Former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar Gabbi Tuft said she left the house and walked with her “head up high” for the first time Thursday, after she came out as transgender.
She cried when she recalled the moment. “I felt so happy,” she told NBC News. “My hair wasn’t in my face, and I wasn’t clenching my fists and hiding my nails. It just felt so amazing.”
Tuft officially announced the news on social media Thursday. In an Instagram photo, she sat alongside an image of herself prior to her transition. “This is me,” she wrote in the caption. “Unashamed, unabashedly me. This is the side of me that has hidden in the shadows, afraid and fearful of what the world would think; afraid of what my family, friends, and followers would say or do.”
“I am no longer afraid and I am no longer fearful,” she wrote. “I can now say with confidence, that I love myself for WHO I am.”
Tuft wrestled professionally from 2007 to 2014, and appeared in WWE shows “Superstars,” “Raw,” “SmackDown” and “WrestleMania.”She retired from wrestling to spend more time with her wife, Priscilla, and their daughter, and began a career as a fitness coach and motivational speaker, according to a press releaseannouncing Tuft’s coming out.
But behind all of her career success, Tuft said, her mental health suffered. “The previous eight months have been some of the darkest of my entire life,” she wrote in her coming-out post.
“The pain was overwhelming,” she told NBC News, adding that she struggled with suicidal ideation. “I was that person that was always preaching, ‘Never care what people think, go be yourself,’” she said. “Then when it came to be my turn, it was so much more difficult than I ever imagined.”
Eventually, with her wife’s support, she began the process of coming out. She started a “countdown” on Instagram 10 days before her official announcement. Now, she’s inviting her social media followers to ask questions and has promised to be “transparent” about the entire process. With the help of her wife, she has also started a podcast about her transition called “Her.”
Tuft said her process shows that coming out is different for everyone.
“I don’t ever want anyone to think that the way I did it is the way that everyone should do it,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a blueprint for this.”
She said she wants to be open about her transition to help create awareness and understanding. For example, though many transgender people do not want others to use their previous name, also known as their “deadname,” after they come out, Tuft said she isn’t offended by it. The press release announcing her coming out includes both her former name, Gabe, and her WWE stage name, Tyler Reks.
“The rest of the world is transitioning, too, it’s not just me,” she said. “I can’t expect an overnight change from everyone.”
Tuft acknowledged that though her Instagram announcement showed a photo of herself prior to her transition, that’s not something all trans people are comfortable with.
“There’s a lot of people out there that may feel differently about their past,” she said. “They may not embrace the past, because it’s been so painful for them. But I wanted the world to know that I loved who I was — but I love even more who I am today.”
It’s not her job to change people’s minds, she said, but she hopes that by being transparent and sharing her story, people will relate to her and public acceptance for trans people will grow.
“All I want to do is create empathy and maybe through empathy, we can gain some understanding, and we can reduce the amount of fear and then slowly make a change,” Tuft said. “I think the more relatable that I am, the more that we can create that empathy and build a relationship with people that are watching so that they know they’re not alone.”
Since coming out, she said, she’s been surprised by the overwhelming amount of support: Neighbors have knocked on her door to drop off flowers, and she’s received thousands of messages and comments on social media. “It tells me that there is so much love in this world still,” she said.
She said she’s also surprised by the extent of the joy she feels. “I never expected to have an ear-to-ear smile for the last 24 hours, but I can’t get the smile off my face,” she said. “It’s from the heart, and it’s from the soul, and I never expected to feel this elated.”