Transgender woman tells her story for the first time

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LINN - A transgender woman in mid-Missouri is telling her story publically for the first time.

Cathy Serino's story starts at a young age, when she was still identified as male.

"I was about five or six years old, and I knew something was wrong," Serino said. "But it was the 70s, and that wasn't something you talked about."

Serino is describing the first time she realized she was transgender, although it wasn't until her high school years she realized what transgender meant. Serino said she didn't have a lot of people to talk to, which made her suffer a deep depression, which led to an attempted suicide.

"It was about five years ago, I guess." Serino said. "And after I got out of the hospital, I decided I was going to live for myself." 

Once Serino decided to transition, she immediately started educating herself on what it would take to transition. After the Social Security Administration changed its policy on transgender benefits, Serino decided to continue her transition with the surgery she wanted to become a woman. She said because she followed all of her doctor's instructions by the book, her transition went pretty smooth. The struggle came when she had to let her family and friends know.

"The first person I told was my ex-wife. I wanted her to be the one to tell our kids, but then we decided I had to be the one to do it," Serino said.

Serino described the difficulty in telling her family, how her two sons won't talk to her, and her second ex-wife won't even speak to her.

"She [the second ex-wife] won't even let me tell the kids. But they're pretty young," Serino said. "And she won't even talk to me anymore. She wants nothing to do with me."

Even though it took some time for them to adjust, Serino said her two oldest daughters have come to terms with her transition. She said they now all get along very well. 

"I can sometimes see people snickering when they see me walk down the street," Serino said. "But nobody has really made fun of me outright to my face. Most people just leave me be."

Frank Johnson, the Men's Leadership and Activities Network coordinator at The Center Project, said those who come out as transgender should be commended.

"It takes a lot of nerve to come out to society and tell them you are transgender. I think it's incredibly brave of them," Johnson said.

At The Center Project, an LGBT center in Columbia, Christianne Benedict said suicide is common among those in the transgender community.

"I think it's somewhere around 41 percent of the trans community tries to commit suicide at least once in their life," Benedict said. "And I think that number is a little higher, because there are those suicides of people who weren't out as transgender."

Benedict is a coordinator for a group called the Transgender Blender. The group meets on a monthly basis to talk about transgender issues in the mid-Missouri area. 

"We saw a need for a transgender community group that needed to be filled, and so we decided to open up a group where we can come together and talk about issues and relationships and stuff like that," Benedict said.

But for Serino, who lives an hour away from The Center Project, with no car, the next best thing is social media.

"I have a lot of support on social media, with people in the trans community who don't live close to me," Serino said. "They really helped me when I first came out, and now I'm helping them."

Serino said she would eventually like to start a transgender community group closer to where she is. She said she'd like to aim it towards the older trans community, as groups like the LGBTQ center at the University of Missouri caters to the younger generation.