I’m a professional photographer and graphic designer in Little Rock, AR. I grew up in Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, before attending Cottey College in Nevada, MO and then moving to New York City, where I studied photography. I was adopted by two amazing parents on my first birthday, June 27, 1984. I remember the first time I saw my parents, even though they swear I cannot possibly remember it. My mom was wearing a plaid sundress and my dad was wearing a white polo shirt, and I remember being tucked into our friend’s two-tone blue car and handed a bottle. I remember these bits and pieces as if they were snapshots – maybe these kinds of memories destined me to become a photographer.

I’m a quirky guy. I really, really, really, really like guacamole. I hate the sound of crunching. Hate is probably an understatement.  I’m a beast in the kitchen – I can pretty much cook anything, except rice. Unless it’s a risotto… and then I’m golden. Especially if it’s a pumpkin risotto. Mmmm. Anyway. I spent just about all of my twenties living in New York City, an experience for which I was neither prepared nor cognizant of how truly profound it would be. I squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle, and always forget to hang my towel back on the rack. I’m both a cat and a dog person – which was really bound to happen, since I am the child of a veterinarian. Actually, I love all animals, and I think witnessing animal abuse might be the only thing that would ever cause me to lose my faculties and hurt someone. I still drive like I’m in Brooklyn, even though I left last year (though to be fair, I doubt that will ever change). I hate nuts (excluding peanut butter and ice cream Snickers bars), cream cheese (including cheesecake), olives, (uncooked) tomatoes and mushrooms.

Most importantly, I am genuine and passionate. I actually chose the name Rhys in part because it is Welsh and means “ardent,” in addition to being a unisex name with a masculine spelling. I love deeply and would and do often (sometimes too often) go (far) out of my way to help both friends and strangers alike. This isn’t an attempt to pat myself on the back – rather, I am simply sharing that my affinity for being kind has also been one of my biggest challenges. I have been working over the years to learn how to say no and not take on too much, and also to respect myself and my time by setting boundaries when others are not.

I believe in love. I believe in hope. I believe that in the midst of all the bad in this terrible world, there are good people who care deeply and want to make it a better place. I believe that I have been given this life to face my challenges, to grown and learn from them, and to become the best person I can be so that I can leave the world a better place than when I got here.

Speaking of when I got here, I arrived as a 6 lb., 8 oz. little girl into this big, bad world on June 27, 1983. My birth mother wanted me to have a better life than she knew she could provide me, so I spent my first year of life with what I’ve been told was a wonderful foster family until I went home with my parents one year later. As a child, I always knew I was different, but couldn’t ever put a finger on what it was that made me that way. I realize that everyone is different – but this was a different kind of different, growing up in conservative, Southeastern Oklahoma in a smaller, overtly religious community. It wasn’t until after moving to New York City and realizing I liked girls instead of guys (but that I never, ever felt that I was gay or lesbian) did I begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

I began the process of aligning my body and my mind with testosterone therapy on May 23, 2012. I had a bilateral mastectomy, or “top surgery,” on January 23, 2013. I am currently in the process of researching radial forearm phalloplasty – one type of “lower surgery” – which I will most likely have in either Summer, Fall, or Winter of 2014. It is a huge, huge decision, and a very intense surgery, and although I am 98% sure I will be having the surgery as long as all of the insurance claims go smoothly, I will need every bit of the time I have between now and surgery to prepare myself physically and emotionally.

Transition has been both incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. I never thought I would be able to begin loving my body in the way that I am beginning to love my body. It is an ongoing process, and there are still a lot of days when it is difficult for me to see myself as completely male (even though I know I am), I believe that lower surgery will help alleviate a lot more dysphoria. I believe that I will always have some level of dysphoria to contend with in my life, and I believe that I will never be “done” transitioning, but I am confident that this ongoing process will continue bringing me closer and closer to feeling more whole and more myself every day. I see my transition as an ongoing process – a journey – that I will be on for the rest of my life. I believe this is parallel to the journey that is life – we are always learning, growing, and evolving – and my transition is no different.

I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive family – both immediate and extended – who have listened to me, asked questions, and have been there every step of the way to support me and celebrate who I am. I realize that not everyone has the kind of support they deserve, so it is my personal mission in life to help educate others – friends, family, acquaintances, strangers, community members, healthcare professionals, teachers, and anyone who is willing to ask questions, listen, and grow – about what it means to be transgender, and about the struggles trans people often face, and just as importantly, about the things that make being a person of trans* experience a unique, wonderful, and enlightening perspective.

Thanks for sharing some of this journey with me.