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 katekoenigphotography@gmail.com.

 

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

 

   How do you imagine your future?

Ideally, I would like to become an endocrinologist and work with other trans people. I know going to the doctor for gender related things can be uncomfortable, and I think that it would make my patients much more comfortable to know that I went through the same or similar things. If becoming an endocrinologist doesn’t work out, I plan on becoming a psychologist and helping other trans people in that way.

What was your childhood like? Happy, sad, good, bad?

I honestly have no complaints with my childhood. My parents were great. They always tried to make sure I was as happy as possible. They also tried to make sure I was well educated. They had me doing multiplication flashcards and reading before I was even in kindergarten. They also made sure I was placed into classes that matched my intelligence level once I got into middle school.

What were your middle school years like?

The middle school years were probably the worst years of my life. Before going into first grade, my family had moved. First through fifth grade I refer to as the silent years because I pretty much didn’t talk to anyone and I felt very isolated. This lead to me not having many friends when middle school started. During middle school I was very angry. Puberty had hit me very quickly and I felt uncomfortable immediately. It was also when I figured out that I was attracted to girls, which lead to even more turmoil within myself.

What was high school like for you?

High school was much better than middle school for me. I spent first through eighth grade with the same people, so I was pretty tired of most of them by the time it was over. High school provided me with a great opportunity to reinvent myself. I joined the GSA at my school and felt like I fit in much better. Halfway through junior year I figured out that I was transgender. Thankfully, I had built up a good friend group and everyone was very accepting. I honestly don’t think I had a single person in high school harass me about it, at least to my face. I also had a lot of wonderful teachers who were supportive, so when I publicly transitioned my senior year it was much easier for me.

Have you used Ace Bandages to bind? What was it like? What did you use after it, if you used something else?

I used Ace Bandages to bind during the beginning of my transition. It was terrible. I could barely get through a school day because of the pain. I had to readjust the wrap halfway through the school day to make it a little more comfortable. I invested in a binder from Underworks very quickly and it was much better. I didn’t have to adjust it and it wasn’t nearly as painful. Unfortunately, due to wearing binders too much, my ribs ended up warping and becoming bruised. They were very painful for a while.

 If you didn’t/weren’t able to have access to hormones and Trans related care what do you think you would be doing?

I would probably be too depressed to do anything productive.

What was the hardest part of your transition?

The hardest part of my transition was between when I came out and when I started hormones. It was really hard for my parents to understand and it took them a while to come around. Thankfully we found a therapist who was willing to work with us through it and they eventually came to accept it.

How were your emotions and general well-being before HRT and after HRT? 

Before I started T I was very angry and depressed. I felt like even when I was happy, I still wasn’t truly happy. After I started T, my emotions leveled out in a way that I thought was impossible without anti-depressants. My depression eased up a lot. It was surprising to me that my anger went away too. I feel like it’s always emphasized that guys are angry because of their testosterone, but I’ve felt so much calmer since I started T.

 What is one thing (or several things) you want someone to understand about your identity?

The only thing I want someone to understand about my identity is that it is not my only characteristic. It is a part of me, but it is not all of me. I consider myself a person first.

What is your relationship with your family?

It’s great. Since I’m an only child, I’ve always considered my cousins to be like siblings to me. I always used to play more with my guy cousins, and they recently told me that they’d always thought of me as one of the guys. None of my family members have treated me poorly for it at all. I’m very thankful every day for how wonderful they’ve all been.

Did anyone negatively impact you, treat you, or make you feel bad about yourself  before / during your transition?

One of the first people I came out to told me that I was confused and just felt the way I did because of the media. I was really hurt by that because up until that point, I was fairly close with this person. I also had no idea what they were talking about because up until that point, the only trans person in the media was Chaz Bono. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but I didn’t really look to him as a role model back then. I guess in the end, that person was half right. I am still confused about their reaction.

What do you do in your free time?

I spend a lot of time playing video games and watching South Park.

 What makes you happy?

Good food, good company, and spending time with family. I like hanging out with my girlfriend. Being around cats makes me happy. I really like cats.
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How did you come up with Steve?

The name was a long process. I’m not good with change, especially with things that involve me hearing them every day. I tried out the name Clive for a while, but a week later I decided it wasn’t good for me. I was okay with my birth name, but it felt wrong because my parents intended for it to be for a daughter.
I actually asked my parents before I came out what they would have named me and they said Steve.
There were some real doosies in the running.

What are your hobbies? 

I work on independent Art, comic making, I used to play piano and I want to get back into it. I run when I have the motivation to and I want to get into weight lifting.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?

Five years is hard to think about because I’m not sure if I’m going to grad school yet. In ten years I’m hoping to be writing for a living. Transition wise in five years I hope to be at least started on hormones. In ten years, reaching a point where I feel happy and comfortable with everything.

What kinds of things do you see yourself writing?

I’m interested in writing novels and short stories. I’m very interested in what makes us human, morality, things like that. I want to bring in fantasy elements to help portray that.
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What would you like to see happen in the LGBT community/Trans community?

I don’t like how it tries to isolate itself.
I don’t like that a lot of people in the community attack cis, straight people. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to dehumanizing them. I don’t like how the community splits itself too.
It honestly bothers me that the community is so militant. I think people that have experienced trauma shouldn’t be negated because of it. There are asexual people who have been assaulted, and that’s why they’re asexual, but that doesn’t mean they are less valid.
I hope the LGBT community gets itself to a point where it is compassionate. I also hope it becomes less materialistic. I had a friend who was upset about all of the nudity at a pride event because there were children there. The community can be either positive or very nihilistic and negative.


How has your gender identity changed you, how has it not?

