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Vaysa Burton, 55, is a transgender woman living in Paducah.

Being Different

story by Tori Schneider

Vaysa has never met another transgender person in the city. She made the transition from male to female three years ago.

At 22, Vaysa moved to Paducah from Idaho. She no longer speaks to any of her family members, except for phone calls with her mother, who doesn't know about her daughter's gender transition.

Vaysa was married to a woman for 10 years.

"Even though I felt feminine on the inside, I still tried to be masculine on the outside," she says of her marriage.

In the 90s, Vaysa struggled with alcoholism and experimented with crack cocaine. That led to addiction, rehabilitation and eventual sobriety. After her divorce in 2012, she fell back into the cycle.

“Alcohol and crack cocaine was my mother, my wife, my best friend, and it was the only relationship that turned on me that tried to kill me," she says.

While addicted, Vaysa forged checks and was charged with a felony. She has been sober ever since her five-month jail sentence, and celebrated her three-year anniversary in August.

"Jail was the safest place for me to be," Vaysa says.

In Paducah, Vaysa is a bit of an outcast.

"I was always on the outside, because everyone knew I was different," Vaysa says about her life journey.

Sometimes she is harassed.

"I just shake it off like water off a duck's back," she says.

She has considered leaving Paducah but has stayed 33 years.

"Every time I had a chance to move, somebody or something was always put in my way to keep me here. So it's meant for me to be here. I would love to move to Florida or something, but no, it's meant for me to be here and I'm very happy," she says.

As a 12- or 13-year-old, Vaysa knew that she was born in the wrong body.

"Being transgender is not what's on the outside, it's what's on the inside," Vaysa says.


The estrogen that Vaysa takes helps to limit the hair that her body naturally produces, but she still needs to shave her chest, armpits, legs, and face. "I'm just like any other woman; I don't like body hair."


Because of the estrogen already in Vaysa's body, she has A-cup breasts. She uses prosthetics wrapped in socks to give her natural breasts lift every day.


Vaysa was raised in Grace, Idaho, by Mormon parents and is one of six children. When she was 22, she moved to Paducah.


Vaysa uses a landline telephone and Facebook to connect with others.


Vaysa doesn't have a car. She walks 1.8 miles each week day to get to Community Kitchen, a ministry that offers a free meal for lunch.


Vaysa has known Ike Erwin since before she came out as transgender. Ike is one of Vaysa's friends in the community.


Vaysa bought a wedding ring from a friend for $100 to wear "to keep the men away."


Crack cocaine and alcohol addictions have taken over Vaysa's life twice. She spends some of her time in bars in downtown Paducah where she has developed relationships with employees. They are aware of her past addictions and don't serve her alcohol.


Riding the bus or a bike and walking are Vaysa's main modes of transportation. She rides the bus across town to the Social Security office, only to learn it's closed.


Prescription drugs are a part of Vaysa's everyday life. She takes medications for depression, anxiety and hormone therapy.


Vaysa often spends her nights watching movies rented from the library and hanging out with her cats. She brews coffee at all hours of the day and sometimes falls asleep in her recliner with the TV still on.

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