As a little girl I didn’t know about anything queer. It seemed like my parents made sure that I was sheltered from all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people. It could be that their lives were so sheltered from LGBT people that they didn’t know anyone out of the closet except the hairdresser, who in our case really was gay.
In the flavour of church I was raised in, it was clear that LGBT people were not welcome. So in 7th grade when my friend Mimi invited me to her home for a birthday sleepover it was not surprising that my mom flipped out when she realized that Mimi had two moms. As soon as I was dropped off, my mom raced home and called me at Mimi’s. She offered to bring me home right away. She was even ready to fib to “protect” me.
By high school Mimi and I were drifting apart. Once the last chairs together in the junior high flute section Mimi had moved up to first chair, I remained last. I was also invested in fitting in. I was so invested in fitting in that I joined in the harsh treatment of Mimi. I, and others, were mean to Mimi because her mothers were lesbians. After 10th grade I never spoke to Mimi.
About the same time I met Ezekiel Webber. Zeke and I were in honours classes together. We shared the same dry sense of humour and faith traditions. In 10th grade Zeke was one of the first openly gay students at my high school of almost 5,000 people. He was the first person to go to prom with a person of the same sex. Zeke was beaten up at least once a week because he was openly gay.
These experiences taught me that it was not safe to be queer in my neighbourhood.
These two individuals made a deep impact on my life and I was not able to tell them. A few years after high school Mimi walked into the ocean never to return. I believe that the stress and harassment became too much for her.
I was still in the closet.
Zeke went on to be a star student at Dartmouth, helping organize much of the queer programing there in the late 1990’s. He then went on to be a star student at UCLA Law School focusing on LGBT civil rights issues. He was never able to practice law though as he passed away while at UCLA.
I was just coming out of the closet.
In late 2003, early 2004, I was no longer able to hide. I came out as a lesbian. You might be confused, after all my name is Justin. See, I had never met any transgender guys. I thought trans people wore feather boas, and though I like a nice boa once in a while, that was not me. All I knew then was that I was mostly attracted to women and did not fit traditional female gender norms. “Of course,” I thought, “I must be a butch lesbian.” The problem was that deep inside I was not a woman at all, oh I tried, but it was not me. Deep inside my gender identity was male.
When I found out about Female-to-Male transgender people (FTM’s) I finally realized that I belonged, that there are other people like me, people born “female” who often, through hormones and surgery, go on to live their lives as “men.” Around this time I started my slow transition to becoming a visible man.
I have come to realize that I would not have the courage and strength to make this transition if it were not for those who went before me. Zeke and Mimi lost their lives because of intolerance, I cannot stand by and let that continue to happen.
I could live my life now as a quiet trans guy blending into society, basking in perceived straight white male privilege. But I choose to be out. I have chosen to fight for queer rights. I am the Williams College Queer Life Coordinator. I was a founding member of Brattleboro, Vermont’s Queer Community Project. I am on the board of Bennington Pride in Bennington, VT. And, this past summer I was proud to be one of the main organizers for the first ever New England Transgender Pride March and Rally. There, we saw over a thousand transgender people come together to speak up for their rights.
In all I do feel privileged to have the opportunity to support wonderful LGBT folks and allies. I am privileged because I am out. I want to make our world a place that is not just accepting but embracing of all people.