I like to think it hasn’t. I think once you realize things I think you start to overcompensate. When I was first figuring things out, I started acting like a loud obnoxious jerk. I like hanging out with testosterone-fueled dude bros. I think they’re weirdly mellow for how aggressive they are.
As far as how it has changed me, I think it’s been more of a responsibility. I had a conversation with my sister and she said what is being the gender if it isn’t this. Since then, I’ve tried to be more stoic. But in terms of personality, I don’t think it’s really changed me that much.

Do you have a significant other? How do they identify? Were you dating before you began your transition? How did they take it?  If not, how did the conversation go when you told them?

Yes, Leo. He is a Trans man. We were not dating, but we knew each other. We started our transitions pretty much around the same time.
Before Leo I dated someone else. She lived in Canada. She’s three years older. I was seventeen and she was twenty. The age was the issue. She needed different things from the relationship. She was fine with the transition.
With Leo, we’re both okay with waiting for in person contact.

When did you first hear the word ‘Transgender’? 

I’m not sure about the word, but I knew the topic. My friend in high school sophomore year, he didn’t really come out, he just made a new facebook and friended me. I said, “I didn’t know you had a brother!” It was about half a year after that that I figured it out about myself. It took a few conversations with [him] to understand him and what it meant to be trans.

Do you bind and if so, what was the process of binding like?

Yes. I think when I was first starting, I was very exact about it because I’d heard all of the dangers about it. I would put it on at seven am and would take it off after school which ended up being about eight hours. With the dorm situation, I’ve been more stressed. I’ve ended up wearing sweatshirts a lot. I never used ace bandages. I just got exercise binders, which I’m really excited about using. I used to wear three sports bras and I couldn’t really breathe

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”. And 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 this tiny teenager just asking to be accepted and unintentionally plays 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 she’d say girls can do that too. Like I didn’t know. But times have changed and she’s definitely become a lot more receptive. And 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, 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 laying 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 variety of insults aimed at me. I hadn’t even start 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 would have had an easier time going through that and 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 like whether it’s through a show they tune into 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 that 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 effectual. 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. Like 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 where 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 that 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 her 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 mean. 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.

What do you do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

My free time right now is all of my time because I’m on medical leave from another surgery. I’ve had three surgeries this year. It’s been a rough year. So I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix, which is very sad. But normally I think I’d use my free time—I love reading nonfiction whether its theology or things on North Korea. I know it’s very strange. I travelled to North Korea I’m very passionate about the human rights crisis over there. So I just read up whatever I can on that and theology.

So you’ve been to North Korea?

I have. I went on a bike trip there.

What was that experience like? 

Oh it was amazing. It was well before I ever came out. So I don’t know what their reactions would be, but it was amazing. It was…I hate using the phrase once in a life time because I want to go back, but it was incredible. Electricity is very scarce over there so we were in a park and it was a national holiday so no one had to work and there were just all these people in the park and they wanted to dance so people just started singing and making beats. That was it. There was no radio, no electricity, nothing, and then they pulled me in and we all were dancing. And that’s what we did. It’s very simple. When they want to have fun they can. It was crazy awesome.

How do you imagine your future?

I have different versions. The good version is I’m just a random guy, I have a job, or actually, ideally, I’d be the stay at home dad. I never believed I’d say that. I never wanted kids. I like cooking now. I was never like that, no. It’s way more fun than having a job, just being normal, a normal life. No one ever trying to deadname me or misgender me. That’s one option.
The other option is terrifying. That’s more of the I’ll never find a job. People keep finding out. I keep getting outed all the time. I don’t know if I want to be stealth or not, but I want it to be my choice not someone else’s choice for me. Being tied to here, not being able to go anywhere else, just because it’s not going to be safe somewhere else. I guess just kinda living in fear is the other option.

So you said you never thought you’d want to be a stay at home dad, so has your transition affected your ideas of parenthood, did it make you want to have kids, or? 

Well, we started talking about wanting to have kids a year and a half ago so it’s before the transition, but I think at that point we were both a little bit older and like, we can do this. Ideally we want to foster and then wind up adopting. I call it right to own, which is a terrible joke, I know. I’d never say that to the social worker. As a kid, I always identified with teenagers, whether I was like a baby all the way up to thirty-six, I just loved teens. I would love to adopt a teenager, they don’t get adopted, they’re the hardest to place. They need the most love. I would love to do that. I keep on trying to go back to school and it keeps on not working. I keep on having to drop out because I need another surgery so might as well be a stay at home dad. The transition made me feel okay with being a stay at home person. Before I’d be like, no I want to work. It was more oh, you can stay at home— the traditional gender roles. Now, I’d be seen as a guy so it’s okay to stay at home and be nurturing because physically I look like the guy that I am. That’s where the difference came from.

What made you want to adopt, would you ever want to have a biological child?

I’ve never had any desire for a biological kid. Being that our parts don’t work together to do it for free, might as well do the fostering which could then lead to an adoption.

How has coming out affected you?

It’s been kind of strange. Like I was in the automotive field before coming out and then I ended up having some medical back surgeries and things and I found myself working for Starbucks. I have found that I don’t want to go back and buy parts even though I can get a good discount because they gossip and they’re jerks and I don’t want them to know anything about me. I had a really good, strong mechanic friend, he did all my work super cheap. I’m now paying Jiffy lube five times the amount and I know that it’s done wrong, but it’s just cause I just don’t want to deal with it. So there are certain things that I’ve just been avoiding just because I’ve come out.

In other aspects it’s been really great. My family really surprised me. Every single one of them. And then I feel bad saying they surprised me. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, I guess. They’ve all been super supportive. My wife is the one who had the hardest time. She’s totally on board with it and is a major ally of the community itself. It’s just been really great. My church did a naming ceremony for me. It’s just been a really beautiful experience.

Do you have siblings and how have your parents taken the transition?

