Eight years ago, a family uprooted from New Britain, Connecticut, to a small town in central New Hampshire called Belmont. For the family’s 11-year-old, John Valengavich, that very first day became a memorable one. A classmate, Paige Norkiewicz, asked him out on the playground, but he turned her down.

The two adolescents moved on through various life rituals and transitions. Both had their own friend groups, hobbies, school activities and classes. They, along with 273 other students, graduated from Belmont High School in 2015 and went on to study at different colleges.

Beginning the transition

Photo contributed by Vivian Valengavich

Photo contributed by Vivian Valengavich

Until 2016 – when each was experiencing, perhaps, the biggest transition of all – hormone replacement therapy, John was now Vivian and Paige was now Pan and they fell madly in love. What didn’t click in their gender birth bodies is now flourishing.

According to Medical Daily, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used for transgender individuals in which sex hormones and other hormonal medications are orally administered into the body. The purpose of this is to synchronize secondary sexual characteristics with the individual’s gender identity. Both John-Vivian and Paige-Pan are in the process of HRT.

Around the end of the 2016 spring semester, John-Vivian updated Facebook with a new picture, name and gender. At first glance, Paige-Pan thought that it was actually John-Vivian’s younger sister, Julie. “I ended up realizing that it was [John-Vivian] and I was so proud, the second I saw that I almost cried … she looked so pretty,” said Paige-Pan. “I was trying to reconnect with old friends … so immediately I messaged her.”

Paige-Pan was overcome with emotion because he knew exactly how John-Vivian felt during her transition and coming out. Coincidentally, just this summer, Paige-Pan began to fully come out himself as a transgender male.

As someone who was also in the beginning stages of transitioning, Paige-Pan felt the need to let John-Vivian know, if for nothing else, Paige-Pan was there for support. “[John-Vivian] was someone I never thought of transitioning like that, but was so happy that she did because she was happier,” said Paige-Pan.

Paige-Pan denied any immediate attraction to John-Vivian, but it’s clear through his words that John-Vivian left a deeper mark than Paige-Pan admitted. The bond was evident from the start, as Paige-Pan said they spoke heavily with one another just days after the initial contact was made.

In just those few days of messaging, Paige-Pan was falling for John-Vivian. “I started to fall in love with what [John-Vivian] was saying,” said Paige-Pan. “She had such amazing ideas about life and what could happen to people.”

An unexpected love story

Tim Smith / Photo Editor

Tim Smith / Photo Editor

On Aug. 23, those same kids from the playground were  now adults, catching up at a Chinese restaurant in town. That confident little girl grew up to become Paige-Pan Norkiewicz, a 20-year-old transgender man who was finally getting that chance with the new boy from school.

According to John-Vivian, “I didn’t know going into it that this was going to happen, I thought I was just going to be reconnecting with an old friend.” The two did reconnect. They played cards, ate Chinese food and talked for hours to make up for lost time. “A few minutes later, [Paige-Pan] told me he was hoping it would be a date,” said John-Vivian.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to work; we were really different in high school, but I said ‘I’m going to try it,’” John-Vivian said. “Now we’re engaged.”

Both getting an education

John-Vivian is currently a KSC sophomore studying chemistry in the hopes of becoming a research chemist. If that doesn’t work out, becoming a college professor is a good secondary option. At KSC, John-Vivian holds a position in KSC Pride as treasurer and is a paid tutor for the BEST and Aspire programs.

John-Vivian’s fiancé Paige-Pan is a sophomore currently enrolled in Lakes Region Community College near the couple’s hometown. Although, he transferred to KSC this fall. Paige-Pan is pursuing a degree in Human Services in the hopes of becoming an LGBTQ Resource Coordinator. Paige-Pan currently works as a Dietary Aid at St. Francis Nursing Home and Rehab Center and is an advocate at New Beginnings, a women’s crisis center.

Both John-Vivian and Paige-Pan take their school and jobs seriously. Every effort contributes to their transition. Once John-Vivian realized she wanted to transition, she said, “I wanted to do it as soon as I was able to, as soon as insurance would cover the costs.” Six months ago, that became a reality for the now 19-year-old transgender woman.

Gender identity

In October of 2015, John-Vivian began using the female pronouns: she/her/hers. “I was still mostly closeted; I wasn’t out to pretty much any of my family, it was really only when I was on campus,” Vivian said. It wasn’t until May of last year that Vivian officially began her transition. She said, “That was when I started being out in all aspects of my life … in general, being myself all the time.”

Paige-Pan refers to his younger self as a “tomboy” and believed he had more masculine qualities than feminine. “I had an older brother, so I did a lot of ‘boy’ things,” Paige-Pan said, referring to playing with cars, video games and consistently acting as a boy character in plays that he and his friends would put on as children.

“As I got older, I realized there were different sexualities and genders, and I was gender-fluid for a really long time,” Paige-Pan said. “Then, as days went on, I started to see that I had more masculine days than feminine days by a long shot.”

According to Gender Diversity, gender-fluid is a gender identity that varies over time. The person may identify as male, female, or through some combination of identities, which could vary at random or in response to different circumstances. Before Vivian’s transition, she also identified as gender-fluid and pansexual.

“Even before I knew what the word was, I believed I was pansexual,” Vivian said. “I never really came out to anybody as pan just because it wasn’t an integral part of my life.” A pansexual person does not look at gender, biological sex or identity when looking for a partner. Vivian said, “If I like them, I don’t really care what gender they identify as.”

For six months, Vivian has been taking two hormones, estradiol and spironolactone. According to Medical Daily, the estradiol is an estrogen supplement that is responsible for the development of breasts, wide hips and fat distribution. The spironolactone is a testosterone inhibitor, which Vivian said “stops the testosterone that the body produces from actually doing anything.” Specifically, it prevents the production of male characteristics such as deep voice, broad shoulders and hair, muscle and fat distribution (Medical Daily).

