It was a long journey for Atticus Ranck to become the man he is today. As the Director of Transgender Services at the Wilton Manors non-profit LGBT agency, SunServe, he works as an advocate and educator for South Florida’s transgender community. Through the organization he provides clients with employment, housing, health care and recovery resources, as well as assistance with legal matters like changing names and gender markers on birth certificates. Hearing him speak, you would think he’s been doing this for a long time. In a way, he has.
Small Town Kid
It was exactly three years ago, in August 2013, that Ranck first visited SunServe for counseling during his own transition. In a small, cozy therapy room at SunServe, Ranck sat down to tell me his story, dressed in stylish navy track pants, a grey and blue striped T-shirt and gray Vans. Ranck has a well-groomed beard and a square jaw line. His demeanor is upbeat and open. He is accustomed to talking about his experience. Nonetheless, he still lets out a deep breath and says, “You know, it’s still scary, sometimes, being this vulnerable.”
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He was born in Lancaster, Penn., to a tight-knit, churchgoing family, and he describes his childhood as “idyllic.” With three siblings, Ranck recalls being a tomboy, playing basketball from an early age and taking on field hockey, softball and track in high school.
“The easy version of the story would be: I’m a boy. I’ve always been a boy. I’ve always felt like a boy. I never felt female. But that wouldn’t be true. It’s so much more complex. As a kid, I was allowed to be a tomboy. My mom didn’t care. I could wear clothes from the boy’s side and there was nothing incongruous about it. It was only in church where I had to wear a dress.”
It wasn’t until puberty that Ranck began to question certain aspects of his growing femininity. In seventh grade, he decided to start shaving his legs. He recalls his mom was resistant to it, not wanting “her little girl” to grow up too quickly. He also remembers a particular shopping outing with his dad and older brother during which he tried on a pair of figure-hugging flare jeans. “I hated them. They were so uncomfortable,” Ranck recalls, but his dad and brother thought they looked good.
At 17, he fell for a girl. “I don’t think I even realized we were crossing the line between friendship and romance at the time,” he says. “We were very affectionate, and I just knew I wanted to be around her all the time.”
Their relationship progressed sexually, and a few weeks before senior year began, he was outed to his parents by his best friend. Ranck says the effects were devastating. He had always been a “good kid” and now his parents were upset and forbade him from being with his girlfriend. It was the first time he’d ever been in trouble.
“It was a complete 180,” he explains. “I questioned a lot of things. I was mad at my parents and confused.”
Plus, the rumor trickled through school. “Everybody knew, but no one confronted me,” he says. “It was this strange isolation.”
Senior year he spent a lot of time hiding in the closet, crying in the room that he shared with his two sisters. At school, he threw himself into cross-country and stuck by his sister at lunch time.
It wasn’t until freshman year in college at Slippery Rock University, an hour north of Pittsburgh, that he came out as a lesbian for the first time. “One of the boys on my cross-country team liked me. And he was the kind of guy I would’ve liked, if I was attracted to men. That’s when I knew.”
He got involved with the campus’s LGBT group, RockOUT, and eventually became its president. He embraced his lesbian identity. College life progressed, and as he dated women he started to “feel more connected to masculine energy.” His looks became more androgynous and butch, especially when he cut his hair the summer before his senior year in college. He was also drinking a lot. “It was becoming an issue,” he recalls, “But it wasn’t interfering with my grades.”
After graduating, he moved to Boca Raton to attend graduate school at Florida Atlantic University, pursuing a masters degree in gender studies and working as a graduate teaching assistant. During the orientation, an older lesbian GTA said to him casually, “You’re going to be a boy.”
Becoming a Man
During his first year, he wrote a research paper on prosthetic penises. Shortly thereafter, he ordered one. They’re designed as alternatives to bottom surgery and can be used for urination, sex and simply feeling like you have a penis. With his own prosthetic, he began actively exploring his gender identity for the first time. The girl he was dating used the male pronoun with him in private and he sought counseling at SunServe to talk about transitioning. Still, drinking remained an issue. “Once I started, I couldn’t stop,” Ranck explains. “I was blacking out every other time.”
His turning point came during a surprisingly quotidian interaction with a grocery store clerk who called him sir, instead of ma’am. “It made me so happy,” Ranck says. “I wanted that all the time.”
Of course, he was initially nervous about what it would mean to lose his lesbian feminist identity to become a straight man. “I realized, I can be whatever kind of man I want to be. I can still like women. I can still be a feminist.”
He quotes the line from John Green’s best selling novel, The Fault in Our Stars, to explain how he came to his decision to transition. “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” Four months after his first visit to SunServe, Ranck began hormone therapy. He legally changed his name to Atticus, noting that he liked both the way it sounded and the obvious connection to To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch who was a hero of social justice. He had his top surgery in February 2015. He says bottom surgery is an option he’s open to considering when it’s financially feasible.
Once the decision to transition was made, though, the road ahead was not without its bumps. In April 2014, he hit rock bottom with his drinking. While he prefers not to elaborate on what got him there, he started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and has been sober ever since. While there are few reliable studies, it’s widely believed that 25 percent of transgender people suffer from substance abuse.
Ranck came out to his family as a transgender man over Thanksgiving in 2013, and while he says they still have trouble using the proper pronouns sometimes, they’ve grown to embrace their son for who he is. With all the recent controversy surrounding so-called bathroom bills, Ranck has been happy to see his father side with the transgender community. “He doesn’t understand why [certain state legislatures] are making such a big deal.”
Ranck’s personal story is filled with the trials and growing pains we all go through on the road to adulthood — rebellion and conformity, bonds formed and broken, young love and the never-ending quest to become comfortable in your own skin. Only Ranck navigated these waters with the added confusion and isolation of defining his own sexual orientation and gender identity. As a testament, he emerged stronger and more at peace with himself. Today, he’s a leading voice on transgender cultural awareness, speaking at various conferences, high schools and colleges across
He’s quick to caution that transitioning doesn’t solve all of a transgender person’s problems. As for him, he’s still a work in progress, yet he takes immense comfort in looking at the mirror and seeing the right person looking back at him. In his body today, as a straight man, he says, “It’s as close to home as I can get.”