I do have a sister. It’s a little complicated with her just because she has three young girls. So she was like I don’t know if they can handle this and I was like dude its fine. The oldest one is crazy smart she’ll just be like ‘oh, okay fine’ and move on. The other one loves thinking and analyzing so she’ll be fine. And the other one is so young, I don’t think it’ll matter. Ever since they could talk, they would ask me if I was a boy or a girl. So it’s like dude they get that something’s wrong. Just tell them I’m a boy its fine. It’s done. The dynamics are a little weird. I’m a little concerned about tomorrow, but anyway yeah. She lives in the city so I’ll be having thanksgiving with her. She said she’s okay and she seems okay. It’s just slightly awkward.

Awkward so it’s not so much a pushback, just more getting used to?

Yeah, it’s still new to them like I told my sister in September. My mom she has known for a while. She has actually asked me if I was in the winter and I hadn’t really fully, like I hadn’t even started talking to Kelly about testosterone at that point but my mom called me up and she was like, ‘I saw the Bruce Jenner Interview and it made me think about you a lot.’ I was like, ‘Oh, what do you mean?’ I’m like panicking and she was like, ‘you are aren’t you?’ and I was like yeah and she was like alright and that was it. And my dad, I actually just told him a week ago. When I was 18 I got kicked out of the house because he thought I was gay. He thought I was gay. Like it was ‘you’re going to Kansas, you’re going to do this reparative therapy, this live in program.’ All these kinds of crazy. So I was like oh, this isn’t going to go well. So when I called him and I told him he apologized to me for behaving in such a way that I would be scared to tell him. He was like, ‘well I guess I got a son now.’ And that was it. The next day he texted me saying, ‘Hey good morning, Oliver.’ Like just getting used to saying my new name.

Did you go to any camps then when you were younger, like conversion camps?

Not when I was younger. So, I got kicked out when I was 18. I decided I was just going to live with my sister who was like alright, whatever you just have to go to church. Like that was her thing. Whatever, she’s older. Then, I just decided I wasn’t going to date anyone at all. So for ten years from the time I was eighteen until—actually thirty-two—I never dated. I just can’t do this. It’s wrong. Then when I moved out here. I was like uh, I still really like chicks. I decided to do reparative therapy on my own. I found a Christian counselor. Paid him thousands and thousands of dollars. Nothing worked. Then I did this program that was sponsored through a church. It was awful. It actually had me on the brink of suicide. It was so messed up. I’ve been through all of that. And I still like chicks and now I’m a dude so. Reparative therapy really works. —That was sarcasm, make sure that’s noted. (Sarcasm noted)

If you have a faith community, how have they reacted, received you? Do you still feel welcome (before vs. after) and any experiences with faith in general. 

I have—my whole life has been about Christianity. My mom was a Sunday school teacher, my dad was a deacon. We were raised in Pentecostal and Baptist churches. And I tried getting away from it in my late teens and I just felt like something was missing, so I kept going back to it. And when I moved from New England, which is where I had been living –I’ve lived everywhere-, so when I moved out to Chicago, I found one church which I thought was going to be great. Like they seemed a lot more open than the previous ones, but then, when I was like no I’m going to start dating women, they said well you can’t serve in any capacity. And that just rubbed me the wrong way. I had been a youth group leader for ten years. I’m not gonna turn any kids gay, its fine. So I ended up leaving that church and finding another church, who is super inclusive, awesome, love them all. And when I told the pastor I was trans, she was like, hey we should do a naming ceremony for you. That way the congregation knows that that’s no longer your name and your new name is Oliver and we’ll reintroduce you to God as that name so God only knows you through that name. And it was just really beautiful and I’m just so touched that it was my pastor’s idea. She advocated for her congregation. Yeah, I don’t know what I’d do without that church. They’ve been awesome.

So your faith is something important to you. 

For sure. For the longest time, I wanted to be a pastor and my mom was like, oh no, only boys can be pastors. Then I was like, ‘alright can I be a mechanic?’ No, only boys can be a mechanic. So I of course went to school and got my automotive degree. Was a mechanic until I blew out my back and now I’m planning—I’m torn I’m not sure if I wanna get a master of theological studies or an accounting degree. The accounting degree would be way more useful but theology is just what I love.

What was your Childhood like? How would you describe it?

You know, I really don’t remember a lot of the childhood part itself. My teen years were absolutely horrendous. Some really bad stuff happened, which I’m actually still getting therapy for that. But like my childhood years? I only remember from what pictures I’ve seen. I was adorable with ponytails. But the things I remember were that I would rebel with toys. I would always want the firetruck and the G.I Joes, which is so stereotypical, it’s terrible, but it’s what I wanted and my mom would always be like no, no, no, you can’t play with that. I would then turn my Barbies and whatever girlie stuff she had into Army Men. I remember on one of my stuffed animals I actually wrote like C Dog across it. I was like oh, yeah you’re in the navy, you’re this. It’s weird imagination trying to make it work for me.

Did you rebel against things stereotypically girlie?

Oh yeah, my punishments would be that I would have to wear a dress. My mom knew. She would spank me, she’d ground me, and I’d be whatever. And my mom would be like, okay you have to wear this dress. So I knew to stay in line. It got to a point in high school where she’d take away my flannels. So then she’d make me wear her clothes. I was not popular in high school.

What are your fears?

Living where I am, I feel really safe. We’re a mile outside of the city, super inclusive church, everything. I feel really comfortable. When I go to my wife’s family in the suburbs, terrified. I will not drink. Because I don’t want to have to go to the bathroom, like stop off on a road trip. None of it. It scares me. Until I’m more passable, I think I’m always going to have fear. Safety is…it’s not too much of a concern when I’m here, especially when there’s always a Starbucks around because they have single stall bathrooms so it’s fine. Even before I came out as Trans, if I was in the women’s bathroom, people always did a double take. I just have that presence. So I know I’m not good in women’s bathrooms and I’m a little nervous in the men’s bathroom. So I just don’t drink liquid when I’m outside of the city. Then I always have this fear, what if this is as far as the T can take me, what if I can’t pass, what if my voice doesn’t drop more, what if I’m not going to be able to afford top surgery, what if my wife is like, “You know what I thought I was good with this, I’m not now”. There are a lot of what-ifs. Thanks for bringing that up *laughs*

You were in a relationship, you were married before coming out, how did you go about coming out to your wife, how did that process go? Nerves before…?

