Proud to be Wayward
I often say that Wayward Ranch saved my life. While I tend to be hyperbolic, there is nothing dramatic about that claim. My whole life I have been struggling with my identity and just how I am supposed to fit into a world that does not always understand, tolerate, or even believe I have the right to exist because I am transgender. Here I finally understand what a home means, because they don’t just root for the underdog when it comes to animals, they apply that philosophy to humans too, and I am eternally grateful for that gift.
Today you see a bearded man doing goofy videos and having fun with all kinds of animals, but I wasn’t always like that. You see, I was born and raised as a girl in a conservative and religious household that had no tolerance for anything outside of the ‘norm’ whether that was homosexuality, interracial relationships, or even children exploring opposite gender roles. From the start I was lost not even knowing what I was looking for.
I knew from my very first memories that I was born to be a boy. The repression I experienced even manifested into me wanting desperately to be a dog, eating and drinking out of a bowl on the ground, anything to escape the torture that was my every day existence. That repression sent me into hiding as long as I was in that environment. The only reprieve I had was in the eyes of my Dalmatian, Ms. Riley. From day one I felt like we were just another boy and his dog. She listened, understood, and saw that I was miserable in dresses so she made sure we got as muddy and sweaty as possible running around the abandoned fields and construction sites of south Louisiana. To this day I believe she was aggressive with everyone else in my family and community because of how they treated me. With me, she was the best good girl and I miss her everyday. She is the reason I love the tough behavioral cases because she was the only one who really loved me for me, so I love them for them no matter what.
At 19 I dropped out of college where I had a full ride to move across country, take a minimum wage job, and try and set out on my own as myself for the very first time. I changed my name, started hormone therapy, but still had to deal with my ‘family’, ghosts from my past, and a system unable to protect my basic rights as a human being. At the turn of the century we were a long way from where we are in 2020, even though we still have a long way to go. Family rejection, lack of access to and discrimination in healthcare, employment, all lead to one of the highest suicide rates of any demographic worldwide, widespread homelessness, and a myriad of other mental, social, and physical issues. I won’t lie, no matter how strong I am or how resilient people think I am, I still struggle with these issues to this day. What has made the biggest difference are the animals. When I helped found Wayward Ranch, I had come close to giving up on it all. After trying numerous careers from law school to nursing to construction to housekeeping even technical support for a cable company I was as lost as ever. I figured a dog shelter would be a good place to keep searching, and this is where I met Eleni and learned of her dream to create a sanctuary for the animals that fall through the cracks and end up broken, whether due to kennel stress, post-traumatic stress, or just all that comes with being taken out of a family wondering what they did to make their humans stop loving them. For the first time since I changed my name and got my first shot of testosterone, I had a future where I belonged.
For me wayward is being lost, and this is a place for lost souls.
Just like Ms. Riely, every animal I have met has known me for who I am. The animals here have been through trauma and rejection that I relate to, and together we get each other and help each other heal. The same applies to the wonderful people I work with. Wayward is more than a catchy name, each of us two and four legged ranchers have somehow found our way to this place we call heaven and are all better for it. Here it is the content of my character and how I interact with the animals that matters, not what is on my birth certificate.
Adam with Catie
Adam, Lola, and her Litter of Piglets
Catie, an old thrown away mama with a growing tumor and very little time left; Nina, our ‘teen mom’ with her little critter litter; and Lola, punching me in the face while I slept on the floor in between bottle feedings all showed and gave me the motherly love that I so desperately searched for.
Adam and Tonto
Adam and Bear
Tonto and Bear challenge me to be patient and understanding that trust, especially from souls like ours, is hard to come by but so magical when you finally get it. Socrates, Rex, Grandpa, and so many more have taught me that providing a quality life also means gently and respectfully providing a quality death is one of the greatest gifts you can give to another soul. Kiara has taught me that no matter how broken you are coming into this place, time and love can heal old wounds and then open up a whole new world of possibilities. We were all lost when we got here, Wayward souls that finally found a home in each other.
So at the end of this pride month, I reflect on how far I have come, how many different paths I have taken, and that if I had given up I would never have been blessed to experienced what truly is a sanctuary for those that need it the most. It is that journey, that wayward path wrought with pain and joy along the way that makes this place so precious to me. As long as it is here I know I will have a place in this world where I am loved, valued, edified, and encouraged. Just like Bear, Montana, Tonto, Ed, Shinzi, and Bonzi and our Gotham Goats with all the souls we have lost along the way keeping us safe and secure with their spirit. To those reading going through their own struggles, I can’t promise that it gets better, but I can promise that if you look in the eyes of an animal you will see that you are right where you need to be in that moment, seen for exactly who you are, and that you are loved.
Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Inc.