Finn Congdon was born into a girl’s body. He spent his entire childhood trying to figure out why his life didn’t feel right. He wore baggy, body-hiding clothes. He avoided mirrors and sank into a deep depression. The Hingham man had a loving, accepting family, but was still terrified to finally come out as transgender. It’s a painful, but beautiful journey to self acceptance and love. #Pride
:00 Ally Donnelly (track)
Hi, and welcome to the Hingham cast. This episode is brought to you by XR BBQ.
I'm your host Ally Donnelly. I spent 20 years as a reporter for necn and NBC Boston. But now I'm telling stories in this new way, here on Boston’s South Shore. The Hingham cast is hyper local, looking at the world through the lens of one small town, but the issues we explore are unfolding in communities across the country.
Like becoming yourself. Today, we talk with a young transgender man. He shares a
painful journey: what it is to be born into a girl’s body--but know for your entire childhood -- it’s not where you belong.
:47 Ally Donnelly
Today June 1st marks the beginning of Pride Month, celebrating and honoring the struggle of the LGBTQ community. I want to welcome Finn and Moira Congdon. Finn grew up in Hingham, he's just about to graduate from Oberlin College in Ohio, and his mom, Moira, still lives here full-time. Finn, instead of having me write your introduction, would you introduce yourself and share what you want people to know about you as we start this conversation?
1:11 Finn Congdon
Absolutely, thank you. I'm Finley Congdon. Most people call me Finn. I am a 22-year-old transgender man from Hingham, Massachusetts. I go to school out in Oakland, Ohio, as you said. I love sports. I play rugby and ice hockey. I coach rugby for an actual women and trans rugby team. I love music. And I have this—I have a wonderful loving family and a very fat bulldog.
1:40 Ally Donnelly
Excellent. So I'm going to take a minute just to brief people on some terminology in case anyone is uninitiated. So everyone has a gender identity, and for some people, their gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth. That's called cisgender. And for some people, their gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth. And that's called transgender. So, Finn, tell me about your journey. Tell me about how you felt about yourself, once you were kind of aware or ready to start thinking about who you were and your body and your identity.
2:20 Finn Congdon
It was very challenging when I was a young person. I used to steal my brother's Old Navy, like basketball shorts and his basketball shirts, even though they were... he's several years younger than me, so they didn't—they were so tight. I looked insane. And I’d wear them to school, these muscle shirts every day, just so I could feel masculine. But it didn't occur to me for a really long time. And it didn't make sense to me for a really long time, what that mismatch was because eventually people were like, oh, you're a tomboy and I was like, okay, is that what this is? Sure.
2:54 Ally Donnelly
Sure. Let me pause you there for a second, I want to bring you back just a little bit. How old were you when you knew the identity you were born with didn't match the body you were born with?
3:07 Finn Congdon
Yeah. I think that that really started to become clear to me when I was around, probably kind of like nine or 10 years old, it was when I first started having a real mismatch between what the outside world wanted me to do and be and who I actually felt that I was.
3:29 Ally Donnelly[:
3:36 Finn Congdon
It was... I gotta say it was, it was really awful. I could show you going back kind of pictures of me as a kid. Every single day, I would wear these like gigantic baggy sweatpants and a baggy sweatshirt. And I just was trying to really swallow myself up and hide every part of myself. If you were to see me in pretty much any space that wasn’t incredibly, incredibly private, I was basically this kind of shell of a person, I was just trying so hard to hide from everybody.
4:12 Ally Donnelly
At that point, you're coming into middle school, I mean that's the time that your body is developing. You know, you're developing breasts and hair, and how did you feel when you looked at your body?
4:26 Finn Congdon
That was, I think that was when the real crisis started to take place. Because up until then, there was a little bit of plausible deniability. I could say, I'm a tomboy and just basically be as much of a boy as I wanted to, for the most part. I could—I could sell it. But then when puberty started to hit, and I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ You know, the sweatshirts got baggier, everything got much, got much larger. I would hide from all the mirrors in my house. I never looked in the mirror if I could help it. I wouldn't... I tried not to physically touch my body with my hands. Because just—I think a lot of times, my brain would try and make me forget that this was my body.
5:22 Ally Donnelly
You know, kids can be so cruel and mean, in the best of times. How did other kids treat you?
