Life in transition
Kris Pittman likes sports, action movies and working out. He spent seven years in the Air Force … and was born a female.
Kristian Jamison Pittman is a guy’s guy—an adventurous, outdoorsy type. He enjoys sports, action movies, piloting planes and riding horses. He’s a fitness enthusiast who plans to enter his ripped physique in a bodybuilding competition next summer. He spent seven years in the Air Force. He’s a registered nurse and wants to become a doctor. He has a rugged charm, a quick wit, and a hearty laugh. And he was also born female.
“People don’t know when they meet me,” he says. “They have no clue. Then, to be able to say, yeah, I was in the Air Force, and I’m a nurse, and then to say, and I’m also transgender. People go, ‘What?’ I think that stereotype that folks have is usually like a RuPaul type character.”
About a tomboy
Pittman was born Kristine Pittman in Spokane, Wash. His father was in the Air Force and then flew commercial planes. The family—Pittman, his mother, father and brother, Josh—lived in Newport, Wash., and was tight-knit, conservative and Christian. They moved to Salt Lake City, and then, in 1989, to a ranch, complete with horses and sheep, in rural Washoe Valley.
“I can remember being 2, 3 years old, from the time when you first start having any memories of yourself, and always knew that I was male,” says Pittman. “I was pretty disillusioned at the fact that my body didn’t agree. I personally feel that when we’re that young, that’s the time in our life that’s most true to ourselves. We don’t care about cultural norms or other input. It’s not about who you’re attracted to or anything like that. You don’t have those hormones going. That part of your brain isn’t really humming yet. You don’t know who you’re into, but you certainly know what your gender is. That’s just a very innate thing. People know their gender from the time that they’re small, for the most part. My story, my experience with transitioning is mine. Everybody has different experiences.”
As a child, Pittman asked her parents to refer to her as “Dave Boy.” She liked to play with G. I. Joe toys rather than Barbie dolls. She liked to wear camouflage clothing and watch action movies, especially anything starring her idol, Arnold Schwarzenegger. At that time, her parents just thought she was a tomboy who really looked up to her older brother.
In middle school, as puberty was hitting, Pittman would wear baggy clothing, much of it borrowed from her brother, to hide her body. As she got older she’d often wear two tight sports bras to conceal her breasts.
“I didn’t fit in very well,” he says. “I didn’t fit in with the girls, and I didn’t fit in with the boys very well either. But I had a couple of good friends.”
Pittman went to Galena High School, class of 2000, where she found a degree of social acceptance by virtue of her natural athleticism. She played volleyball, ran track, and skied on the ski team.
“I was actually really good at volleyball,” he says. “I’m still good at volleyball. The biggest problem is you had to wear spandex. And it was so uncomfortable for me. They don’t leave much to the imagination. … I was embarrassed and uncomfortable. And I remember having crushes on some girls on my team. And it made me so nervous all the time that I couldn’t do what I normally could do. It was really frustrating because it held me back from being better at stuff, because I was always in my head too much, just awkward and uncomfortable. I hated wearing those damn spandex. Most of my teammates would practice in spandex too, and I would always wear shorts.”
At age 16, Pittman started lifting weights.
“I got really big into the gym,” he says. “I always wanted to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. When I was a little guy, I was like, I want to be Arnold. So I wanted to work out and masculinize my body. I always really wanted to have that ideal male body. So I worked out like crazy.”
“A transition is really that, because it’s a process of transitioning everything, your mind, your emotions, your body, and also transitioning your close family and friends along with you,” says Pittman.
Though Pittman now feels that his parents support him “100 percent,” the transition toward acceptance for this conservative family was difficult.
“I grew up in a very, very conservative, pretty closed off, closed-minded sort of house,” he says. “That’s a big reason that I didn’t come out—whether it was being gay or whatever I was at that point—because I didn’t know what to call myself. I didn’t know another trans person. I didn’t even know what a transgendered person was back then. I knew that inside I always felt that I was a heterosexual male. And in fact, I would cringe at the thought of being called a lesbian. … I hated that term, because it just didn’t fit with me.”
Pittman entered the Air Force in 2002, when she was 20. She had her first ever girlfriend at the time, and was trying to keep this fact secret from her parents, who, at the time, had expressed anti-homosexual views. The situation was extra tense for Pittman, because her older brother, Josh, had died in a car accident a few years earlier, in 1998, a tragedy from which her parents were still recovering.