Most recently, Vivian started taking progesterone the first week of December. The progesterone specifically helps with breast development, regulation of skin and hair, sex drive, sleep and anxiety levels.

Throughout the experience, Vivian said it has been nothing but enjoyable to see her body changing. Vivian referred to those changes and said, “The hair on my chest and thighs has thinned out, and I’ve even noticed some breast growth as well.” As for side effects, Vivian experiences increased urination, an increase in blood pressure, cravings and gets fidgety. Specifically, Vivian said, “I crave salty foods literally all the time now.”

As for sex reassignment, Vivian said, “I’m on the fence about it, but it’s a solid maybe.” The main reason behind that is the fact that Vivian is nervous about surgeries in general. Although, she said insurance will only pay for it when the patient follows specific guidelines. At the very least, Vivian said, “You have to have been on hormones for two years and you have to have had gender therapy for at least six months.”

Paige-Pan has also been taking the hormone testosterone since October and is uncertain on whether or not to go through with sex assignment. Vivian was a large factor in Pan’s decision to start HRT. Vivian said, “I had an impact on him because before me, he was scared and nervous.”

The couple’s future

Pan said that Vivian is always there whether he needs her or not. Pan said, “It’s nice to be in a relationship where someone is completely and utterly kind, caring and wants to be there, wants to help.” Pan was isolated by family when he first brought up thoughts about transitioning.

Vivian exposes Pan to different outlooks in life. Vivian joked and said, “I usually try to shrug [those who disagree with the transgender community] off, I don’t really like to deal with that… clearly whatever I say isn’t going to change their mind.” When Pan doubted himself, Vivian convinced him to go with his gut and make the decision for himself.

Pan expressed gratitude and explained why he quickly he fell for Vivian. Pan said, “I even tell her all the time, with what she was saying, how I could not fall in love with her? It’s amazing I can be in a relationship with someone that is my best friend.”

Now, Pan is happy with the decision to start HRT, but hasn’t thought too seriously about surgery. “I’m obviously considering [a mastectomy] … but Vivian and I want a child of our own and we can’t do that if we have the surgeries,” Pan said.

This idea isn’t far-fetched at all. Back in 2008, 34-year-old Thomas Beatie became the first man to give birth. Beatie had his breasts removed and had been living outwardly as a man for about 10 years before the pregnancy. Pan is in a similar situation and may follow suit, considering Beastie retained his female sex organs, because of the fact he wanted biological children.

There are no definite plans set in stone just yet, but it’s a possibility that Pan and Vivian would have a child and then have the surgeries afterwards. Vivian said, “I would love to have a biological child with Pan, but it’s a very complex thing to worry about when we’re both trans and we’re both on hormone replacement therapy.”

Even though Vivian and Pan are still young, both are looking to enroll in graduate school after their undergraduate studies. Pan has expressed to Vivian his thoughts of going to school in California. Vivian said, “We’re already going to have to spend quite a lot of time apart, it’s going to suck if we have to go to school for our master’s programs on different sides of the country.”

Finding a school that fulfills both Vivian and Pan’s desired programs, might not be so simple. Vivian said, “I was already kind of looking into a master’s program in New York at Stony Brook University.” Vivian is looking to get her PhD in Chemical Engineering, while Pan is seeking a master’s program in Gender and Sexuality.

Considering Pan and Vivian are already in a long distance relationship, they maintain good attitudes and stay positive. Pan said, “[Vivian] knows how to treat someone; she’s someone who knows how to put a smile on your face when [you’re] two hours away.” The constant communication and love has kept the couple going strong through everything.

Before Vivian, Pan was in an abusive relationship, both mentally and sexually, that went on for about three years. Pan was stuck in hell. “It was hard to see how a relationship was supposed to be,” Pan said.

Even worse, Pan was sexually assaulted by his roommate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Pan’s experience was so traumatic that he checked himself into a mental hospital. He was broken and felt alone until Vivian. Pan said, “She treats me like a human. In my other relationships, I wasn’t being treated like I should have been.”

Vivian has always been there for Pan. “I’m a very open person as it is, but it didn’t take long for us to immediately be open about [the assaults,]” Vivian said. “Even before we were officially together when I found out that happened, I just wanted to be a good friend.”

Pan was comforted with Vivian’s compassion. “She didn’t pry, she didn’t need to know what happened,” Pan said. “She didn’t need answers right away.” Pan felt himself taking down his walls with Vivian’s continued support and opened up completely. “It built a different kind of trust; it was a friendly trust, very much like you can tell me, but if you don’t want to talk about it, then let’s talk about something else,” said Pan.

Both Vivian and Pan give each other the support and space they need. Even though others have hurt them, they stand up against them and grow from it. Their relationship has shown love, trust, honesty and promise in just the six months since it began.

Despite their quick engagement, Vivian and Pan have already discussed future plans for school, children and marriage. According to Vivian, Pan is ready to tie the knot. Vivian said, “He just really wants to be married to me, which is just adorable as hell.”

Vivian further described Pan’s thoughts on having a wedding sooner rather than later. “He is a very impatient boy,” Vivian said. “We will have an actual wedding ceremony after we both graduate.” Discussion about a honeymoon in Japan has even come up. A wedding could be complicated to plan though. Vivian said, “Pan’s parents, notably his mother, don’t know that we’re together.”

Although, Vivian said she believes it is important for her story to be told. “I like to talk about my story and my life because everyone has a unique and interesting life, but I believe mine is particularly so,” Vivian said.

Sami Smith can be contacted at samantha.smith@ksc.keene.edu