Updated: April 19, 2014 6:07AM
Kaden S. consciously tries to suppress his beaming smile.
It escapes anyway, revealing high cheekbones and feminine features. His hates this. Always has, since childhood.
“It reveals my secret identity,” said Kaden, whose childhood superhero was Captain America, born a frail boy before his impenetrable transformation.
Kaden was born female, at least anatomically. But in his head, and in his heart, he’s always been a male. He played with action figures, not dolls. He wore pants, not skirts. He hung out with boys yet was attracted to girls.
“It was very confusing,” the 19-year-old rural Valparaiso man told me over dinner last week.
He wasn’t sure if he was gay, a lesbian or bisexual. He just knew he was in the wrong body. Then he discovered a term that best describes him: transgender.
“I had no idea it existed or other people like me existed,” he said. “I thought I was the only one. It was very lonely.”
The simplest definition of a transgender is a person who appears, wishes or attempts to become a member of the opposite sex. In Kaden’s case, from a woman to a man. Such a complex transformation can involve testosterone injections, gender-study counseling and major surgery, among other cosmetic changes.
Kaden, who’s currently taking a gender studies class in college, is thrilled at the possibilities.
“I can’t wait,” he says giddily.
In grade school, a student once teased him by saying he should get a sex change operation.
“I didn’t think a sex change was even possible,” Kaden says.
These days, he’s excited to soon be receiving testosterone injections at a specialized clinic in Chicago.
“It’s one of my first physical steps,” said Kaden, who wears men’s shirts and droopy jeans.
Then he’ll receive counseling, followed by upper body surgery to remove his breasts in two or three years. He has no plans for lower body surgery, to alter his genitals. It’s too costly, too risky, too complicated. As if his life hasn’t been complicated enough already.
Growing up, other kids teased him, bullied him, assaulted him. They said he was gay. A butch lesbian, to be exact.
“If you fit the stereotype in our society then people think they know who you are or what you are,” he said with a shrug. “I hated fitting the gender norms of society. It never felt right. I always felt wrong.”
This inner conflict forced him to mature faster than other kids, but it also stole part of his childhood. He couldn’t wait to grow up, dress like he wanted and cut his hair into a shorter, manlier style.
“When I finally did, freshman girls thought I was a boy and some had a crush on me,” he said playfully. “But that didn’t last too long. Everyone eventually found out my identity again.”
Kaden tried dating teenage boys in high school but it never seemed right. It felt fake. He felt like a fraud.
“My first sexual experience with a boy was horrible. I hated it,” he said.
He has a girlfriend now. They’ve been together for a year and a half.
“I want to be recognized for my inner personality, but my outward image and identity is the problem,” he said.
Kaden’s voice sounds more feminine than masculine, which he detests.
“Most people think I’m a guy,” he said proudly, “as long as I don’t talk.”
Sometimes people call him “sir” or other male-oriented greetings. It rocks his day.
“I’ve been getting this a lot more since I started wearing this binder,” he says, revealing a tight-fitting harnesslike undergarment that compresses and hides his breasts.
Physically, it’s uncomfortable. Emotionally, it’s liberating. Even protective, like a shield.
In the comic book world, the fictional character Steve Rogers was genetically altered through an experimental serum to become the manly superhero Captain America.
“It’s one of the reasons I’ve always idolized him,” said Kaden, who wants to open his own gym someday. “I also loved medieval knights in shining armor too.”
How elusive is happiness for a transgender teen battling for acceptance?
“I’m happy, sort of, for the most part,” replied Kaden, whose birth name was Kaitlyn. “I feel like if I’m being me, then I’m hurting other people. Yet I need to be who I really am.”
A good day is when most people identify him as male. Even more so when his younger brother affectionately calls him “bro,” not “sis.”
Still, he has anxiety over not being “the man” he wants to be on a daily basis. Not to mention the harsh physical reminders.
“But then why would God create me like I am and then hate me for it?” he asked.
Amid all this conflict, what does he fear most?
“Well, I don’t want to be alone in life,” Kaden said after a long pause. “I mean, who does?”
Meet Kaden and hear him tell his story. Video at http://posttrib.suntimes.com/news/davich/index.html.