It was a very long like it wasn’t a one-time thing. Like I started going back to school and one of the classes I had was into to social justice and I had to do this introspective project. And so it started really talking about gender. So I started off just being like, I’m just genderqueer. I just avoid the binary. That’s how it started and she was like yeah, okay that’s cool. And the more I thought about it the more I was like, I’m trans. I’m a dude. So I would just talk about it. We’d watch a couple random documentaries—“random”. And then we would talk a little bit more and she would give a little push back so I would ease up. It was probably about a yearish total until it was like, no this is it. But by that point she had really processed a lot. And when she got comfortable then I started talking about testosterone and that took a little more time. It was long and I knew I wasn’t going to move forward until she was comfortable because my relationship with her is super important, but I knew eventually she’d be okay with it. So I was okay giving it time because I knew her and I knew it would work out alright.

What do you identify as, what does your wife identify as?

For the longest time my wife identified as a hardcore lesbian-not hardcore-just lesbian. Now she calls herself pansexual. She’s like you know what I—she realized she, herself, had some internalized biphobia she had to deal with. And now she’s like I really don’t care what anyone calls me I just know that I’m happy. So it’s good. As for me, I’m a straight dude.

You went from identifying as...?

See, that’s the thing. I never identified as a lesbian. I just knew that the word didn’t work for me and I couldn’t figure out why and now I get it. I just knew that I was into chicks and only chicks, but I don’t do the lesbian word.

What was it like before HRT and after HRT?

Before there was just so much anxiety. It was really, really hard. One of my biggest causes of dysphoria I think is my voice. My first job was in retail, and I remember I worked for fashion bug and I called it my fashion bug voice like answering the phone was like even higher pitched than normal. It was just super perky. Everything had that upswing and like being in retail that’s just my natural go to voice. So hearing my voice, there was just no way I was ever going to be taken seriously. And I would hear also my name—my deadname as I call it—I would hear that over and over and over again at the one job that I worked because they would page me nonstop. And that caused a lot of anxiety like I would just have panic attacks going into work because I just knew my voice would give me a way, obviously my name would give me away. And then once I started on T, my voice actually started dropping within a week. I was like huh, that’s nice. I talked to my mom on the phone and she’s like, ‘do you have a cold?’ I was like oh, this is gonna be great. So I’m trying to learn to speak lower and have a little bit more of a gruff look and that’s been helping. My anxiety has really dropped a lot just from the voice alone and then also changing my name as well.

Have you found that being on hormones- how emotionally do you feel? You touched on the anxiety.

You know, I think I feel more even keel now. I had a hysterectomy not for trans purposes just cause it was jacked. Like when it sends you to the ER and you have to leave work cause you got issues— It was jacked. I started on T like two weeks after the Hysto so it was nice and quick. But I think now it’s almost like my body feels like oh, this is what it’s supposed to feel like. It’s operating on the right hormones now, it doesn’t have weird invader shit coming through.

When did you first hear the word, “Transgender”?

I think it was probably in my mid to late twenties. I remember just hearing about it watching some TV show and I was like, hm that’s weird. I started looking it up and my mom was like, ‘oh, those are the crossdressers. Those are the really bad gay people.’ As it is growing up, I literally thought gay people swung from chandeliers. That was the language that she used so I literally thought they did that and it took me a very long time to be like oh, she was speaking metaphorically and really wrong too. Those were like the worst of the worst. Then I got called out by one of my teens when I was a youth group leader—one of my teen’s moms—she came up to me and was like, ‘technically you’re a cross dresser.’ Because I always wore Cargo shorts and T-shirts. I was like what? And she pointed out some scripture, “No man will want you” all this kind of stuff and I was like, well I don’t want one. So I guess its kinda okay, but I think that’s when I first started thinking about it, but I was like ugh I can’t think about this and I just kinda kept pushing it off and pushing it off until I could really deal. I don’t think that I really did much research or thought about it until I was about thirty-two. I’m thirty-six now.

Were there any books you read during your transition that had a major impact on how you viewed yourself or the world?

Huh. Yes. It wasn’t a trans book at all, but it was by Jay Bakker, Fall to Grace. Yeah that’s what it’s called. It was Jay Bakker, the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the disgraced televangelists. And uh, it was the first time that I had heard anyone speak from a Christian perspective, like not only being like ‘yeah it’s okay to be LGB or T’ but like to affirm it. Like no, god created these people. It’s not a problem. It’s something good. It rounds things out. And um, then at the same time I was actually doing a research paper for a sociology class and I had read something, I wish I remembered what it was from but it was basically saying that if you’re trans or intersex, either/or, you’d actually be better suited to be in pastoral care and like lead a congregation because you know both sides because you have both sides and God is both sides because God created man and woman in its image. He/She/They have both. It kinda gave me the sense of okay this is good. It was really good for my soul so-to-speak, not so much for the transition itself, but my soul itself, the depth of my being. That was good.

What were your milestones and what was it like reaching them?

