My transition from male to female cost me my home, marriage, retirement, friends, and acceptance within my church. As painful as it was, I would not have traded it for the life lessons it taught me.
When I was a young child, I wanted to be an airline pilot. Pictures of me playing with planes date all the way back to my second birthday. My passion became reality when I took to the skies at seventeen, soloing in a small Cessna. The thrill of that moment, as I pulled on the controls and defied gravity, was incredible. From that point forward my career as a pilot took off!
Since then, I’ve accumulated nearly 10,000 hours flying aircrafts as small as a single engine Cessna to as large as a three engine wide-body jet weighing over 600,000 pounds. That burning desire as a child, combined with a very driven personality, fate, and God’s Grace, brought my childhood dream to reality.
It has afforded me the opportunity to see the world, touching down on four different continents, 20 plus countries, in over 220 cities. To see what I see is indescribable! Perched some 30,000 feet above the earth, transiting from one side of the globe to the other, still fills my heart with admiration. Every day, every flight, every sunrise, brings a sense of reverence that touches my life in some way.
As fulfilling as my career has been, my personal life--not so much. I was born with a biological birth defect called, "Gender Dysphoria”. It is a condition where the gender of the brain does not match the biological sex given at birth. What people saw on the outside didn’t correlate on the inside. That struggle between body, mind and soul waged a war on my life for nearly 40 years as I tried to live up to societal expectations.
When it comes to flying heavy jets, aviation is a male dominated field (94%). As flight crews, we share close quarters for long durations transiting from one continent to another. In many ways, we are a family. Everything we do for the safety of flight is predicated on working as a team. Admitting I was a woman trapped in a man’s body was more daunting than my career progression. To counter my fear, I posted my story on our Pilot “Forum” for everyone to read. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
To make my transition successful, I set the bar high. If I wanted to be treated as a woman, I needed to earn it! From the way I looked, to the way I spoke, to the way I carried myself, everything about me had to reflect the image of the woman inside. As you can imagine, this was no easy task. My anxiety was high as I stepped into the ready room for the first time as a woman. Fortunately, it was short lived. The hard work and dedication paid off.
My transition from male to female cost me my home, marriage, retirement, friends, and acceptance within my church. As painful as it was, I would not have traded it for the life lessons it taught me. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I found my true self! Out of that journey of hardship came an internal strength, a softer heart, and a passion to inspire others.
After two years of intensive therapy sessions, over a hundred hours of electrolysis, laser treatments, voice training, hormone therapy and weight loss, my dream of becoming a woman took place in Scottsdale, Arizona on my 43rd birthday. As I awoke from my surgery, I felt the joy of knowing I had achieved my dream. Three words, kept playing over in my head, “I did it...I did it...I did it!” From my bedside the morning after, I wrote these words, “Today is a new day, of a new dawn and a new chapter where my mind, body and soul are now one! What a gift!”
I overcame great odds, to become an airline pilot; even greater odds transitioning into the woman I am today. It was not easy and many times I failed. What drove my success, was a sheer determination and a belief in myself that I could reach my goal of being the woman I had wanted to be.
Forty years in the making, I do not take my gift of being a woman lightly. There is power in femininity and I wear it as a badge of honor. How I dress, the colors I wear, and the way I conduct myself, are choreographed to reflect the internal joy that is within me. If I can overcome these odds to be where I am today in the professional world as a female pilot, any woman can overcome her odds in becoming who she wants to be.
Gender is only a stumbling block if you allow it be one. My encouragement is to live your life for you! Love yourself! Believe in yourself! Take time for yourself and tune out those who want to hold you back. Draw close to those who will encourage you and let nothing stop you from achieving your dream.
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Julie Thorne Engels
Founder/CEO of Tribemint and BettyVision