He stands 5-foot-4 with short blonde hair and a whiskery chin. His face is square, with wide-set eyes and a long neck. Wearing a dark gray hoodie and ripped jeans, you would never suspect anything but the usual from the man on the street. Under the dark gray hoodie is a compression tank top, binding his chest to look masculine.
Ash Whaley is not your typical man. A year ago, Whaley identified as a woman.
Whaley is a transgender man who recently celebrated his first year on testosterone, what he calls “T.” His struggles didn’t stop when he decided to transition. In fact, they had just begun.
Though Whaley identifies as a man, his parents, legal ID and the U.S. Army still use female pronouns in reference to him. Luckily for him, his girlfriend Haylee Mclain and his best friend Chelsey Eads see him as the person he is striving to become.
“I grew up in a Christian family, so it’s a little bit difficult for me,” Whaley said. “First coming out as a lesbian then coming out as transgender, it’s a little hard, and it’s getting harder now that I’m getting older.”
Since childhood, Whaley was always found with the boys on the playground, where he played basketball or soccer during recess, he said. His mother always put him in dresses and did his hair to match the gender he was given at birth, he said.
He always felt like he was one of the boys, and when his mom put him in dresses it always made him feel sad, he said.
When Ash decided to come out to his parents, they were less than accepting.
“She still uses female pronouns, and when I’m dating someone she’s like, ‘so who’s your friend?’ Come on mom, friend? She’s my girlfriend,” he said.
Whaley came out as a lesbian in high school, and when word got around to his mom, she made him change schools.
Whaley graduated from a very small Christian school in Spencer, Ind., called La Campagne Christian Preparatory School with only four other students in his graduating class. Whaley said he was in the last class of seniors to graduate from the school.
Last summer Whaley, his family and a couple friends went on a boat and while on the lake Whaley told his stepfather that his friend Sean was a trans man.
“When I came out as transgender my mom said ‘you better not be transitioning like Sean is,’” Whaley said. “My sexuality is never spoken of, really. It’s just kind of ignored.”
Haylee, Whaley’s girlfriend of about a month, said that when they first met, Mclain had no clue Ash was a transgender man.
“He is really brave,” Mclain said. “I know so many people who are so judgmental, friends and family included.”
Mclain identifies as a pansexual woman, meaning that she is able to fall in love with a person, no matter where their gender falls on the spectrum.
“Ash is funny, outgoing and comfortable with the ?person he is,” Mclain said. “Being comfortable with who you are or even knowing the person you want to be is a hard thing for even someone who isn’t transitioning. I’m sure it’s a harder struggle mentally knowing who you are but the physical aspect doesn’t ?exactly reflect.”
Whaley joined the U.S. Army at age 19 without full knowledge of his gender identity. When on base, in training or on a tour in Iraq, Whaley has to identify as a female or else he could get discharged from the Army, he said.
“I don’t do anything different in the military except shave my face and use female pronouns,” Whaley said.
One of the issues with transgender people in the army is housing, Whaley said.
The military houses only two genders found on the traditional gender binary, male and female. If a person identifies as male but his anatomy is still female, he cannot bunk with the men and vice versa, Whaley said.
Legally, Whaley is identified as a female and has yet to undergo top or bottom surgery that would remove his breasts and give him male organs.
If he were to receive the surgeries and legally change his gender, chances of discharge would be high, he said.
Though there are several petitions in place right now that hope to lift the ban on transgender soldiers in the military, none have had any influence on the ban, and transgender people are still barred from serving openly.
Whaley passes in public as a man, without question from strangers, he said.
But what happens when he’s had three beers, and needs a restroom?
Whaley typically uses the men’s restroom if there is a closed stall, he said. If there is no stall he has a friend stand outside the women’s restroom to keep watch, he said.
Whaley often hangs out at the Video Saloon in downtown Bloomington, where he befriended a bouncer named Mike. After becoming friends and knowing Whaley as a regular to the bar, Mike asked Whaley for his ID, he said.
“He knew me before I started transitioning and he said ‘can I see your ID?’” Whaley said. “Then he said ‘This is the problem I have, your ID says female and you keep going to the male restroom.’ So, I said, ‘that’s because I’m trans, Mike.’”
Eads is Whaley’s best friend and roommate. Eads has seen Whaley become more comfortable in his own skin since the start of his transition, she said. He still has rough days, Eads said.
“He has his days that are tough, dysphoria, where he’s a little distant,” Eads said. “He calls me out on my grumpy days and always gets me to smile. I try to do the same ?for him.”
Whaley’s transition is far from complete. His family, the army and society still have a long way to go in accepting his transition. The future holds a lot, finishing his army career in a goal of 12 more years and continuing a profession in criminal justice, he said.