December 8, 2016
By Kate Koenig
The mission of the “I am ____” Project is to open a window into the lives of trans individuals in order to promote awareness, education, and compassion through the medium of photography. Photography has often been used as a tool for education and awareness. While debates in politics and social matters don’t always change hearts or encourage the “other side” to reconsider their position, art can sometimes transcend those beliefs and bring about a new understanding. This project is my attempt to bridge the gap and open more hearts to transgender individuals.
The project is ongoing and I would love to continue expanding upon it. If you would like information about participating in the project or sponsoring the project to travel to more cities please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What was your most emotionally charged moment during your transition?
“The most emotionally charged instance relating to my transition was when I had to break the news to my aunt, because that didn’t go well at the start, and she still to this day will call me “her.” I would say it was the most emotionally charged when it came to that instance because she was like you can’t expect me, who has known you all these years to remember, and then my Grandma just pipes up from across the room, “I remember.” And my aunt just kind of stared dumbfounded and I could tell my dad was trying not to laugh. And that was just horribly awkward for me because I was this tiny teenager just asking to be accepted and unintentionally played into his aunt being shown up.
I mean that’s probably not the most emotionally charged but it’s what immediately comes to mind.
The other thing that immediately comes to mind is how I came out to my parents. I mean, I had come out twice before that, in a very like prime proper—I had a letter prepared—manner and it just didn’t take. It didn’t take. And the time after that I was like, “Now she’ll take me seriously!” That didn’t take. I had been home sick and I was just sitting on the chair in my house and my dad said something about finding a letter or something printed out and addressed to “he” or “mister” and I just broke down crying.”
So how has your family reacted to you in your transition in the beginning and now?
“In the beginning, it was very hard for my mother. It seemed that at first she was very much so of the belief that I was just a very butch girl and she kept saying to me when I cut my hair short or put on certain clothes that girls can do that, too. Like I didn’t know. But times have changed and she’s definitely become a lot more receptive. She and my sister are my largest allies in this. My dad struggles with it still a lot. He’ll say “she” and then go “he” and then go “they, them, all of them” as though I’m a commune, but I think he’s, he…I know he battles with the fact that he never got to raise a son and that’s something that he’s said more than once. And it’s hard for me to say that I would have liked to be raised as a son, too. So it’s opportunity that we both missed out on by a decade or so.”
Did anyone negatively impact you, treat you poorly, or make you feel bad while you started coming out or during your transition?
“Definitely. There was this one other trans guy who probably thought he was helping me by enforcing my pronouns in our theatre troupe. But I think that kind of catalyzed the whole school knowing before I was ready and I feel like that jumpstarted the bullying thing before I even had secure footing. I’m sure he meant well and at the time I wouldn’t have thought of it, but the more I looked back the more I’ve realized it.”
It set you up for a lot of issues because you weren’t in control of your own…
“Yeah it was like staging an attack on a hill that I hadn’t even climbed yet.”
What’s your favorite food, clothing, band, etc.?
“My favorite food is…it’s called sukiyaki, you have this bowl full of boiling hot broth and you put stuff in it to cook it and you take it out at your own time and you just eat it that way with the broth and it’s so good…my favorite band right now is either— I mean I want to say it’s Rise Against because that’s been my favorite band for years but I’m also getting really into a band called Chvrches….my favorite clothing. I like over jackets and little shirts that I can put over others shirts so that hopefully I can add enough shirts to become a ball of shirts.”
What makes you happy?
“What makes me happy…? I, you know when it comes down to it, I’m just a stereotypical teenager I like— a teenage boy rather— I love videogames, I really like dogs, animals in general, video games, food, movies. I also like drawing. Heaven knows, I’ve spent so many afternoons just lying in my bed listening to music.”
What is your greatest triumph or happiness in regards to your gender identity?
“I would say my greatest triumph actually hit the other day. Two weeks ago it was my birthday and of course I get cards from my family members. Most of them—I would get some from the aunt and uncle on the other side of my family. And they said things like nephew and the one from my grandmother said grandson, the ones from my parents said son, and the one from my sister said brother. It really secured it in me that this was finally happening. Like these weren’t cards I had to bury at the bottom of the drawer I never had to look at again. These were cards that I could keep on my desk. And that was just a big moment of….yeah *smiles*”
What was High School like for you?
