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“The mecca of gay at that time:” Transgender Marine veteran says he got a lot of education while being stationed at Pendleton

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(June 28, 2018) Sailors pose for a photo in the Suribachi Room aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) during a cake cutting ceremony following a presentation in observation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, June 28, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin Leitner/Released)

Sue Loughlin

The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.

(TNS)

Oct. 12—Theo Hull remembers going to his mother’s home on June 6, 2021, to tell her about a major transition in his life, one that might upset her.

Assigned female at birth, Hull had to tell his mom about the changes he had to make to be true to himself.

“She opened the door, and I was basically already in tears, and I hugged her and she held me. And I asked her if she loved me, and she said she would love me always, no matter what,” Hull recalled.

“I said, ‘Would you still love me if I was a boy?’ and we sat on her back porch for probably two hours and talked.”

That day, Hull came out publicly on social media about his transition. His realization had come years earlier that his assigned sex at birth — female — did not correspond with what he knew to be true.

Today, his name is Theodore Benjamin Hull, and his driver’s license identifies him as male.

“I settled on Theodore because it means God’s gift,” he said in an interview earlier this summer. “Theodore is a reminder to myself that I’m not a mistake. That I have always been God’s gift and I have nothing to be ashamed of or to hide.”

He is open about being transgender male and hopes to bridge people’s misunderstandings about what it means to be transgender. He also wants to support those, including young people, experiencing what he has gone through.

Along the way, he’s dealt with misconceptions, stereotypes and negativity. “I have broad shoulders,” he said.

But it’s not just about him.

“To be out, and to be visible, and to live my truth as openly as I can, it’s impactful for other people … it’s bigger than just, I’m doing this for me. I’m doing this for kids who don’t have a good role model, who have never seen someone that looks like them, or acts like them, or talks like them,” Hull said.

Growing up in Terre Haute

Hull, 35, was born and raised in Terre Haute.

He grew up in a religious, conservative family and was actively involved in the Christian church where his grandfather was a deacon.

In middle school, Hull, who identified as female at that time, was attracted to girls, although he didn’t understand what he was experiencing.

By the time Hull was halfway through freshman year of high school, “I had completely ditched men. I was only interested in females,” Hull said

“I really struggled with what the church said was the way you were supposed to live and what my parents’ and family’s perception of that was,” Hull recalled.

Hull’s grandparents loved him unconditionally, but his relationship with his mom became stressed and even “tumultuous,” he said.

“I didn’t lose my mom, but I certainly felt the strain of being gay on our relationship, and it was a very limited relationship. That went on for years … I didn’t have a lot of familial support during that time.”

Hull’s grandparents and aunt supported him, but “it was always under the doctrine of love the sinner and hate the sin. And, it wasn’t authentic, true acceptance. Love, absolutely. But not acceptance,” Hull said.

The reaction from Hull’s church left him traumatized. When church leaders learned he was a lesbian, “I was kicked out of youth group, kicked off of a praise band. The church didn’t want me involved in ministry,” Hull said. “I was basically ostracized.”

Hull eventually stopped attending, even though the support of his family and church “had been everything to me growing up.”

All of this happened as he was “kind of forming my own identity. I’m trying to figure out who I am. Am I a lesbian? Am I bisexual? I’m still 15, 16, 17 years old and trying to figure all of this out,” Hull said.

Unlike today, he had no Pride Center to turn to for support. “I’m looking around me, and there’s nobody that looks like me. There’s nobody that acts like me. There’s nobody I can look to as a role model. So I just kind of went out and began forming my own family,” Hull said.

Military service, and back home in Terre Haute

Hull entered the military and spent five years in the Marine Corps in southern California. Los Angeles “was the mecca of gay at that time. I got a lot of education out there about what it looked like to be free and open and loving … but at the same time I couldn’t be those things because I still served under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'”

Under that policy, “You could be gay, but you couldn’t talk about it and you couldn’t present gay because then they would ask,” Hull said.

That was a difficult time “because I was realizing all these amazing things about myself and what it looked like to be gay at that time but … I couldn’t publicly engage with any of these resources.”

Hull went to one Pride event in Long Beach attended by about 400,000 people, “but the whole time I was terrified I was going to run into someone from the military that knew me. Everything had to be kept a secret.”

Hull believes people suspected he was gay, but they couldn’t come out and ask “and I certainly wasn’t talking about it.”

Once completing military service, about 2010, Hull came back to Terre Haute to be close to family.

Hull came out as a lesbian but was always careful about the way he presented himself — and that remains true today.

“I am concerned about the way people perceive me because I feel there are so many people in our community that believe that LGBTQ people are deviants,” Hull said. “They believe that we align ourselves with people who are sexually immoral and people who are child molesters … That has never been my story. That has never been the story of anyone I know.”

Hull further explained, “The gay agenda is not to knock on your door and proselytize, it’s to just try to live our lives as good people in the community and to try to avoid being accosted. To raise our children in the most loving, nurturing household.”

The gay agenda has never been to convert people, Hull said.

The suicide rate of LGBTQ-identified youth is far higher than that of their straight contemporaries, Hull said.

Forty-five percent of young LGBTQ people seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021, according to a survey published by the LGBTQ mental health nonprofit the Trevor Project.

