Living the Life He’s Always Wanted

by Steffi Lee

Growing up, Briana Stadtlander wanted to be a dad.

“No, you’ll be a mom,” Stadtlander’s mom said to her daughter.

This response infuriated Stadtlander, who was about five at the time. Stadtlander also recalls playing house with cousins, but was never the daughter, the sister or the mother.

“I’d always be the oldest brother and my name would always be Brett,” Stadtlander said. “And the rule was they couldn’t tell anybody that’s how I was playing.”

Now Briana Stadtlander goes by Brett Stadtlander. Now he can be a dad.

Stadtlander, who is a senior, came out as a transgender male his sophomore year at Simpson College, even though he had viewed himself a boy since he was a child.

Stadtlander never truly identified as a female, although it’s what’s written on all of his legal documents and his Simpson accounts.

He just didn’t talk about it. He kept it a secret.

“I was afraid and some part of me knew that if people knew that, then they’d know what was actually going on,” he said.

Stadtlander never wanted to answer the question of whether or not he was “one of those people.” By “one of those people,” he means a transgender male – someone born with a female’s anatomy, but who considers himself a male in all other respects.

“I never actually wanted to answer that question because I didn’t know what the answer would be,” he said. “What if I was (a male)? That’s scary.”

Although we’re in a society where gay marriage is legal in Iowa and 14 other states, both men and women are still battling gender identity issues. Would Stadltander’s journey make sense not only to himself, but also to others? Would he be able to follow through with his career dreams? Would he be able to be a husband and a father in a family?

Could he be accepted for who he is?

A gift at Christmas: the truth

Upon arrival freshman year, Stadtlander tried finding the appropriate group at Simpson.

When Stadtlander still went under the name of Briana Stadtlander, he went through formal sorority recruitment and accepted a bid from Delta Delta Delta. He was yearning for an identity because he felt like he lacked one back home. The sorority allowed Stadtlander to secure an identity on campus, for a while.

Stadtlander’s from Manhattan, Kan., approximately 300 miles from Indianola. “The Little Apple” is home to Kansas State University, but he chose to be a Simpson student.

It’s tough being away from family, but when students leave for college, they seek independence.

When it was time for Christmas break, Stadtlander returned home after finishing his first semester at Simpson College.

“I started coming out to my family and stuff as someone [a female] who was dating women,” he said. Stadtlander led them to believe he was a lesbian.

And as it is for most families, this news hit hard and was difficult to comprehend. Imagine telling your parents you were a lesbian over Christmas break – a time set apart for joy and festivities. But it was the only time the serious face-to-face conversation could happen, Stadtlander said.

Looking back, Stadtlander said it was a relief for his father.

“He was like, ‘Okay, well now I don’t have to be scared that the serious conversations mean you’re pregnant anymore,’” he said with a chuckle.

But his mom had more of a difficult time handling the truth.

Figuring things out

The first week of sophomore year finally set things straight for Stadtlander.

He was sitting in professor Mark Freyberg’s “Women: The Struggle for Equality” class during a discussion.

“I felt just as distant as the other guys in the class,” Stadtlander said.

His thoughts lined up with the other males.

It was this discussion that led to a revelation. Stadtlander would be a transgender male. He’d move forward as Brett.

But Stadtlander’s a religion major, hoping to be a pastor. He wondered: how would this work?

“I went and I met with Jan Everhart (department chair and associate professor of religion) because we’re pretty close and she had me watch a documentary called Call Me Malcolm,” Stadtlander said.

As someone who played a role in Malcolm’s journey, Everhart knew Stadtlander would appreciate the film.

The documentary is about a 27-year-old transgender seminary student who took the steps to live his gender he had always been – a boy. Malcolm was born into a female body and the film follows his concerns and uncertainty about his future as a minister. It parallels Stadtlander’s story and life goals.

“In every case when a young person, or even not too young, has said to me, ‘I really believe that this is who I am, that my body and my gender don’t match,’ it has made sense to me,” Everhart said.

“As soon as I had one person validate this saying, ‘Yeah, this makes sense,’ I just immediately wanted to do everything,” Stadtlander said.

He remembers it as being all blurry in the beginning, but within a week he knew his name was going to be Brett. For the first month, only a few people called him Brett, but this wasn’t always the case in public. How would he get people to start calling him Brett?

“I was talking with other trans men,” he said. “I was asking for advice.”

One transgender male told him, “For people who you’re close to, sit down and have a conversation with them. When they ask, just say this is what I’m going by.”

So Stadtlander did just that.

“It went pretty smoothly for me,” he said. “That was my life opening moment.”

Another holiday, another moment of truth

It was Christmas break again. This time, Stadtlander hand delivered a letter to his parents when he arrived home.

“I gave them the opportunity to read it and gave them their own space to deal with their initial emotions and stuff,” Stadtlander said. He returned home an hour and a half later.

