Speaker Paul Ryan former election challenger undergoes gender-transition process

Posted at 10:22 PM, Jun 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-26 23:22:58-04

Ryan Solen ran for Congress in November, challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan. Solen lost that race, but recently won a much more personal battle.

Ryan Solen is now Rebecca Solen. Two months after the election, she started going through the gender-transition process.

"I didn't tell anyone," Rebecca said. "I kept this a secret for all these years, until I couldn't keep it anymore."

Ryan legally changed his name to Rebecca after telling his wife of 17 years that he identifies as a woman. Something he's known, but suppressed, since childhood. His wife embraced it.

"She loves me for who I am on the inside," Rebecca said. "It's amazing to have her support."

Then Rebecca told their four kids, who range in age from six to 14.

"I sat each one of them down, one by one, to see how they felt, if they had any questions," Rebecca said. "It turns out they were very supportive. I think for them, they just want me to be happy, and to be who I am. I have gotten some interesting glances from other kids and parents when I pick them up for school, and that's okay."

But, why not keep the transition private?

"That doesn't help the cause," Rebecca said. "That doesn't help anybody. All that does is help me. I think there's a lot more people who do need to see the more normal side of who we are. Transgender people are normal people, who just want to live normal lives."

Rebecca first went public on Facebook.

"I still have a lot of people that I met on the campaign trail that are still interested in some of the things that I have to say, and I saw it as an opportunity to become an advocate,” she said. “There is so much work to be done. Like adding gender identity to non-discrimination clauses. Right now, we don't see a lot of that. Many states don't have any protections."

So will she run for public office again?

"I will not run in 2018," she said. "I need to focus on my family and on myself right now. But that doesn't rule out a possible future run, as Rebecca."

Rebecca went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is an army veteran. She works for SC Johnson, which has embraced her transition. Rebecca grew up Mormon, and contemplated suicide because of the way she felt. But now, after seeking therapy and coming out as a woman, she feels like a weight has been lifted.