5:34 Finn Congdon
It was hard, especially in middle school. I ended up—My parents were so incredibly wonderful and supportive about this, that they... we had a lot of talks where I was like, ‘I'm not sure if I'll be able to go to the high school here because I've just had some really challenging experiences.’ Because I also, I was kind of coming into my LGBTQ plus identity. I also played the tuba in middle school, I was not cool. I was not cool at all. My parents could tell you, I would like, I got a heavy bag, a punching bag. So I could, I could train myself up because I thought that violence was going to be something that I had to deal with a lot. I think I was a very kind of standoffish person, in middle school, because I was so ready for every single—for any interaction to immediately become very painful.
6:32 Ally Donnelly
What was happening to you? When you say I was having these painful experiences, and I wasn't sure I was gonna be able to go to the high school. What was that?
6:39 Finn Congdon
A lot of people, for some reason, found my lack of femininity to be some—they kind of looked at it as a challenge that they could crack, that if they worked hard enough on me, to make me try and be feminine, that they could and that would be a win for them. I still remember kind of being forced by people that I played sports with, they would force me to put makeup on just to see what would happen and, and try and do my hair, try and put clothes on me. They noticed how unfeminine I was and it was a real problem for a lot of people and they wanted to make sure that that was something that I was thinking about constantly. They wanted to make sure that was something that I never forgot.
7:24 Ally Donnelly
And what did you think about going to a different school would make it better?
7:28 Finn Congdon
I really just felt like I needed a new start after elementary school, middle school, which I mean, I had… I did make so many wonderful friends in Hingham schools. I want to make that super clear. I had, and I still have, wonderful friends. But it was just... it was very challenging. Even on the bus there was a bunch of kids who would just kind of like yell homophobic slurs at the one very kind of more flamboyant man that was in our grade. So I was like, I just want to see if I can get away from that. I want to see if there are other options where people don't know me already, where I can, hopefully, maybe kind of release myself as a person a little bit. Because all of this experience really kind of reinforced that shell that I had been building around myself to make sure that no one could see me kind of physically or mentally
8:25 Ally Donnelly
I'm sorry. Moira, when you hear that, what goes through you?
8:30 Moira Congdon
Oh gosh, it absolutely breaks your heart, you know. And during that time, I wasn't thinking truly in terms of Finn not identifying with his gender. We just kind of chalked it up to being a tomboy, but at that time really didn't understand how sad and how depressed he was. And hearing that, it really does break your heart.
9:00 Ally Donnelly
How old was Finn when...he came to you?
9:06 Moira Congdon
Finley was in his sophomore year of high school. And I remember him saying to me repeatedly, ‘Oh, gosh, you know, Mom, I have something that I want to talk about with you, something that I want to discuss with you.’ And at that time, it's kind of funny, mother's intuition, I was like, ‘Oh, well Finn is going to tell me that he's gay.’ So we went out to lunch, we went to lunch at the Snug. I remember having that conversation and it was perfectly fine. It was no big deal. You always want life to be easy for your child. That's the only thing. So I… But at that point, I definitely, I definitely, I knew. I knew. And so that was the first time that he kind of came out. And at that point, I thought that that was it. And I think maybe he thought it was it, and that he kind of hit it on the nose. And so I was hoping that there would be some relief and feeling, a feeling of weight being lifted off his shoulders.
10:27 Ally Donnelly
Finn, is that what you had intended to tell your mom?
10:31 Finn Congdon
I was so happy when I came to that conclusion that I was a lesbian and I was like, ‘Oh, finally, thank God, this explains it.’ Because no one is going to tell you that you're transgender. But also, it is so challenging to describe that feeling, because it really doesn't connect with many other feelings that we kind of have. And so I started watching logo TV and learning about what it meant to be gay. And I was like, okay, maybe that's it. Like, that explains it, that could be it. I had come to that firm conclusion, for a while before coming out to either of my parents…
11:19 Ally Donnelly
That you were gay?
