Newhouse MVJ 2018

A life like glass

As children, everyone has dreams and goals of who they want to be when they grow up.

Lorraine Austin, 57, who was born a male, found herself wanting to dabble in the arts, where she could explore the world as a glassblower.

Growing up in a military family, she never felt like she could be open about who she was. She feared her father would have considered her broken. “I probably would have been packed off to a psychiatrist and could have ended up in electroshock therapy,” she said.

Since the age of 5, Austin noticed her interest was not in sports and games like other boys. She longed to be like her sister, who could play dress-up with dolls. She did not want to live a lie and continue as Phil. She aspired to be Lorraine, a woman.

Phil was portrayed as a masculine, mean, strong man, who loved motorcycle rides and fixing up houses. Whereas Lorraine is calm, nice and loves to dress up as a woman. “I am still the same person, but better,” she said. Both personalities have always had an interest in designing works of art.

It was in 2015 that Austin broke the news to her family and friends of her intention to fully transition. When people noticed the change, business ceased for months and her wife of more than 20 years left her.

Austin says she wished she had spoken out sooner. She recalls the moment her secret pushed her past the breaking point, which led to suicidal thoughts.

The “shotgun rule,” she said, “is when you go into the garage and load it with the intention of never coming out of the garage, but you somehow survived that experience. You need to do something about it at that point, because you’ve chosen to stick around.”

After taking estrogen, her muscle mass had decreased. Working on glass became physically demanding because glassblowing is traditionally a male-dominated craft. “As I get older, it becomes too heavy to lift and doing it on a daily basis takes a toll on you,” she said.

On a typical day, Austin wakes up around 5:30 a.m. and by 9 a.m., she walks next door to her studio. It can take from two to four hours to raise the furnace temperature hot enough to melt glass.

During the working day, she spends at least six to eight hours creating vases, lamps, flowers, pumpkins and even shot glasses. To see the wonder and awe on a client’s face pleases Austin. It motivates her to keep the studio up and running.

“It feels really great because it helps if others appreciate your artwork with you and doing what you love pays the gas bills.”

The studio is Austin’s safe haven. It is a place where she can immerse herself in another realm and create amazing glassworks as a source of income while feeding her passion. She spends most of her time honing her craft. “Just like a musician, you need to keep practicing to get better at it,” she said.

During the fall season, Austin creates rainbow pumpkin pieces, and a portion of the proceeds from each sale is donated to the National Center for Transgender Equality which is devoted to promoting policy changes to advance transgender equality. The rainbow colors represent the LGBTQ flag. She has raised more than $2,000 for the organization. Her goal: help other people like herself who face discrimination and social inequality.

Austin believes that if you have a dream, you have to pursue it. “Live a life with no regrets,” she says.

Life is a lot like glass. Once broken it will never be the same. It becomes something better, because it can be repaired as long as you put in time and effort.

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