Coming out is coming to terms with yourself and understanding your role in society. It is a process of becoming comfortable in your own skin, a process where you involve others around you in discovering who you really are.

In most communities, people see no distinction between gays, homosexuals, and transgenders. All men who possess feminine qualities are considered gay. Society has the stereotypical assumption that all gay men want to become women- not true!

I am and always have been a true transgender. For as long as I can remember, I have always experienced gender dysphoria. This is a state when someone feels uncomfortable with the body they were born with. The mental and emotional just does not coincide with the physical.

I grew up playing with my female cousins and have always assumed the "female" role. Whenever I tried to play with the other boys, I always felt awkward, like an outsider. There was a lot of pressure for little boys to act a certain way. Since I didn't fit into that mold, I had a lot of guilt and shame. During adolescence, everyone started typecasting me as gay. Despite the fact that I never had a homosexual experience at that time, my family, my school, and my society was saying that I was gay.

Because I wasn't exposed to any transgenders, I simply accepted everyone's labels and assumed I was gay. The label was thrown at me because it was the closest thing out there. Since I thought I was gay, I tried to live the "gay" lifestyle. I hit the West Hollywood scene and did the whole fag spiel. The gay community was definitely a family of support. The community accepted me and took me in for who I was. Despite all the positive energy, I still felt like an outsider.

During high school, my friends and I would go to the CBS studios to attend various TV tapings. One day, we went to a Montel Williams taping. The featured panelist was Tula, a famous transsexual. Before that, the only media representation I had ever seen of transsexuals were prostitutes and drag queens. They were always very comedic and created to be people to be made fun of and laughed at. This was obviously not who I was. However, Tula was something else. She was the first positive transsexual role model that I've ever seen. I was awestruck.

After this experience, I started researching the issue. Some of the research was quite discouraging because of the outdated view of transsexualism as a mental illness, or the view of transgenders as sexualized gender freaks. The more research I did and the more people I met, I started to realize that this wasn't all too strange.

I once regarded myself as a gender bender. I would wear androgynous clothes and put on make up. When I was 17 or 18 years old I began my transsexualism process. This process involves both surgery and hormones. I started taking hormones when I was 19 and received my breast augmentation when I was 21.

The physical process of transsexualism is a very essential aspect of the coming out process. It makes coming out a whole and complete experience. The feminization of my body was my creation of my true gender. Surgery makes the process complete in that it matches the emotional with the physical female association.

Coming out is not cheap, literally! The process of sex reassignment is very costly. Tragically, prostitution is one of the big drawbacks in my community. Many in my community will go into prostitution not only as a source of money but also as a source of self validation. Many transgenders go through their whole life getting laughed and teased at, always feeling like a freak or an outsider. When men want to pick you up because of who you are, it can be a very strange experience.

The difference between being gay and being transgendered is that you can't hide it if you are the latter. Families will accept you more if you are gay because they can go into denial. The idea of physically changing yourself can be hard for a family to take. They are directly confronted with your change. It is in their face. Parents will find it difficult when their son becomes a daughter- you just can't hide being transsexual. I have to wear big heavy jackets everytime I go home. I don't want to burden my parents by just showing up with my breasts. Whenever I go to family functions the reaction is pretty much, "It's just Daryl! Daryl is just like that!" I just come into family events with a positive attitude. I don't even know if they know who I am.

My community is a hidden community. We are not accepted by the typical straight community or the queer community. There are so many myths and stereotypes- we live an underground lifestyle. America has embraced so many minority communities but the transgendered community has fallen through the cracks.

I date heterosexual men. It is not about homosexuality. These men view me as a woman because, visually, I am. Most of the men don't know about "me" when I first meet them. I don't even tell most of them off the back because I forget about it. I tell the men I'm serious with about me before anything goes too far. When I do tell them, I never act apologetic. I tell them straightforward because I don't want to come off as someone with a deformity or a handicap. I have too much pride to view myself that way.

To anyone who might have feelings of transgenderism, you need to start discovering and believing in who you are. You are not a freak nor should you feel like one. There is a community and family for you out there. Be comfortable with your own skin and once you do that, everything else will fall into place.