11:21 Finn Congdon
That I was gay, yeah. Because I just, I have the most incredibly accepting loving parents in the world. But I still remember seeing the Dan Savage “It Gets Better” documentary when I was 12, or 13. And there was this statistics they put up about, I think it was about 26% of LGBTQ+ young people who came out to their parents would be kicked out of the house. And I saw that and I was like, ‘Okay, I know, my parents are probably going to be fine with it, but I am not willing to roll those dice, it is way too high a percentage.’ And so I just kind of was like, well, at least I explained it a little better for myself. And I did that for two years, of being very dedicated to being a part of the lesbian community. Had all the rainbow, I had all my special flags, I had all my pins about being a lesbian, cut my hair short my freshman year of high school, was the head of the GSA, I was super into it. And the kind of excitement about finally figuring out what my deal was eventually wore off, and I was like, wait, ‘It definitely feels better than before, but it's still not me. It's still not me.’
12:42 Ally Donnelly (track)
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Okay, let’s get back to the conversation with Finn. He switched to a private high school and came out as gay. But realized though he was born into a girl’s body. Being a lesbian still wasn’t his true self.
13:30 Ally Donnelly
Did you know or were you versed in what transgender meant? And what that could have meant to you?
13:40 Finn Congdon
Absolutely not. I had no idea that that was even a thing. If I had known that that was a thing earlier in my life, I am certain that I would have kind of gone through my kind of at least social transition much, much earlier in my life, that I would have been able to kind of come to that conclusion. But it just wasn't even—I didn't know that existed until high school. We had a speaker come, Jennifer Finney Boylan. She is a wonderful transgender author. And she came and spoke and I think that was the first time that I ever really learned what a transgender person was. And I was like, whoa. And then I learned that the head of the middle school athletics at the high school that I was going to was a transgender man. And I met him and I was like, ‘Whoa, he's just like a real person that I can see and speak to.’ When I met these people, and I started to understand that that was just an experience that other people shared and could understand, and that I wasn't just kind of some nutty kid, was when I really started thinking more critically about who I was, and kind of these categories that I'd been trying to fit myself into and what could be if I tried to let go of that little bit.
15:05 Ally Donnelly
So how old were you when you said, I think I'm transgender?
15:09 Finn Congdon
I had just started my senior year of high school, so I was 18 when I first came out to my parents, and to therapists and friends and stuff. As transgender.
15:21 Ally Donnelly
So was that a hard thing to accept? Was that a relief? What was that?
15:27 Finn Congdon
It was a little bit terrifying. I'm not going to lie. Because I think the thing that scared me the most was that, we talk about the spectrum of gender, being you know, kind of a line that you can plot yourself along, I was so concerned about finding the exact spot on the line to plot myself on before I told other people. Because there was so much stuff in the media about snowflakes at that point, that was really when I was starting to get there, they were just like, ‘all the young kids are trying to get attention by coming up with crazy stuff about themselves.’ And I was so terrified that I was going to come to a conclusion about what my gender was and then I might change my mind and not have used the right word. Maybe I was non-binary, but I was going to tell them something else. And I just wanted to give them the right word, because I didn't want to be going through this whole back and forth in my mind. And that stopped me from talking to my parents for a while.
16:31 Ally Donnelly
Even though you knew they were wildly accepting?
16:35 Finn Congdon
Yeah, exactly. Because I was just so afraid, I didn't want to be—I didn't want to show up every few weeks and be like, ‘okay, I thought about it some more…’ And the thing that really made me realize that I was being a little ridiculous was that I was like, it's not possible to plot yourself on this line, there is no line, there's no quantitative way that you can do some testing and find where exactly on the lines of the spectrum of gender you should put your little dot. And when I realized that all I needed to do was to—what is it that I want from people? What is it that I kind of basically want them to understand about me? And I was like, I want them to use he/him pronouns for me. I want them to use a new name. And I want them to generally understand
me as a masculine person, and I was like, ‘okay, transgender man fits up with all that, that makes me happy.’ And that was really freeing.
17:33 Ally Donnelly
And Moira, for you, when Finn told you, was that scary? Was that a loss? Was it, ‘okay, we finally got this’? What was that?
17:46 Moira Congdon
It was actually a considerable relief, in some ways. Scary from the perspective of—not that it didn't make sense to me, not that I didn't agree with it, not that I wouldn't wholeheartedly love him. But, as a parent, you want your child's life to be easy. And that's a big declaration. That's changing your entire life, and the way that people perceive you. Finn had gone through a really tough time junior year, and just was not himself. Was going through issues of just depression and anxiety and actually took off time from school. And so, just the promise that there could be some relief, and if this could possibly explain why he had been so unhappy, and provide us with a path to feeling fulfilled, and finding his authentic self and being happy, as a parent, that's a huge thing.
