Born in Ithaca, NY, into a conservative religious home, Norah Thomas always knew she was transgender. Ironically, Norah’s parents originally chose the name, Haley Amber, for her because they thought she would be genetically female up until the day she was born. She jokes, "I was actually carried [to term] one month over, so who knows what happened in that extra month." Early in her transition, Norah returned to her original middle name, Amber, and even went by that name for a while. “One night I was walking down the street, and I heard someone say, ‘Norah!’ and I thought they were talking to me. That name stuck with me, so much. It was like, ‘Yes, I’m Norah! That’s my name.’”

Even though she came out to her mother at the age of fifteen, her biggest revelation came when she was twenty-one while reading a Christine Jorgensen biography. “That was my 'aha' moment because she was so passable, and so normal. Before that, the only introduction that I had to transgender people [was] the Maury Povich Show, very exploitative images of what a transgender person should be. [Christine Jorgensen] was the first non-stereotypical person that I saw, that was just a normal person who happened to be transgender.”

She tried to meet other people like her, but she could only find one group in her town. “Most of those people identified just as crossdressers rather than a part of the transgender community exclusively...They weren't living full time, and they were much older than me, like sixties, and I was in my twenties. I just didn't have a very realistic [feeling of], 'Okay, well I can do this.'” That is until she discovered, in 2004, that there was a transgender group at Cornell University. That was the first time where she was introduced to other people who “identify fully as transgender.” It was a validating and empowering experience for her.

Norah made her transition gradually, practicing being natural. “I wanted to ease myself into it. I didn't just, one day wake up and put on women's clothes because I understood that, 'wait a minute, I have friends that are female that wear jeans and a T-shirt. What makes them a woman?' I think that understanding that more, understanding that I didn't have to dress a certain way, or act a certain way, was really important.”

To Norah, transitioning isn’t something that you do once. “I think that I’m in a constant state of transition. Everybody, even if you’re a cis[gender] woman or a cis[gender] man...everybody is in a constant state of transition. I think we’re always taking steps to evolve. We’re never going to be the same person today that we were this time last year. We just can’t…The steps that I took, were recognizing that I didn’t have to do all these other things to be the woman that I felt I needed to be. There are things that I’d like. Everybody wants to be different with their body. Everybody wants bigger boobs, smaller boobs, they want a prettier face or they want longer hair. We can change those things. We can make them different. But I don’t feel like there’s an urge to do that. I’m happy with how I am now.”

A portion of that lesson was learned during a trial she faced when going off of hormones for a while due to financial stress, and a loss of health insurance. “It changed my body. I went from being very feminine, very passable, to all the sudden having much more of a gaunt masculine face, having my boobs basically dissolve off my chest, I became really ripped and muscular. It really messed with me for a little while, but at the same time, it was such an awakening experience because it made me realize I didn't need all these other things to be a woman. I just needed to be myself, to accept myself as I am.”

“It's made certain things more validating. I appreciate certain aspects more now that I'm able to afford hormones...It's made [me] appreciate being in the now, more. Accepting yourself for all your flaws. You're never going to be perfect, nobody's going to be perfect. Accepting your flaws and just coping with them while you can. If you can change them, lucky you, if you can't, embrace them.”

In fact, her growing self-acceptance has changed how she self-identifies. “A long time ago, I would have said I identified only as a woman, but as I have become an adult, I feel like I am proud to be a transgender woman, it's not something that I'm ashamed of.”

Her coworkers have been incredibly understanding people. The people closest to her have provided unrelenting support. She finds that people who take time to interact with her are great. “They get to talk to me and get to know me and I'm able to disarm them with my personality...It's just that breaking through point that's the hardest to get past.” It can be hard because of, “people not giving me the benefit of the doubt, judging me just based on being a transsexual.”

In fact, ignorance has been the hardest part of her journey. This can come from well-meaning people using offensive language because they don’t understand the implications of the words they are using, or from much more blatant aggression. “There are times when I’m afraid to go places because i’m worried about what people will say or how they will treat me.” She has to decide whether she is comfortable at places that a cisgender person might not think twice about. “Transgender people are one of the most hated minorities, most misunderstood minorities. It’s not understood that even walking out the door and going to the grocery store can be something that is very scary.”

Norah tries to keep her preconceived expectations in perspective. “I'm projecting a stereotype where I'm automatically saying, 'They won't accept me because of who I am.’ I have to get out of that thinking. A lot of times, I will go to places where I'm afraid to go into, and my experience there will be totally different than what I've expected. Or I'll go into a place where I think I'll be totally accepted, and have a horrible experience. Doctors offices, places you think you'll be totally fine and accepted, then all the sudden you'll see the staff members may be mocking you. You never know.”

There is more to Norah than her gender identity, she is a person who enjoys creating things, and taking care of people. She also hopes to one day have a family. “I do want to have kids. I think that's been the hardest part of transition, is no longer being fertile.” But she sees adoption as a happy possibility. “A kid's a kid. When you love them, you give them your soul. They are shaped because of who you helped them to become.”

Making dolls is something Norah has done since she was a child. “I didn’t have Barbie dolls, so the next best thing were dolls that I made.” For Norah, doll making is an art that she hopes can one day support her. “It’s so much fun, it’s three-dimensional. I have this product that I can interact with, other people can interact with, pick it up, throw it up in the air and hug it. It brings them so much joy.”

She recalled, “I had this one doll that I called ‘Simple Sue,’ and I didn’t sell many of her, but I had this one person come back and tell me that the doll helped them through very traumatic times in their life. They would just hold on to it’s hand, and it meant so much to them and symbolized something that was just joyful and pure. They were so appreciative….I wasn’t even intending to do that. For something you create to have that much of a visceral effect on somebody, it meant so much to me. It was a validating experience.”

Much of Norah’s personal outlook can be summed up in a simple sentence. “I have to be happy in the now.”

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