By Mateusz Dobrzynski, COM 101 Student
At one time, Kaylyn Schults would look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back. She knew there was more to her than what the world saw, but it took a journey through heartache, uncertainty and bravery to find her true self and finally make her life her own.
Kaylyn Schults was born Kevin Schults on the south side of Chicago. She never knew her father. She and her younger sister lived with their grandparents until she was 5, when they began living with their mother, along with a strange man they now had to address as stepfather.
“I never got along with my parents from an early age,” Schults said. “They were both heavy drinkers, and we struggled to survive.”
Schults found herself hungry as the fridge was empty on most days—yet her parents were fully stocked with alcohol and cigarettes. The neglect did not end with hunger pains. It progressed into mental and physical abuse. As she got older, the torment only intensified.
“Around the age of 8, I started to notice I was attracted to more feminine activities,” she said. “I enjoyed playing dressing up and with makeup–Barbie dolls and teatime.”
She didn’t see anything wrong with this, but her family did.
“They would say that I’m weird, and boys shouldn’t be doing that,” she said. “They kept asking me if I was gay. I didn’t understand why they would say things like that. I was 8–I didn’t even know what that meant.”
By the time she was 16, she’d had enough. The drama at home had spilled over to her schooling and eventually led to her spiraling out of control.
“I was skipping class and fighting all the time. Never doing homework, being suspended, and then eventually expelled,” she said. “I was so far behind, I dropped out of high school. At home, everything got worse, and I decided to leave and head out on my own.”
She ran away from that world. Trying to keep her head above water, she stayed with close friends and worked wherever she could. She had a close relationship with a girl she considered another sister, and they moved in together to an apartment complex. That’s where everything started to get out of control.
They kept asking me if I was gay. I didn’t understand why they would say things like that. I was 8.”Kaylyn Schults
“We meet a guy there who introduced us to drugs,” Schults said. “Marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Heroin, that’s the one that got me.”
She started using heroin more and more every day. It started to consume her, consume them. She was always thinking about that next high–where and when it would be.
“It always was there for me. It always made feel good,” she said. “When I couldn’t handle myself or the world, it let me get away from it all. At my very lowest, I remember going to a gas station and buying what I needed to get high. Then going to the bathroom and getting high.”
Tragedy struck, and she lost her only friend in the world—the one person who knew her for who she really was–to an overdose.
“She would always tell me that I was female in heart,” Schults said. “It’s as if she knew and was telling me it was OK.”
After that loss, Schults began turning her life around and sobering up. In a surprising twist, her father came back into her life with the news that she had two stepbrothers and a stepsister. He had been fighting his own demons and was trying to make amends.
“He understood what I was going through,” Schults says, “and we both helped each other when we thought we were going to crack.”
During this time, Schults met Kelly, her future wife, at a New Year’s Eve party. When they met, Kelly knew Schults as Kevin. Nine months later, they introduced a baby girl into the world. With a daughter from a previous relationship, Schults was making her family and building her future.
Despite all these positive changes, Schults still saw Kevin in the mirror. She didn’t love who she was, but she loved her family. She knew deep inside something had to be done. She needed to come out.
I was terrified with everything that was happening in life and coming out to Kelly! We were getting married four months after I came out.”Kaylyn Schults
“I was terrified with everything that was happening in life and coming out to Kelly!” Schults exclaimed. “We were getting married four months after I came out.”
But somehow, things worked out. “I didn’t lose my wife, my kids, my job,” she said, “so I’m extremely grateful for that.”
Although a tremendous weight had been lifted, her decision was met with painful reactions from Kelly’s family and some of her own family. She felt lucky to have a strong support system.
“I have friends from the transgender and LGBT community,” she said. “I also have my biggest support, and that’s Kelly and the girls.” Coming out has actually strengthened her relationship with them, she says: “I’m so grateful for that.”
Schults knows she faces a tough battle ahead, not just with herself but with society. Some people won’t understand what she did or why.
“Going out still bothers me,” she said. “Like one day a person held the door open for me, but I didn’t know what to do.
“I always think people can hear my voice and see through me. It bothers me because I don’t want to cause a scene and have my family involved in it.”
Whatever the difficulties, though, she is no longer defined by being scared and confused. And when she looks in the mirror, she sees herself looking back.
“I feel comfortable being a female,” she says, “and being able to finally be myself.”