19:07 Ally Donnelly (tracking)
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Okay, back to our conversation. Though Finn had lived his whole life up to this point not quite sure where he belonged. He finally found his place and came out as transgender. But for many young people that darkness hasn’t lifted.
19:54 Ally Donnellymplated killing themselves in:
20:46 Finn Congdon
I totally understand what it was like to be there. I know, in high school, I was in that incredibly, incredibly dark place, before I started really coming to terms and starting to understand my gender and who I was. I slept through so much of my days, because I just didn't want to be awake and see myself in the mirror and remember. It's so challenging to have that mismatch where there are these beautiful moments when you are kind of forgetting and just living as your true self and enjoying existing, and then you get so strongly pulled back down to earth and it's so jarring to be like… No, just the thought of living your life like that the entire time, thinking, ‘This is what life is always going to be like and I'm never going to be able to be the person that I actually am for the rest of the world, I'm just going to have to live this kind of one small limited life inside my head and a very unfulfilling life outside,’ it just, it feels like it stretches on forever. And I want to make sure that other young trans people know that there isn't this kind of yawning kind of chasm of your future life where you have to continue being this person that you're not. If I can connect with any of them, and show them and just give them an example of what can happen and how happy you can be if you are able to pursue being yourself—doesn't have to be a medical transition away, it can be just social transition, every transgender person kind of transitions differently. But just the knowledge that there are options for how your life can continue, it's not always going to be this same thing where you feel like you're hiding.
22:58 Ally Donnelly (tracking)
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23:37 Ally Donnelly
More and more people have come forward as allies for the LGBTQ community. I’d like to think we’ve grown as an inclusive community, but there are still struggles. I'd love to ask you both about what the movement has been here in Hingham and what you think the work is still left to do. Finn?
23:57 Finn Congdon
I think it's been a really interesting experience for me leaving Hingham for a little bit, coming back, while in college, and having especially the Hingham Pride Project, before I ever kind of learned about the Hingham Pride Project, but driving through town and seeing all the pride flags was this total, incredibly, positively jarring moment. Because honestly, as a kid, my experience… people were not nice about it. And so I honestly, I couldn't have imagined being transgender and trying to—I can't imagine what trying to blaze that path would have been like. But I think the fact that people are really starting to think critically about how they talk and the things they say and how that affects how their kids are learning about their peers in the world around them. A lot of things we say to kids, they don't seem very meaningful to us. But that really sets children's worldview and their, their understanding of what the world is. So if you, you're watching TV and you make fun of a man in a dress, it may not seem like a big thing to you, but your child might take that and it sees someone who's assigned male, maybe trying to experiment with, you know, pink shoes or something that they're that they're going to extrapolate and then use what they've learned from you. And I think people are really starting to think more critically about what they’re teaching their children about this. And I think we still have—I mean, we still have a lot, a long way to go, in Hingham and everywhere else. I know I talked to my sister and she goes to Hingham high school and just seeing the kind of new energies and like thoughtfulness that she and her friends bring to some of these topics, still already feels like a new horizon for me. The thing that Hingham is starting to learn much better is that you don't have to really understand someone's identity to respect it, and treat them with respect.
26:17 Ally Donnelly
We’ve talked a lot about your experience in middle school. Earlier this year there was an incident there. According to the school, there was student misconduct involving a “fouling” of the brand new gender neutral bathroom. The school did not think it was a threat or a civil rights violation, but more of a bad choice by some students. So why I bring the bathroom incident up is not to ostracize any of the kids, but I asked my daughter, and a number of other kids at the middle school, what their understanding of the gender neutral bathroom was, but none of the kids I talked to or any of my mom friends’ kids had even known about the gender neutral bathroom. What advice would you give to schools and other entities talking about resources and things like gender neutral bathrooms, or acceptance or inclusivity?
