Danielle Rose pic

Danielle Rose visits with one of her dogs in her room at Grace Heights.

Jonas Ridge native Danielle Rose has faced death more than once and has come through even more determined to help others like her.

Rose is transgender. She was born a biological male, but said she had always felt like she was female.

“When I was four years old, I started having dreams that I would wake up in another place and that I would be a girl and not a boy,” Rose said.

Rose said she was bullied constantly throughout childhood, even though she kept her thoughts about her gender to herself. She eventually graduated and worked for many years as a materials handler for Baxter Inc. in Marion. She said she enjoyed her job, and her co-workers were nice. But her longing for feminine expression continued.

“I love shopping, especially for dresses,” Rose said. “I bought dresses for all my women friends.”

In 2000, Rose was hospitalized with life-threatening complications arising from her diabetes condition. She said she believed her illness to have emotional as well as physical origins.

“I came close to dying because I was trying to keep everything in and be someone that I am not,” Rose said in a post on her Facebook page in August of 2015. “A lot of times I feel very alone, because I think no one understands what it feels like to be in the wrong body.”

After her close call, she decided she couldn’t hold her feelings in anymore. Rose came out to her family and friends. She began wearing women’s clothing, wigs and makeup and began taking female hormones. She contemplated having gender reassignment surgery, but realized with her diabetes that it would be too dangerous.

Rose received mixed reactions from her family. Some simply didn’t understand and gave her a hard time. Others, like her sister, Deb Rose, were more supportive.

“I had no idea she felt that way,” Deb said of Danielle’s coming out. “But she’s still the same person on the inside.”

Reaction from the community has been mixed as well, with Danielle receiving positive encouragement from some, but also a lot of vitriol.

“Since I decided to come out as transgender, many, many people in the area have treated me like I’m a leper,” Danielle said. “They have acted like I have something they can catch, and they want nothing to do with me. They have treated me as though I am less than human. Sadly, in my experience, most of these people are folks who go to church every week and say they are Christians. But Jesus Christ himself told us to, ‘judge not, lest you be judged,’ and ‘let him who is without sin throw the first stone.’”

She said the passing of North Carolina House Bill 2 made her afraid to use a public restroom by herself for fear of retaliation from others.

“It’s a terrible law,” Danielle said. “They should never have passed it.”

After dealing with the challenges of living as a transgendered individual, Danielle came to face another serious challenge after being diagnosed with cancer in 2016. Doctors removed a tumor from her bladder last October, and she was declared cancer-free until Deb found her unconscious at her home on Christmas Eve. After many tests at the hospital, doctors found Danielle had several brain tumors and a mass on her left lung.

Doctors operated on Danielle’s brain on Dec. 27, 2016, remove the largest of the brain tumors. She endured multiple radiation treatments on her brain from Jan. 18 to Feb. 12 of this year at the same time she received radiation to shrink the mass on her lung.

During her treatment, Danielle started coughing up blood, and it was discovered she had three blood clots in her lung. On Feb. 3, she had another surgery to install a mesh implant in her lung to prevent further clots.

Danielle is being cared for at Grace Heights while she battles her cancer. Both Deb and Danielle praised the staff at Grace Heights for going above and beyond the call of duty to try and make Danielle feel comfortable and at home.

Deb said staff members come in regularly to curl and style Danielle’s wigs, paint her nails and help her with makeup. They bring her food and beverages she likes and visit with her even when they’re off duty. They even let Danielle’s three beloved dogs come to visit her in her room.

As of Feb. 12, Danielle still has seven lung radiation treatments to go. Facing such a grave illness has given her a renewed purpose in life to share with others what the transgender experience is like and to help other transgender individuals who struggle to be accepted in today’s society.

“For me, being a transgender has nothing to do with sexuality,” Danielle said. “I am 65 years old and have never been on a date in my life. I have chosen to remain celibate. It’s not about your anatomy. It’s about how your brain is wired. It’s what’s between your ears that really matters.”

She urged people to be kind to transgender individuals, even if they don’t agree with their choice of lifestyle.

“Treat others as you would want to be treated and try not to judge them,” Danielle said. “People can’t help who they are. God created all of us. Sometimes people ask me if I hate myself because I am transgender. The answer is no. This is who I am. God made me, and God loves me – this I know.”

Tammie Gercken can be reached at tgercken@morganton.com.

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