I would say one non-trans related is graduating high school, because during that window of time. There was just so much up and down with the weeks of mania, depression, I would be just straight up depressed and not function or do anything about it. So that was never fun but I would say getting through high school, not dropping out or anything, just making it, with a diploma, just passing my classes. Up through junior year, it was just complete hell struggling. Senior year because I’d gotten that handle on it and I had all but two class credits, I only had two classes at the school so after that they let me go home or I volunteered in an animal shelter. So that was something to do.
I would say trans milestones, I would say finally biting down and getting to see a doctor. It took a while to actually find someone, I found a couple and called around. I called a couple and they’d put me on a waiting list, it wasn’t until Mysti actually googled and came across Howard Brown. They were moving their little sector into this triad building into what is now called Aris Health and that’s where I go now. And it went well from there. The first time I went, one of my oldest friends, he drove me to— I didn’t have any other way-he drove me down to the city and I—that was the consultation, the check in, the figuring it out, bloodwork. From there I had to schedule for a month later, because they were in the process of moving, for the actual psychological discussion and the actual hormone treatment, and that day took a while to come actually, but once it did it was good besides having a flu shot on the left side and the first hormone shot on the left. So I was like, this is not comfortable walking or moving, but from there on it felt like there was some hope going. Hope growing.
Milestones now would just be little tidbits of accepting myself or being about to push through something that was painful before.

If you didn’t/weren’t able to have access to hormones, what would your life be like, how would you feel? 

I don’t even know if I would exist to be honest because after a certain point, so many trans people, so many other trans people have committed suicide over who they are and I honestly feel that I would be no different because when your skin is crawling and nothing is working, a future looks bleak and impossible usually, you just give up or give in and it’s done. I’m glad it didn’t come to that because I would like to not be a statistic for a change.
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Do you have a significant other? How do they identify In terms of…?

(Willow): Yes, I do.
(Mysti): I identify as genderqueer. When I was younger I kinda struggled with just going back between wearing dresses and skirts to like- well right now I’m wearing camo cargo and a bunch of other guy stuff. For a while I thought I was genderfluid, but that didn’t really sit right with me either until I came across genderqueer, and I was like, ‘Oh! What the hell is this?’ For me, personally, it is the existence of neither male nor female, you’re just kinda there. So I figured, hey, that’s me. So now I just take that identity and my clothes and intertwine it with those and it’s interesting to see like ‘Is that a guy or a girl walking down the street?’ They see this like manly guy with this little skull purse on the side. It’s kinda amusing. That’s how I identify. Genderqueer.

You guys were dating before the transition?

(Willow): We’re coming up on four years, that’ll be in March. That will be our fourth anniversary. We met at my—well, now I would say she is my best friend—her eighteenth birthday party and we met there. It was actually very odd hitting it off because, the funny thing about it was, when everyone was introduced, when we were introduced, I mistook her for someone my brother knew. SO I gave her a compliment that wasn’t even meant for her so I guess- well she didn’t know that I mixed it up. She hovered around me during the party and because I was awkward and weird about stuff I’m like, ‘What the hell do you want from me? What are you doing?’ She was like crawling up next to me and I’m like, “what do you want from me?”

(Mysti): Let’s put it this way, I was fresh off—I was on and off with this girl for a couple of years—I was fresh off a break up and I’m just like I’m going to do whatever and I saw Will, oh he’s a teddy bear. I’m going to go flirt with him. Needless to say it was very awkward but I kept dancing around him and he thought I was high on something.

(Willow): – Yeah I didn’t know what was going on

(Mysti): I was high on the music. I wasn’t on drugs, I promise. So, later that night we talked and my lovely estranged father called me saying you need to go home and I told him the party was going to end at this time, you know, and we talked about this. But he was like, no you need to be home now and hung up. Well, great. So [Willow] and a friend drove me home and we hit it off and exchanged numbers. Just kinda, yeah as they say, the rest is history

How did you take the transition or Willow saying, “Hey, I think I’m Trans”? How did that go?

(Mysti): To be fair, I was not about to be with another woman because I was fresh off a break up with another woman and it just ended horribly and I didn’t want to be with another woman after that. And it took a long while to finally stop the—You know she was the only person who understood me and really wanted to work with me and get to know me more.

(Willow): I had her read this book.

(Mysti) a book called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher and it just really opened my eyes and I felt so guilty after that.

(Willow): I read this in two days.

So the book…Were there any books that helped you or influenced you in your Transition?

Yes. It is called Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher. It had the most down to earth premise of them. It was so real to a point that I would have thought the author was transgender, but no he interviewed tons and tons of people to getting up to writing it because he says—There’s an acknowledgement page where he thanked all the real life trans people that its based around. It’s a beautiful book about— it’s actually narrated from a guy’s perspective so it’s still not at a point where everyone would like, but we’re getting there. He falls in love with this—after a break up—with this transfer student who is this really tall, awkward girl with unique clothing. I think one of them was two flags sewn together. Basically they are in a small town so he knows nothing of what a trans person would be when he discovers that she is biologically assigned male at birth that kinda freaked him out. He kept falling deeper and deeper in love as he got to know her more and it keeps going down the rabbit hole from there. I adore the book.

So that helped facilitate a conversation with you guys?

It also helped me understand myself a little more because I think I had not started hormones, but I started learning more about myself, but this book was really a turning point to help me get an idea of what was going forward.

What makes you happy? 

I’m actually finding little bits of success in everyday life because for the longest time it was so difficult for me to get through the day. I almost didn’t graduate High School from how hard life was getting. I was going through that. Another thing I would say that makes me happy is reading stories because I love stories, even if I’m a horrible reader, yet I’m a good writer. I’ll never understand. If I find a book I truly, truly like I can just read it until it’s done. When I get a story and I get sucked into it, it will be done.

What do you do in your free time?

I spend a lot of time doing art. A lot of it has to do with either my writing or drawing comics. The other amount of time is annoying her.

What are your hobbies? 

My hobbies...I would say writing, drawing, I love animals, I’m always bothering my puppy- he’s a goofball. I enjoy hiking and walking and also, with my uncle now I’m practicing Kung-Fu, so that’s new.

Do you have a journal/blog that you use to express your feelings?

