photo by Abby Blake
As senior Grace Pillman sat on her gray and tan bedspread on a Sunday afternoon, she tried to block out her emotions. Feeling nothing would be easier than facing the backlash she expected to come. Facebook filled the bright screen of her school computer. She added her first picture to the new photo album “Hormone Replacement Therapy” – a selfie with her face in clear view against the beige wall behind her. “Day one,” it read. As she clicked post, Pillman publicized her first day taking hormone pills, a routine she’ll continue for the rest of her life.
Three weeks ago, Pillman began her transition from male to female. Every day Pillman posts a small blurb of the past 24 hours.
Whether she’s noting noting a difference in the definition of her jawline or sharing her struggle about wearing a feminine peplum top, Facebook reveals the personality she finds difficult to convey in person. Facebook has given viewers – from her aunt living in Belton, MO to a senior in her Calculus class – a glimpse of her transition. She includes a picture of her face so, as she continues to take hormones, she’ll be able to look back and see how her her hair has softened or how her skin has smoothed.
The girl people say doesn’t talk in class found her voice through public posts on Facebook.
Pillman, a self-proclaimed introvert, says she has social anxiety which makes it hard for her to talk to people in person. She pauses often to think through what she wants to say, her eyes trailing down when she’s asked a difficult question about what transitioning means to her. Throughout 10 years of struggling with gender identity, she told only one person in her life before she came out to her parents.
“I’m just trying to be me,” Pillman said. “And explaining what it means to be me is one of the hardest things to do because even I don’t know who I am.”
Since her first Facebook post about her transition, Pillman has clicked accept on upwards of 50 new Facebook friend requests. Like and comment notifications pop up on her phone after she posts about her English teacher accepting a paper she signed “Grace,” or how feeling angry is almost like a muscle she’s unable to use.
Positive feedback has poured in, from the almost 30 likes she received after thanking her supporters to the suggestions from her family about new middle names – her mom loves Annabelle, but her aunt likes Anne.
No one could’ve guessed a girl who had kept her feelings secret for the past 10 years would have become such an avid blogger.
“I, myself, am not a powerful voice,” Pillman said. “I don’t talk to people. When you’re talking online, it’s less personal. You can think about things more when you’re sitting behind a computer.”
For almost two years in elementary school, she wrote in a diary about wanting to be a girl, describing the ‘fashionable’ and ‘pretty’ girl she wanted to be. She finds it easier to write out, and now post, her feelings, rather than speaking with people face-to-face.
She mustered the courage to reveal the truth about her struggle with identity to her family around a year ago, after a lifetime of insecurity. Typical gender roles never sat right with her. When peers called her a girl because of her long hair, she didn’t mind. Taking on what she called a “dudely” role in a relationship always felt wrong, and she has never been comfortable with her voice, which she calls masculine and deep.
After her parents saw texts where her new name Grace was being used instead of Geoff, Pillman believed they already knew she was a transgender person. Her mom, on the other hand, said she was oblivious. The moment that Pillman told her parents, her mom burst into tears on the spot.
“I cried. I cried, but not because I was upset or disappointed, more because I know that what she had to tell me was hard to do,” her mom, Hether Belusky, said. “I was glad that she was able to confide in me.”
Belusky is ecstatic that Pillman has been posting her daily blog on Facebook. She hopes that Pillman can be a role model to inspire other kids to come out. Seeing Pillman shed her straight-forward demeanor as she begins to joke more, and even post about her brother, has been wonderful for Belusky.
“She’s private,” said Belusky. “The fact that she’s even doing this is unbelievable.”
Her parents have already noticed how much more she smiles now. But Pillman’s favorite change has been her cheeks, which she loves to describe as her new ‘fat face.’ Her mom saw the difference too, while analyzing old pictures Pillman posted for even the smallest differences in appearance.
Along with parents, distant friends have also followed Pillman’s transition closely. Facebook friends like senior Brock Arvesen, an elementary school classmate, have watched her transition since her first post. Arvesen replies to both updates about increased dosages of estrogen pills and generally happier days, offering encouragement. His panda bear emojis and jokes brighten Pillman’s eyes when she talks about them.
“It seems like a pretty bold thing to go through and to be so public about,” Arvesen said. “I’m curious to know whether it makes [transgender people] happier.”
Curiosity sparked sophomore Chloe Krause’s interest. Krause first saw Pillman’s page after a mutual friend of hers liked one of Pillman’s daily transition posts. Since then, Krause has read Pillman’s words every day to follow her journey step by step.
“I thought it was very cool that she is sharing this all on Facebook,” Krause said. “And that she wants people to know about it.”
While the overall reactions to her Facebook posts have been positive, Pillman knows that there is still a journey ahead of her. She doesn’t expect people to call her by her preferred name since it’s only been a few weeks, but even so, having her new self recognized by others has a major effect on her.
“When people use ‘he’ pronouns out of nowhere it just completely ruins my day,” Pillman said. “It’s just a feeling of invalidation.”
The invalidation and security might creep up on her for a while still. Pillman doesn’t expect any overnight changes. As she puts it, she’s the same person, just taking pills.
Next year, she will attend the University of Colorado Boulder where she’ll be part of an LGBT-accepting dormitory. She hopes that in the next few years she’ll be able to fully transition which would include an expensive sex reassignment surgery.
For Pillman, the transition is about finding herself.
“When I’m done with everything, if people can recognize me as a girl and if I can be treated the way I feel I should be treated,” Pillman said. “Then I will feel more like myself.”