Dana Pardee: On the path to a new identity
August 31, 2012
When Dana Pardee looks at his 2007 high school graduation picture, he sees a beautiful young woman smiling back at him.
“A-w-w,” he says. “She’s pretty, but she’s not me. She’s just a shell of the person who I used to be.”
Dana, 23, is a year into the process of changing his gender identity from female to male.
With family and friends, Dana corrects pronoun usage from “she” to “he” and “hers” to “his” when he is the topic of the conversation.
Once a week, he gives himself a shot of testosterone. Last year, he underwent “top surgery” in Florida.
He’s updated his driver’s license and passport, changing the sex from “F” to “M.”
And Dana is ready to share the news with Carson Valley, where he grew up as a girl with his sister, Rita, playing sports, graduating from Douglas High School, and worshipping every weekend with his family at St. Gall Catholic Church.
It’s the place where his father, Skip Pardee, has had a thriving chiropractic practice for three decades, where his father and mother, Veronica, have long been involved in community activities.
“I finally acknowledged and came out as transgender last winter, and since then, I have socially and physically transitioned to living full-time as a man,” Dana said. “I am happier overall, and much more at peace with who I am.”
The Pardees are aware of potential backlash with Dana sharing his story in a conservative community.
But, they agree, it’s time. And they believe that the people who knew and loved Dana as a girl won’t change their minds.
“I like to share my story with the hope that it will educate people in our community about this ‘taboo’ issue. I feel like a lot of people in rural areas think these types of social issues do not exist where they live, but that is definitely not true,” he said.
Just before heading back to University of Nevada, Reno, where Dana is a senior, he talked about his new life in an interview at his parents’ Gardnerville home.
“I want to be able to reach out to people in our community who may be struggling with similar issues,” Dana said. “I’ve recently started doing lots of public speaking and advocacy work, and I absolutely love it.”
What has eased the transition is the support of his family.
“It’s so rare for a transgender to hear this,” he said. “I want people to know you can have a good experience. It’s not as scary as you think.”
None of the Pardees said Dana’s decision came as a surprise.
“Growing up with Dana, when he came out to us, it was like this is who you have been all your life,” said Rita Pardee. “It’s just a new pronoun. I don’t think I’ve really seen a big change, except that he is incredibly, incredibly happy now.”
As a girl, Dana sometimes told people her name was “DJ.” She played with a baby doll she named Jake. One Halloween, she dressed up like Spiderman and called herself Dan.
“I’ll be forever grateful that my parents let me be who I was,” Dana said.
Skip recalls Dana’s birthday parties where the guests – mostly boys – played football, and Dana was on the bottom of the pile.
“She loved it,” Skip said.
Dana said he was anxious about coming out to his parents. He confided in his mother two months before he told his father.
“I was terrified to tell them. Tapes would start playing in my head, fears I would not be welcomed home. That’s all you heard about in the transgender community. Every scenario I picked was wrong. I thought A-B-C would happen. I was completely wrong,” Dana said. “When I told my dad, he said, ‘That’s nothing I didn’t know.’ It was the most anticlimactic moment of my life.”
Skip sees it from a parent’s perspective.
“I thought, ‘Dana can finally be himself,'” he said. “Dana has a very strong character, an aura of leadership and respect. It’s a tremendous asset and is getting Dana through this whole process. He is self-confident and honest, even from the time he was a little kid. It’s a huge asset.”
Veronica said one comment she hears frequently is, “I can’t believe you guys are so OK with it.”
“What’s the alternative?” she said. “Denial, depression, drugs or suicide? I don’t want any of that. Dana is a person with character and a strong moral compass. It was a no-brainer.”
While the Pardees said Dana wasn’t bullied in grade school, there were occasional looks and comments made toward the little girl with tomboy tendencies.
She grew very tall, and learned tae kwon do and negotiating skills.
In 10th grade, Dana tried to be more feminine to fit in. With her rail-thin figure, pale skin and white-blonde hair, people would tell the Pardees that Dana had the qualities of a runway model.
“I hated hearing that,” Dana said, rejecting any notion that a person should be evaluated on their looks.
During high school, although Dana excelled at sports and activities, there were two deep bouts of depression.
“At age 15 or 16, I really started to feel it. Trying to be someone you’re not made things a lot more difficult. I went through two pretty deep periods of depression. I had never heard the term ‘transgender.’ It’s such a taboo topic. You just don’t want to accept you’re different. It scared me enough that I didn’t think about it.”
Dana spent the next few years undergoing character building – “figuring out the focus of my life, figuring out what made me happy.”
She researched the process, continued therapy and developed a network of friends and contacts in the transgender community with the help of the Internet and YouTube.
At age 21 Dana lived in Poland for eight months. She had a boyfriend and taught English.
Dana came home convinced of the need to make a change.
“That was my great experiment,” Dana said. “It was a test of who I really am. I don’t regret it at all. I learned a lot.”
Dana is graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in community health sciences.
He is president of the UNR Public Health Coalition.
His 10-year plan includes medical school and a year off backpacking with Rita, 26, who works in human resources in Las Vegas for the Charlie Palmer Group.
He looks forward to having a family.
Dana said “it can be quite the shocker” when he runs into old high school friends at the grocery store.
“I just take it in stride,” he said. “This is who I am.”
For a while, he considered changing his name – Dana Joy – but his parents were against it. He acquiesced, acknowledging that naming a child is “a parental privilege.”
“Dana” is gender-neutral; as for Joy, “I just popped out smiling,” he said.
Dana’s sister Rita said while she realizes Carson Valley is still a small community, it’s always been supportive.
“Hopefully, this will open people’s eyes a little bit,” she said. “Just put in your story that my brother is the best person I know. I am so proud of him for being willing to talk about this and share his experiences.”
Dana Pardee is happy to answer questions and share a YouTube video diary he created in his transition from female to male.
He can be reached at: email@example.com.
The video link is: http://www.youtube.com/user/thegreatwhaley/videos.