Yes, the one you found me on *laughs*.

Do you have anything to say about it? What do you use it for? How has it helped you?

I almost feel like it- well, when I initially made it, it was just simplistic comics with my goofy art style, but as it grew it became more and more of comics, pictures, little writing tidbits, and just being obnoxious. I dunno, cause apparently people enjoy that.

Link to the blog: http://transcendgirl.tumblr.com/

What would you like to see happen in the LGBT community/trans community? What issues do you see in it?

One thing I think they need to stop being an ass to each other. There are some people who are so cruel. I’ve met some gay men who are just so cruel to others. It’s like they’re the top of the food chain and how ridiculous that sounds when we’re at the way bottom already. There is such a superiority complex in some things. Could it be a masculine thing? I don’t know. I’ve met so many others who put other people down because ‘you aren’t gay. We started this, why do you tag along?’ It’s ridiculous to an extent. We’re supposed to be a community that helps each other not attacks each other. In general for people who aren’t even in the community, just respect other trans people for who they are because if I was to say anything to a younger trans person I’d say, don’t read the comment section of anything transgender related. There are some really mean people who are just uneducated or dumb and the first thing they think of is, ‘Oh, they have dick so they’re a guy’ but that’s not the point. Gender and your sexuality are different to begin with and gender and sex are completely different. Gender is around the mind and self-expression and sex is your genitalia. It’s not the same thing and I explain that to certain people and they don’t fucking get it and it’s like okay we’ll apply you to the dumb as dirt category.

You think it’s more of a kind of willful ignorance?

They just don’t want to learn. In many ways that’s so common with so many things. Even with political stuff because they’ve turned us into a political topic in many ways, people are like – I don’t want to start pointing names and parties, but a lot of things are like, if you can’t afford it, you don’t deserve it. Just because you’re human doesn’t mean you deserve it. I think we should be respectful of everyone else it would be better, but no, if you can’t afford it you don’t deserve it.

How is your relationship with your family?

It’s always been a unique relationship even prior to transition or anything. There was always hell in the household because there was my mom and dad and three brothers and I. My oldest brother suffers from autism. He’s a high-functioning autistic guy now, but he was unpredictable as a kid so there were lots of explosions and struggles and it was upsetting that he had to go through that and everyone was hit by it because my younger brother and I got overshadowed by some of his incidents. To keep everyone safe my mom and dad would really have to focus on him and we kinda had to fend- go our own direction. Nine or ten I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. So I was a guinea pig of that because they weren’t heard of then. It was only diagnosed twenty-five and over because they thought it wasn’t a child’s disorder. Yay science.

What was the hardest part of your transition?

I’m still working on this but I’m still working on the fact-sometimes I feel ashamed for it. Sometimes. If I’m in a really bad day. I’m just like I don’t want people to know or look at me so it’s just in the really bad days of either depression or dysphoria it’s one of the two.

How would you described dysphoria to someone who hasn’t heard of it or doesn’t know what that is?

I’ll try this again. I almost think of when your foot falls asleep, you know, you got that little marching ant tingling feeling. I would almost think that, but to an emotional level to all over or wherever bothers you, may it be your chest or your lack of hips or something. There just this gnawing at your self-bit by bit, and especially when you notice it you want to pull at your skin and want it to all go away and stuff.

What is one thing (or several things) you want someone to understand about your identity?

I’d like people to understand just that in many ways when I came out some people were still going to call me Will and use male pronouns and I was like, thanks because I validate your identity and you’re going to shit all over mine, thanks. In many ways, I am still, I still go by Will sometimes I’m fine with that, but Willow is basically my name not William now. In many ways, I am still the same core person, but my outside looks look more like who I really am and in so many ways I’d rather people look deeper, look at the soul, not just the cover. I had been fortunate with how the hormones had looked, but still I prefer people to know me at a personality level, at my soul, I guess. Because I find that to be more important than being a looker or something. I also don’t want it to be my tag like, ‘Oh by the way’ or everything in front of me is transgender. That is one factor of myself.
Something I’ve noticed with many blogs and other blogs like my own, it’s such a beating of a dead horse because it’s leading with ‘Oh, I’m Trans. Oh, I’m Trans! Oh, I’m Trans!’ That’s part of you, it’s not all of you. I try to distance myself from that because it’s one part of me and there are so many more interesting things than that.

When did you first realize that you were transgender?

I would say when I first started understanding when I first started noticing I was different. I was probably five or six, but I didn’t know what transgender was until high school so that always made things difficult. There was definitely no resources back then. That would be nineteen years ago so there was nothing.

What are your dreams and hobbies?

Petting dogs and playing dungeon and dragons, playing Pokémon, and video games definitely, I love Fallout, card games board games. Games in general. Dreams? I’d love to work for a game company whether it be for a card game company or a video game company or anything like that and if that could somehow include dogs and make a video game about dogs or like a board game, I’d be very happy. Other than that, being a groomer is another thing. Because dogs.

Do you have a job now? What do you do?

I work at PetSmart. I bathe dogs and I’m trying to get into grooming school. If you can’t tell, I fricking love dogs.

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

I love dogs- No, I’m kidding everyone knows that but a lot of people don’t know that I’m trans.

What’s your greatest talent?

I’m a really good singer

What do you like to sing?

My favorite style of singing is freeform car singing. Yeah, were you just blast the radio and scream your lungs out. And I’m good at handling dogs.

Are you out and if you are, how is that going? If you aren’t out, how is that?

I’d say I have one foot out because people like Willow and other people I know who are trans know and then my close friends know, but my mom doesn’t know, my step-dad doesn’t know, and none of my family know because they’re hardcore Catholics and you know how that goes, so it’s great being out and having people call me he. I go to Dungeons and Dragons every week and funny story actually the DM, which means Dungeon Master, he asked me, ‘are you a boy or a girl?’ At first I was going to be like, well are you Professor Oak? But then I was like, you know what, you decide. He was like, ‘boy?’ And I was like thumbs up. Everyone calls me he at Dungeons and Dragons and as far as I can see, I pass there so. It’s pretty cool.