“(I told them) ‘I know it’s going to take time for you to make this transition with me because it took time to make this transition,’” he said.

Looking back, Stadtlander said he was distant from his parents when he first left for Simpson.

“I think that in some ways, that time away was really helpful for me to figure out who I was,” he said. “It’s not that my home and my hometown weren’t safe places for me to figure out who I was. I really needed distance from that and a new place where I could start over and just be who I wanted to be.”

His eyes relay a message – he’s finally living.

His parents now call him Brett with almost no hesitation.

Using art to start physically moving forward

Stadtlander is an artistic person and his creative abilities paid off by allowing him to raise money.

He wanted the physical transitions to happen immediately, but had to overcome financial hurdles to just undergo extensive blood work. The blood work is necessary for doctors to understand medical history in order to proceed with hormones. Hormones affect everything, from menstruation cycles and hemoglobin levels to stress on the liver.

Blood work is around $600, and Stadtlander created a GoFundMe website to cover costs.

He also wrote poetry, sold CDs and sold acoustic sets to help pay for medical bills.

Stadtlander has to take a hormone shot once a week. On some days, it hurts, and on some days, it doesn’t. The hormone costs $52 for about five months.

When you see him, you know he’s a man. Look closely, and you can see the stubble growing on his face.

“My facial hair sucks, I’m aware,” he said. But he takes pride in it. 

His shoulders are broader and he’s gained more muscle in his arms and legs. It’s easier to lose fat, he said.

Stadtlander has always hated dresses, makeup and fancy hairstyles. It was the worst when his mom would fight him over hairdos, he said.

Now he can shop in the men’s section at clothing stores and wear the suits he loves in public.

He also wears a compression shirt, known as a binder.

The two main surgeries transgender males undergo are top surgery and bottom surgery. Stadtlander plans on having top surgery December 2014, meaning both his breasts will be removed. He hasn’t decided on bottom surgery, but still considers himself a trans man, he said.

“As far as surgeries go, my general thing is, only do it if you have to,” he said. “If you don’t feel like you have to, then don’t, because it’s hard on your body and it’s really expensive.”

His new life

He’s been able to live comfortably on-campus. When he first moved out of the Tri-Delta house, he struggled with trying to find housing within on-campus apartments, but it has all worked out. He currently lives in an apartment in Colonial with females who are both accommodating and understanding. He’s able to use the men’s restrooms at Simpson without any significant problems.

“I had a lot of support,” he said. “Most of them are in the religion department because that’s where I hang out. I didn’t have many issues at all.”

One of his friends, Hannah Landgraf ‘12, was one of his closest friends in the department.

“Brett and I have been friends for forever, and when the transitioning was happening, it just wasn’t a big deal for me,” Landgraf said. “Brett and I are alike and different in a lot of ways but we somewhat have a similar understanding of gender.”

He’s never unwelcome at Simpson, which is what keeps him going. Students can see him surrounded by his loving friends and participating in Religious Life Community (RLC) activities. He has coffee with his friends in Dirlam Lounge regularly.

He holds a part-time job, as many Simpson students do. He’s a part of service opportunities within the community. He carries a full course load and is also pursuing a minor in women’s and gender studies. He loves where he is now.

“Mostly when I look back, I’m just like, thank God I’m not there,” he said.

A higher calling

When asked who’s calling him to be a pastor, Stadtlander has only one answer: God.

Stadtlander has been a part of the United Methodist Church his entire life. He has been asking theological questions and reading theology books since he finished elementary school. His close connection to the church at an early age meant he knew what disconnection felt like when it was happening.

“I just wasn’t fitting with the people,” Stadtlander said about his time in the church during his middle school years. “There was just something I was lacking.”

But his passions were still fired up for God and the people He served. He cared for the hungry and the homeless, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally issues.

He’s now one step closer to making a difference. Stadtlander graduates this December with plans to attend graduate school.

There are times he’ll question his faith. His religious journey to ultimately become a pastor isn’t typical. Some may argue it’s not holy for a transgender male to serve in the church.

But living within tension is what Christianity is about, he said. In his eyes, everything and everyone is a reflection of God. He believes his life, as a transgender male, is the journey God has laid out for him.

Future dreams

Stadtlander loves kids and hopes to marry a woman one day so he can start a family.

He’ll let his significant other know his story before any serious dating happens, he said. His life motto is to just let it be. Whatever happens, happens. The most important part is to be authentic and genuine to his true self.

“I’ll just tell it like it is,” he said. “If she’s cool with it, good, and if she’s not cool with it, then it’s a good thing I’m not marrying her.”

On Dec. 2, it will be the anniversary of his coming out as a transgender male.

Stadtlander’s decision means he can, at some point, still become a dad, just like he wanted to when he was growing up.