SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA)
For decades, Shreveport resident Rebecca Norris held on to a secret. But she isn't hiding any longer.
Norris was born a man, but has always felt she was meant to be a woman. Now she's on a journey to finally find the happiness she feels she's been missing out on all these years
It took her more than 30 years, but she's finally worked up the courage to take the next steps on her journey to womanhood, which for her meant undergoing gender reassignment surgery to complete her transition.
“I knew that I couldn’t make really close friends, because they would find out my secret,” said Rebecca Norris.
For years, Rebecca Norris says held on to a secret that she feels kept her in bondage.
“You’re inside the body that you’re not supposed to be in, you look in the mirror and you see something that in some cases completely offends you,” said Norris.
It’s something Rebecca says she’s struggled with since childhood.
“Around 5 or 6 I was always wearing my mother’s shoes,” said Norris.
She recalls terrible memories of being severely disciplined by her parents for her desire to be more feminine and she isn’t alone in her struggles.
In June, Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, told the world she identified as a woman early in life.
“I would say I’ve always been confused with my gender identity since I was this big,” said Caitlyn Jenner.
Like Jenner, who rose to fame as Olympic gold medalist, Rebecca grew up to fill a masculine role as a Petty Officer in the Navy. Despite the awards and accolades, Rebecca’s secret remained hidden for years.
“I have my 'I love me' wall, with all my awards and I hate them, because they are a reminder of the first 37 years of my life that were in many ways hell,” said Norris
Out of fear of what would happen, she hid feminine hobbies from even those who knew her best.
“We take the chance of being murdered, killed, beaten or just plain harassed,” said Norris.
She lived a double life, making time to explore female tendencies in secret until a near death experience gave her the courage to be herself.
“2007, I had a heart attack and that’s what brought about me coming out of the closet, “said Norris.
In her eyes, Caitlyn Jenner is courageous for taking the steps to free herself from the secret.
“They say that she is not brave and that she is not a hero, I hesitate to call her a hero but I will say she is a very brave woman,” said Norris.
Rebecca recalls having a tough conversation with her son, asking for his blessing as she started the journey towards becoming a woman.
“Dad I don’t care what you do, as long as you’re happy,” he said.
Those words gave her all the confirmation she needed. Next, she picked a name that she liked to begin the transition into her new life. Rebecca is now her legal name she chose not to disclose what her name was before.
“I am who I am now, that name represents everything I’ve worked so hard to get rid of,” said Norris.
The road to womanhood isn’t an easy one. Candidates in search of making a full transition must undergo counseling and get recommendation letters from physicians.
“I myself lost every friend that I had, I don’t care how much therapy you’ve had, losing that many friends at once is hard,” said Norris.
Candidates must endure years of hormone treatments and be prepared to spend up to $50,000 on the gender reassignment surgery. Rebecca has set up a gofundme account to help offset costs.
“Really at this point the gofundme just took care of my travel to see Dr. Kuzan,” said Norris.
Dr. Kuzan is the plastic surgeon in Ann Arbor, Michigan who will be performing Rebecca’s surgery if she is able to afford the procedure. She chose Kuzan because of her health issues.
“I have been through several rounds of testing on my heart,” said Norris.
Many people travel to places like Thailand where the surgery is cheaper, but Rebecca has to consider all outcomes.
“If something happens it will be easy to transfer me from one place to another, and then the VA will take it from there,” said Norris.
“I can’t explain in words how much of a desire I want it, but it’s not worth it if I’m going to die,” said Norris.
Dr. Peter Raphael of Plano, Texas has been performing gender reassignment surgeries for 20 years and he says views on gender dysphoria as it’s now called are evolving.
“Completing gender dysphoria is to understand it and have the right professional dealing with these patients, to figure out to what degree I must correct the dysphoria,” said Dr. Raphael.
He says in some cases the only treatment for the unsatisfied feeling is undergoing surgery to become the person the client feels they truly are.
It's a surgical procedure that is multi-pronged beyond just gender reassignment.
“There’s what’s called FFS or facial feminization surgery, body contouring such as feminine procedures to bring in the waist, and breast enhancements,” said Raphael.
He adds it’s a decision that should be approached cautiously.
“Certain procedures are what we call virtually irreversible gender reassignment fits into that category,” said Raphael.
With her mind made up, Rebecca is pressing towards happiness.
“What do I want out of life? What makes me happy? Well, I’m not who I should be,” said Norris.
She says since beginning to live as woman, she’s gained the freedom to remain true to herself.
“I’m the same person, just happier.”
Rebecca says her insurance won't cover the procedure, but there are some insurance companies that will.
She says after completing the transition some patients decide to abandon their old lives and cut ties, it's called "going stealth."
Rebecca doesn't plan on going stealth.