Did they just know or was it something?

I don’t know it was just, I guess I just kinda present as male and it’s a more male hobby. So they just kinda…It was a way of being out without outing myself and it was really nice and comfortable because I didn’t have to go through any awkward explanations or anything. They just all call me he.

How was coming out to your friends? How did that go?

Well I was- I used to go to Oakton Community college and we had a pride club. Through a string of events I became the president, but everybody there, we were really open about telling each other what we are and I thought that was a safe space and it turns out it was. So I was able to tell everybody and I had no problems.

Has anyone in the media influenced you in your transition or life in general?

Well, I found out that I was trans when I was about fifteen so at that point there really wasn’t anything in the media and it was like, ‘what, this is a thing?’ But my life in general, I would say TV really influenced me because I would say I wasn’t really raised growing up, I just kinda raised myself watching TV and the internet, which isn’t the best thing, but hey I turned out okay.

So you were fifteen when you found out that transgender people existed, what that was, so what exactly brought that about, how’d that happen? How did that relate to you, how did you realize, “huh, that sounds like what I’m feeling.” So if you want to just talk about that. 

I’d love to. I have this friend named Darian, they’re from Canada and they’re a furry, they’re Trans, they’re all these different things I didn’t really know too much about, but I met them through this one thing on LiveJournal called ONTD Star Trek, so we were all talking about the Star Trek movie that had come out and we’re all friends and they started posting furry stuff and I love animals and I love anthropomorphic animals—I don’t know if I’d exactly say that I’m a furry but that’s neither here nor there—but that’s how we started talking and they said they were trans and they were using the Zir/Zim pronouns and I was like, what? I was little at the time and it was a totally brand new thing to me. And I was like wait a minute that’s me. So that was pretty much how I’d figured it out. And we’ve been friends since then and they’ve just helped me realize a lot about myself through life. So thank you Darian if you’re reading this.

What is your greatest struggle in regards to your gender identity?

Probably just living at home. My mom she’ll always just say, ‘okay lets go woman. Okay missy.’ You know stuff like that, always misgendering me. And sometimes ask, ‘do you have gender problems?’ She words it in a really ignorant way that just makes me bounce back and say, ‘Nope, nope I’m good. Nope!’ So that’s probably the hardest thing, dealing with my mom and not letting her know because even though she says she’ll always accept me no matter what I know how she is with other kinds of LGBT issues so I don’t want to ruin my home life, you know?

What are your fears? This can be transition related or in general or you can speak on both. 

Well I’ve had a lot of problems with my relatives cause I have kinda convoluted family history. So I’m afraid of my relatives cause they’ve been harassing me at work lately so. They find me no matter where I am and they’re not good people. So I’m definitely afraid of them.

Do they harass you because of how you present yourself?

No, its actually a completely different thing. Cause…do you just wanna hear my life story really quick?

Sure. 

So when I was a baby I was born. Well, you know. That’s usually what happens. My grandmother was driving my mother and my father home from the hospital. My grandmother kicked my mother out of the car and kidnapped me, then through a series of court battles she won custody of me and she basically just lied her way through it, and because my mom was crying they didn’t accept what she was saying which is a totally—I could go on a huge feminist ramble about that, but I’ll save that for another time. Basically she lost custody of me for twenty years. I found my mom recently so my relationship with my mom is kinda new, which is another reason I’d be afraid of messing it up. I met her like a year and a half ago. So yeah, basically that’s it.

One of the questions I have is relating to your childhood, teenage years, and middle school years, so having that kind of upbringing, how did that affect you? What was your childhood like, how would you describe it? Since you spent those years outside of the care of your mom. I’d be curious about that. 

Like I said earlier, I kinda raised myself off of TV and internet and everything. I’d say my childhood was pretty lonely which is why I turned to the internet for friends, which worked out for me because I leaned things about myself that I wouldn’t have learned just watching TV and stuff because back in those days there was nothing. We barely had black characters on TV shows or any queer characters. That really wasn’t a thing.

If you didn’t have the internet to kind of open you up to a whole new world, if you will, would you have discovered in yourself, put one and one together that oh wait, that’s what I’ve been feeling. Would that have happened later in life or not at all?

I think it definitely would have happened later because when I was like seven or eight I was in a Home Depot. I don’t know why I remember this but, I was in a Home Depot because I used to love running around Home Depot just because it was Home Depot, or maybe it was Menards, Menards are cooler. Anyway, I’m just standing there like and this profound thought hits me and I’m like I’m half-boy and half-girl and that was the end of that train of thought, but it always stuck with me and I still remember it for some reason. So, it was the there, I just never had words for what it was and I never really—one kinda good thing about being sheltered and that they didn’t too much care about me was, they didn’t really instill any hatred into me because they didn’t really instill anything into me. I wasn’t like, oh I’m broken. It was just like cool I’m different.

A lot of trans people will say that when they were younger the toys they played with and the things they wanted were stereotypically how they— 

How they present now?

Yes, how they present now. You know, 'my mom wanted to put me in a dress, but I wanted to play with G.I Joes and trucks.' Did you feel that as well?

I actually…they weren’t really strict about staying within gender norms which is a good thing because other than that they’re horrible people, but I was way into Pokémon- still am, and I had Pokémon cards, Pokémon games, they bought me video game systems. They didn’t really buy me dolls. I didn’t really want dolls until Bratz dolls came out, I was like, ‘why do I want these so much?’ I think it was because everyone had them and I had to be like everyone else. I had Harry Potter dolls but those were really cool so I mean, come on. So I did really run into that so I was really lucky that way. And I had Beyblades and stuff.

