Health awareness

How compassion saved a transgender woman’s life

Allison Whitaker shares stories about two people who are “the reason I’m still alive today”

June 23, 2021

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Allison Whitaker's book Sometimes it hurts

Long before she ever heard the word “transgender,” Allison Whitaker knew she was different. “I didn’t feel right in my body,” says Whitaker, who was assigned male at birth. “I felt like I was the only one like this in the world.”

At age 32, after years of grappling with her identity and suffering from anxiety and depression, Whitaker felt she had two choices: live openly as a woman or end her life. She chose to come out.

“The first time I saw myself with makeup, I began to cry,” she writes in her memoir, Sometimes It Hurts: A Transgender Woman’s Journey. “I finally looked in the mirror and saw myself, the real me from within, for the first time.”

“Who’s going to love you now?”

Whitaker’s friends and coworkers embraced her news, but her family didn’t react well.

“They told me, ‘Who’s going to love you now?’ and it broke my heart,” she says. “I’ve always dreamed of being married and having a family of my own. But to feel like I may never experience love, that’s something that, even to this day, bothers me,”

Her family’s rejection was just one of several painful ordeals Whitaker faced during and after her transition, and, like so many transgender women, she continued to suffer from depression. But throughout her journey, she encountered people whose compassion gave her strength to keep going.

A fairy godmother

The first was the doctor who performed her gender-affirming surgery. When Whitaker learned the surgery might have to be postponed by six months, she was devastated.

“My entire life, I’ve wanted that surgery. Anytime I saw myself in the mirror, it caused me a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression,” Whitaker says. “I explained to the surgeon just how terrifying it was to live one more day in that body. She was there with a compassionate touch, and she really listened.”

The surgeon made sure the surgery went ahead as scheduled, and in 2017, Whitaker finally had the body she’d always wanted.

“That fairy godmother really came through and showed me what true compassion from health care really was,” she says.

“You are not alone”

About a year later, while attending a conference for LGBTQ+ professionals, Whitaker again felt herself spiraling into darkness.

“I was alone in my hotel room, crying so much I had to remind myself to breathe,” she recalls. “I woke to see a slip of paper under my door. It read, ‘You are loved. You are not alone. I’m here if you need anything or want to talk.’

Allison Whitaker holding hands on stage

“It touched my heart so much—a complete and utter stranger who didn’t know anything about me, was there for me,” says Whitaker, who has since formed a close friendship with the note-writer.

It’s proof that even the smallest act of kindness or compassion can have an enormous impact on someone’s life.

“People have been there to make all the difference in the world for me, and they’re the reason that I’m still alive today.”

Whitaker bravely shared her experiences with us during our inaugural Global Patient Week, where we joined together to celebrate the journeys of patients by sharing their stories and giving them a voice.

Watch the video

Allison Whitaker sitting next to her van