First Openly Trans Officer at Austin Police Department Shares Journey.

by Greg Abbink

My name is Greg Abbink and I am from, originally, Canandaigua, New York.

And I remember it was around 4 or 5 years of age when I had the realization that, as I would put in my own terms probably at that age, I was just born in the wrong body. So over the years, my parents would tell us that they had two names picked out for my two sisters and I for when we were born – both male and female names – and the name that they told me they had chosen for me or what would have or should have been my name was Greg. And so I latched on to that name because that’s the name I most identified with.

And so in 1980, my mom was charting my height on the inside pantry door at my childhood home. I was 5 years old and I must have persuaded her to write that name and there in sharpie marker is my name Greg. At the time, it was profound that my mom would have even obliged me in doing it, because for me that was my name. It confirmed what I knew to be true – that even as young as 5 years old, I knew that I always identified as a male and more importantly as Greg.

So I can remember vividly one time, I maybe was 7 or 8 going to a summer camp – a week-long summer camp. And this specific week, they grouped me with a group of boys. And I was so ecstatic. I was like, Finally, they got it right. They figured it out. And so now I’m going to have a great week with all the other guys in my age group at summer camp. Well, it wasn’t too long into the day that one of the other counselors came and got me and took me out of the male’s group put me in the female group because I guess they figured out what my name was. So I had to spend the rest of the week and with a bunch of girls at summer camp. That was disappointing and not necessarily the memories I wanted to make at a week-long camp.

So it was really difficult growing up identifying as Greg, but the world seeing me as female. I thought, Am I the only one who’s like this? So I didn’t dare say anything to anyone. So I continued on in my life, the world seeing me as female. And I knew I was attracted to to females and so, you know, I kind of got the label as lesbian. However, I knew that’s not who I was. I was a male who was attracted to females.

Because of my secret, because of who I knew I was but yet what the world saw and how the world addressed me, they were at odds and at conflict, so that caused a lot of difficulty and struggles for me moving forward as I navigated college and then the military and then finally law enforcement.

In 2014, I had been in law enforcement already for 10 years. And it was February 20, 2014 when my younger sister sent an email letter out to all of my extended family explaining that who we thought was my niece was actually my nephew. And it was that pivotal moment. It was that a-ha moment for me where I realized if my brave nephew can come out and be supported by my family and feel that unconditional love from my family, why couldn’t I? I was 39 at the time. I was mature enough and old enough to be able to handle it. And so that was the moment, that was the defining moment when my nephew had the courage and the bravery – that’s what sparked me to decide I need to come out.

I knew deep-down my family would be supportive. Maybe there was a little bit of a learning curve that had to take place, but I wasn’t ultimately worried about being rejected from my family. And of course I wasn’t. But work was another story. I knew I had to tell my co-workers or at least as many as I could think of that I had worked with, who knew me in the past 10 years at the department.

So I spent a lot of time compiling a long letter, which I eventually sent out at work via email to everybody. And that was very difficult because once you hit send, it’s out there. But my greatest fear, I think, was what would people think? Would they reject me?

But I sent the letter out and immediately the number of responses I got – the positive, supportive responses I got were overwhelming. Folks said, “You are so courageous and so brave, and I’m so proud of you.” I’ve had emails that alluded to, “If anyone gives you a hard time, let me know. I’ll kick their butt.” But no, not directly. But just so much support and even some that said, “I’m not quite sure what this means but I’m happy to have you teach me. I’m happy to learn about it and to watch you progress.”

When I came out in 2014, I was the first openly transgender police officer at the Austin Police Department, which has afforded me a lot of great opportunities. I’ve been able to develop curriculum for our police cadets. I have assisted human – our human resources department at the city of Austin with a guide book for both employees and supervisors. I have been contacted by some outside agencies to conduct training for their officers, similar to the curriculum that I teach our incoming cadets.

When I went to change my name in District Court, I gave my paperwork to the judge and he reads through the documents and asks you just a couple simple questions. And with one stroke of his pen and so effortlessly it seemed like, he gave me the one thing that I had wanted for so long and that was to finally, officially, legally be Greg. After some anxious waiting for my driver’s license to come in the mail, I opened it up in there it is – you know, my picture looking back at me but with the name Greg on it. And it was – it was huge because it was official. It was – now I can present it to somebody and who I was now matched up with the person on my driver’s license and with the name and so that was – that was a really big day. And it would never get changed again.

I often think what would I want, if I could look back now, what I want to tell my younger me? Tell them don’t give up hope because you are you for a reason. You’re not a mistake. Everybody’s different. Everyone has a different story. You just have to find yours and be persistent about it. And then find folks who know what your story is meant to be and they will help guide you and shepherd you and and hopefully get you started in the direction that you’ve always been meant to go in.

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