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Design by Medical News Today; photography courtesy of Corey Rae.

In the hopes of humanizing our community to the general public, I’ve made it my career to help bridge that percentage gap and help society better understand transgender individuals.

The questions I often hear are about the inner workings of the medical transition. As a woman of transgender experience, I’ve seen firsthand how the world has changed, both socially and medically, over the past 15 years. I’m Corey Rae, and before I was an activist, actress, model, speaker, and writer, as well as the world’s first transgender prom queen, I was a kid going through a self-discovery that takes most people a lifetime.

I’ve expressed my femininity since before I can remember. At the age of 2 years, I asked my mom for a Cinderella dress and Barbies, which she gave me, no questions asked.

I’ve pretty much always known that I was different than those around me, but I never had a word to describe how I truly felt.

In 2006, when I was around the age of 12, I was flicking through a People magazine on career day when I read the word transgender and a quote from a transgender teenage boy saying, “I feel trapped in the wrong body.”

Until that moment, I thought I was the only person in the entire world who felt the way I did: trapped.

Soon after, I showed my mom the article and told her I wanted to become a girl. She not only accepted me but also worked to help me transition with the utmost unconditional love and support.

Back then, we were using Ask Jeeves instead of Google, and if you typed the word “transgender” in a Word doc, it would appear underlined in red because it was not a recognized word. It goes without saying that there wasn’t much information out there, especially for trans children and teens.

Fast-forward to the fall of my junior year of high school. Still presenting as male and suppressing myself began to weigh on me and affect my mental health.

In November, my mom asked if I wanted to start wearing her clothes, and I, of course, said yes. During this time, she had read a New York Times article that led her to a few medical specialists who kept referring her to other specialists. After a month or two of me wearing her clothes, my mom found Dr. Margie Nichols, Ph.D., of the Institute for Personal Growth in New Jersey.

After my first session, Margie recommended that I start socially transitioning at a slow pace. As I was quite young to transition, especially back in 2009, and already wearing more androgynous clothes, Margie recommended that my first step toward a medical transition begin with a visit to an endocrinologist. She said they would probably start me on hormone blockers as soon as possible to stop whatever early stages of puberty I was going through.

Dr. Wylie Hembree was a very old but wise endocrinologist in New York City who wrote the book on transgender transition. After our consultation, during which he put me on hormone blockers and made me aware of the side effects, we agreed to begin frequent check-ins.

At first, I felt nothing, but within a few months, I had rampant mood swings, greasy hair, and oily skin. I also started having bad acne breakouts on my chest and back. I was essentially going through puberty, just when all my peers were finishing it.

By April, I had grown my hair to shoulder length and was wearing mascara, bras, nail polish, and hand-me-down female clothes. In May, I decided to make a dream of mine come true and run for prom queen. I won, becoming the world’s first girl of transgender experience to do so.

Almost a year from when I began using hormone blockers, it was time to take the next step in my medical transition. At the time, a person had to live as their “preferred” gender in order to take hormones, which is no longer a requirement.

In February of 2011, I had my first injection of estrogen at Dr. Hembree’s Upper West Side office. Soon, my moods were swinging more than ever, my hair was even greasier, and my breasts started to develop.

It was painful at first, but my breasts never grew to much more than a small A cup. Over the years, I’ve noticed the incredible effects that estrogen has had on my body. My breasts get bigger when I eat and workout more, and my hair is shinier. Estrogen keeps my skin soft and softens the appearance of my facial structure and body shape.

Recently, I started taking estrogen under my tongue instead of swallowing it (under the supervision of my doctor). As a result, I have noticed a big change in my breast development, as well as positive changes in my mood and energy levels.

At home, I was uncomfortable giving myself the shot, but I knew I had to so that I could be the person on the outside that I felt on the inside. So, I continued to give myself the weekly dose I needed in my thigh when I went off to study at Hofstra University, NY.

During my freshman year of college, my life was at a standstill. I couldn’t date, work out, dance, or really do anything in the way I wanted. So Margie, my family, and I decided it was time for sexual reassignment surgery (now called gender affirmation or gender confirmation surgery).

Luckily, not long after I applied for a consultation, Dr. Christine McGinn’s office called me, and I immediately went in for an appointment. She told me she would love to do my surgery, and by some sort of higher power or fate, the first available date was June 4, the morning after my 19th birthday. So we deemed it my rebirth.

With a little more than 5 months to go before surgery, there were certain necessary procedures to undergo. These were painful but worth it. Typically, electrolysis on the genitals is needed for hair removal, and the needle for the anesthetic itself was excruciatingly painful. Again though, it was worth it. I would scream and try to calm myself down by saying, “I’m going to be in a bikini; I’m going to have a vagina.”

It is important to say that I have never once doubted my decision, not even during the worst parts of the healing process.

Recovering from surgery, especially dilation, was painful and uncomfortable. Dilation can sometimes still be this way. After the first year, experts recommend dilating twice a week or having sex often to ensure that the depth and width of the vagina stay. By the way, some cis-women need to dilate as well, so it’s more common than you might think!

After a summer of recovery, I returned to school ready to be my true self. However, the pain wouldn’t subside until a full year after surgery. I would sit in class or at my desk in my dorm room with a donut cushion, and I would experience sharp, quick, sporadic pains in my vagina. It felt like an electric shock in the clitoris, but it meant that my nerve endings were coming back to working again.

After about a year, I was fully healed. This is where I feel my medical transition process ends. Having a vagina was my version of complete, but surgery isn’t a requirement of being transgender.

There are so many ways of identifying under the trans umbrella. Gender is a spectrum, and while some people will want surgery, others don’t have that dysphoria with their genitals. Penis or vagina does not equate to man or woman.

Today, a lot has changed for the better, and the medical field has definitely made strides since I started to transition. Now, a lot of the process that I had to go through has become shorter.

Verbiage has changed, the way people look at trans people is different, and the way nurses and doctors treat trans people — both socially and medically — is different. People of transgender experience don’t have to jump through the hoops of the past, such as living as the “opposite” gender for a year before hormone replacement therapy.

I write this article from a place of so much privilege; I am not numb to that. Due to this, I believe that it is my civic duty to use my privilege in life to help out those who need it the most.

In much of the country, members of my community are constantly worried about leaving their home, even to seek medical care. As someone who has lived solely on the coasts of the U.S., I realize how lucky I am to have the access I do as a woman of transgender experience.

With constant pushback — including bathroom laws, sports team bills, healthcare coverage, and safe workplaces — we are still on the uphill battle. Although it will get better, we cannot forget that we are struggling to have equity and equality.

Lastly, I’ve realized over the years that I wasn’t born in the wrong body, as the quote from that fate-filled People magazine article stated. I am, in fact, in the right body at the right time, and being of transgender experience is just one of many ways of being a human.

You can follow Corey on Twitter and Instagram with the handle @imcoreyrae.