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Transgender woman comes out on LinkedIn after 27 years of ‘living a lie

"I was slowly dying before and now I am alive."

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Trans woman Lilly Cantino. (Lilly Cantino via SWNS)

By Lydia Patrick via SWNS

A trans woman says bullies and drug addiction stopped her from realizing her true gender for 27 years - before she moved states and came out on LinkedIn.

Lilly Cantino, 29, grew up as a male in Atlanta, Georgia, where high school bullies taunted her for being overweight.

She became dependent on prescribed Klonopin and smoked too much cannabis because she said: "Being in an altered state prevented her from recognizing she was trans."

She left Atlanta and moved across the country in August 2020 to liberal San Francisco, California, where she finally started to get clean after over a decade of addiction.

Able to think clearly for the first time in years, she bought a wig and dress from Target and realized she was trans.

She adopted the name she'd always used when creating videogame characters - Lilly - and came out in a LinkedIn post that received four million impressions.

Lilly pays $530 a month for medical insurance and medication, which paid for her $8,500 laser hair removal procedure and allows her to access hormones.

She is now saving up to have bottom surgery which can cost around $120,000.

Lilly, who is a LinkedIn influencer and works in business consultancy, said: "It just felt awful - I hated my body and I hated myself.

"Gender dysphoria makes you feel a deep depression which is so tough to describe; life feels impossible."

She explained that gender dysphoria is when there is a mismatch between the body you're born in and who you are.

Growing up, Lilly had a tough time and was taunted by school bullies for being "flamboyant" and "fat."

She said: "I suffered a lot of bullying about being overweight.

"I hated my life. I was physically and emotionally abused.

"The bullies made up a pet name called 'Chad' and would say 'you have fat tits,' they would tell me to take my shirt off and dance.

"I was the butt of a lot of jokes so I had to be someone else."

The summer she turned 14, Lilly decided to fit in and lost weight.

She went to Macalester College, Minnesota, at age 18 but still denied her identity.

"Funnily enough it is a progressive school, there is a queer and trans community and it's very liberal," she said.

"It would have been very easy for me to come out but I was deep in the lie and I actively tried to pretend I'm not that.

"I was a bit of an a**hole. I was trying to convince myself I was better than that.

"I even remember saying to a therapist that trans people weirded me out."

Lilly Cantino came out as a transgender woman on LinkedIn. (Lilly Cantino via SWNS)

Lilly self-medicated by smoking a lot of cannabis and was prescribed benzos she became dependent upon.

She said: "I was prescribed benzos for 17 years for sleep-walking and it zombified me.

"I had to wean my way off it as if you come off it instantly, it can kill you.

"I have been sober from weed and benzos for almost three years.

"I was deep in active addiction throughout my twenties and once I was able to have a level head, conversations started within me."

Sober Lilly started going to cosplay events and began to question why she felt so good in dress-up and wearing bras.

She said many trans people realize they're in the 'wrong body' in childhood, but she didn't have the realization until later in life when she ditched drugs and moved to San Francisco in August 2020,

She said: "As I was leaving the south, it felt like a weight was lifting.

"I instantly started thinking about going to Target and getting that dress.

"I went to Target and bought a dress that looked like something out of Little House On The Prairie and put on a wig.

"I needed a little more convincing and then put on a black t-shirt dress and thought wow.

"It was a bittersweet moment because I thought there was something there, it was the answer to my emptiness and loneliness, I'd been living a lie."

"I kept it a secret and I would try on clothes and makeup - it was a cocoon and I was figuring it out on my own."

By December 2020, Lilly was sure of her true identity and knew her name instantly.

She said: "Like many trans people, I'd been playing video games for years and I would always pick girls and call them Lilly."

She gained a mentor, a trans woman in 2020 called Eve who helped her to discover herself and answer any questions she had.

In October 2021, she told her best friends Deborah and Jake during a trip to Atlanta.

She said: "I remember being so nervous, I said 'let's go out for some drinks.'

"I remember being tipsy and saying that I might be trans - I pulled my shirt over my head into a non-existent shell.

"Deborah said 'we love and support you' and it was liberating.

"It made it so much easier to tell the next person."

Her brother Gabe, 23, discovered Lilly was trans after she had changed her gamer tag to 'Lillytino' and spotted her hair-less arms on video chat.

Gabe simply asked: "Do you want me to call you Lilly?"

Next, she came out to her parents Patrick, 58, and Nina 64, who she was slightly more apprehensive about telling.

She said: "I told them on video chat and immediately they said we love and support you.

"They're older so it's been a learning curve, but they've sought out resources to learn."

Patrick is a GP who now works in a trans-inclusive health center.

Lilly Cantino before she transitioned. (Lilly Cantino via SWNS)

Lilly came out to the world in an unusual way when she posted on LinkedIn: "Hey, my name is Lilly and I use she/her," alongside a photo of herself in January 2022.

She says she received four million impressions and businesses have now reached out to her for advice on how to be trans-inclusive, so she started LillyContino Consulting LLC

Lilly started wearing dresses and make-up and was prescribed the hormones spironolactone in May 2021, a male hormone suppressant, progesterone and later estrogen.

She added: "Taking progesterone helps the boobs and my emotions run hotter.

"I cry a lot better now."

Lilly worries for trans women who don't have insurance to pay for hormones, and says many trans women are resorting to buying hormones off the black market.

She added: "There is a global shortage of estrogen and progesterone right now."

Over the next few years, Lilly hopes to have transfeminine bottom surgery.

She said: "I was slowly dying before and now I am alive.

"I'm excited to keep talking about trans inclusivity and helping people to come out."

You can keep up with Lilly's journey on her TikTok @LillyTino_.

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