The first time I ever wore heels in public, I was 16. I walked into a local all-boys public school and introduced myself: "My name is Summer, and I was born a boy, but I identify as a woman. Any questions?" As I looked around the classroom, I could see shock and amazement on the faces of the 15-year-old boys I was addressing. So what was the occasion, you may ask? Well, I was a secret activist for Hong Kong's largest LGBTQ youth organization, and that was the first time I shared my story, in hopes of educating people and debunking the stereotypes that surround transgender women.
My journey of discovery began when I was 14, when I first started (secretly) dating gay boys. I was very excited because I thought that the way I would be treated would mirror the extravagant dates in romantic films, where the guy presents himself with flowers and treats the girl like a princess. However, I soon learned that gay boys do not want to date girls who happened to be born boys. I realized that my desire to be seen and thought of as a girl would never work with gay boys, who really want to be with other boys. I am not a gay boy but a straight woman, and I quickly realized that I needed to find out what this meant for me. I began by joining the LGBTQ youth group, where I met other transgender women who helped me find my self-worth and own my identity as a strong, independent woman.
I have a ritual of putting on and removing makeup every time I leave or arrive home. That day, speaking at the all-boys school, was the beginning of this ritual. After sharing my story for the first time, I headed back to my house, and five minutes before I arrived, I removed my makeup, changed my clothes, and took off my beloved heels. I turned the doorknob, entered my house, and heard a familiar voice: "Son! You're back! Come in here and try out this new suit that I got for you!"
This is my life. Back home, everyone sees me as a boy, perhaps a bit feminine but definitely a boy. My trademark combination of a T-shirt and jeans is a poor attempt at fitting in. Take one look at me and you will see a vast difference between the boy with glasses sitting at the back of class, his head buried in some book, and the woman I can be when I'm free to do so.
I was born into one of the most prominent and respectable families in Hong Kong, and to most people we seem like the perfect family. Ever since I was 5 years old, my mom would dress me up in suits and take me to all sorts of events, parading me as her prized possession: a well-behaved, well-dressed boy. But in reality every event that required me to wear a suit was a battle between me and my mom. I complied with her requests because I thoroughly understand the shame that Asian society puts on a woman if she cannot handle both her personal life and her social life. But more importantly, I understand the guilt and fear that religion has instilled in my mom. My family plays an active role in our church, raising money for church events and holding prayer sessions. Similar to a pastor's kid, I was given the responsibility of being a role model for other young children -- being the good boy who loves God and devotes all his time to the Lord. I was expected to be the boy that parents admire so much that they would want to send their own children to church.
My family started getting suspicious when I was 17. With no girlfriend in sight and a feminine personality, they feared that I would be an abomination -- that I would like boys. (Little did they know that I am a straight woman.) Hints started dropping in the form of family Bible study sessions specific to marriage and arranged dates with girls of a similar social status as our family. As each of these attempts failed, my mom got more and more anxious. She didn't want her perfect reputation to be smudged or her faith to be questioned, and most importantly, she did not want me to go to hell -- because in her world, I would be damned if I did not follow God's "original design."
In a last-ditch effort to "straighten" me out, my parents told me that they would only pay for my college tuition if I went to Biola University, a small, conservative, Christian school in Los Angeles that forbids the open existence of anything but straight people. I was angry. I was hurt. I was betrayed. I had dreamed of going to a big university in New York so that I could be Summer without the weight of my family's name and reputation, and this dream was extinguished along with the acceptance of my application to Biola University. I moved from one closet to another.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I was bitter. My bitterness stemmed from my realization that my parents were willing to do anything to stop me from transitioning into Summer. I may have been born into a wealthy family, but that did not guarantee financial support for my education or my future. Instead, it worked against it. Although I am still financially dependent on my parents, I have made a conscious effort to work and save up every penny and dime so that I can provide for myself. No one but me is responsible for my future or happiness. No one will advocate for me if I do not advocate for myself. And most importantly, my happiness cannot be determined by my parents and their decision about whether or not they will support or accept me.
Unlike others who might give up and follow the trajectory that has been laid out for them, I refused. I refused to the core of my soul. My future will not be minoring in Bible studies, doing four years of business school, getting a banking job at 21, getting married by 30, having kids at 32, and maybe having a midlife crisis at 50, only to then find God again and be satisfied with life.
With renewed determination, I reached out to my contacts back in Hong Kong, and they suggested that I contact L.A.'s Gay and Lesbian Center. One of the first people that the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center put me in contact with was Terell. Terell is a gay alumnus of Biola, and he introduced me to Biola's unofficial, unsanctioned LGBTQ group, Biola Queer Underground. Although affiliation with the group might lead to expulsion from school, I thought that this was an answer to my prayer. I prayed for acceptance, a place that I could call home and friends who would understand how difficult it is to be an LGBTQ person of faith. And against all odds, I found a place to be myself and Christian friends who love me and support me for who I am. At Biola I became a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights. (Biola allows you to speak about LGBTQ equality as long as you refrain from "homosexual activity.") I would enter into conversations with people about Bible verses on gay and transgender issue and stay up all night with my friends in the underground group to plan events and design posters to leave secretly around campus, and I became a resource and a listening ear for anyone in the closet.
When I first started coming out to my friends on campus, they would encourage me to change; they would outright tell me that they could not love me for who I am. But as I persevered and did not allow their comments to sway me, they joined me on my journey. I remember one of my friends telling me at the beginning of the year that she would not come to my wedding because it would not please God, but after a year of knowing me, she came up to me and said that she hopes that when I get married, she will be there to celebrate my happiness. I came out to my roommate, who is a straight man, home-schooled his whole life, and after learning my story, he now refers to me by the name I prefer, and with the right pronouns. Closeted friends who were desperate to be straight have reconciled themselves with who they are and now celebrate their unique orientation or gender identity. Ultimately, I scored myself an internship at a national LGBTQ organization, and every day I feel blessed to be working alongside people who share the same vision as I do: working toward equality for all.
Since I am not yet financially independent from my parents, I decided not to sign my full name to this blog post. Although my parents may never be willing to accept Summer, I am grateful that they taught me a value that I will always hold dear: a commitment to living a life filled with grace and optimism regardless of my circumstances. All my life I have been told by elders, church authorities and friends that Jesus would only love me if I were a straight man, but my journey thus far has helped me reach the unshakable conclusion that God loves me just the way I am. Always has and always will. Now I am about to make another big leap: I will soon transfer out of Biola to that school in New York that I dreamed of attending. At this crossroads in my life, I look back and realize that I am becoming the woman I envisioned myself to be. There are a few moments in my life that have defined me, and two of them are wearing heels into a classroom full of 15-year-old boys and strutting with style out of Biola University -- still in heels.