Members of the transgender community share their stories, in honor of Transgender Awareness Month and Transgender Day of Remembrance.
I can remember from a young age that I didn’t feel how the other kids did. I wanted to wear boy clothes, do boy stuff and look like a boy. I never thought this was normal from a young age, so I repressed these thoughts and feelings for a long time. As I got older, it got harder and harder to push these feelings away. When I graduated high school and started college, I began to discover a new world in regards to the queer community. I knew what transgender meant but I always had misinformation about it. As I got older, I realized that I was, in fact, transgender. In September of 2016, I had an eye opening experience where I realized I wanted to transition, and I did. I was so nervous to tell all my friends and family, but I knew it was something I needed to do for my own sanity and wellbeing. All of my friends were accepting and loving about my coming out. I started off slow, telling my closest friends. I was really nervous to tell my parents, because I didn’t know how they would react. I called my mom and just started crying and told her I wanted to live my life as a man. She told me she didn’t completely understand, but told me, “I don’t care if you’re purple, I’ll still love you either way.” I told my father shortly after, and his reaction was much different. He was confused and felt like he was losing his daughter. It was difficult for us both, but someone told me that your family transitions with you, and that reminded me to stay patient with my parents. I’ve had a fortunate transition, and most of the people in my life have been very accepting and loving. I’ve been on hormones since 2016, and I’ve never felt happier with my appearance. I’m so happy that the person I always imagined myself to be is finally a reality. If my transition can have any impact on others, I hope it allows others to realize they too can live their life as genuinely as they possibly can.
I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, originally in the Southend until I was three, and then we moved to the North Linden area. My parents were Italian, Hungarian and strict Catholics. I was always very religious. I think mostly because the only one I could talk to was God. When I was four years old, I realized I was different. I can remember people always asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I always wanted to say, “A girl!” I knew I couldn’t because boys aren’t supposed to want to be a girl, are they? I was born in 1951; in those days, things like that couldn’t be discussed. So this is why I prayed a lot. I didn’t know why I had those strong feelings, but I was smart enough to not tell anyone, for fear of being put away in the “loony bin.”
When I was 19, I moved to California. I was running away and starting a whole new life, and boy, did I. I stayed with my cousin, Clarice, and her husband, Art. They knew I was very naive. Art said, “California is very different here. Be careful. A lot of people do drugs and a lot of people are gay.” I thought to myself, “I’m sure they are happy and gay if they’re on drugs.” I had no idea what that gay was, until six months later.
I worked in a Denny’s. One day, one of the regulars, Nina, said, “What are you doing when you get off work?” I had no plans. I knew no one expect my cousins and some of their friends. Nina said, “Go to a party with me!” So, I did. I loved to drink, so a party was right up my alley. And what a party it was! I experienced smoking my first joint, later to find out it was laced with angel dust.
Later on, Nina said, “Come on. Let’s go see a show.” So we did, but not a picture show as I thought, even though it turned out to be a great show. We walked into this nightclub. I first thought, “I should have dressed better for this.” On stage was Marilyn Monroe (or not). Then the next performer was Judy Garland. “Wait,” I said to myself. “This is 1971 and they’re dead.” Then came out Diana Ross. I looked at Nina and said, “Where are we and why?” Nina said, “They are guys who dress as women and perform. Just like you want to.”
“How did you know?” I asked. She said, “I just sensed it in you.” Nina then said, “Well, am I right?” Of course, she was. I went back stage that night and met the performers. We hung around for months together, shopping, rehearsals, etc. Sugar Kay, who looked so real, was on hormones. This is when I learned a lot about gay life and people loving, working together, and of course, a lot of partying.
I moved back to Columbus when I was 20. I didn’t know where the gay bars were, but I eventually found them and so many of my dead friends I still have today. I met Georgia Jackson, Charlotte Parr and Brand LaMonte. We were thick as thieves. We started the first show bar at the corner of Gay and High, called Vic’s Hideaway. After the show, we waited tables. This was a straight bar. Drag was illegal! But we did it anyway.
Hearing so much hate lately, it’s easy to start believing the bad. To start believing that – in some way – I’m bad. That my identity is wrong and no matter what I do, I will never be the man I feel like. And in some ways, that’s right. I will never be a man exactly like cis men. I will probably never have bottom surgery and my chest will have scars on it and I will take weekly shots for the rest of my life.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not exactly who I say I am. I am a brother, a son, a grandson, a coworker, a friend. I am my own unique version of whatever gender I want to be, and no one can ever take that away. So, with all the hate recently, just remember: you are exactly who you say you are. No one’s opinion can ever change that.
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