I’m Arielle Rebekah. I am from Harrington Park, New Jersey.
I struggled with depression my entire life. And when I was 17 years old, I became so depressed that my parents decided that they wanted to intervene in a pretty significant way by sending me to a wilderness therapy program out in St. George, Utah.
So when I got to this program, I was sort of toying with the idea of coming out as trans. Over the first nine weeks in this program, I sort of got the sense that I was surrounded by supportive people. So around week nine in the program, I decided to sit down my group and tell them that I was a trans girl and that I wanted them to call me Gabby, which was the name I was trying out at the time, and use she/her pronouns for me. Everything went great. Everyone seemed understanding, supporting, accepting. Like, I had a beard at the time and no one even slipped up once with my pronouns.
So after that program, my parents told me, which I didn’t know beforehand, that I would be going to another program. This one in the southern tip of Virginia, I got to this program figuring that because it was the same type of people staffing the program, that they would also be super supportive.
I started telling some of my friends who I had made over the first few months there that I was trans and that I was planning to come out publicly and that I wanted to transition. And everyone seemed great.
On October 10th of 2013, I sat down in front of my entire school, 130 staff… students. And I stared out into this sea of faces and I told everyone that my name is Ariel, that I wanted them to use she/her pronouns for me, that I was going to transition while I was at the school, that when I got out that I wanted bottom surgery. And at first it seemed to go really well. For the first week or so, I heard congratulations from my friends, from people that hadn’t known before, just like random peers of mine.
And I didn’t really talk to my therapist for that entire week, which felt weird but not that weird. And then he pulled me out of the dining hall one day at dinner and he was walking me to my parent phone call, which was not something he’d ever done before.
And he said, “Actually, there’s something I need to tell you.”
I said, “What?”
And he said, “I ended up having to tell your parents what you told the school last week.”
And at first, I thought I’d misunderstood because that was ridiculous. Why would he tell my parents – why would he out me to my parents as trans? That’s obviously not an okay thing to do. Everybody knows that. He seemed to know that. He had seemed supportive beforehand. But then I realized that, no, he had absolutely outed me to my family.
I sat down to this phone call. I was the only one in the room. It was just me and the lady, Laura, who operated the phones. And the second, my parents picked up the phone, they were angry with me. Over the course of this phone call, I started to realize that not only had he outed me to them, he also told them that I had been doing it for attention and that by believing me, or supporting my transition, that they were feeding into my negative coping skills and coping mechanisms. So I hung up this phone call with my parents, livid and hurt and not knowing what to do next.
And so I went back to my friends and just sort of sat with them for a bit and figured that at the very least, if I didn’t have anyone else, I would have them. But then over the coming weeks, I found out that there had been an email sent out to all of the teachers in the school saying that if they honored my name and pronouns, that they could be fired and that it was against school policy to use what they were calling a nickname, even though it was just my name
Then individual therapists started going out to their clients, their students, and telling them that they were hurting me by using my name and pronouns. And basically saying that I was being malicious and that by even being friends with me while I was insisting that I was trans, they would hurt themselves and that I would drag them into my shit. And so my friends started distancing themselves from me.
No matter what I tried to do, I spent the next year and a half there being met with pushback every single time I tried to do anything to affirm myself. I eventually started to feel that, you know, if all of these mental health professionals are so convinced that this is a lie, that I’m not trans, and I’m doing this for attention, who was I to tell them they were wrong? This went on for almost two years and that whole time I really started to doubt myself, to the point where when I graduated, I was still struggling with that. Until a year later when I started a job at Starbucks and found a lot of support among the few people that I started to tell.
And then I went to college and I had a non-binary roommate and I was in the college’s first freshmen gender-inclusive dorm that they’d ever had. And I started telling some of my dorm mates before school started. And then the first day of college was a huge moment for me. I just decided enough was enough. And I wasn’t going to let what happened at Carlbrook rule me anymore. I wasn’t going to let my fear control me. I had known who I was for my entire life, and this was my moment.
And so I walked up to my dorm after my parents left campus. I put on a full face of makeup, put on some femme clothing, went down to the dining hall and from that moment on – that was six years ago now – I was Ariel and I’ve never looked back and I’ve never been happier.
Once my parents saw how happy I was, how much different I was, how much more secure I was in myself living as Arielle, living as me, as opposed to who they thought I was, that was it for them. Like from that moment on, they had my back.
I hope that other young trans people know that you’re not alone. And that surrounding yourself with community is so important. Community has brought me through some of my darkest times and reminded me that even when things get really, really rough and they will get rough and they I’m sure they might get rough again at some point, I can get through it with the help of my community and so can you.