March 11, 2024 | B.J. Daniels

Trevor Topel: this is your life

As a transgender man, rural life wasn't always easy -- but Trevor is determined to find happiness.
Trevor Topel (by Patrick Farabaugh)

Born in Watertown, Trevor Topel graduated from Lake Mills High School.  Finding his way in rural life wasn’t all that easy, since he was born a she.

When did you “know” who you were – and what was your experience like growing up?

For as long as I can remember, I knew something was different but couldn’t explain it. I knew it didn’t make sense to me that my sisters liked being girls. I didn’t know there was a word for how I was feeling.  People just told me I was a tomboy.

I grew up in a small town and spent a lot of time on my grandparent’s farm. My family was close, and it never crossed my mind that I wasn’t a boy, until my mom would try and put me in dresses. I would fight her so hard on that!

Middle school is where it started getting harder. Physical changes started happening.  I was starting to have feelings for the girls, and at the same time, all my girlfriends were having feelings for the boys.  I remember this show on MTV about a woman trying to find love. She was bisexual, so she had men and women on the show fighting for her love. I remember watching it late at night and just being mesmerized.  It was nice to see that there were people who had feelings like me. Growing up in a small town raised in church you don’t see much of that.

The first person I came out to was my younger sister. After telling her, I asked her to keep it a secret. She said she would, then immediately walked up to my mom and asked what it meant. She called me out so hard! We laugh about it now.

But my mom came in shortly after and talked to me about how it was a phase. I started dressing differently.  I liked rock music, but after I changed my look,  my friend’s mom started rumors about me. Just like that, I lost everyone.

Already going through so much..... between hating my body, and feeling like I couldn’t ever be me, I was scared of the rest of the family disagreeing. Losing my friends, and everyone thinking I was doing the awful things this woman said about me.  Things only got worse when I went to high school.  I started doing drugs to numb the pain. I became the person she made everyone believe I was.

I met my first girlfriend when I was going into sophomore year, and I asked if we could keep it low until I could tell my family. She said she understood, but sadly I was kinda forced to tell them. My girlfriend's mom went off on me saying, "my daughter won’t be friends with someone like you” and much, much worse.  That just made things scarier for me to want to tell anyone.

When I got home, my parents kept on me until I said it.

“This is my girlfriend."

My mom didn’t take things very well, and my dad didn’t say much.  We dated for about a year.  My parents got better over time.   But when we broke up,  it also broke me. I got worse with drugs and attempted suicide. I ended up in a hospital and almost spent my 17th birthday there.

When I got out, I realized that the people I thought were my friends didn’t care. I came to realize I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I had let what everyone said about me define me.  Change me. Break me. After that, I said never again.

I started doing so much better in school. I got clean and I graduated. Some of my biggest bullies were a few of the teachers. But the worst was my principal. I hated school. I hated when everyone always told me it would get better once you're out. I’ve always thought that was so messed up.

I was 19 when I was finally able to find a therapist who would help me start Testosterone. It took me years to find him.  I’ll never forget the day he called me back and said he could. I was at the farm sitting behind an apple tree. Happy tears fell from my eyes like rain with so much excitement. I mentally prepared myself that I might lose people. They will say things. But I didn’t care because this was for me!

How and when did you get connected to the larger community?

Our high school Gay Straight Alliance hosted a Day of Silence. It was a protest that led to a meet-up with other GSAs in Madison. We taped our mouths to keep from talking to show how much of a difference it can make to be silent. I had never been to Madison before.  This was so scary and new. Seeing all the people who showed up filled my heart. We marched to the Capitol.  I just remember the feeling I had in my chest that I was right where I needed to be.  Once we got to the stairs, we counted down and ripped the tape off! We yelled, cheered, and celebrated who we were. We spoke for those who feel like they could not.  And it was so powerful.

What was your first gay bar and what do you remember about it? 

My first gay bar was plan B.  They hosted 18+ nights on Thursdays. 

I remember the line was always out the door. Everyone was so nice. I remember walking in and it was like a wave crashing into you. Seeing everyone able to be themselves in a safe place --  and not having to explain anything to anyone. I remember the music and the lights. I fell in love right away. I had found my place. 

Club Five was right there with it. My friends and I went for New Year’s and we had so much fun we continued going because these places were what we needed to make us feel whole and like we weren’t different or weird or strange. We were just us.

How has the community changed since you first came out?

I think it has changed for the better. More trans/kings perform now and are being booked in shows. More people are coming out to support -- it seems people are less scared of us.  We are not as looked down upon now, and we don’t have to hide as much. It would surprise the younger generation of LGBTQ folks to know how different things were when we grew up:  we couldn’t show it, nor was it was talked about.

What is something that happened back then that could never happen today?

Being denied the right to work because of who you are.  When I first started my transition, I was turned down by many jobs. It was very hard for me to get a job because my 2 forms of ID had different sexes on them. I think a lot of discrimination was accepted back then.  We didn’t have the internet to turn to for help. It still happens, but legal actions can be taken today.

What are some of your favorite memories from that time? 

I had a lot of guy friends -- my "redneck buddies" -- and they treated me no differently. My grandparents' farm made me the man I am.  They taught me how to do the hard work. Going up to Hayward with the family and spending all day on the water. We didn't worry about bills or talk about politics.  We were just together. Whether it be on the boat or the beach, we were always just enjoying the moment. Hanging out with people. Before phones, we talked to each other. When we camped around the fire, we talked all night long.

What are you most proud of? 

I'm proud of never giving up, no matter how hard it got. Getting clean and graduating. Being 10 years on testosterone having all my surgery completed. Being voted best trans performer. Performing in front of thousands at the Milwaukee Pride was a dream come true. 

I’m proud of my mom for coming so far also. From being scared for me, with what others said, to becoming my biggest supporter. She took care of me after surgeries she wasn’t ready for. 

I’m proud I’m living a life I never thought would be real. Driving my truck, working a job where everyone knows, and doesn’t care. Living in my place with my dog as the man I was always meant to be. I don’t give myself enough credit and sometimes forget how far I’ve come!

What concerns you about the future of LGBTQ life in Wisconsin? 

What needs to change? 

I worry about how politics have changed. How divided it has made everyone and everything. It makes me so worried that we got this far to only fall back. 

I worry that politics will affect health care and insurance.  I worry that teachers won’t help students bullied for who they are. I’m worried that schools will stop letting people like myself come in and tell our stories to inspire others.  

I think politicians need to change. I think the world needs to do better all the way around. Stop fighting each other and start fighting together. 

What advice do you have for the next generation? 

Never give up. Don’t let what anyone says stop you from doing what makes you happy.  This is YOUR life. Let the words they say push you forward -- and use them as motivation to better yourself and prove them wrong. Be kind to everyone because you never know what someone’s going through. 

Don’t take things for granted because time goes way too fast. Don’t hold onto things that hurt you. Keep trying to find things that make you happy.

Be the best YOU, you can be. Because everyone else is already taken.

Trevor Topel (by Patrick Farabaugh)

The concept for this web site was envisioned by Don Schwamb in 2003. Over the next 15 years, he was the sole researcher, programmer and primary contributor.

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The concept for this web site was envisioned by Don Schwamb in 2003, and over the next 15 years, he was the sole researcher, programmer and primary contributor, bearing all costs for hosting the web site personally.