Nate, who was born Natalie, shares a laugh with his dad, Tom. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
First in a three-part series.
BOSTON — Nate leans in, his broad shoulders hunched, his brown bangs almost touching the sewing machine bulb.
“Yes,” says the 16-year-old, with an “s” that lingers. “OK, I’m gonna keep going, it’s not stuck.”
Nate’s fingers push the seam of a sky-blue fleece stocking cap past the pounding silver needle.
WBUR reporter Martha Bebinger explores challenges facing transgender teenagers through the story of Nate, a 16-year-old transgender male.
“I’m going to do the hood and worry about the cowl later,” he says without looking up.
The hood is part of a costume Nate plans to wear to the next meeting of his cosplay, or costume role-play, group. There are cosplay chapters all over the world. Nate’s is based on a Web comic called “Homestuck.” His transformation from Natalie to Nate began two years ago, when he put on a blue men’s suit and boots, and gelled his hair into thick loops.
“That’s where I started it,” he says. “And then it just kind of took off from there. It was just like, no, I’m a boy.”
As far back as he can remember, Nate, of Boston, was uncomfortable as a girl.
“I felt so wrong as a female, it was just so wrong, and there was so much I didn’t like about myself,” he says in a soft, steady voice.
Nate had never heard the word “transgender” before he got to high school. But once he did, and figured out what it meant, “I was just like, ‘Oh my God, that’s exactly how I’m feeling.’ When you’re trans you just know. It’s not something like…” Nate pauses. “I don’t want to be like this. Who would choose this?”
Nate Becoming Nate, And Heavy Conversations
Nate at his home in Boston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Nate’s parents, who are divorced, and his stepfather are trying to understand and accept Nate’s decision, but they are worried and scared.
Nate’s future is hard to imagine, says Tom, Nate’s dad.
“This is a big challenge to a lot of people,” Tom says. “And that’s where it gets scary. When people don’t understand things, that’s when they get the most uncomfortable and we don’t know what they’re capable of. So I want to follow Nate around everywhere and just say, ‘Wait a minute, don’t even try that.’ But of course that’s not possible.”
Nate and his family agreed to do this story in the hopes that it will help people understand transgender issues, but they are also concerned that it will leave Nate exposed and vulnerable. WBUR has agreed not to publish the family’s last name.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my God, that’s exactly how I’m feeling.’ When you’re trans, you just know.”
– Nate, on figuring out what 'transgender' means
Last year, Nate cut his straight brown hair short, started wearing a thick elastic binder to compress his breasts, and gave away his “girl” clothes. Even as Natalie, he’d been wearing a lot of flannel shirts and jeans. Nate has not had surgery to flatten his chest, nor has he started hormones that would produce new facial and body hair, more muscle and a deeper voice.
He still loves the high notes his female vocal cords can hit, but when speaking, Nate very consciously drops his voice into its lowest range to try to sound male.
“My vocal tone, the way it’s deep right now, this isn’t natural,” he says. “My natural voice is — no, we don’t talk about that.”
Nate’s parents say they weren’t shocked when Natalie yelled, during an argument, “I’m a boy,” but they didn’t exactly see it coming either. Continue reading