I was lucky with toys and everything, but clothes were a different story. I tried blocking this all out, but my grandmother used to scream at me about wearing girlier clothes and carrying a purse and wearing earrings, all that stereotypical girly stuff.

What would you like to see happen in the LGBT community/Trans community?

More visibility definitely and a wider range of visibility. Like recently it’s been Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, but – Laverne Cox is awesome, but Caitlyn Jenner is really problematic. She passes so well and people are like, ‘oh this trans woman is pretty and all trans women should be pretty and totally look like women’ and there needs to be more like—okay American Horror Story Hotel has a trans character and granted she’s played by as far as I know a cis male, but she doesn’t pass perfectly and its awesome. And I want more things like that to be the mainstream and I want trans people to play trans characters. It’s very important.

Why do you think it’s important?

because people need to know that these people exist and they’re not just costumes in a way or roles to be filled. They’re not just characters. They’re people.

(Will): Do you care if maybe a cis woman is playing a woman trans character?

It’s a gray area because I mean they’re women obviously they’re going to look like women, but it’s good that there more trans characters obviously, but I would prefer, much prefer that trans actors get roles. Or a trans person playing a cis person. That would be awesome.
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What is one thing (or several things) you want someone to understand about your identity?

Oh boy, for one, I despise the overuse of the word “identify.” Like, excuse you, I do not identify as male, I AM male, simple as that. A person identifies as a vegetarian, or agnostic, or something. There’s gender identity, used properly, and then there’s passive-aggressive language that automatically positions someone’s sex and/or gender as something intangible, something fake. I got so much beef with that. I just am. I simply am.

What was the process of binding like?

I’m very flat-chested, so it’s actually super easy. I don’t even need to wear a binder in certain situations. I’m still cripplingly self conscious about it though, and coming from someone with such a small chest, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have to deal with any more than that.

How do you feel about your voice?

I think I have a pretty masculine voice, but I still find myself wishing it would get even deeper. But that all comes with the aging process. Nobody’s really done cooking for a while, let alone me. I think a part of me will always be self-conscious for no reason.

What part of your body do you feel insecure about?

Weirdly enough, my hands. I worry they’re too small. They’re actually kinda big, I guess, and as I work out and learn things like boxing they continue to get more muscled, but I’d still say they can bother me sometimes.

What’s your favorite motivational quote?

The entire poem “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley. But my favorite line is, “and yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find, me unafraid.” I plan on getting that tattooed.

What does being Trans mean to you?

I never really think about it, but it means paving the way. Like being a unintentional trailblazer, not to sound like a haughty dick. Like, I wanna be a curator at the Field Museum. Would that mean I would be the first trans curator at the Field? Fuckin maybe! How weird is that? Whatever I decide to do with my life, there’s the chance I might be a first. Who knows.

What was your most emotionally charged moment during your transition?

It actually had nothing to do with transitioning itself. It’s always been second nature for me to stay positive about everything that’s happened in my life, I’m a very positive person, but I think money struggles have always pushed me to my limit. I’ve always lived either on or below the poverty line. I’m the first person in my family to go to college. I don’t live with either of my parents, or get any substantial monetary support from them. When it comes down to it, I’m the only thing keeping me from sleeping on the street. At one point, I was unemployed for over a month and really struggling to find a job who would hire a full-time student. I was (and still am) fighting with my medicaid insurance for coverage of my medicine, and I had no choice but to pay over a hundred bucks for a refill, outta pocket. I didn’t eat on the weekends for a while. It’s scary that I had to choose between a full stomach or my medicine, but I would do the same now. Although I work to make sure I won’t have to make that choice again.

What are your fears?

This was an interesting one to think about because I’ve experienced a lotta scary shit in my life, but I decided my biggest fear is being alone. Like having nobody to contact, count on, lean on. That’s pretty scary.

What was the hardest part of your transition?

Fighting a system that doesn’t give a shit about people like me. I’m now tuned enough to the legal system that if a place is being discriminatory, I know when I can look some important guy in the eye and tell em he’s a dirty fuckin liar.

When did you first realize that you were transgender?

When I realized that I only ever stopped hating myself when people referred to me as male.

If you had a million dollars to use however you wanted, what would you use it for?

The first thing I would do is pay off every debt and bill my dad owes, buy him a brand new truck, a house, a fucking boat, a dog, you name it. That man deserves it, fuckin Dad of the Year award winner twenty years running. The second thing I’d do is pay for my top surgery. Third would probably be paying off my student debt.

Do you have a job? What do you do?

I sorta have a clusterfuck of jobs. Officially, I work for Lou Malnati’s, ya know, the famous Chicago pizza place. It’s a sweet deal. But I also apprentice as a tattoo artist, and hopefully I’ll be doing paid research in the anthropology department at UIC.

How's school going?

It goes. I maintain a decent B average, because I’m a great student in my anthropology classes, but only a ok student in everything else. I recently wrote a great paper for a Mesoamerican archaeology class that I get to present as a poster at Second City anthropology conference, so that’s exciting, that gets my name out there.

What are you studying?

Anthropology! Specifically I plan on studying ethnoarchaeology, or a blend of cultural anthropology and archaeology, with a focus on North America and Mesoamerica. I do side research on body modification, also.

Aside from transitioning, is there anything you’ve done to make your body yours? 

Tattoos are my big thing. I only have four right now, but I plan on accumulating more and more. You’re literally adorning your body with art, there’s nothing cooler.

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

I feel like I’m a pretty open person, so I’m not sure if there’s just any one thing people in general wouldn’t know about me, but I guess I’d say the fact that I’m a artist. Not everybody knows that, nowadays. I paint and draw and design tattoos, and now, surprising absolutely nobody, I’m apprenticing to be a tattoo artist.