Leonidas “Leo” Roux [pronounced Lay-oh] is a massage therapist and a transgender man. His favorite things to do - aside from building and running his own practice - are usually lying in the sun and playing music. He has always loved spending time in nature, climbing trees, looking up-close at the bark, the leaves, their textures and shadows they cast. “It’s like a picture of Earth from space… Everything is the same - all the patterns in nature repeat. Everything plays out endless variations on the same laws of nature.”
He was born in Pretoria, South Africa. Leo came to the United States when he was 11. As a child, Leo could be boyish to a certain extent without thinking about it. He could wear shorts and walk around shirtless, and be like his dad. But when puberty hit, things got more complicated. He didn’t know what was wrong, but always felt like something was out of place.
External to his body dysphoria, Leo had a good life and supportive people around him. Ironically, this added to his mental suffering. “I would think, ‘Wow. How pathetic and ungrateful am I, that I can't appreciate that, just because of this.’ I felt like this thing I was going through was destroying everything else for me, washing all the color out of everything, so that I couldn't even appreciate the parts of my life that would otherwise have seemed ideal.”
He describes these times in his life as a personal hell. “There were times where I felt like the only reason I decided to stick around was out of pure stubbornness. As though the universe had played the ultimate practical joke on me to make my life miserable, and the only way for me to give it the finger was to stick around.”
His gender identity made relationships difficult, too. At first, he had trouble being attracted to anyone, then later wondered if he was only attracted to women. When he finally discovered he was transgender in his mid-20s, he realized that his attraction issues were not due to his partners’ genders, but due to the gender they saw him as. “None of this was conscious yet, but I can see now I didn’t want to fit into that stereotypical role of being a girlfriend to anybody. So, I tried to avoid it as much as possible.” Since Leo gained a better understanding of his gender, he has found himself more comfortable in intimate relationships.
For Leo, top surgery (mastectomy with reconstruction) felt like a no-brainer. It’s a single procedure with lasting effects, and low risk. But hormone therapy was a much harder choice for him. “I was healthy, and kept wondering, ‘what am I potentially doing to myself? I don't really know.’ I’m very much into natural ways of living and being. Transitioning physically has a very sci-fi feeling to it. At times, I would wonder, ‘am I'm missing some sort of spiritual message here? Could I learn to accept myself the way I am? Am I unnecessarily changing myself?’” He went back and forth for a long time, but finally decided that his fears were getting in the way of what would make him happy. “I realized that I’d rather burn more brightly, and potentially live a shorter, but happier life, than to live a longer, less fulfilled life.”
Transitioning has definitely been a positive experience for Leo, and he counts himself lucky for the support he’s had. He looks at his gender identity as a way to connect with other people “Telling them my gender story is me revealing one of the most vulnerable parts of myself. I find that when you do that with people, they often reciprocate, and then you’ve made a friend. My trans-ness felt like a curse at first, because I felt betrayed by the universe. I felt wronged, robbed. But now, in a weird way, I feel I've been gifted with this unique way of connecting with people. ‘Let's get real, and deep. Here's my cards. You look at them. Let me see yours.’”
At this point in his transition, he loves his new facial hair, being able to go shirtless outdoors, and his new, deeper voice. “I actually even enjoy singing now. I didn't used to… Before transitioning, somebody once told me that my voice sounded angelic. And I thought, ‘Fuck that shit! I'm not singing again.’ Now, my voice doesn't sound amazing, but it does sound like me, and I like it.”
“Being a massage therapist has actually helped me a lot because I’ve seen a lot of different people's bodies, and a lot of different body types. There are guys with bigger hips than your stereotypical guy, and there are women with more masculine looking torsos. There are so many different sizes and shapes…Seeing different people has helped me see myself as just another person. Just another being.”
The more Leo becomes comfortable in his masculinity, the less having a biologically male body matters to him. “I'm starting to see that nobody's a hundred percent comfortable with their body. Even people who have everything going for them right now, and love their body right now, are probably fearing what they're going to look like 50 years from now. Old age comes to us all. Death comes to us all. Everybody has to take a shit. Everybody's uncomfortable to certain degrees about those things….We’re bigger than our bodies, there’s more to us than our bodies, and that’s why we feel limited by them.” To stay centered, Leo often reminds himself, “This is it.”