Paul’s Story

by Paul Regalos Urban

faceMy name is Paul Regalos Urban and I am a transman. I began therapy in order to transition from female to male during the summer of 1987. My husband and I separated because he didn’t want to be thought of as gay when I completed transition. He never actually stated that he didn’t want me to be male; he just didn’t want to be thought of as gay.

On February 19, 1988, which was three days after my 26th birthday, I had my first injection of testosterone. On June 3, 1988, I underwent chest surgery with a surgeon who had performed several mastectomies for women with breast cancer but I was just his third for a new technique called “male chest reconstruction” that he was performing specifically on transmen. I had to get two letters; each one from a Dr. Harry Benjamin Standards of Care certified psychiatrist in order to proceed with gender reassignment surgery and back during 1988, elective mastectomies were considered GRS (gender reassignment surgery) and the patient needed permission to proceed. I hated HBGDA standards of care and felt that the gatekeepers were making money off of transsexual plight.

By the time that I received my chest surgery, I had full facial hair and a hairy chest, my voice had deepened and what little fat that I had redistributed. My social group had been gay cis-males since my freshmen year in high school. I had gone from introverted book nerd to “one of the funny gay boys” almost overnight. At 14, I had found my tribe and when my boyfriend proposed marriage on my 18th birthday, I had a list of “must haves” in order to marry him. First on the list was that my friends were all gay men, we traveled together, danced together, and shared our most intimate secrets together so I was not trading in a small herd for one man. He agreed. I would lose all but two of my original high school friends to AIDS between 1981 and 1996; I lost Paul during 2013 and I have lost 76 friends and acquaintances to AIDS in all.

Why did I suddenly decide to transition when I did? It was pure luck, I had grown up down the street from a transwoman who was close to my mother. Leanna had transitioned when I was 14. When I started to question who I was, I began to ask this transwoman questions about transition and after a few years of this game of cat and mouse, she asked, “Have you ever thought that you were really a man?” I replied, “Yes.” I had said the truth out loud and there was no turning back. Over the course of my transition, I relied heavily on several gay cis-males to teach me to be the man that I wasn’t already being as a tomboy. There simply were no other transmen around me or that anyone else was aware of during 1988 in Long Beach, California.

When the advent of the internet reached our home around 1996, I decided to start a list serve for transmen with another transman that I met who lived on the west coast. I had moved to Ohio with my son and his mother. I watched the size of the list serve grow rapidly and in addition, I had started a support group in Cleveland for transpeople with the parents of another transman because PFLAG and the local Gay Community Center weren’t supporting us yet. I knew in my heart that suddenly transpeople were connecting because of the internet and that a whole movement was being born. When the movie “Boys Don’t Cry” premiered during October 1999, I opened my list serve as administrator and discovered approximately 200 requests from all over the U.S. to join the list in one single day. It was overwhelming. I opened the first email to read, “Hi, I am 15 years old. I live in Lawrence, Kansas. My parents don’t know that I am FTM…”. I cried.

My personal challenges as a transman seemed to include everything from a vicious hate crime that left me hospitalized to the loss of a job that it took almost a year to find. I was well into a decade after transition when I was attacked by next door neighbors in Ohio who had been informed of my gender identity by the cousin of my son’s mother. Cis-gender people don’t often realize that they can place us in harm’s way by outing us. The good that came of that hate crime was that it gave me leverage to help convince the Gay and Lesbian Center of Cleveland, Ohio to transform into the LGBT Center of Cleveland which opened its doors to us to be a part of their service structure.

Much has changed between 1988 and 2015. I converse with many young transmen in online media and in-person at trans groups here in San Francisco where I have lived for almost two years now. In many ways, these young transmen are more fortunate than I was. They have the internet to research transgender surgeries, hormones, to make other trans friends, to protest, to start gofundme campaigns for “gender affirming surgery” which has replaced the old term GRS, which replaced SRS. We have a whole new lexicon of transgender vocabulary. “Transgender” as a word didn’t exist during 1988 and now Facebook offers a variety of 58 words to describe your gender or non-gender identity.

I am 53 now and I spend my spare time volunteering as a PrEP educator and a member of the city of San Francisco’s project, Getting to Zero, which is a multilayered strategy to ending HIV. PrEP is an antiretroviral medication, that if taken daily and consistently, can protect you from contracting HIV up to 99%. It is an opportunity for me to help protect those who are at high risk for contracting HIV and to bridge the gap between those who are HIV+ and those who are HIV-. It has opened up a whole new discourse regarding negative people being able to be intimate with positive people. I have watched my generation of gay men disappear because of AIDS and those who are left are often scarred by the stigma of being positive themselves, or if they are negative, they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders because if they should seroconvert, it’s as if they are personally responsible for the entire epidemic.

I have much of the same issues as gay cis-men and lesbians have as we grow older. I worry about being priced out of San Francisco which has been a colony of inclusion for me. My body is experiencing aging symptoms and the more often that I see healthcare providers, the more often that I am put in a position of having to educate them about trans issues, even here in San Francisco. But the one thing that has certainly gotten better with age is—sex. I am accepted by gay cis-males as a transman and many are attracted to me. It could in part be my distant resemblance to Buck Angel, our own transmale porn star. Or it could be just me. Just the way I am, a 53 year old, bald headed man with a grown son, a wicked laugh and enough life stories to keep the camp fire glowing late into the night.