The Road to Transition

Written By: Johnna Swendsen

Photo Credit: Swendsen Family

Barbian Farm 

Location 116 Kasson Road, Bethlehem, CT 06751

132 Acres

60 Holstein Dairy Cows

Owners Samuel and Dorothy Swendsen

Purchased 1957 after renting several years from the previous owners in 1955

The Family

Donald Swendsen-Born Derby Connecticut September 16, 1948

Pamela Swendsen-Born Torrington Connecticut July 24, 1957

John Swendsen-Born Torrington Connecticut February 24, 1959

The farm house-3000 square foot Georgian Colonial built 1750’s. Addition Built off main structure 1940’s which had a “modern kitchen” on the first floor. Over the kitchen on the second floor was the master bedroom and bathroom. The original structure had been built with a fireplace in every room which was typical of the era. The main living room fireplace was massive and had a “Dutch oven” built into it for baking. There was a cradle made from wrought iron to swing over the fire and hold a kettle for cooking. I remember playing in this fireplace when I was little and it wasn’t being used for heating. The house had some many rooms one could get lost as a young person. My bedroom was directly above the main living room and also had a fireplace in it. My bothers room on one side and my sister’s room on the other joined by a common bathroom which we could both share with separate doors off our bedrooms. My bother would use the master bathroom off the hallway. 

I was considered “The Baby” of the family being the youngest child. My brother and my sister had a bond that was much different than mine. They seemed to get along and share their life talking to each other about the animals. I sometimes felt like I was an “outcast” and not included in those talks. I would spend my free time alone in my room and playing with my own toys. As I grew a little older, I was to have chores each day. These included feeding the smaller calves and cleaning out the stalls. I was also expected to help with other chores of feeding and cleaning the main herd. I would go up in the hay loft and bring bales of hay down to feed the cows. I remember seeing cats all the time because we had barn cats to keep the mouse population down. Many times, I would hear a little kitten or a litter of them crying in the hay. I would find them and sit with them petting and comforting them. This was a distraction to the real world of hard labor, day in and day out. Many times, my father would punish me for not doing my given chores on time. He did not have a soft side to him at all. He was always all about business and work. I felt like I was a “hired person” so often. Just another body to carry out the work that never seemed to end. Every day there were chores and mouths to feed. Something would always take precedence over any relaxation time. I was taught to carry my weight at a young age or there were consequences for non-compliance. I wondered if this was a normal life that a young child must go through in order to one day become an adult. I began to question my identity at an early age. I did not see my father treat my sister the same way. She was not subject to the physical abuse as my brother and I. I would be yelled at constantly and many times physically hit to the ground. Hearing a voice say “will you ever amount to anything”? My father was a big man and had hands as large as any I’ve ever witnessed. I saw stars when he stuck me and many days were long and hard in this environment. The pain and agony gave me a sense of hopelessness. I started questioning my being born into this gender that I felt wasn’t right for me. I felt ashamed of myself and my worth. I lost my dignity at times. I started relating to the girls in my family and admiring the things they did. There was much relief in watching the femininity and imaging myself as a girl. I knew I was more like them. I wanted to do the things they did all the time I was in my male body. I began experimenting with my mother’s clothes behind doors and darkness of the night. It felt good and right to me. I yearned to be and be with the girls more and more but couldn’t because I was forced to be a masculine male. I admired my mother. I prayed at night that I would go to sleep and become a girl by morning. Each day being disappointed by the fact it hadn’t occurred. I was different than other boys but couldn’t understand why. I had an unshakeable feeling that life would have been better if I’d just been born a girl, that my life would have made much more sense if I’d been born in a girl’s body. Each year I blew out the candles on my birthday cake wishing I was a girl. As I grew into puberty I watched as the other girls developed close relationships with each other, knowing that you are supposed to be doing that with them, but also knowing that they wouldn’t let me because they couldn’t see past my body. I continued the struggles and comforted myself with the cross dressing behind closed doors. The feeling of helplessness grew stronger by the day. Shame and guilt would take their toll on my mind. I began feeling afraid to engage in anything feminine, because it might have revealed as a weakness. 

(To Be Continued)