“It made me more afraid to tell my parents because I felt an enormous amount of guilt,” Pittman says. “They’ve gone through the loss of their son, which was devastating. It really changed things a lot, obviously. I didn’t want to put them through any more grief, and I figured whatever I did, it was going to ruin them. So I tried to hide it and hold it in for a long time, but then it got to the point where I was like, if I don’t just come forth with this and be me and be brave about it, then I’m going to die, because I’m not going to live like this. I’m miserable. And I think a lot of trans people—the suicide rate, at least the projected rate for suicide in the trans community is, I’ve heard, 41 percent, and I’ve heard 49 percent, but I’m confidant that that’s actually underreported because there’s a lot of people out there who commit suicide who never tell anybody the reason.”
Just before leaving for boot camp, Pittman came out as a gay woman to her mother.
“Just a day or two before I left, I sat my mom down, and I told her, I’m gay,” he says. “I’m attracted to women. And she tried to stay very calm, but she was not happy. She was crying, and, being a Christian, she was very worried, at this point after losing my brother, about us going to heaven and being together. It was all very fresh, an open wound, losing Josh. She had a hard time. And I left. I was gone for almost a year … and during that time, she probably mailed me three Bibles, and was really struggling with it. But I never got mad with her, because I know that that was what she was raised in.”
Later on, in 2006, Pittman was working as a server at Bully’s. She had a shaved head, and a muscular body. In addition to constant weight lifting, she had started taking small amounts of steroids.
“I was self medicating myself to masculinize my body,” he says. “I remember all the research I would do, because I was nervous to take ’em. … And I always did fairly low doses. I wasn’t crazy about it. I did the lower end of the doses. … I definitely noticed the effects. My voice started dropping. And I was certainly able to keep the muscle on more and a little bit easier. I did that until I got started on prescribed testosterone in 2008.”
Her nametag just said “Kris,” and customers would often presume she was a man. One day, Olivia Rodriguez, a woman Pittman had known a few years earlier, happened into the restaurant.
“She knew me back when I was right out of high school,” says Pittman. “So she knew me as a female, but she had moved away, and she came back and … from the moment she saw me, she just used the male pronouns.”
“When I saw him again, I did notice a change in him,” Rodriguez says. “And I think it was that he was getting more comfortable in his own skin, and I think that kind of oozed out of him, that confidence. Immediately, it was just, finally, you’re being true to yourself. It was really nice for me to see that he was more comfortable too. That was the beginning of the journey.”
The two quickly became a couple and were eventually engaged.
“I just knew,” says Rodriguez. “It just happens when people fall in love. It’s just this magical moment. It all sounds so hokey, but that’s exactly how it went down.”
“Liv was hugely instrumental with helping me with my transition and being confidant with myself,” says Pittman. “Especially because I didn’t know another trans person, and I didn’t know what trans was, or who I was, or what I was doing, but then along came Liv. And it was around that time that I figured out that what I am is trans. I figured out that transgender was a label that fit me—because we all have to have labels [laughs].”
Rodriguez helped Pittman transition from a her to a him, but their relationship was sacrificed in the process.
“I still had not told my family or friends, ‘OK, switch the pronouns and start calling me he,’” says Pittman. “I hadn’t done that yet, because I wasn’t sure how. And I’m thankful that she came along, because she sort of did that for me. She actually had fights. In fact, I think one of the big reasons for the demise of our relationship is my family and friends, by the end, they didn’t really like her because she was hard on them. … She would get so pissed at them if they would slip.”
“I had always seen him as a man,” says Rodriguez. “I would take offense and be very protective when it came to other people who wouldn’t refer to him as male. … If I wasn’t the way that I was, his transformation would have been more difficult for him. … At the end of the day, he’s a happy person. I’m a happy person, and whether we’re together or not, that friendship meant more than anything.”
Rodriguez became a target for Pittman’s family and friends’ frustrations and apprehensions. This conflict reached a boiling point in 2007, as Pittman was leaving to be deployed in Qatar.
“My mom and Liv actually got into a big fight, I guess, the day that I left,” says Pittman. “She said, ‘That’s my daughter! She’ll never be my son. I will never change the pronouns. This is ridiculous. Stop trying to change my child.’ Then, while I was gone, apparently they watched a Barbara Walters special sort of documentary thing on cases of little kids who tried to cut off their penises with scissors. And they were such little kids that they didn’t know. And they didn’t have a sexual orientation at that time. It was very much a gender thing. … So that was when it clicked for them, and after that, they just really started to grow and … remembering back to me saying, ‘My name’s Dave Boy. Call me that.’ And that started to make a lot more sense.”
Pittman is proud of his parents and the supportive transitions they have made alongside him.
“It’s kind of like you go through a mourning, I would say, because all of a sudden you don’t have your little girl anymore, your daughter that you gave birth to,” says Vicki. “It was almost like we had to bury Krissy. We still have our child, but we don’t have our child like we gave birth to. It’s really hard to put into words, but after you go through all that, you look back and you look at Kris, and he’s still just Kris. I think he’s just a great kid.”
