Chris Bruce has always been the kind of person who takes chances. When he was still in his teens, he knew he could sell ice to an Eskimo and began his foray into entrepreneurship. After college, he established himself as a salesman, then took a big risk by investing a sizeable chunk of money into a start-up; a few years later, he was co-owner of a multi-million-dollar wholesale business, which he later sold for a handsome profit. At the same time, he married his high school girlfriend, had two kids and pursued his interest in fitness and bodybuilding, eventually achieving 230 pounds of muscle over his 6-foot-1 frame. Today, at 41, Bruce weighs in at 180 pounds, though often standing 6’3” — that’s when she’s wearing heels.
That’s because, over the last year, Chris Gary Bruce has transitioned into Chris Tina Bruce, a male-to-female transgender. It hasn’t been easy. But Bruce has rarely taken the easy path, and her trans identity is something she is proud of. As a boy, Bruce knew he was different. He cross-dressed for years, but discretely. His work in sales meant he traveled extensively, which allowed him to wear women’s clothes while on the road. Like many transgenders, he’d go through a “purge” phase, where he’d toss all his women’s clothing, vowing never to do it again. But it wasn’t just the clothes; Bruce identified as a woman. What at one time was a shameful secret is now a proud part of her identity. She no longer hides in hotel rooms, but lives openly as a woman. “My purpose is to let the world know who I am and being transgender is nothing to be hid,” she says.
That’s one of the reasons for her campaign for transgender equality: “Be Bold. Be Proud. Be Yourself.” It has been a long, difficult process, though. Bruce’s cross-dressing led in part to a divorce in 2007, though her ex-wife didn’t find out he was trans until earlier this year. “She hates it,” Bruce says. She worried about how her children — a boy, 12, and a daughter, 8 — would react, but so far they have adjusted well. Bruce’s transition began in earnest about four years ago, after separating from her wife. “I went out dressed as a woman for the first time in 2005 when I was in Houston,” she says. A mentor helped her; she has since passed away. She went to New Orleans for Halloween with a then-girlfriend, both dressed as sex dolls, though the girlfriend left when she began taking female hormones. Bruce first stepped out in female dress in Dallas in January 2009, and found the experience liberating. “[Trans people] need the gay area of town for training wheels,” she says. “We have it so good here. Cedar Springs is a consolidated, well-structured safe zone for us.” It’s slightly odd, though, as Bruce never identified as gay — although, technically, would now identify as lesbian. “People don’t realize: Transgender has nothing to do with sex,” Bruce says. “I’ve never been attracted to guys, but that’s the first assumption many people make.” It doesn’t bother her, though. Bruce has felt largely embraced by the Gs, Ls and Bs as well as the Ts of the community. Some of her best friends now are gay men.
“More girls ask me out now than when I was a man,” she says. As pictures can attest, Bruce was a handsome man and never had trouble getting dates. Now, she mostly dates bisexual women and some lesbians. “I think women are very open-minded,” she says. Bruce had her first surgery — some face work and breast implants — on Dec. 26. From there on, there’s been no turning back. “I just started telling my family about this last Christmas. My mom and sister have been so supportive. I said, I’m not asking for your permission or your acceptance — this is just how it is.” She’s even reconnected with old high school friends on Facebook. Her father, though, has not spoken to her since she came out, and she quit her corporate job in March once she couldn’t hide as a man anymore. Bruce has continued to follow her bliss. She has worked part-time as a personal trainer for years, and continues to do so; she estimates losing very few clients since transitioning. As enthusiastic as Bruce is about her fitness career, even more motivating is her quest for equality. “People have said to me, ‘You’re not real …’ Real what?” she asks. She also finds it puzzling that she can legally marry a woman while gay men can’t marry their partners. There’s still a lot of work to so. That’s OK, though. Chris Bruce has never shied away from a challenge. It’s what made her the woman she is today.
Learn more about Bruce by visiting Chris Tina Bruce Fitness. This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010