By Beth Wasson
WICHITA - Grayson Barnes is on a journey. His thoughts on that journey, going from female to transgender male, recently won first place in the Personal Essay category of the North American Mature Publishers Association (NAMPA) competition. NAMPA reviews stories written and published in newspapers and magazines catering to people 55 and older. The winning essay appeared in The Active Age, February 2017 issue, a magazine for Kansas seniors in Sedgwick, Butler, and Harvey counties.
Faculty from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Columbia judged the 235 entries submitted from 18 publications. The judges had this to say about Barnes’ essay: “Grayson Barnes describes with candor and heartfelt emotion his belatedly taking charge of his life as a transgender man. A testosterone shot injects emotional and mental changes along with the physical ones.”
The award came as a complete surprise to Barnes, who didn’t even know about NAMPA. His winning article is actually a follow-up to a story he wrote last year for The Active Age. A friend encouraged him to write about his transition and the magazine published his first essay last year.
But let’s begin at the beginning. Grayson was born Helen Barnes 58 years ago in Pennsylvania. Even as a young girl, Barnes knew his gender wasn’t in sync with his body. But it wasn’t until he was an adult, living in Wichita, that he decided to take the steps to live as a man.
At first, those steps were changing the clothes he wore and the style of his hair. Being in his 50’s Grayson hesitated on taking testosterone shots because of the fear of being more aggressive. Yet, he feels the shots actually calmed him and he is certainly more comfortable in his own skin now. He chronicled the first part of his transition in the article last year. The latest article he wrote once he began the shots.
Barnes is no stranger to writing. He’s a regular contributor to Liberty Press writing reviews of restaurants and the arts and he also loves interviewing people. Currently, Barnes teaches at Butler Community College in Andover.
When Barnes visited family back home during the summer he was thankful for the unconditional support he received. Even his very conservative retired Air Force father accepted the change. Although there were many questions to answer, Barnes says his “hillbilly family from the Appalachians Mountains” did their best to understand and use the proper pronouns. Barnes admitted to using the wrong pronoun occasionally with himself, saying when he gets frustrated or mad at himself he sometimes says, “Woman, what were you thinking?”
Being a transgender male gives Barnes an interesting perspective. He understands that men have aggressive tendencies, but he also knows acting out is controllable and he never will understand what leads a man to sexually assault a woman. Another thing that amazes him is how people listen to him more. As a woman, he felt his ideas were often dismissed quickly, but as a man, people stop and hear what he has to say.
One of the most enjoyable things about being a man for Barnes is he gets to shave. “I always wanted to shave and was always fascinated by beards,” he said. He even makes his own shaving cream. l