Courage Transformed: Greg Abbink
Dealing with the Mental and Physical Effects of Being a Transgender
One Austin policer officer shares his brave story of coming out.By Sam Jackson
Everybody likes to say that they have something huge in them – usually the Great American Novel, a revolutionary game-changing invention, or a brilliant symphony. Who knows, maybe they’re right. Most people never act on those thoughts, but they know how much holding that stuff in can hurt, especially if they’re the creative type.
Now, imagine that instead of a book idea or a piece of music, there was a whole other person inside you, constantly clawing at your insides and whispering in your ear to let them out. That’s an unimaginable level of pain, and for most of his life, Senior Officer, Greg Abbink, of the Austin Police Department had to deal with that until last summer, when he publicly came out as a transgender man, the first Austin police officer to ever do so.
That makes this summer all the more special for him, worlds apart from when he started on the force in 2004. In fact, his 11th anniversary is also the day of this interview, and in keeping with his reputation, he’s a veritable ray of sunshine, willing to explain all the subtleties of the transgender community that some might find baffling or difficult. Starting, of course, with the root of the problem that transgender people start having with themselves at some point.
“It sounds like such a simple way to say it, but you’re born in the wrong body,” says Abbink. By the age of five, Abbink knew something had gone sideways with his birth, and his intensive pursuits of things like high school sports reflected that. “My brain thinks like a male, I act like a male, my impulses are male. Growing up, I would relate to males. I was interested in all the stereotypical male things. I was drawn to them naturally; no one had to show me,” he says.
When graduation rolled around, Abbink jumped into the armed forces. There, his brain attuned to the rigor, order, and discipline of military life, and after that, law enforcement, and there he was able to tune out that voice telling him he wasn’t who he was supposed to be. But that voice still persisted over the years. Besides that, being an openly gay officer, like Abbink was in 2004, was still pretty tough. There was no organization like, say, the Lesbian and Gay Peace Officer’s Association (LGPOA) for another five years that offered support and aid to openly gay cops, and cases of crude gay jokes and formal complaints did happen.
Three years after Abbink joined, current Austin police chief, Art Acevedo, took over and his administration became a wave of support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, regardless of whether they were civilians or cops. With gestures like encouraging officers to march in local pride parades with their police vehicles and their uniforms, Acevedo created an environment of acceptance that played a huge part in bringing Greg out of the shell he’d been in for so long. Sure enough, his fellow officers and the students he teaches at the APD’s safety school embraced him warmly.
Coming out did wonders for Greg’s mental state, but it also brought some fitness related issues of its own. “On testosterone, your body redistributes the fat,” he adds. “So most men carry their weight all around their midsection, and that’s where I’m noticing everything is moving to.” Fortunately for Abbink, focusing on his physical health and making changes to his exercise routines after his transition turned out to be “the fun part” of the whole experience, and he proudly notes some changes in those as well. Currently, he makes sure to work out at least three times a week, keeps a constant mix of cardio and weights, and wants to add swimming and Cross Fit in the future.
“Because of the testosterone I’m on now, it’s been fun going to the gym and lifting weights,” he explains. “It’s been fun to see how the amount of weight I can lift or bench has increased. I recently went back to the surgeon for a checkup and he said, ‘Man, your shoulders are really filling out and getting thicker!” He also really loves to run around Austin, but downplays his abilities as a runner. “There’s two types of runners in this world: your race horses and your pack mules. I’m definitely a pack mule,” he says through chuckling. Jokes aside, his newfound abilities gave him a much improved score on the APD fitness exam.
His treatments have also been bringing out inherited traits and genetic features that weren’t previously in play, including a massive increase in body hair, which Abbink says came from his father. “I look at pictures of my dad and I’m just like, oh no, I’m turning into my dad!”
Right now, Abbink has just finished changing his birth certificate, passport, and other key documents, making himself a man on paper. Now, he can finally start looking to his future. He plans to get married again in Texas soon (he and his wife were married in New York since gay marriage was legal there). He wants to keep his career with the APD going. “Wherever they need me, I’ll be there,” though retirement feels a long way off. And with the rest of the world suddenly so much more interested in transgender people than ever before, Senior Officer Greg Abbink will be there, not just to protect and serve them, but to walk them through his experiences.
“I got dealt an unlucky hand of cards and came out in the wrong body,” he remarks. “I consider myself a heterosexual male. That’s how I was born, that’s what I identify as, and it’s not a choice. What is a choice is for me to not undergo the misery of not identifying with my exterior any longer. I can do something about it, so that my outside can be in congruence with my inside, and I can live as normal a life as I can, and as happy and productive of a life as I can.”