By Lauren Means | Photo courtesy TennesseePhotographs.com
We all know, deep down, when we are different from what society deems “normal.” There can be an internal struggle, external battles with loved ones and oftentimes loneliness.
While being transgender is more transparent now than even just a couple of years ago, it doesn’t change the fear one experiences.
Olivia Hill, a native Nashvillian, knows this all too well. She’s open with her coming out story and said she realized at the age of five that she was the same as her mother. In an interview with Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC), she said, “I felt the same as any other girl in my family.”
In the fifth grade, her class had a variety show. She wanted to be Minnie Pearl from the Grand Ole Opry. Her mom made her a hat with flowers all over it like Minnie Pearl’s, but wouldn’t let her wear a dress. In overalls, she stepped out on the stage the day of the show, feeling so confident, and gave a “How-dee!” to the audience expecting a “How-dee!” back like Minnie Pearl would be greeted. She was, however, met with silence and said she was completely embarrassed. She left the stage in tears.
That night, Hill and her mother had a long talk that ended with her being taken to a psychiatrist in Green Hills where she would spend the next two years being taught “how to be a boy.”
When she was old enough, she enlisted in the military and entered boot camp. This is where she really learned to suppress her true self and she developed her “manly, cool, super awesome” persona.
It wouldn’t last forever though. Her mother passed away in 2015 and that’s when she said her “egg cracked” meaning that’s when everything she had suppressed came to the surface. “I knew I couldn’t hide me any longer,” Hill said.
She began seeing a therapist and after two years worked up the courage to start taking estrogen. In September 2018, she legally changed her name to Olivia Ruth Hill paying homage to her grandmother with her middle name Ruth and her mother by taking her maiden name Hill. She wanted to acknowledge the two strong, amazing women in her life.
Hill eventually had gender-confirming surgery at Duke University. She said it’s after having surgery that a lot of transgender individuals go through a very dark place. “I was as scared as I have ever been in my entire life,” she revealed. She was finally herself but she was also alone.
After some setbacks finding an affirming plastic surgeon, she found one at VUMC and had facial feminization surgery in May 2019.
Living her truth has cost her many relationships including her adult children, lifelong friends, and even being denied the ability to meet her granddaughter. Hill said, “To be honest there is no difference between a lesbian, a gay man or trans person that makes the decision to say…. this is my authentic self. Some have support. Some lose everything. My best advice is to try to surround yourself with good, positive and supportive people. The good news if you lose your family, the LGBTQ community is really great about stepping in and helping each other. Then you have your chosen family.”
Sometimes the unknown can be the scariest part of finally living your authentic life. Getting proper information can combat a lot of this fear. “There is so much bad information out there. When a person starts to transition they usually start looking online for groups and information. It has been my experience that when a person has a bad encounter they will log on and share as much about it in graphic detail. When things go well, most people don’t say anything. So it sets us all up to be scared,” explained Hill.
She went on to say, “Then there is our own head. We all are our own worst critics. Fear is a liar and has a way to steer us into solitude. Which makes things even worse.” Hill’s advice when one starts to have fear creep in is to reach out and ask for help.
Hill has submerged herself into community activities. She is on the Equity Diversity Inclusion committee under the University Staff Advisory Council where she was elected to serve a two-year term at Vanderbilt. She is also on the Women’s Committee at Vanderbilt University, volunteers at VUMC through the Trans Buddy Program, and helps run the trans support group at the Table with Dawn Bennett among other projects.
While being involved in the community helps with building confidence, she said, “it just takes time to build up the courage to fully relax and be our true selves. My story is not unique to me nor to transgender people. Many have had similar struggles with friends and family when they came out. Many still pretend to be straight around family just to not be shunned. Sometimes people feel it’s better to fake it than to sit at home alone on the holidays. That hurts my heart thinking about how many out there are living a lie, just like I did for years.”
Of all the things she has learned during her transition, Hill stated some things are never discussed enough during transitioning. She said, “For me, I had absolutely no idea how much privilege I had as an acting cis-gender white straight male. No one talks about losing privilege. But it goes away fast. I’ve had more issues with just plain sexism and loss of privilege than I ever did with transphobia. I’m quite the feminist and believe the Me Too movement needs to expand and grow.”
To watch Olivia’s interview with VUMC click here.