When I was two, I asked my mom for a Cinderella dress and Barbie dolls and she gave them to me, no questions asked. That was just the beginning of me expressing my femininity and my mom was my biggest supporter. When I was in elementary school, parents and students alike thought my feminine energy and natural gravitation toward all things “girly” were odd. Was I gay? No, but that’s what they all assumed. By the time I started middle school, after learning what gay was, I knew that wasn’t how I identified. I didn’t feel like a “boy who likes boys.” I felt like a girl, and I started praying every night to wake up as one.
I didn’t grow up with Trans Awareness Week, or any trans representation, and I felt alone despite my mom’s support. I felt like there would be no one else in the entire world who could understand how I felt. Little did I know there were people who knew the pain I was going through.
In 2006, during a boring middle school career day, I was flipping through a People Magazine when I saw it: “Transgender… trapped in the wrong body.” The article was about a trans teenage boy, and it changed my life forever. I took the magazine home and read it over and over for two weeks. I showed it to my mom, asking her if trans was “real, or is this girl covering up for being a lesbian by saying she’s a boy?” My mom, the angel that she is, said, “No, this is something very real.” I’d later learn that she already felt I was trans but didn’t want to force anything on me, and wanted me to come to that on my own terms. A few days later I told her I that I was transgender, that I wanted to be a girl, and that I wanted to start high school as one. At the time, no doctors or therapists would take on a child, and so I began high school continuing to present in my male body. My light started to dim, and my soul became sadder by the day. I felt isolated, uncomfortable, unsure if I could ever be happy in my body.
Eventually, in November 2009, my Mom asked if I wanted to start wearing her clothes to school. I, of course, said, “Yes!”
A few months later we finally found a therapist who would see me. One session was all it took for her to state that transitioning was my best option for a happy life. I soon got on hormone blockers, so I could make an educated decision about my own body — whether or not I wanted to move forward with female hormones in a year, or get off the blockers and continue with male puberty — but I knew that was never going to happen. In May of 2010, I was crowned the world’s first transgender prom queen, and a year later I graduated high school and was off to college. I made a firm decision to live stealth out of concern for my safety, and desire to be treated like every other girl my age.
Fast forward to June 2016, post-gender affirming surgery, post-college graduation, post- Caitlyn Jenner coming out and opening up the conversation of being transgender in the mainstream media (the only thing we can thank her for). Now, in the real world, working at a job I hated, I had another decision to make: Did I continue living stealth or come out publicly and show the world trans people can be loved and supported, beautiful and intelligent, strong and feminine? I did the latter through my first blog post titled, “Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself.” Just like that, I was thrust into the role of an activist, model, and writer representing the trans community. I went from having no representation, no understanding, no one knowing my secret, to being a role model for so many generations of trans individuals.
To say the very least, it was and still is a lot of pressure. Thankfully, there are so many trans people that have now transitioned and made careers out of being activists and role models for the community. Today, we have access to information and supportive communities, and more education regarding what it means to be trans. I didn‘t have that, and it caused me a lot of stress, sadness, and strain. I always felt misunderstood, and I don’t want anyone, trans or cis, to feel that way.
If I hadn’t had my Mom, my therapist, or my support systems, my sadness might not have ever ended. I was blessed and privileged to have that support, which was, at the time, unheard of. The deaths of so many transgender people indicates how much pain remains out there, and how much our community is still misunderstood all these years later.
There is a lot of pain that goes unmeasured but I was lucky enough that my Mom had the insight to see I needed some sort of change in my life. That’s why it’s so important that we all participate in trans awareness week. So that one day, the misunderstanding, the loneliness won’t happen to the generations to come. So that our community won’t have to live in fear, wondering who’s next to be brutally murdered, so we won’t need a day of visibility for the lives we’ve tragically lost.
If we all could tell one person about the importance of lifting us up, educate one person about our lives, we can humanize our community and accomplish global awareness. In order to get even close to making that our reality, the general public needs to learn why it’s important to participate in Transgender Awareness Week. A good first step? Finding a reason to care about the topic, if being a good person isn’t enough. You may already know and care for someone who is transgender like me and might not even know it. In an ideal world, everyone would accept, celebrate, protect, respect, and support transgender lives, just like my mom did for me.