Dion’s journey from woman to man
When Dion Klein went to his 20th year high school reunion, he thought he'd be a shoo-in for the 'Most Changed Award' on the night.
Instead, everyone agreed it went to his former classmate, Mark. Even Klein was shocked.
"Mark had been your typical geeky kid with glasses at school and had sprung up to be six foot tall and gorgeous. None of us recognised him," Klein, 56, from the Gold Coast, said.
But Klein had undergone his own transformation.
All his classmates at the school he attended in Pennsylvania in the US had known Klein as a schoolgirl.
He'd since fully transitioned and was living in Australia as man.
"In a way, that was really an affirmation for me," Klein said.
"I'd been nervous to return, but for the most part people were very accepting. My friendships became stronger. People commented that I seemed much calmer. I'd gone from being this angry and internally frustrated female to this very grounded man."
One person who wasn't always as accepting was his 88-year-old mum.
"It's been a huge rollercoaster journey for her," he said.
"First I came out as gay while at university, then I was back to straight, then 'gay' again, then trans."
But in the last five years, she's come full circle.
"She sees how cool, calm and happy I am, and she's happy for me."
It's a journey Klein would never have considered embarking upon had he not moved to Australia from the US at 31.
"It was so foreign to me. I thought my only options were living and presenting as a female; as a lesbian. The other option was death.
"I just wasn't fitting in anywhere. I was so unhappy. I had suicidal tendencies."
Klein took a job teaching at the University of Canberra and it was there that his eyes were opened. He logged on to a queer discussion board and learnt about a woman who was transitioning from male to female and had a professional job in the public service.
It intrigued him.
"I'd never been exposed to someone who had transitioned and worked outside of a bar," he said.
The woman introduced him to the Gender Centre in Sydney, where he met his first female-to-male transgender person who helped 'normalise' the process.
Klein also embarked on a pathway of "counselling, rebirthing, self-exploration and meditation".
This was an important time for him and allowed the gravity of what he was undertaking to properly incubate.
"I needed to ensure it was the right decision - there was no turning back."
At first, Klein didn't tell the university he was taking testosterone shots in 1997. But then changes, such as his voice pitch, made it more obvious.
"It was like starting over. I was 35 but it was like going through adolescence again - this time learning how to be a boy turning into a man."
His friends, along with his dog Shadow, were his support during tougher times as he wasn't in a relationship then.
And he thanks the "liberating" society of Australia and his "very supportive" GP at the time. "This wouldn't have been possible for me in the US. Not in the 80s or 90s or even today. It's a different society from Australia, where I can be myself. I honestly don't think I'd have transitioned if I still lived there."
Living as a trans man, Klein lists many positives, such as the fact he can 'pass' - when he moved from Canberra to the Gold Coast in 2010, he was able to blend in easily.
"Nobody knew my past here," he said.
He also feels like he has a fine tuned empathy now.
"I've been able to understand things from the female and male perspective - having lived pretty much half of my life as each gender."
His hobby of dancing was also given a fresh perspective. One of the first "awesome experiences" was learning how to dance "as a man" by taking dance lessons.
Life hasn't been without its challenges, some coming from within the LGBTQI community itself.
"I 'lost' some lesbian friends [back in the US] who felt it was weird."
To them, Klein was betraying "the sisterhood" but he rejects what he sees as boxes, labels and drama.
"I just see myself as a person on the planet. Most of my community here comprises of straight people. That may offend some people in the LGBTQI community, but that's just me."
Dating has been difficult, but then, Klein said, he's always been shy in this area.
"I mostly date women, but rarely ask anyone out."
The traditional stereotypical expectation placed on men to ask out women isn't something that has been a part of Klein's identity as a man.
"It's a habit from when I was a woman and now, living as a man, I've carried it over - I just don't date.
"Although I've had relationships with women, it's been more than six years since I even went on a date. I'm quite happy hanging out with a positive groups of friends and working on my own businesses."
Klein doesn't make a big issue of his transition from female-to-male, simply saying "it is what it is".
"There's just no need to focus on it or reveal it to people when I meet them, unless I'm speaking on the topic. I very much just live as a man and the fact I'm a trans man rarely comes up.
"Besides, social media and TV is now beginning to mainstream trans people."
But he agreed that much of the focus falls on trans women, and trans men still have a way to go in terms of public awareness.
Klein now jokes about Australia's warm, accepting and laid back nature, which transformed him, saying: "I tell friends from the States, come visit me; drink the water and you don't know who you'll go back as!"
- Transgender Day of Remembrance is Tuesday 20th November. For more information visit the GLAAD website.
-If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au
- Gary Nunn is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @garynunn1