Danielle Washburn poses with her two sons

"I Should Have Done This Years Ago"

Danielle Washburn grew up in a military family . . . as a boy. Today she is a woman working as part of the Plant Operations Department at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus. Washburn is also an active member of the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) work group here. She offered to share her experiences transitioning from a man to a woman.

Here's her story: 

“When I was young, my parents knew something was different. They sent me to a therapist at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The therapist said, ‘You’re a boy, and you’re going to be a boy.’ I had a younger sister, and I loved to dress up in her clothes. We played together, and I loved to do girl stuff." 

“Every Christmas, I was really sad she got the pretty pink stuff. It was so sad, so depressing. I thought maybe something was wrong with me, but I decided to just go with it. I didn’t feel good."

“In 6th grade, at William Henry Middle School (Dover), there was the boys’ gym and the girls’ gym. I felt like I was in the wrong gym. I always wanted to wear female clothes, and under clothes. It made me feel good. I was hospitalized a few times; I was depressed. I didn’t understand. I was scared, and I had nobody to talk to. It hurt so bad. I didn’t understand I was transgender.”

Those feelings – persisting for decades – were buried inside.

As a young adult, Washburn attempted to conform, following what she thought were societal conventions while publicly suppressing her true feelings.

“In my early 20s, I got married. I thought maybe this is what I was supposed to do with my life. I wore her [her wife] clothes when she was at work. Her mom bought me a skirt and pantyhose. I loved them; they made me feel so good.” But the internal conflicts continued.

“At this time, I was active in the Hartly Fire Co. I was on the board, the treasurer. I worked at Lowe’s. I was scared to change, but I started to be myself in public. Little things. There were so many unknowns.  I liked to wear leggings, and I went out in public with my wife and we both wore leggings.

"She was OK with it. Then our marriage started going bad. After two years, we divorced."  

“After that, I was lonely. I went to Walmart and got pantyhose, a dress. On a dare, I shaved my legs. It felt so good. I wore shorts to the fire house. I was testing the waters, doing a little to see what happened. I was looking for another spouse.” She met her second wife through an internet dating site.

“At the wedding, I wanted to be the one wearing the white dress. I was living my life through her. In 2009, our first child was born. I thought I needed to be a man, to step up, but inside I wanted to be the one with a baby in my belly. I was there, but I was at a distance. I wanted to be mommy.”

“Three years later, we had another child, also a boy. I wanted to breast feed. I had the same emotions with him. I wanted to be called Mommy, and I couldn’t explain it to her (her former wife). I did everything to be there for them."

Washburn’s job, at the time, a dredge operator – in a male-dominated workplace – presented additional daily challenges.

“When I left there, I was ready to start the transition. I started at Bayhealth on April 2, 2018.” 

Washburn, who was still married to her second wife, continued counseling, and was relieved to receive a gender dysphoria diagnosis. “I hadn’t put it all together. Up to that point, I had so much anxiety.” 

She revealed the diagnosis and decision to transition to her wife in September 2018. Her wife agreed to attend a counseling session; her response, Washburn said: “You have only one life to live, and you need to be happy. I support you, but I can’t be married to a woman.”

Meanwhile, Washburn continued counseling and moved toward transitioning with the support of her then-Bayhealth endocrinologist. But there were other hurdles to address: Washburn told her Bayhealth supervisor. “She (Crystal Connors) was so excited, and she immediately went to HR (the human relations department) to see how to come out at work. I was the only one that they knew of, the only Bayhealth employee who had transitioned.” 

After coming out at work and experiencing welcome – but unexpected -- support, Washburn felt comforted. “I felt so loved after that. I gave everybody else courage. The outpouring was awesome.” Meanwhile, she described her body at the time as ‘in the awkward stage.’ I was taking oral and injectable estrogen. Things at home, however, were not as positive. “She (her former wife) left me and took the boys. I knew it was going to happen. We got 50-50 parental responsibility. Everything got settled, but I had to fight for them. They started calling me ‘Mom” on their own, but she (former wife) fought that. The kids call me Lizzie – for Danielle Elizabeth Washburn – but I still want to be called Mom.” 

Washburn wears a delicate, gold heart-shaped necklace that says ‘Mom.’ Despite that resistance, she remains positive because the benefits outweigh the challenges: “I’ve made so many new friends, and I thought I’d be lonely forever. Now I will not change me.”

And new opportunities? They’re unexpectedly abundant, from the Trans Alliance in Rehoboth Beach, to serving on a panel at the former Wesley College, to presenting via Bayhealth’s Education Department during nursing orientation, and actively participating in the HEI Work Group. “I’ve gotten so much good feedback.”

Washburn is now enrolled in state-sponsored classes to become a foster mom to infants, and she plans to complete the class and eventually breastfeed a baby. “I know I can’t give birth, but I can mother a child. So many good things have happened to me. I should have done this years ago.” 

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