RV Love Letters | T, featuring Kelly Oliver

I am Kelly Oliver. I am Director of HSP which is part of the ATV – Telecom Division and work in St. Louis, MO. I have been with Red Ventures for over 9 years and I have a transgender son (FTM – female to male).

If you feel comfortable doing so, please tell us a bit about your son’s coming out story and your journey of coming out with him — any of the joys and struggles that came/continue to come with it.

In second grade, Sutton was going through first communion.  At that time, the Catholic Church required the girls to wear white dresses and the boys to wear suits. Sutton threw a fit about wearing a dress but finally acquiesced – that was the last time Sutton wore a dress or a skirt for that matter. Throughout grade school, Sutton played sports and typically interacted more with the boys in the neighborhood than with the girls.  Even when playing pretend house, Sutton always pretended to be the male in the make-believe world.  We always shopped in the boy’s section even buying boy swimsuits and swim shirts. As a Mother, deep down, I knew something was different.  Many people would look at Sutton and say “She is just a tomboy and will grow out of it” without me even asking for the comment. At restaurants, Sutton and my husband were always the last to have their order taken and Sutton was commonly referred to as he.  And as a Mom to the rescue, I was quick to correct any and everyone that he was a she. Little did I know that once Sutton was in his teen years, this obsessive correcting of mine was making it harder for Sutton to feel good about himself. 

When Sutton entered High School, my husband and I were prepared for Sutton to tell us that she was a Lesbian. I work closely with someone in the LGBTQIA community and even asked his advice if I should just tell Sutton that we know and we love HER or wait and let HER tell us.  We were prepared!  Not so fast – we were not prepared when Sutton finally spoke his truth out loud, he felt that he was in the wrong body.  I think I knew deep down that this was coming, but having it said out loud and dealing with the reality is much different.  

It was Sutton’s Junior year in High School, fall 2017, I was traveling for work and got a call from my husband at 8am pacific time.  He could barely talk.  He said Sutton is at school in a suicidal comatose state.  He is taking HER to the hospital.  What? Suicidal? Sutton?  The kid with a 4.5 GPA, top in cross country and lacrosse, chosen as a natural leader by HER high school, recipient of multiple character and leadership awards? Sutton?  That was the longest 4-hour flight in my entire life.

We got help but therapy is not a pill that fixes something overnight.  After two more very close suicide attempts, several hospitalizations, and more therapy, Sutton was finally able to say it out loud – I am not comfortable in my body.  The Gender Dysphoria which gives way to Depression and Social Anxiety caused Sutton so much guilt and shame that he thought his life and our lives would be better without him. When Sutton finally told us, I can’t say I didn’t mourn the loss of a daughter, but I also celebrated that I had a son who was alive and finally feeling that his life mattered. He wanted to live.

Sutton finished high school as a girl with top honors. That summer (2019) Sutton had top surgery and entered college as a male – even being invited and initiated into a Fraternity! The personality change is night and day. Sutton is much more outgoing, much more interactive, and much more confident. He hated going to the pool or the beach, but just last week, we all went to the pool and Sutton proudly took off his shirt and looked comfortable and had fun. 

Looking back, I don’t think Sutton was ever really happy until now. I am not naïve that this is happily ever ending – I know Sutton will have bumps in the road, but Sutton has amazing support from friends and family, the LGBTQIA community and many other Allies to help get through those peaks and valleys. Sutton is happy and alive. 

What has your relationship with this label / orientation been like in relation to your work environment (RV or otherwise)? What do you ideally want the intersection identity and your work life to look like, if any?

I have always felt that I was an Ally to the LGBTQIA community and many other minority communities. I judge people based on their actions and intentions, not on how they identify themselves, not on who they love, what they wear, the color of their skin, or where they were born. That has not changed. What did change was my awareness of how everyone else behaved or treated individuals in these communities. What was my son going to face in the world? I was and still am concerned. I am extremely thankful that I work at RV and would not be fearful if Sutton worked within the organization. Although the We ARE Pride was started more recently, a company that would quickly embrace We ARE …  is amazing. My hope for Sutton is that he can find similar organizations within his field when he graduates. My hope is that Sutton can be who he is without question, without stares, without contempt, without judgement regarding his gender.      

How has your relationship with identity and labels changed over time? How did you or Sutton discover what label currently fits you best, if there is one?

For many transgender individuals, they can easily go under the radar while acting themselves.  So, I asked Sutton – Do you always have to self-identify as a trans male?  Is that really something strangers or co-workers need to know?  Is that important for you to state? And the answer was it is ultimately up to the individual.  For him, he supports the LGBT community and will self-identify, but many times choose not to identify.  This is not because he is insecure about the transition or fearful of other’s reactions, but instead he chooses not to make an announcement of being transgender because it is just a part of him like where he went to elementary school.  

What would you like to tell your fellow RV employees when it comes to asking questions and learning about different identities? (i.e. how to respectfully ask questions, using inclusive language when possible, remembering intersectionality, etc.)

Sutton is extremely open for all types of questions from friends and family.  When he entered the Fraternity, he communicated to all his Brothers that they can individually come to him with any questions they have about him or about what it means to be transgender. What he would recommend to anyone is to make sure you have some type of friendly relationship with the person before asking any question. Also try to be mindful of your questions specifically regarding physical characteristics. 

If you could, what would you tell your younger self about the LGBTQIA+ community? Whether that be the discovery of your identity, relationship and struggles with it, or anything else that you’d wish to impart.

“Trust your gut. Don’t worry about how it affects others or how it will affect you. Only think about what it means to you and for you. No one can predict the future, but the pattern of your past is pretty good place to start.”- Sutton

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About the Author:

Austin Konkle

Originally from Columbia, SC, Austin is a recent graduate from Vanderbilt who works on the TPG SEO team. A competitive swimmer in a past life, Austin enjoys cooking, traveling, and visiting his 1-year-old niece in Charleston.

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