Cleveland area transgender woman shares her journey

Transitioned from male to female in mid-20s

CLEVELAND - is hosting a live Q&A tonight with therapists who have extensive experience with transgender culture. Click here to join from 9 to 11 p.m. Friday.

Bruce Jenner's interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer airs tonight at 9 p.m. on 20/20, followed by NewsChannel 5 at 11 p.m.

Zoe Renee Lapin says she knew at the age of four that, as she puts it, "something wasn't quite right."

"Unfortunately, I was kind of aware this difference was going to make my life a little difficult," Lapin said. 

She was born Richard Hunt, assigned male at birth, and lived the next 20 years as such — even playing football in high school.

"Bad idea," she says, laughing. "I learned my lesson, I broke my leg."

So at age 24, Lapin realized something had to give, but was terrified to come out to her family.

She didn't need to be.

"She was so afraid she was going to disappoint me, because she was the only 'boy,' " said Jackie Shakir, Lapin's mother. "But I said, 'You're never going to disappoint me, as long as you're living.' "

Shakir even gave her daughter her new name to match what she calls her true identity.

"I say, 'Well, I like the name Zoe and she says, I like your middle name Renee, and I say, okay, let's go Zoe Renee," Shakir said.

But even with that unwavering family support, it's not easy.

"The biggest fear is others," Shakir said. "Not my child."

"Knowing every time I walk out of the door, I might not make it back home," Lapin said, referring to transgender homicides that have sparked a very real fear.

But, it's getting better.

A DJ by night, Lapin's photographs hang in her first showing at a transgender-focused art exhibit in Waterloo Gallery.

She volunteers at Cleveland's LGBT Center in Gordon Square, molding young minds that have the same questions and concerns that she once did. 

And, she's engaged to be married to Megan Piatak, a petite, bubbly blonde who stands by her side as they navigate a world that's still unfamiliar to many.

"I'm very proud of my partner, I love her with all of my heart," she said. "And I will stand up for her no matter what. No matter what we have to have to go through, it's worth it."

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