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Transgender in the Triangle: 'There is no script on how to do it'

Posted July 27, 2015

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— Candis Cox knew something was wrong by age 6. Kelton Hollister knew by late elementary or early middle school. They didn’t know how to define their struggle at the time, but both would later learn the word for it – transgender.

“I first questioned when I was 6 years old when I told my parents, ‘I think I’m a girl,’” Cox recalled. “When I turned 8 years old, I asked for nothing but Barbies for my birthday.”

Hollister, now 23, says changing genders from girl to boy didn’t seem realistic. “Growing up, it wasn’t really even talked about. It wasn’t even on my radar,” he said.

The transgender community has been on the national radar more lately due to world-class athlete and reality star Bruce Jenner, who transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner.

“Her coming out and being willing to talk about this has really opened up the minds of a lot of people,” Hollister said.

Raleigh therapist Kimball Sargent has worked with transgender patients for two decades and says she helps her clients navigate emotional hurdles so they can live happy, normal lives.

“They are in constant fear that they are going to lose their family, they might lose their job, they could lose the place that they live,” Sargent said.

Advocates say being transgender is about defining oneself as man or woman, not about body parts or sexual preferences. Coming to terms with gender dysphoria, as it’s known in the medical world, can be a complicated, emotional and often painful journey.

Cox says "there is no script on how to do it.” In 2002, she went to Thailand for the first of a series of surgeries that transformed her into a biological woman. After her recovery, she met her future husband and told him about her transition on their third date.

“Hey, I’m a drop-dead gorgeous woman, and by the way, I had a sex change because I used to be a man,” Cox recalls telling him.

They have been married for 9 years.

“My husband is a great man. My husband comes from an amazing family,” Cox said.

Very few physicians in the country perform sex-reassignment surgery. That's why so many transgender people travel out of the country to be treated.

Raleigh plastic surgeon Dr. Keelee MacPhee is one of a handful of surgeons trained in this area. She has performed hundreds of surgeries on transgender patients for breast removal, breast augmentation and facial re-contouring and has recently begun performing genital surgery on male patients who are transitioning to females.

MacPhee believes she is filling an important void for patients who are often turned away by other doctors.

“I'm not the brave one. The patients are the courageous people,” she said. “It's unbelievable what they have to go through, being bullied, being rejected by family and friends a lot of times. So they're the ones that inspire me.”

Currently, insurance does not cover most of these very expensive surgeries. But MacPhee and other surgeons are pushing them to do so because they believe it’s medically necessary to help these patients to be comfortable in their own bodies.

To feel more comfortable in his own body, Hollister says he started making the transition at age 19. He started by simply living as a man and asking people he knew to call him “he” and “him” and treat him as a man.

Hormone therapy and breast-removal surgery followed with his family's support.

“They’re very accepting, I would say, and I’m very fortunate in that regard because there are a lot of folks who lose family support,” Hollister said.

Transgender people say they simply want what everyone else wants.

“It’s about giving transgender people the same rights to have a happy life as every other American,” said Sargent, who credits Jenner with helping people become more accepting. “Making her transition so public, it’s almost like everyone feels like they know someone who is transgender.”

Both Cox and Hollister make it clear they get that not everyone understands or agrees with their choices. They respect others' rights to have those opinions, but at the same time want to be treated fairly. Both say they have lost jobs in the past due to being transgender.

“Try to show each other as much love and respect as we can,” Cox said.


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  • Paul Jones Jul 29, 2015
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    "I feel like a woman" doesn't make you one. If I happened to date a man turned woman, I'd probably throw up. Telling me this by a third date is too late.

    I suspect most men and women feel the same.

    That "I knew by age 6" doesn't sound right to me, either. When I was that age, sexuality wasn't anywhere in my radar. There was nothing to feel comfortable or uncomfortable about.

    I appreciate that some might want to change physical appearance, but that doesn't change who or what you are. Sex change operations have to be the biggest BS surgery I've ever heard of. It's like turning a Ford into a Mercedes by trying to reshape the frame. The Ford never had a Mercedes engine, handling, etc.

  • Steve Eubanks Jul 28, 2015
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    Personally, I don't care and it doesn't bother me. I wish them luck.

  • Belle Boyd Jul 28, 2015
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    I'm sorry. It's okay.

  • Roy Hinkley Jul 28, 2015
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    Gotcha, sorry.
    When I read your comment and saw the use of "/" it seemed to me that you didn't know the differences between them.

  • Belle Boyd Jul 28, 2015
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    I know the difference. I was saying most don't come out. They don't shout it to the world. They keep it to themselves/their partners.

  • Roy Hinkley Jul 28, 2015
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    This bears repeating:
    Sexuality is distinct from gender identity and expression.

    Give this a read to learn more: http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/transgender-faq

  • Erika Phipps Jul 28, 2015
    user avatar

    It's called a "human interest" story - local and national tv news and newspapers have been doing these stories forever. If you don't like the subject, don't read it. If you don't like the headline, go to another site. And really, of all the battles we could pick with WRAL, *this* is the one some folks would choose? It's just about people trying to fit into the world the best (and probably hardest) way they can. Hope some of y'all get tendinitis from throwing all those stones...

  • Ronnie Peacock Jul 28, 2015
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    Transgender, gays, etc.: nothing but a perversion of God's creation. Period.

  • Belle Boyd Jul 28, 2015
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    I don't mind hand holding. But all that other stuff can stay at home.

  • Belle Boyd Jul 28, 2015
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    I understand what you are saying. But real gay people don't come out to the world on tv and say it. Like I have read stories where real gay/transgender people keep to themselves. They don't feel the need to scream it to the world "Hey I'm gay/transgender/etc." And these are the same ones disgusted by the "gays" that actually try and shove it their views onto those that don't believe in it.
    To be honest, I can't stand it when a heterosexual couple displays affection in front of me. I don't want to see how much you love each other. Save the love for your home and bedroom.