Brody Runge interview with ChicagoPride.com
Tue. May 3, 2011 by William Meek and Kinley Preston
Brody Runge never dreamed that he would be the subject of a TLC documentary simply for being himself
Brody didn't come in to the world in a typical way. He actually started life, 24 years ago, as his parent's little girl.
As early as 5 years old he knew something about him was different. He never liked typically feminine endeavors and never looked much like a girl. All of the normal childhood crushes were always on other girls. By age 8, even his parents began to recognize that he wasn't comfortable. They were amazingly matter-of-fact about it, and simply asked him if he felt like he should have been a boy. Even more amazingly, as an 8 year old, he chose to tell them the truth: "yes mom and dad, I may look like a girl, but I feel like a boy." Mom and dad listened, but didn't really understand what to do.
One can imagine, growing up wasn't easy. Kids called him names and drew facial hair on his pictures. Substitute teachers refused to believe him when he responded to his (then female) name in the roll call. He shared a story of a slumber party turned nightmare where the girls filled his sleeping bag with paste, tacks, and other sharp objects before dragging all of their bags to the opposite end of the room to physically segregate themselves from him. Further along in school, the differences became more apparent. Brody loved sports of all kinds, and actively played on the all boys middle school football team. At this point people were no less cruel, but Brody had a secret weapon. Brody was tough. After flipping over the desk of a boy who openly taunted him in class, the chatter about him moved to the background.
In high-School, reality began to interfere with his previous decision to simply ignore the differences and try to live his life as he was. Dating began to get difficult. Girls were expressing interest, but would never move forward, for fear of being labeled as lesbians. The more he tried to subvert his feelings and true nature, the more nervous, hopeless, and depressed he became. He didn't think it would be possible to be happy as he was.
At this juncture, he had no idea that it was even possible to make his outsides match what was on the inside, and had resigned himself to simply doing his best with what he had.
He did have two things in his life that he was sure of. The first was the church. He attended church every Sunday, and youth group each Wednesday. Most of his friends and people he trusted were also members, and he prided himself on this association.
The second was his music. At age 8, a visit to a music store sparked an instant desire to play an instrument. He began guitar lessons immediately, and by 14 was able to begin giving lessons. He also took up the Cello and Bass, which fostered an appreciation of classical music as well. Both of these pastimes were highly present and important in Brody's life. Church provided a sense of community and guidance, and Music was an escape – a coping mechanism that allowed him to flee to a place where he could feel happy being himself. He credits it with saving his life.
The church, on the other hand, proved to be more challenging. In one of his usual Wednesday evening youth group meetings, the topic turned to same sex relationships. The youth group leader began preaching the church's stance, which was that romantic relationships between members of the same sex are sinful and wrong. Ironically, this wasn't something that had been previously problematic. Brody had never considered his preference for women to be sinful, because he didn't feel like a girl. When he approached his youth group leader with questions about why loving a girl was a sin, since God was the one who put a boy in a girl's body in the first place, he was brushed aside and handed some unhelpful printed religious rhetoric. As had often been the case, it was Brody's family who provided the solution to the problem. As a result of his treatment by the church, his entire family decided that they could not abide participating in a group that refused to acknowledge the unique gifts that God had offered their child. They felt they did not need to have others telling them how to live their lives. This family was perfectly comfortable worshiping their higher power in their own way.
It was eventually Brody's desire to embrace his higher power that led him to taking the steps toward reconciling his inner being with his body. It was Brody's mom who discovered the solution. She found an article in a magazine about a boy who successfully transitioned from female to male. The narrative and photos depicted a well adjusted, happy guy, with a cute girlfriend on his arm. Brody said to his mother, "This is exactly what I want to do, and how I feel…that's my life!" As has always been the case, it was a decision in which the whole family participated. As a group they concluded that Brody wasn't Gay or Lesbian, but that he was Transgendered. Though they didn't fully understand all of the details, they were willing to educate themselves, and to help their son on his journey to become complete.
Amidst these revelations, Brody was finishing College, and dating the girl that is now his girlfriend. Although she loved Brody, the physical and mental challenges associated with Brody's situation caused tension for both of them. Ultimately, it was a temporary breakup, resulting from that tension that finally spurred him to act. Per routine, he phoned his family, announced that he and his girlfriend were leaving college and moving to Omaha, and that he would begin hormone therapy and would have the first of a number of surgeries required for medical transition.
In his new city, he benefited from the almost immediate effects of testosterone injections. His voice deepened and he began to grow facial hair.
In May of 2010 he completed his "top surgery" (a double mastectomy). He was now free of any outwardly visible vestiges of femininity. It meant he could begin really living as a man.