27:03 Finn Congdon
Talking about the fact that in any size school, there's probably going to be some LGBTQ+ people, there are a lot of LGBTQ+ people pretty much everywhere. So having spaces that make that clear, that just expose young people to that is important. I think that what the school could also do is—you know, we still split up. When we talk about splitting up by gender so much in school, I think that really enforces a lot of these things that when we go back to students and say, ‘Okay, we're gonna do like gender neutral bathrooms,’ they’re like, Are you crazy? I think maybe speaking more candidly about what kind of categories we have in school, and what those actually mean would be very valuable. I think every school could really benefit from having a speaker come and just say, I'm a trans person, or I'm a non-binary person, I use the gender neutral bathroom because of this, but maybe you would need to use it because of this set of reasons. This is why it is a valuable resource.
28:12 Ally Donnelly
What does it say to you that so many of the kids didn't know about the bathroom to begin with?
28:18 Finn Congdon
I think that does say, unfortunately, that the school may not have been as maybe loud about this resource as it could have been to the students. Because if a lot of students don't know what it is and what it’s for, that probably means that students who would benefit from it don't know where it is, or that it's there, or what it's for.
28:40 Ally Donnelly (tracking)
We did reach out to middle school principal Derek Smith. He says it’s a decision that he wrestles with after the fact, but does, in the end think they made the right call. He says they made sure all the kids that they thought might want to know about or use the bathroom knew about it and they didn’t want to put a spotlight on the space and make any of the kids who wanted to use it self-conscious. He also said as unfortunate as the experience was, it did spark good conversations. They will be launching a Gay Straight Alliance group next year, they’ve incorporated books about gender identity into the school book group, and they plan to bring in a series of LGBTQ+ speakers next year. Moira says those are all steps in the right direction.
29:19 Moira Congdon
I often say if we all just knew one transgender person, and you could see that just people like you and me. Again, just sort of really trying to encourage conversation. Letting kids that may internally feel and understand that they're either non gender conforming, or maybe homosexual, that they're not alone, that they're not alone and that they are supported.
29:58 Ally Donnelly
Okay. You hear that number of 52% of transgender and non binary young people surveyed, who had considered suicide. Finn, when you think about our own community, what can you tell people that can help us all move toward lowering or eradicating that number here?
30:21 Finn Congdon
I think the main thing that I can tell people is to really be up front with your general support. Because when I was a young LGBTQ+ person, I didn't know… I had to go off judging a book by its cover to figure out whether people were safe. When you're a young kid, and you're afraid, you're just trying to keep yourself safe. And so I think it can cause a lot of people to hide and turn inward in a way that they wouldn't necessarily do if they could be more sure that they could open up a little bit. It's a lifelong journey, obviously, but to be in such a positive place in my gender identity journey, right now, is because people really went out of their way to signal to me that it was okay. Just having those signals that that is a safe person and a safe space is just life changing. And at least it was for me.
31:30 Ally Donnelly
How do you feel about yourself now?
31:22 Finn Congdon
I've been on testosterone, I've been on hormone replacement therapy for about four years now, which is pretty crazy. And I had my chest reconfigured, I had my breasts removed about two and a half years ago. And I still look in the mirror sometimes, and I'm overcome, I just never thought that I could be this happy and this open and vulnerable about who I am.
32:04 Ally Donnelly
Moira, that must be awesome to hear.
32:07 Moira Congdon
Oh my gosh, it fills my heart, beyond full, beyond full. Obviously, as a mother, that's just, that's it. That's what we hope for. So absolutely, positively. It's beautiful.
32:30 Ally Donnelly
Finn and Moira Congdon, I thank you so much for being here. It was a great conversation.
32:35 Finn Congdon
Thank you, Ally. Thank you again.
32:37 Moira Congdon
Thank you so much, Ally.
32:40 Ally Donnelly (tracking)
If you or someone you know is struggling and needs help, we’ll have list of resources on our website, thehinghamcast.com. We’ll also be drawing names from our email list to win treats from XR and Ralph’s Wine Merchant. Winners will get a bottle of XR’s fabulous sauce and a bottle of Pinot Noir, an excellent pairing for BBQ. One lucky winner will also get a $100 gift card to Tryst. So, if you’re not in already, join our email list at thehinghamcast.com. We’ll pull winners at the end of the week.
I want to thank my wonderful podcasting partner, the ever-talented Kristin Keefe. Our new intern is Claudia Chiappa. Our website is the work of Donna Mavromates at Mavro Creative and our fabulous media partner is the Hingham Anchor. If you want to put faces to these voices or see photos from Finn’s journey, head to thehinghamanchor.com. I’m Ally Donnelly...thanks for listening!