“High School was, to put it in the simplest way, the hardest 4 years of my life. I really started to come out as trans in my sophomore year and wow…that did not go well. The instant I cut my hair short I just had all sorts of insults aimed at me. I hadn’t even started wearing a binder or anything yet and when I did start wearing the binder, it just got worse. I had threats shoved into my locker. Only after about a year of begging to be taken out was I finally taken out. The school just pretty much refused to do anything about the situation. Sometimes I look back and I ask myself, what would have happened if I had an easier time going through that? I still don’t know the answer.”
What are your dreams?
“I’ve held on to the dream from my childhood to become an animator and I know probably right now I am not at the skill level I need to pursue it even into college. So, I guess whether it’s through animation or through some other means, I just want to create a kind of space or at least a space in time where kids can feel happy and can feel safe. That’s what not enough children get or have an opportunity to get, whether it’s through a show they tune into at eight pm on Friday on Cartoon Network or it’s through sitting in an office in a school keeping my door open. I just want to make sure that somehow I make at least one kid happy.”
Would you say that the desire to do that, to reach out to kids, to be kind of a safe space, a happy space, is that at all influenced by how you were treated in your own school?
“Oh definitely, I mean because bullying runs rampant at schools. Even if schools say there’s zero tolerance, there’s not. There’s always some kind of loophole or some second clause that kids will find and take advantage of. I want to be there for all the kids who can’t find a way out and just needs someone to stand there with them. Because more than people are willing to admit even the kids who claim they like to be alone always need someone.”
Are you in School right now?
“I am currently between high school and college. I have no idea where I want to go for college. I definitely want to— I definitely want to go on testosterone and have my voice change so I’m just more respected in college because that’s what it’s always come down to for me. People believe I’m male until I’m talking.”
So you’re not on testosterone at this point?
“I am on a hormone blocker called Vantas. It cancels out any estrogen signals from my brain. The only thing that is very unfortunate is a lot of people are not ready to supply it to transgender teenagers, which in my situation, I had a medical situation, which meant I had more than the amount of estrogen I was supposed to have, so if I just started straight on testosterone, it wouldn’t have been effective. The issue is they do not readily give it to transgender teens. It is used to prevent early puberty.”
Was it hard for you to even get the hormone blockers?
“Oh yeah, it was a jungle gym. I could remember my mom, not yelling, but definitely getting close on calls with the insurance company. I know the procedure to get it a lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable with. It’s an implant. They have you awake in a room, and they just use general anesthesia, but they do cut into your muscle. I have a high pain tolerance so it didn’t bother me, but I know that with a lot of people they would panic just knowing they have to cut that deep and be awake. So that’s not managed well.”
Getting T would be the next step in where you want to go in your transition or is there something else that you wanted?
“Yeah, that is the next step I wanted to go. The woman managing my hormones, seems very hesitant to put me on testosterone, although I’ve stated, over and over that it is my goal. She seems to be very insistent that she wants to conduct a surgical procedure to go in and freeze my eggs. That is entirely unnecessary and I don’t want that. She seems to always circle back to that.”
Is that something that you’d even possibly want, to freeze your eggs?
“It’s not a concern of mine. I have repeatedly stated to her that it’s not a concern of mine. For some reason, I can’t shake that from her scope of focus.”
She thinks you’re going to regret it if you don’t do it?
“Yeah but, I’m like, I have a sister who will, I feel like if I ask for it, when we’re far enough down the line, that she’ll be okay and if not I can always adopt. I have no need for a flesh and blood child of my own. That and there is cloning…*laughs*”
What do you wish to change about how the world outside of the community sees transgender individuals?
“I really want them to know that being trans is not a problem. It is not a sickness. It’s not anything that shouldn’t be embraced and encouraged because there comes a time in every kid’s life when they want to change themselves, but there’s a difference between wanting to cut your hair and dye it purple and wanting to wear a binder and wanting to wear a dress or a skirt. People talk about now that “everyone is becoming transgender because it’s trendy.” No. They’ve been there throughout all of time, but now it’s becoming…its even just slightly more safe to be trans. So I want people to realize this isn’t some fad, this isn’t some sickness, it’s been there throughout all of time and the more we can embrace it, and the more we can learn to not fear it, the more we can move forward as a species.”
If you could go back to yourself as a child, what would you say?
“Actually that’s something I think about a lot because I kinda want to sit down in front of five year old me and be like, the next ten years are going to be really, really bad. And you might be saying to me now is there any way to avoid it. There isn’t really a way, but those ten years won’t be spent in vain. Those are ten years of hard work that you’re going to get through and you’re going to be happier because of it. Also I would say never grow your hair out. That was a bad decision. I mean even from a non-gender stand point I didn’t look good.”