Vinnie: “You have no idea how many of us are out there.”
This is why it is important to tell your story, to bare all, to share, to be open, and be vulnerable: because it helps others to feel free to tell theirs. I did a TedX talk a few months back where I told my story and revealed a secret I had been keeping. Not long after that, a friend confided that it partially helped inspire him to reveal his own deeply-held secret. But, my talk was just the first prod – add to that a coming out Ted Talk by a woman named Morgana Bailey, the most popular Ted Talk of all time from Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability and the TV ratings juggernaut and surrounding publicity for Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner’s interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. And one night, after thinking about these events, “Vinnie” decided he was going to reveal his 30-year-old secret on Facebook:”So I put a TED talk on fb (Brene Brown’s) because I think it’s an interesting one and everyone should see it. It sheds some light on what is going on in the world, and with me too. I think if I’m going to post something about being vulnerable, then I should practice what I preach.
For those of you who know me, you know I am a quiet person and do not share much about myself. For years I have kept up a wall, but it’s time for me to take it down. When I was born many moons ago I was born different. When hit puberty I grew breasts and basically, my body is both male and female. In middle school I actually had a breast reduction. I told everyone I had a back operation, I guess it kind of was, I was trying to create two! LOL.
Now, the big thing is, you may not think you do or will ever know someone who is trans, but that’s not true. Look no further than right here. I’m not saying this because of what happened in the last week, but because I need to stop holding this in. For 30 years I kept this hidden. It’s time my friends now know too.”
72 comments and 104 likes later, friends applauded Vinnie’s sheer bravery at revealing this. I asked Vinnie why he chose to reveal his secret now, after all this time, “I’ve thought about it for the last couple of years, I thought about what if somebody found out …the Bruce Jenner interview had something to do with it……but I was thinking about this way before that. And I look at this – everybody comes to this differently, everybody has a different story and a different journey on how they come to it. One night I’m sitting here………….and just grabbed the computer and typed it and hit send.”
Much has been made about Bruce Jenner being a former Olympic athlete, and the picture of masculinity. Vinnie is a New York City cameraman, and volunteer firefighter who’s spent countless hours in live trucks at murder scenes, and has covered some of the most physically challenging, heart-wrenching and devastating news stories of the last decade. He’s tough and resilient, and he has to be. But, he’s also gentle, a sweet and thoughtful friend and a calming influence on the people around him.
To be totally honest, I never knew Vinnie was transgender and never suspected it. Vinnie’s bravery and honesty simply blew me away. This secret has weighed on him for most of his life.
Vinnie told me, “It does take a toll on you and your mind is constantly working and thinking, okay, am I doing this or that, am I being too much this way, are people going to read through me? It occupies a lot of your mind and a lot of space.” I can’t imagine having to add worrying about people figuring out if you’re transgender on top of the daily allotment of worries we all have to face each day.
Vinnie says as far back as he can remember, he always knew there was something different about him. “I have always felt I was a little different than everybody else. I never put my finger on what it was, I went into puberty and the breasts started growing and stuff and I just kind of went ok and whatever my parents told me that they were gonna do (regarding his breasts growing) I was just like ok. I didn’t think about it and i didn’t think about all this stuff until later on in life. It probably didn’t start affecting me until probably my late 20s or early 30s.”
Vinnie is now 41 years old.
One thing in Morgana Bailey’s talk really resonated with Vinnie. She said that life expectancy is reduced by 12 years for gay, lesbian and bisexual people in highly anti-gay communities compared to accepting communities. Vinnie suffers from heart disease and diabetes runs in his family, and the shortened life expectancy is a worry for him. He says by sharing his story, perhaps he can help foster a bit of tolerance for people who, like him, feel they are different.
“I’m getting comfortable with it, I’m not totally comfortable with it.”
Vinnie says if his friends have questions, he’s happy to answer them, “We’re asking people to understand us when we don’t even understand ourselves.” People have asked him if he’s now going to transition into a woman. He says no, “I feel like I’m in the right body, I just feel like I’m both (genders). I don’t plan on transitioning, there is a part of me that would love to do it. There’s also the other part of me that’s like i don’t want to kill this other side of me.”
He says it’s only been more recently that he started exploring the transgender community.
“I started getting into the community way before I came out and I’ve met people, everybody has the same struggles, everybody beats themselves up, some of us don’t survive that. Every now and then I see…. somebody taking their own life because of this, because of getting abused, because they don’t have support around them, they don’t have the support of their family. We didn’t ask to be this way – believe me, we would not ask.”
The most poignant part of Vinnie’s Facebook reveal to me is the part where he says,”Now, the big thing is, you may not think you do or will ever know someone who is trans, but that’s not true. Look no further than right here.” Vinnie says,“You have no idea how many of us are out there because we hide.” He said he recently went to a party thrown for transgender people at a hotel and there were 160 people there. And that’s not uncommon.
So, what is Vinnie’s biggest hope? “I want what everybody else wants in life, that’s not different. To be happy, to be accepted.” He also wants transgender people who are at risk of taking their lives to know that they are not alone, “We need to get together and save these people because they’re doing this not because they want to die, but because they want the hurting to stop, and that’s something that we can do.”
Yes, it is, Vinnie, one honest, vulnerable, and touching story at a time. Thank you for showing us all how it’s done.