WONDER LAKE – Crystal Gray always knew she was different. Her classmates picked up on it, too.
It put a bullying bull’s-eye on her back, she said.
That’s because she was born a he, and it wasn’t until Gray was in her late 20s that her mind and body finally became congruent.
“There was always something different about me, and I don’t know if people picked up on it or what,” said Gray, now 40 and living in Wonder Lake with her partner, Shari Miller.
Gray’s bullying started when she was in junior high, and followed her through her senior year at Woodstock High School. It wasn’t until she volunteered with the auxiliary police and came to school in full sheriff’s garb that the students finally left her alone.
But the damage already was done.
They called her “gay Gray” and “mama’s boy.” Her peers punched her, called her names, and knocked books from her arms. As a student, she was withdrawn, had low self-esteem, and leaned more on her teachers for companionship than her peers.
“Something showed on me that I was weak, and every day it was constant harassment,” Gray said.
Like many transgender individuals, Crystal, born Christopher, suffered from depression and anxiety. She made her first suicide attempt at 19 years old.
“My teens and my 20s were hell because I was still trying to find myself,” she said.
After her third suicide attempt in 1995, Gray checked herself into a behavioral health unit in California. Gray eventually landed at a recovery home for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It was a turning point in understanding who she really was.
“At that point, I knew it was going to get better,” she said.
But it was still several more years before Christopher would become Crystal. In 2000, she met her first wife, Rita Zeb. She was 58, Gray was 28.
Before getting married, Gray came clean to Zeb about who she really was.
“I said, ‘I’m transgender. This is who I am and this is who I always will be. ... If you still want to marry me, let me know, but come back in three days with an answer,’ “ Gray recalled.
In three days, Zeb said yes.
During what Gray called a “beautiful marriage,” Zeb allowed Gray one day each month to cross-dress for the couple’s date night.
Zeb died in 2006.
It was shortly after Zeb’s final expenses were taken care of that Gray had her name legally changed and started her path to becoming the person she said she was born to be.
She buried her wife along with her former life.
“It’s like that person died,” Gray said. “That’s the way I dealt with it. I looked at it like Christopher is gone, that’s the dead part of me.
“However, I brought these traits over with me. I’m still the same personality, but now the body is different. The body and mind are free, and now it’s time to start a new life as Crystal.”
Gray took Zeb’s middle name, Ann, as her own.
Since her transition, Gray has become a successful transgender advocate in Denver, and she also has compiled transgender resources and research for the former LGBT liaison for President Barack Obama. Gray is trying to get transgender support groups established locally.
Although she is finally living the life she’s always wanted, Gray said she always will remember the torment she endured in her childhood.
“Do I ever forget what happened to me? No,” she said. “It’s always there, but I’ve gotten to the point that ... I can look back and understand how those different events made me who I am today, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”