Gender Prescribed

Carroll Owens is a local groomer, family man and everyday friendly face around Little Rock, Arkansas. But to a special few who know his story, he’s an inspiration. About 3 years ago, Owens started a new journey and decided to a start social media accounts to not only document his story, but extend his authenticity and kindness to those followers that may be on the same adventure with him.

Owens story begins with he and his wife visiting his sister’s house in Kansas City. It was at some point there that he really became aware that something wasn’t sitting right with him anymore. That something was that Carroll, whose gender assigned at birth was female, began wanting to step into his identity as a male.

“My wife and I had a long conversation on the way home and it was just like ‘I’m just doing it,’ and I just kind of set out to do it,” Owens said.

Owens and his wife had been together 10 years.

Even in the midst of the love they shared, it was a petrifying moment.

“I was terrified, because I'm married to this person that I'm planning on spending the rest of my life with — something that I'm really wasn't sure if she was ready to be signed on for because we've identified as lesbians since we were together,” Owens said. “This is the person I'm planning on spending the rest of my life with. We had so many conversations in the beginning about just getting together and like we're not young, we've got things to do in our lives. Let's do it together. You know, let's not dick around and let’s just get it done. And then six years into the relationship. This is something different. This is a new step.”

When it comes to family, Owens recalls there was never a doubt he would have support from his wife. However, he does always consider her role in all of this and strives to make sure she’s happy too.

“When we've made it work, I worry sometimes that she doesn't have people to talk to or she does and just doesn’t tell me about it. But that's okay, too,” Owens said. “I just want her to be okay and happy and supported in her own on her terms where she needs to be supported too, because this isn't just my journey. This is her journey too.”

While this was Owens first time confronting his personal desire to transition, it wasn’t his only exposure to the concept. Years before, he had gone on a date with someone and, while things didn’t work out between them, they remained friends and she went on to meet a man named Sam.

“I think [they met] through one of these dating apps and it was just supposed to be a weekend thing. Sam never went home. He stayed. They got married,” Owens said.

Sam transitioned at some point in their relationship and Owens said that just watching them … they were “so freaking happy.” Tragically, she came home one day to find Sam had passed because his heart had given out.

“It broke her heart and it broke mine too, because I never got to say the things I wanted to say to him, because I didn't start transitioning for another five years, but yeah. Sam. He's the reason I told [my wife], you know, this is one of the reasons why I'm doing this is because of Sam. It's because I want him to know how much I appreciate what he gave me — the thought process to think about it being okay,” Owens said.

Owens also credits Sam with giving him courage to even go to that place in his mind and consider the possibility.

“Because I don't think I'd be able to even have thought about it. I guess it took me a long time to really process the way I wanted to go with it,” Owens said.

Beyond just mustering the confidence to live a life where he was true to himself, Owens also considers the fact that both of his parents had passed away and he was older and in a much different position that many others who start this journey at an earlier point in life. He defines himself as just getting, well, really lucky.

“I get reaffirmed on a daily basis by my friends, by my wife, by my clients, who have allowed me to continue to work on their animals, who've known me since before and since after, so I get it,” Owens said. “I'm one of the lucky people because there are so many out there that are not and have to feel so much pain on a daily basis.”

This is part of the reason why Carroll started his social media. Part of him understood that going into this transition as an adult with the ability to choose supportive friends and surround himself with affirming communities isn’t always a privilege that younger trans people have.

“I like social media. I'm an old person who loves social media. Social media is the future,” Owens said. “You get lost in translation with words. If you don't know the meaning behind the words, you can get lost in translation. When you're looking at a video, when you're looking straight at someone's face, you can see in their eyes and you can tell whether they're bullshitting or not.”

Owens follows a number of inspirational trans accounts on social media himself and says that while not quite friends, he considers them acquaintes with which he shares a very real level of caring — from just checking in on each other to donating for each other’s gender-affirming medical care and surgeries. He even has his own GoFundMe page.

At the root of it, it’s not about the number of followers, the fame or the account popularity for him. He says that making videos and posting them online to TikTok and Instagram has helped him see that when you get to the heart of it and see people’s pain, people’s honesty — that it’s real and raw. Helping one person be able to see they aren’t alone is enough is all Owens is after.

“I wish I could take all these little kids and you know, give them big hugs and say ‘I wish I could take you and help you’ but it doesn't work that way. They all have their own journeys they've got to deal with,” Owens said. “They just need somebody along the way to say it's gonna be okay.”

Part of his mission is to bring messages of support to his following.

“There’s an inner peace you have if you’ve got support because you don’t have to go looking for it. You know that if you fall, you get people to pick you up. But there's a lot of people out there that don't. Those are the ones I worry about. Those are the ones that I try to get messages out to on TikTok, on Instagram, on Facebook. We're here for you,” Owens said. “I was in a livestream last night with somebody and he's not having a good time and he's having a hard time. He's still at home and they’re not affirming and it's, it's gonna be okay, because it just takes time. I told him, ‘Don't do anything stupid. Because if you're not here, then the world's gonna lose out’.”

While trying to remain a source of encouragement for his following, Owens has found that much of his inspiration and teachers of empathy come from working with animals as a groomer.

“I literally have not been doing it as long as a lot of people. I only got into it about 2016, so four or five years. My best friend is a groomer. She's certified and been into it over 25 years. And I've done a lot of different things in the years that I've known her. And at one point, she was just like, ‘you should try this’. Picked it up. Like it was so easy to me. It was just something I just picked right up. I couldn't believe how easy it was,” Owens said.

He said that while he loves his job, he also recognizes his luck there also, having been surrounded by a group of loving coworkers from the start.

“It's a small, family owned animal clinic. So it's just us, so I’m lucky. And they’re allowing me to do it. So I'm lucky. I don't know what it'd be like if I had to try to go find a job somewhere and be real honest with you. I don't I don't know what that would be like right now. And I don't know if I want to try at any point,” Owens said.

He said having been in this situation, there’s a lot of empathy for the fear of people that do have to go find a job right now, especially if they are younger. But his main advice?

“Look into grooming. Look into working with animals. Because you know what? Animals don't talk back. Animals don't judge you.” Owens said. “If you need to be away from people, start with animals. Volunteer at a rescue place, because let me tell you something. If you sit in a cage with one of those unwanted animals, it’s going to make your heart feel a little bit better. It really will. I hate it. That's what I would do. I would just go sit in the kennels with them just because they needed to be loved on. I’m lucky that I have the job that I have. Because I get to spend a lot of time with animals. People suck for the most part.”

When put simply, Owens refers to his story as just “doing the right thing for me, and trying to help other people in the same aspect to do the same thing for themselves.”

“I'm kind of at a place where I see these younger kids, and it's just like, holy crap. We can do this now. It's like being married to the person that you love. This is another step in that whole transition of everybody just being able to be equal no matter what. And that's really just kind of where I'm at with that, as far as just, I just want to be okay with who I am. And I want the world be okay with who I am, regardless of how they really feel about it. You know, just keep it to yourself, but I'm okay. I'm okay. So if that's okay, if I'm okay, then you should be okay. I'm not a weird person. I'm not trying to grow two heads, I'm not trying to do anything that isn't right for me. I just want to do what's right for me to be who I am. And that's all. Everybody else gets to be who they are no matter if they have to take medication or not. So it doesn't really matter one way or another. You still get to be who you are. So why is it not okay for other people?”