Transgender activist seeks acceptance for his community
Sallans, 31, shares candidly his knowledge and experiences on transgender issues.Photo by Ruth Angelina, NewsNetNebraska
Story by Ruth Angelina, NewsNetNebraska
Some see it as strange. Others see it as a psychological problem. Ryan Sallans sees transgenderism as his occupation.
“I feel this is my job,” said Sallans, who has become a male over the last six years. “And it’s very important for me to continue the work.”
Sallans, 31, lectures students at his alma mater, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and other campuses across the United States about the transgender world. Born Kim, a female, he now talks candidly about his sexuality as a speaker specializing in the area.
Although people in the transgender world do not see this as an illness, many medical experts disagree. People who feel they are a members of one sex trapped in the body of another are identified as mentally ill in the fourth edition of Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Whether mainly mental or physical, people who want to change the gender they were born into are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to have a body of the opposite sex. They undergo prolonged and grueling operations and subject themselves to a lifetime of taking hormone treatments to maintain the change.
Medical experts call the confusion about sexual identity Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and consider it a real problem. They are split, nonetheless, on whether GID is developed through nature or nurture.
For Sallans, it is nature.
“I was assigned female, but psychologically my brain has always been male,” Sallans said. “When I was born, my brain was developed as a male brain. And I would argue that until I’m blue in the face because as far as my mannerisms, anything about me, it’s always been like this. I’ve never tried to change in the ways that I’ve acted.”
Sallans brother, Greg, agrees. After watching a documentary on transgenderism, Greg realized that documentary just described his sibling.
“It’s definitely nature,” his brother Greg said. “Because our household is very traditional, we have strong father figure and mother figure. There was no way it was the upbringing that affected Ryan because our surroundings were very conservative.”
Greg, alone in the family, accepted Sallans’s change from the outset in about 2005. Sallans’ parents went through anger and denial upon being informed about it, and Sallans’ dad even claimed his daughter Kim was dead for a period of time. However, at Sallans’ grandmother’s funeral, he finally acknowledged his ‘son’ Ryan. Sallans’ mother has come around, too.
Sallans said the mismatch between his outer appearance and the male he felt to be was apparent to him even as a child. He preferred toys that are normally for boys although his parents always tried to throw in Barbie dolls for him to play with.
Ryan was known as Kim Sallans in the community he grew up in, Aurora, Neb., until the age of 25 when he decided to “transition.”Photo courtesy of Ryan Sallans
For Sallans the road to full maleness has been at least a six-year journey. As a female, Sallans began exploring her sexuality in March 2004 when she came out as gay. Within a month, she met a partner, but she said she felt more uncomfortable over time as she used the word “gay” when coming out to friends and family.
Nine months later, she experienced a self-discovery moment. “I decided and understood that I was transgendered in December 2004,” Sallans said. She found a book “Body Alchemy” by Loren Cameron. When Sallans saw pictures of the trangenders in the book, she saw herself.
Sallans then completed her first surgery, called a bilateral mastectomy with nipple grafts (chest surgery), on May 6, 2005 by Dr. Perry Johnson in Omaha, Neb.
At the time, Sallans was unsure if the full physical change was final because she had a female partner who did not want Sallans to be a male. However, Sallans decided to do this surgery because she did not want female breasts.
The surgery cost $5,350. It took two hours to complete and 45 minutes to be awake from the anesthesia.
For recovery, Sallans spent a week on reclining couch, sleeping and drinking lots of fluids. He had to battle waves of nausea and could not raise his arms for the first three days after surgery.
Today, his scars are flat and a shade of white or light pink.
Despite the objections of his partner, Sallans soon decided to go the full transgender route. The partner, who is no longer with Sallans, opposed the procedures because she wanted a gay relationship with a female.
A month after his chest surgery, Sallans took his first shot of testosterone on June 3, 2005. Michelle Cooley, a nurse who specializes in transgender health issues and has worked with Sallans, said testosterone is not only to block the internal estrogen level, but also to bring out the male characteristics of deepening of the voice, facial hair growth, and widening of muscles.
Sallans is still on testosterone today and will be dependent on this hormone for the rest of his life.
Medical experts suggest transgenders start changing their names to experience and feel how is it to be the opposite sex during the first year of hormone treatment.
Sallans began to change his name four months after his testosterone treatments.
One typically has to wait at least two years before continuing to the lower surgery.
Sallans had two choices for his lower surgery: a procedure that enlarges the clitoris to turn it into a penis called metoidioplasty or phalloplasty that would involve taking tissues from other parts of the body such as the forearm to build up the penis.
Sallans chose to do metoidioplasty in Belgrade, Serbia on May 7, 2008.
He said he is more physically comfortable with this procedure because doctors only worked with the part that he already had naturally. Sallans said he is able to feel the full sexual pleasure a regular man feels with the completed metoidioplasty, the difference is he is not able to ejaculate.
Although he has a friend who had a phalloplasty and enjoys his sexual experience since, Sallans was not going to take the significantly higher complication risks that came with the procedure.
Phalloplasty would have required more stages of surgery to complete, but Sallans only had to visit Serbia twice. His second time in April 2010 was for what he called a “revision.” It applied a final touch to his transition.
In addition, metoidioplasty is less costly. His two trips to Serbia for this procedure overall cost almost $27,000 versus $30-60,000.
In metoidioplasty, doctors use the effects of testosterone treatments to enlarge the clitoris. The doctors then incised the skin surrounding the enlarged clitoris to free the clitoral tissue from the pubic bone.
Sallans said his pains have all been worth it with the results that he has today, a sense of self-acceptance finally.
“It just made sense, all my insecurities while growing up are finally answered,” Sallans said.
Along with talking about sex changes, Sallans lectures on eating disorders. As Kim, he used to suffer with eating disorders and depression for six years prior to the transition. He was never satisfied with his body image before the transition.
“This was my challenge, to see if I could truly accept the inner being of who I am and if I could be open enough to share it with everyone,” Sallans said.
Ryan Sallans, born a female who has transformed into male in his lifetime, educates University of Nebraska-Lincoln on sexuality.Photo by Ruth Angelina, NewsNetNebraska
Sallans said one in 500 people in the United States are transitioning in United States. He said a campus with about 25,000 students like UNL would have at least four to eight people transitioning. This can be tricky, however, when everybody’s identities are different.
“So you can’t put them into x, y, z boxes. There’s so much diversities in communities,” Sallans said. “I just tend to fit more into that male norm box, but doesn’t mean I don’t accept people in the other continuum.”
Cooley said Sallans has completed the stages in transitioning to a new gender. “The idea of gender and sexual ID is a personal thing for everybody,” Cooley said. “Keep in mind that it is difficult to grasp. There are health issues, barriers to take care of.”
Cooley said she sees increasing people identifying transgender issues and seeking care for it, just like Sallans because it is being more publicized today.
Sallans’ brother, Greg, is happy for Sallans because he finally gets to stop fighting that internal fight. “I see Ryan as truly happy now,” he said. His biggest worry for Sallans is possible damage a lifetime of hormones could cause for Ryan’s liver and heart.
Sallans wants to tell his story and work on behalf of the transgender community for the rest of his life.
“When that point comes that people are not interested in me anymore, as far as my own personal story, I hope to work with the medical professionals, psychologists, therapists, schools, university administrations,” Sallans said.
Sallans doesn’t mind standing out and speaking out about his change so others like him can someday easily blend into the community.