Pride. It’s something I’ve struggled with in many ways throughout my life. I have never been a cookie-cutter-kid. I was born transgender in 1993. I grew up with learning disabilities, playing with Barbies, playing dress up, taking dance classes, idolizing pop icons and Disney princesses. In the 1990’s, this wasn’t tolerated for “little boys.” When I became cognizant of the outside world’s opinions of my natural feminine behaviors, I felt shame, guilt, and as if something was wrong with me. So, to say the least, I wasn’t always proud to be transgender. In fact, I once felt that being transgender was a curse; but now I know it’s a blessing. It’s my superpower.
When I transitioned at the age of 16, in 2009, most people still didn’t know what transgender was. People thought I was a cross-dresser (which is a different but valid identity) or that I was hiding that I was gay because it “would be easier to be a woman,” or that I wanted attention. As much as I love attention (and really, I do) I wouldn’t have wished this life on anyone, or at least that’s how I used to feel.
After I became the world’s first openly transgender prom queen, and after high school graduation, I decided to live my life stealth — meaning I didn’t plan on disclosing to anyone that I had transitioned. I had gender affirmation surgery after my freshman year of college, the morning after my 19th birthday. That’s when I felt like my life really began. I figured I would tell my fiancè someday, and somehow tell my children, but until then, live stealth. I had no idea that a new wave of the trans liberation movement was about to happen. Then Caitlyn Jenner came out, and the mainstream media began to discuss what transgender really is. I was only 21. I was shocked because I thought no one would ever see us as human, that I couldn’t come out, at least not until I was much older. It was then I knew I needed to help people better understand the truths about our gender identity, not the stigmatization and social constructs being placed on us by generations of ignorant, uneducated people.
I was afraid to be at my first Pride parade in 2015 in NYC with GO Mag’s very own Managing Editor, Dayna Troisi, and our college friends. I still didn’t want anyone to know about my past, and it was almost a year to the date before I came out publicly. I had just graduated, and those who lost their lives to the gun violence in Orlando were still alive and with their loved ones. It was a different world, to say the very least.
I worked a year after college in hospitality before coming out, never wanting anyone to know, but also not knowing what I was going to do with my life. I knew I didn’t like being a “worker bee” or someone else’s employee. I knew I was destined for something bigger. I just didn’t know how it would happen. But by being my own authentic self, taking a risk, by being selfless and wanting to help others, my life fell more into place.
I came out, or reintroduced myself rather, right after my 23rd birthday. The Pulse Nightclub shooting happened on June 12th and made a significant impact on me. I decided to take the first chapter of my book I was writing at the time, and combine it with my online Squarespace modeling portfolio I was creating. On June 28th 2016, I published my first blog post, “Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself.” With a share on Facebook, my world changed. I came out to everyone I had ever met after high school, lovers and friends included, and the role of activist and writer was thrust upon me. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Over the last five years, I’ve been on a journey to not only help others accept transgender people, but to accept myself. I used to question, “Why me, why did I have to be born this way?” (because I was in fact born this way — it is not a choice). Then I realized, I wasn’t trapped in the wrong body. We are in the right body at the right time; it’s the rest of the world that needs to shift its perspective on constructs surrounding identity.
I was once told by a college professor, before publicly coming out, that trans people would hate me for my passing privilege, and that I shouldn’t tell anyone. Luckily, when I came out, it was the opposite. Elders thanked me for doing what they felt ashamed or afraid to do, and the younger generations for allowing them to discover who they truly are through my writing, public speaking, modeling, and social media channels. I’ve worked hard to meet trans people, and connect with them and help them the best I can. And through finally allowing myself to assimilate into the community, I’ve found joy and happiness in ways I didn’t know were possible for “someone like me.”
I am incredibly proud of who I am and how I got here. I may have been misunderstood my entire life but now I get to help people understand me, and therefore help people better understand those who came before me, those who have already come after me, and those who are to come down the road.
What keeps me going is knowing that people need people like me. People who are proud and are willing to help others and inspire them to be their best selves and live their best lives.
Pride means that you can own who you are, all of you, and live your truth out loud. That you are proud of who you are, where you are now, where you’ve been, and where you hope to go. Proud of your body, however you were born into it. Proud of who you love, what you identify as, and how you live your life. I chose to leave my dream-stealth life behind because I knew the world needed people to help them see and treat trans people differently. That’s why I can feel comfortable saying I know what true pride is.