When listening to Brian Belovitch recount the first 30 to 40 years of his life, it's hard not to wonder how he survived it all. He admits that his journey almost killed him.
It's ironic because so much of that journey was about survival, making choices based on how to stay safe and also trying to make those around him comfortable with his identity.
He spent his teens identifying as queer and experimenting with drag, ultimately deciding to transition to a woman and living the next decade and a half as Natalia "Tish" Gervais, and eventually retransitioning and settling back into his life as Brian Belovitch. Today, Belovitch uses the pronouns he, his and him "out of convenience."
More assured about his identity and with the wisdom of many decades, Belovitch set out to write a memoir about his life and the identities he adopted along the way, with the ultimate hope of helping others struggling with their identity.
In Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man, Belovitch talks about recognizing he was different as a child, struggling with that difference in his teen and young adult years, making the decision to transition to female and the efforts he undertook to live his life as fully as he possible, and inevitably discovering that no matter what he did he always ended up feeling "frustrated and disappointed." In the end, his retransition back to male and social progress helped him discover his identity and settle into the life he is living today.
"From early on, in my own innocence, I thought it was great that I felt different, or looked different, or acted differently than most other boys my age, but later on in my life it turned against me," he said.
Belovitch said by puberty the negative messages were so strong that he also began to think there must be something wrong with him.
"It was definitely a combination of messages I was barraged with from my parents, siblings, teachers, friends, etc. I just kept receiving this message from those people that some how there must have been a mistake about my gender, or whatever it was, I was wrong," he said.
By his mid to late teens, Belovitch had begun calling himself queer, but he did not fit into the "macho" image adopted by many gay men at the time. And he definitely didn't feel safe in the world around him.
Ultimately, Belovitch decided to transition to female, believing it was his best chance at being able to be himself and also at survival. At the time he committed fully to the decision, beginning hormones, growing out his hair and eventually getting top surgery.
His years living as a woman did not bring the relief he had hoped for. "I'd gone and done almost everything I wanted and thought I should do as that person, and every road led to a dead end, which was completely frustrating and extremely disappointing," he said, adding, "I spent an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be something that I wasn't."
While struggling with his identity once again, Belovitch was diagnosed with HIV. He said living as a trans woman with HIV was the scariest time of his life.
"As a trans women in the '80s, testing positive for HIV, that was the most frightening. That was scarier than becoming trans and then coming out as a gay man at 30 something," he said.
Belovitch's decision to write about his journey had a lot to do with wanting to ensure future generations don't forget the struggles of the past and to help those who are struggling with their gender identity today.
"That is one of the reasons I wrote the book, for historical accuracy and to include my own personal experiences about my gender transitions, and also so that parents and kids and anyone questioning their gender could look at my journey and take whatever they need from it. Is it a cautionary tale, a heroic tale? Whatever they need to take from it. I think it's an important contribution that I can make. Thank god I can remember it all."
Belovitch said parents today should support their children and let their children discover their identity at their own pace. "Let them figure it out and take a step back and only intervene when you have to."
Looking back, he said he doesn't really have regrets, but he does wish he'd had support early on so maybe he could have avoided the pain that he went through.
"I'm the perfect example, if someone had just guided and supported me and listened and let me be who I was, maybe I could have avoided the problems later on if I'd had more support."
Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man is available now through Skyhorse Publishing.