals, but he no longer wears it.
“It kept jostling around and getting uncomfortable, and you know, you have those hot days, and it would chafe,” Leigh said. “For me, I realized that having the packer in or out didn’t make me any more or less of a man, and so I just stopped bothering with it.”
As for his chest, Leigh wears a binder, which is a garment that compresses his chest and abdomen.
“Binders are recommended for use eight to 10 hours a day, at most, because of the pressure they put on the chest area,” Leigh said.
He is also hesitant to get top surgery because there is a major risk for loss of nipple sensation, which is a risk he’s not willing to take at this time.
“Penis, vagina, breasts, and facial hair would be a lot less of an issue if society would just accept people for who they say they are,” he said.
While he’s currently single, Leigh is a self-described pansexual, meaning he has the potential to be attracted to people of all sexes and gender identities.
“I’m attracted to people based on their personality, based on how I connect with them, and so what’s in their pants becomes an issue when we’re discussing what to do in the bedroom,” he said.
Coping with Trans Identity
Acceptance and respect as a man has been somewhat unpredictable for Leigh.
“For me, being respected as a man means being able to do the things I want to do, being able to identify as myself, being, ‘Hey man, what’s up,’ as opposed to, ‘Excuse me, ma’am,’” he said. “It really comes down to language.”
For the most part, Leigh said the discrimination he encounters is unintentional.
“It’s really interesting because you can get those open-minded people who really believe in equality for everyone,” Wolford said. “And then you can have individuals that are very close-minded, prejudice, that just shut off. And then you have people that are indifferent.”
But one source of support and acceptance came from an unexpected group.
Growing up, Leigh was a lonely individual by the time he reached his teens. He left the church he was raised in, which was fundamentalist Christian, when he was 14, after the youth group tried to help him fit in by giving him a makeover.
“It damn near broke me,” he said. “I didn’t understand who I was at that point. I didn’t know why it felt wrong. I just knew it wasn’t right.”
For the next seven years he identified as pagan in the sense of being non-Christian because he knew that he was not compatible with the belief system he was raised in.
After he transitioned, he decided to go back to church Christmas day “just to see.”
“I felt the spirit move in me, even knowing I could not talk to the congregation,” Leigh said. “I could not tell them anything about who I actually was, but I knew I needed to find a faith, a community who would support me and let me be who I was.”
Leigh found that community at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, located at 828 Commercial St. He’d heard good things about the ministry and decided to stop by one week. When he came out as transgendered, the church welcomed him with compassion.
“He’s a great person, really committed and caring,” said Father Kelly Lackey, Leigh’s priest at St. Andrews, in an interview in spring. “I think that in terms of our conversations and from my aspect as his priest, being able to be in a Christian community where he can be in a relationship with God and not have to deal with a great deal of intolerance and negativity seems to have been a positive thing for him.”
Leigh has been returned to the church for about eight months, but he sometimes still finds himself slipping. In reference to Westboro Baptist Church, an extremist group based in Topeka actively involved in the anti-gender and sexual minorities movement, Leigh said he sometimes engages in the same kind of prejudice.
“It becomes really hard to distinguish the fundamental, scriptural literalists, who hate me for being who God made me to be, from the congregation that has given me a home,” Leigh said. “It’s something that I’ve really noticed within the (gender and sexual minority) community is we have a lot of created tension between ourselves and faiths because of the discrimination we’ve run into in the churches we were raised, and so we tend to apply it to all churches.”
While Lackey said he could not speak as to why other churches are not always as open as St. Andrews, he did say that the Episcopal Church has always been somewhat progressive and open to diversity.
“We try to look at where the Holy Spirit is moving the church, and by and large what we see is, as Jesus presented the Kingdom of God, it’s expansive and it’s inclusive, and that’s not always comfortable, and it’s not always easy,” Lackey said. “But it seems like in order to be faithful to our charge to be followers of Christ, it’s our ministry, our obligation, to proclaim the good news to all of God’s children. The details of their struggle and living to be who God has created them to be is something that we’re not here to condemn – we’re here to offer support as they’re being formed to the image of God.”
Although Leigh has found acceptance in a faith-based community, he is still always on guard wherever he goes. Something as simple as going to the bathroom or changing in the men’s locker room at the recreation center on campus could turn into a violent situation in an instant.
“We’re in small town Kansas. I assume if someone sees me in the men’s locker room and questions me, I could be attacked for it,” he said. “So I go to my locker at the library, empty my pockets of everything, and then go change…when you read the stories, when you hear the news, and then you see the legislation of people disliking the concept of you based on their religion, based on their beliefs, based on their sense of what’s right, it makes it very difficult to feel comfortable that everyone you meet is not going to do something to try to harm you.”
While he hasn’t yet been attacked physically, Leigh has plans for wherever he goes. He recommends that if individuals who are transitioning feel unsafe, they should do something to raise their awareness of their surroundings and to prepare themselves for any scenario.
“Just know what you would do and who you would go to,” he said, “and prepare your friends.”
Wolford is one friend who Leigh knows he can turn to if something goes wrong or if he is attacked. The two have worked out a contingency plan of what they would do if such a situation ever occurred.
“If he has to defend himself and somebody gets hurts, he’s worried about getting charged with assault, getting charged with murder if it comes to that because it’s all too real a possibility,” Wolford said. “The biggest role I have is being there for his support.”
Leigh said there are not currently any accurate statistics on how many transgendered individuals are living in the United States because most do not live openly, mainly as a safety precaution.
But Leigh strives to be the exception and lives completely open because he wants to be a role model for other trans individuals who do not have anyone to turn to for support and guidance. And now that he is finally able to live as the man he feels he’s always been inside, he is excited for the future.
“I didn’t realize being trans and not acknowledging it was killing me,” he said. “A year ago, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to function a couple months ahead. Now, I’m looking forward to the future. I have a degree and several different career options. I can do anything.”