CITY PAGES Journey of a Lifetime
Karen M. Vaughn discusses her memoir of transition By Erin Holden Local LGBTQ+ advocate, public speaker and author Karen Marie Vaughn has struggled with gender dysphoria throughout her life. At the suggestion of her therapist a few years ago, Vaughn began keeping a journal on her computer, outlining her process of coming out to family members and friends, the progress of her hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and her memories of past struggles that formed the difficult path toward transition. The first edition of The Journey of a Lifetime, published in 2017, presents Vaughn’s private, raw, and personal reflections with the hope of providing comfort to those in the transgender community who feel alone in a private struggle to be who they are. Vaughn is set to do a reading at Gathering Volumes this month, where she’ll discuss the 2nd edition that was released last year.
Catholic school trauma
“I was 11-years-old,” Vaughn says of her early struggles with gender dysphoria. “I got bullied and thrown in the creek in our backyard.” When the time came to join the Boy Scouts, as all the boys in her private Catholic school were doing, Vaughn felt that she had to confide in her mother that she was a girl, not a boy. “I told her, but she didn’t take me seriously,” says Vaughn, adding that the boys in the Scouts were the ones bullying her. She had to join the Boy Scouts, and was immediately paralyzed by fear as a camping trip approached. “It scared me. I thought something bad would happen to me, and I stopped eating. At that time my mom realized something was off.” When Vaughn reiterated to both her parents that she was a girl, they relied on their devout religious background and arranged for conversion therapy with the local priest. She never told her parents, but her “therapy” consisted of sexual abuse that lasted for several months. “I was told not to tell anyone about it, that it was my penance. If I told my parents, I would go to hell.”
Taking the leap
Fast forward to Vaughn’s closeted life as a man, on her third marriage that led to two children, Cass and Hailey. She always knew that she wanted children, and felt that the only way would be through a traditional, nuclear family where she was the father in the household. When Cass was in college and Hailey was close to graduating from high school, Vaughn decided to take the leap.
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With only one friend as a confidant who knew about her secret life of wearing girl’s clothes, Vaughn sought out therapy and began to pen the journal entries that would become her book.
“When I first started transitioning, I was about 260 pounds,” Vaughn remembers. “I was this big plump person who still looked very masculine, wearing the best-fitting clothes I could get.” Before she felt that she was “passing,” Vaughn went shopping at Levis Commons and was very heartened by most people’s reactions. She’s had very few negative reactions, though, notably, her primary physician of 26 years told her that the transition would lead her to “do gay porn to survive”— the most extreme response she has heard. The publication of The Journey of a Lifetime led Vaughn and her nowdivorced-wife, Bev, to be on the TLC reality show, Lost in Transition, which focused on older married couples going through the process. It was difficult for Vaughn, as she was required to dress as a man for the backstory, and (in typical reality show fashion) it brought out the worst in both parties of the marriage that was already falling apart. “They depicted Bev as a mean, spiteful person, but she’s very loving,” says Vaughn, though she hopes that some good came out of their participation in the show, educating people about what it means to be transgender. It’s Vaughn’s hope that her book will be a beacon for people struggling to transition, as “suicide is a big dark cloud over the trans community. I wrote this book to let transgender people know they aren’t alone. We’re all on the same journey.” Proceeds from book sales go to The Trevor Project, which helps prevent LGBTQ+ suicides. You can hear Vaughn read from “The Journey of a Lifetime” at Gathering Volumes. 6:30pm. Wednesday, August 28. 196 E. S. Boundary, Perrysburg. 567-336-6188. gatheringvolumes.com
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