I was born in Houston, TX in August of 1979. I when I was two, my parents moved my older brother and me to a suburb north of Houston called The Woodlands. When I was younger I had only a vague feeling of being different from the rest of the boys I knew. I remember longing to play with the girls in my classes rather than the rest of the boys. Of course, the girls saw me as just another boy and wouldn’t let me join them.
When I was 13, I first began cross dressing secretly. I would wait till my parents and brother were out of the house, and spend hours trying on make-up, and some of my Mom’s clothes. Dressing up was thrilling, but also a source of great shame and anxiety for me. I tried several time to quit unsuccessfully, and continued my secret activities all through jr. high and high school.
After 5 years of being ashamed and embarrassed about my hidden behaviors, I called my girlfriend and bawled my secret to her. For the most part she was supportive. She told me I wasn’t the hideous freak I thought I was. With college rapidly approaching I tried again to put cross dressing behind me.
After graduation I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I planned to study drawing or sound design. Not able to get into the classes I wanted I took a film class. The first day we watched Stan Brakhage’s film “Mothlight”. This experience changed my ideas of what film was and could be. I immediately knew I wanted to be a filmmaker. Being an art student, and out on my own for the first time helped to limit my opportunities to dress up, but the desire never went away.
Frustrated by conditions in Chicago, I moved to Milwaukee in 2000 and majored in filmmaking at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts. One of my first filmmaking experiences was interning on Allan Mindel’s film, “Milwaukee, Minnesota”. Working on the film allowed me to meet Andy Warhol starlet Holly Woodlawn, who was made famous in Lou Reed’s song “Walk on the Wildside”. Holly was the first transsexual I ever met.
Throughout college I was also involved in making music. I was in a band called Hifi Decay. We had a practice space a the historic Sydney Hih building. After playing a local show with a Racine, WI band called Tuxedo Mask, we joined the two bands to form the New Blind Nationals in the summer of 2001.
In the meantime, my desire to be a girl was getting worse. Whenever I saw women, I knew that I wanted more than to just “dress” as a girl…I wanted to be female! I finally realized I was transsexual. Coming to terms with that realization felt like a blessing and a curse. Eventually, I called my parents and told them everything. They were understandably nervous for me, but were supportive enough to help me find a therapist to deal with my situation.
I made an appointment with a therapist at the Pathways Counseling Center in Brookfield, WI. I came away from the session unsatisfied. I wasn’t ready to commit to working on my gender dysphoria and continued struggling with my feelings for 3 more years. Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I broke up, my studies suffered, and I distracted myself with my band.
Then in 2004 my life began to change dramatically. I met my incredibly supportive and caring girlfriend Maria. My band called it quits. I somehow managed to graduate from college and decided that the time was right to try transitioning. I went back to therapy and was approved for hormone replacement therapy (see my “Gendercide” article). I began coming out to my friends and family.
On August 6th, 2005 I went fulltime as female! It was a day that I will always hold dear to my heart. It was as if my life finally truly began. That December I legally changed my name and became Ashley Altadonna.
In 2006, after finding out about the Seattle Transgender Film Festival, I made “Whatever Suits You” . The festival was an eye opening experience for me and a validation of not only my abilities as a filmmaker, but also a transgendered individual. More festivals followed, and in 2007 I created “Playing With Gender”. I have been fortunate enough to meet so many inspiring trans folk including Kate Bornstein, and Julia Serano just to name a few.
These days I am happy to be the lady I have always wanted to be. I’m so thankful for all of the support from my friends, family and girlfriend. I am working towards reaching my goal of one day having sexual reassignment surgery and continue to make films.