State of Despair

Transgender male: 'I never associated with being female'

2013-03-03T00:00:00Z 2013-09-19T16:30:08Z Transgender male: 'I never associated with being female'By CINDY UKEN cuken@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

On Sept. 28, 1992, Jill Gliko gave birth to an 8 pound, 3 ounce girl that she and her husband, George, named Monica Michelle.

She was the baby of the family, the last of three girls.

As Monica grew up, she was Daddy’s constant sidekick. The pair regularly traveled to Grandma’s ranch near Great Falls where they fished and camped, forging a storybook father-daughter bond. Monica loved driving the tractor and chasing cows with the four-wheeler.

She was a resolute tomboy, preferring jeans to dresses, G.I. Joe to Barbie. And, she was a talented athlete, excelling at volleyball and softball, and loving the hard knocks of hockey and flag football.

Her sports colleagues nicknamed her “Manica.”

“I was just another one of the little guys,” Gliko said. “I never associated with being female.”

And she didn't think much of it until she entered seventh grade at Will James Middle School. She felt pressure from family and friends to dress up, primp and act like a young lady. She resisted.

Eventually, she found herself attracted to young women as well as men. It confused her. She felt like a boy trapped in a girl’s body and didn’t know there was a word for it.

Kids at school called her a “fag” and made crude jokes. She began cutting and mutilating herself, hoping someone would notice that she needed help. She became bulimic, melting to 98 pounds. She was diagnosed with manic depression and anxiety and was prescribed Prozac, which is commonly used to treat major depressive disorder, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder.

At the end of her eighth-grade year, she chopped off 14 inches of her hair and began scouring the Internet for answers. Along the way, she stumbled upon a book, “Luna,” by Julie Anne Peters, a story about a boy who makes the transition to become a girl. It was a pivotal point in Monica's life. At last she had a name for what she would become: transgender.

Monica made a bold declaration to her friends: “I think I want to be a boy.”

“Cool,” said Jessie Massey, 19, a friend since seventh grade. “What are you going to do about it?”

The first step was telling her parents.

Her mother readily gave her blessing, vowing to do everything she could to help her with gender reassignment. Her sisters were equally supportive.

Dad, a self-described conservative Catholic who describes himself as just shy of being “Archie Bunker,” had long suspected something was amiss. He was taken aback by her declaration, seeking time to process the news about his little girl. Though he ran the gamut of emotions, rage was not in his mix.

“How do you get angry with your child?” George Gliko asked. “I was shocked in that I never thought of it in that light.”

Still, the father-daughter relationship would become so strained they would barely speak to each other. Monica would legally change her name to Dominic “Nick” Liam Gliko, rotate in and out of a local psychiatric ward, attempt suicide on at least two occasions before beginning the process of becoming a man.

“There was a time in there when it was hard for us to talk,” George Gliko said. “I was lucky if I would get a ‘good morning’ out of her."

Though his daughter's desire to become a man was stunning, George Gliko said he never felt embarrassed. The only embarrassment came at his own missteps in using the wrong pronoun or mistakenly referring to him as Monica.

Gliko’s transition to becoming a man was a rocky road and began during her sophomore year. She traveled to Wyoming for testosterone injections.

The transition was disorienting and stressful. With the help of her mother, she was admitted to a local psychiatric ward for about two weeks.

“It was really overwhelming,” said Gilko, who now refers to himself as a he. “It was a lot of stress. Unimaginable stress. Transitioning through high school? It was rough.”

In fact, he spent much of his teenage years in and out of the local psychiatric ward. Some of the admissions were voluntary; others were not. In addition to Prozac and other drugs, he was prescribed Abilify, a powerful anti-psychotic drug.

He ballooned to nearly 200 pounds and grew more depressed.

“That really played with my emotional health because it was so hard,” he said. “I wasn’t who I wanted to be and I didn’t like the body I was in.”

He was later diagnosed as bipolar, given a new medication and dropped 50 pounds. He ended up back in the psych ward after a failed relationship with a woman. The woman’s family did not accept him.

By June 2012, Gliko was emotionally exhausted from failed relationships and living with a body that looked neither like a man nor a woman. He didn’t know how to be a man and did not want to be a woman.

He stopped by a Billings pawn shop to buy a gun. He wanted to kill himself. He was not yet 21 so there was no sale. He went home and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills.

“I want this done,” he said. “I don’t want this anymore. It’s too much stress. It’s too much everything. I just wanted to give up.”

He was again taken to the psych ward.

He made a second suicide attempt in August 2012. He crawled into a bath tub full of water and dropped in a plugged-in toaster. The attempt failed.

“Unless you’ve been through something like that, you don’t know,” he said.

Both attempts were Gliko’s way of getting attention, his father said. They were also the most difficult part of this yearslong journey.

“In both cases we were very lucky,” George Gliko said. “My heart just about dropped out. I’ve been through one suicide in my family.”

George Gliko’s father killed himself in 1997 when he was 60.

“It’s taken me a long time to accept what he did and why he did it,” he said of his father’s suicide. “Dominic’s attempts opened up all of those old wounds again."

Today, everything is “really good” between he and his dad, Gliko said. “I’m really happy for that because he was the big question mark.”

Today, Gliko is getting more comfortable with how he looks and is re-teaching his brain a new way of thinking. 

“That was really rough,” he said. “I didn’t know who to be. I know how to think and how to act. I know what’s acceptable and what isn’t. I’m not crazy.”

His advice to anyone wrestling with their sexuality is to be open about it and talk about it.

“Closets are for clothes,” Gliko said. “Get out. Be proud. Never, ever be ashamed to be who you are.”

He has started college and is engaged to a man. No wedding date has been set. He sees a therapist and surrounds himself with a strong support system of family and friends.

The strained relationship between Gliko and his father has healed. The two have a standing bowling date every Tuesday. 

Cindy Uken's reporting on Montana's suicide epidemic was undertaken with the help of a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship from the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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