“All we want is to survive. We want our community, our kids that identify, we want them to survive. We want them to see tomorrow, to succeed and become members of the larger community and successful and healthy,” Hull said.

“You can love the sinner and hate the sin, but when you look at me, I want you to realize when you say gay marriage is against the Bible and against God’s law … I want you to look at me and tell me I don’t deserve the same rights as you. Because that’s not fair.”

Being true to one’s self

Hull did get married, and he and his wife have been raising two daughters.

“But something wasn’t right,” Hull knew.

Hull presented masculine and lived, worked and functioned in very masculine spaces but still identified as a woman. About 10 years ago, Hull — still “in the closet” — realized he needed to make the transition.

“But, I always said I wouldn’t come out until my mother was gone; I had mended my relationship with her and I didn’t want to lose my family again … It was something I put in my back pocket and swore that some day I would do something. I would come out” as transgender.

While assigned female at birth, Hull knew “it didn’t feel right to me.”

It was a multitude of different things.

“I had always functioned in a masculine space. … I had always been very self conscious about anything that was feminine about me. I always kept short hair. I never enjoyed my curves or my breasts,” Hull said. “I always felt like a prisoner in my own body … that I did not belong in this body. I never knew what that meant.”

When someone would called him beautiful, “It never sat right with me. I never thought of myself as beautiful.”

When he started a fitness journey, one of the assignments from a trainer was to set goals. Hull searched for a figure he wanted to achieve. “I could look at pictures of females for hours and never could find a picture of a feminine physique that I wanted to look like.”

“But I could look at pictures of men, and say, ‘I want to look like that.'”

Growing up in Terre Haute, there were no gay role models, “much less a transgender person to look to.”

But in more recent years, Hull began seeing transgender people in the media and realized, “That’s me.”

Hull knew what the cost would be.

But eventually, Hull decided “that being my true authentic self and having my mental health and being honest about who I am was more important than the things I stood to lose.”

Hull went back to school at ISU to study social work “and really started doing some hard internal work in about the last five years and really examining what it meant to be me and who my true authentic self was.”

Hull came out to his wife about 1 1/2 years ago.

“I knew when I started having these conversations that I was running the risk of losing my mom. I knew I was running the risk of losing my wife. But I needed to be true and authentic to who I was,” he said.

“And those things kind of did happen. My relationship with my mother is a little strained. She struggles. She tries to be supportive, but I know it’s very difficult for her. I know she loves me, but I also know it’s very difficult for her to accept me as her son.”

Hull and his wife separated.

“We are amazing friends and have an excellent co-parenting relationship,”‘ Hull said. “We just both decided it was best for us and for our kids that we separate permanently.”

Hull publicly came out as a transgender male on June 6, 2021.

On that day, Hull changed his name publicly and his gender on social media. “It was the most validating day of my life,” with more than 100 affirming comments.

“There wasn’t a single negative comment. There was just love,” Hull said.

This year, on transgender day of visibility, Hull went to the courthouse and filed for an official name and gender marker change. On May 10, Hull’s name and gender marker were changed, and now his driver’s license reads Theodore Benjamin Hull, male.

He is also changing physically. He is on testosterone and has been since July 2021. In August, he scheduled a consultation for top surgery to change the look of his chest.

Hull has been in counseling, off and on, for several years, something that began prior to his decision to go public that he is transgender. “I believe therapy is very important, especially for individuals undergoing any kind of life change,” he said.

While certain aspects have been emotionally heavy, “overall, I would say that 80% of this journey I’ve undertaken in the past 1 1/2 years has been rewarding and validating and affirming,” he said. “I think when you are living as your true authentic self, when you build your foundation on something that is true … nothing can change that.”

He added, “The winds can blow and the seas can foam, but when you are rock solid, it doesn’t matter what life throws at you.”

In the past, Hull has sought sought external validation. “I’ve sought someone to love me enough to make me love myself. Now, for the first time in my life, I truly love myself and it doesn’t matter what happens after that.”

Providing support and educating others

Statistically, 80% of Americans don’t personally know a transgender person, he said. He believes that relationships and firsthand knowledge drive out stereotypes and ignorance.

While some may view trans people as deviants, “Then you see me and I’m outgoing, I want to make a change in my community. I want to see Terre Haute and Vigo County and west-central Indiana grow, I want to affect change here in a positive light,” he said.

Hopefully people realize, “He can’t be that bad … and then we can sit down and have a conversation. I’m open to having hard conversations with people.”

Many have reached out to Hull for support and thanked him for what he is doing.

When parents reach out to him and say, “Hey Theo. My kid just came out to me, what do I do?”

Hull responds, “Just love your kid. That’s the biggest piece of advice I can give. Just love and affirm your kids because this world is hard. In a hetero-normative world, it’s hard for anyone. It doesn’t matter how you identify or how you look. You’re always somehow the ‘other.'”

“If we could just love one another and support one another, it could change the world.”

He hopes at the end of the day, his legacy will be “to give recklessly and love unconditionally. That’s my motto.”

The greatest Commandment is to love one another, “and love will always win. We can be surrounded by a cloud of hate, and love will always shine through.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue

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