Brody was in the process of working to schedule the appointments to have his "bottom surgery" in Belgrade Serbia, when his mother sent him a text message that would change everything. She had discovered that the TLC network was doing a documentary called "Strange Sex". It was an ongoing series devoted to telling the stories of "individuals willing to divulge the obstacles, frustrations and embarrassment they face as they cope with their sexual conditions." They decided to email the producers with Brody's story. The reply was nearly immediate. They told him that they could not pass up the opportunity to tell such an intriguing story.
The caveat was that they would need to start within 1 week.
This brings us back to where we were introduced to Brody Runge. He is a 24 year-old guy who loves sports, is a talented musician, and will soon be telling his story to millions.
Despite initial fears and insecurities, he is excited to do this. He wants to be a leader for other people in his situation – wants to show everyone that with persistence, support, and a positive attitude, that everyone is capable of living the life that fits them.
Brody's episode of "Strange Sex" airs, fittingly, on Mother's Day – May 8th on the TLC network. He is hoping that the exposure will assist him with obtaining a deal with a record label.
He also plans to audition for American Idol's next season.
WM: In reading your story, I can't help but notice that family plays a very large and pivotal role. As we both know, this isn't always the case with kids struggling with sexual and gender identities. How might your story have differed if your family hadn't been there to support you?
BR: My family is what makes my life possible and livable. My life would be completely horrible if I didnt have the support that I do. I know I would have had to find a way to raise all the money for my own surgeries. That would take me almost my whole lifetime!. I wouldnt be the social confident butterfly that I am. I wouldnt know how to be loved and to love in return.
WM: Tell us more about your music. TLC will be featuring a number of your original songs in the program, so you may soon be facing the exact kind of exposure you are looking for. What would be the ideal outcome of that exposure… music-wise?
BR: I hope that people recognize and know that its my original work. Some may just think that its background music or something but I hope that other major artists, labels, and producers will notice the songs, like them and want to eventually work with me and record. I want to take my musical career to the highest possible level. I want to be able to work with major labels and amazing artists and be able to expand my musical ability to the furthest it can go.
WM: Who are your musical influences?
BR: My biggest musical influence right now would have to be Paramore, Taylor Swift, The Maine, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and I love what Lady Gaga's doing and stands for. ;)
WM: Who is your hero?
BR: My hero would have to be my mother. She showed me that no matter what happens you gotta pick yourself up and keep moving cuz life doesnt stop or wait for anyone. That better things are waiting just around the corner and God can shut one door but will open up an even better one. Ive always hated to hear her give me advice but it turns out everything shes ever said was right so i just believe her now.
WM: What qualities do you most admire about yourself?
BR: Things that I admire about myself would have to be my confidence, my drive to succeed, and my musical ablilties. I love that I have my mothers big heart and passion for life. I also enjoy the body that I am growing into very nicely now
WM: You mention spirituality as being central in your life. Have you reconciled with organized religion, or are you still spiritual on your own?
BR: When it comes to my spirituality, I feel like my relationship with God has become much stronger after getting over the fact that no one is to blame for me being born into the wrong body. My spirituality is very low key compared to most. I know God is listening whenever and wherever I am so I know I dont need a church or a group of people to help me be at one with the Lord.
WM: What are your thoughts about your upcoming "bottom" and final surgery? Are you anxious?
BR: I am very nervous for my bottom surgery. I feel like its going to be very hard on my body and a long hard recovery is much anticipated. I am looking forward to getting it over with so I can finally move on with my life! I just tired of feeling so stuck and feel like I have to wait for life. It's much overdue. I cant wait! I
WM: What does your life look like when you look into the future?
BR: I see myself living somewhere where music is most prominent. I want to be writing, recording and performing music. With all the hurdles I have to jump through first, it may take a little longer. I want to be married with children, living in a great big house with everything we'll ever need and want and give my family the life they deserve. I want to still be able to do all my music at this time as well.
WM: What is your advice for other young people who are just realizing that they may be transgendered?
BR: Focus on what makes you happy and to not conform to what society wants you to be and do. Be who you really are on the inside. Be true to yourself and fair to others who are curious about your situation. I have found over the years and this past year mainly that the more open and honest and cool about my situation, the cooler everyone else is with me being this way. I want to help everyone see that its something you were born with and something that you can deal with in a very normal way without being a freak or an outcast. You can lead a very normal life being confident in who you are and making it work for you.
WM: What is your favorite "bad habit"?
BR: My biggest BAD habit of all time would have to be listening to my music WAY to loud!
Interviewed by William Meek and Kinley Preston
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