At age 32, Nikki Lee Carlson reached a juncture. Having spent 32 years of her life as a male, Nik Carlson, she knew she wanted change.
And so, after a lifetime of contemplation, the former New Zealand Idol singer started taking female hormones.
Five years later, Ms Carlson’s transformation to female is complete – and she feels better than ever.
‘I’ve had an amazing journey living in both genders. I’ve lived both sides of the fence,’ Ms Carlson.
By the time she was ‘four or five’, Ms Carlson felt that she was born in the wrong skin.
‘I wanted to be a girl at school, my relationships with girls were different to those I had with boys. I had a feminine soul and felt like I’d been born in the wrong gender,’ she said.
Ms Carlson was always very open with her close friends and family about how she was feeling, coming out as gay to her family at around age 16.
‘I was lucky because my family were very supportive and I had a good life as a male as I got into singing at a young age,’ she said.
‘I never felt trapped in the wrong body or anything like that.’
Ms Carlson’s singing career really took off when she came second as Nik Carlson on New Zealand Idol in 2005.
However, by the time she reached 32 in 2012, she knew she had hit a ‘crossroads’.
‘My father had just died and my music career was coming to an end,’ she said.
‘I’d kind of suppressed my feelings for so long as I didn’t know how I would look afterwards and whether I would like myself afterwards [if she became a woman]. I knew I needed to make this decision and do it now.’
And so, after hours of Internet research spent watching other people’s transformations, Ms Carlson started taking female hormones.
‘I remember feeling scared and nervous at the beginning, but also very liberated,’ Ms Carlson said.
‘I’d been cross dressing for events and at the weekends since I was about 27. It didn’t take long for it to feel right.’
Ms Carlson underwent gender re-assignment surgery and breast augmentation surgery in Thailand, with cosmetic and plastic surgery holiday specialists Gorgeous Getaways, sharing her journey on the New Zealand reality TV programme, Beauty and the Beach.
She now works with the company as a client consultant manager, helping others with their journeys.
‘I remember coming into my job a year after I’d started taking the hormones and asking them if I could dress how I wanted to – as a woman.
When they said yes, that was one of the first moments which made me feel like everything was working,’ Ms Carlson recalled.
According to Ms Carlson, while she has lost the odd friend along the journey, today she is filled with self acceptance:
‘I have lost some relationships from all of this because some people struggle to accept me and think the old me has died.
‘But the support from other friends, family and strangers is overwhelming. Plus, I no longer care if people accept me. I’m 38 and this is what I want.’
Ms Carlson’s advice for others who are struggling in the skin they are in is to believe:
‘At the end of my journey, I truly believe everything is possible. You can do anything.
‘My biggest piece of advice would be to be open and honest – I was taught not to block my feelings out, and I think being honest in life is really important.
‘I didn’t always know that this was going to be a great experience, but this is truly a dream come true.’