“You can either accept it or not accept it,” says Pittman’s father, Jim. “And if you don’t accept it, then you lose your kid. And Kris is a great kid, and we love him.”
“I knew that it was not only my transition, but their transition,” says Pittman. “And I knew that even if she was very adamant that she wasn’t going to do that, that came from her loving me and protecting me in a way. … I’m still me. I’m still Kris. I’m still the same person that I’ve been. Just now the difference is that I’m true to myself. … I’m a much happier, healthier person than I was before. I wanted to have a shot, at least a shot, at a happy life, and if I didn’t transition that wasn’t going to happen.”
“I think it’s a really tough life to have to go through this,” says Vicki. “He said this to us one time, he said, ‘Do you think I would choose to be this miserable?’ That’s when the light went on for us. We went, no, I don’t think you would.”
Air Force be with you
Pittman is almost entirely positive about his experiences in the Air Force. He says that most of the other people in his unit were accepting and supportive of him through his transition. He says senior officers would take him aside and ask him directly about his gender preferences for pronouns. But transgender people are not allowed to serve in the military.
“Knowing that I ran the risk of being kicked out, instead I left of my accord,” he says. “If I had my druthers, I would have stayed in and made a career out of the military, but unfortunately at this time, the military still won’t allow trans people to serve.”
He had originally joined the Air Force to follow in his father’s footsteps and be a pilot.
“I became disillusioned with it after really only a couple of years because I was transitioning, and I knew that this is not a feasible future for me because I can’t be trans in the military,” he says. “So I was sort of lost for a while in the military. Like, what do I do? Where do I go from here? Because this is what I always wanted to do. … I always wanted to be a soldier. I always wanted to be a fighter pilot or in the Army. I realized at some point that I can’t actually do this. I’m not going to be able to do this for the rest of my life, if I want to continue with my transition. So I was lost for a while. I didn’t know what to do. So I was actually pretty miserable for a long time while I was still in, which was unfortunate because I loved the military, and I miss it every day now. … To have somebody who wholeheartedly wants to serve his country and be in the military—and I thrived in the military. I left as honor graduate. I was the top PT [physical training] athlete. I left boot camp with the maximum amount of awards you could get. Every tech school I went to, I was the top graduate. I exceeded my classmates, and have usually always done that in academics. To say OK, I’m good at what I do, in fact I’m great at what I do, I’m a good troop. I’m healthy physically. I’m healthy mentally. Just let me serve.”
Different recruiters have given Pittman different reasons why transgender individuals aren’t allowed to serve—including regulations against body modifications and hormone injections. Pittman believes that the underlying problem is that many people consider transgender as a mental disorder. And in fact it’s classified as such in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
“It used to be called gender identity disorder,” he says. “In fact, it’s still called that right now. But in the new DSM that’s coming out … they’re changing the nomenclature to gender disphoria. … I have no gender disphoria. I have no disphoria whatsoever. I’m very comfortable and OK with who I am and where I am and very much male.”
“He’s way more comfortable now, than when he was trying to fit in and trying to be a girl,” says Vicki. “You can see a big difference in him now. He stands straighter now.”
Pittman is very active in the small local transgender community. He’s launching a new business, called Trans ETC, which stands for Transgender Education, Treatment and Consultation services, and is basically an educational outreach program aimed primarily at helping health care professionals better assist transgender individuals. He’s also helping to organize a Trans Remembrance Day event at the University of Nevada, Reno on Nov. 20 and a film screening of the film Trans, also at UNR on Nov. 9. He also speaks regularly about his experiences to human sexuality classes at the university.
As a health care professional, Pittman is able to discuss in great detail and with great enthusiasm some cutting edge research into the science of chromosomes and gender identity.
He had his breasts surgically removed in 2008, but he hasn’t had “gender confirmation” genital surgery, or “bottom surgery,” as he calls it. He has a consultation for the surgery in January, but he’s not yet sure if he’ll do it.
“A lot of trans people don’t opt to have bottom surgery because it’s very expensive, most of the time its not covered by insurance, and you jeopardize sensitivity, you can have urinary restrictions,” he says. “There are a lot of complications that develop with it.”
He doesn’t feel as though the gender confirmation surgery is necessary. As it is, no one ever thinks he’s a woman.
“I feel myself transitioned, like that’s very much my role and I live like that,” he says. “And yeah, I haven’t had any sort of bottom surgery done yet. … I consider myself transitioned. But I will say that, as a person, I’d say that we’re all always growing, always becoming more of who we are. In that sense, I think that everyone is in transition.”