I was 18-months-old when the foster care system placed me in an upscale home in New York City's Queens neighborhood.
It had all the earmarks of wealth, prestige and affluence. I was placed in a home where the arms of loving parents, private schools and weekends at the shore should have awaited me. Instead I came face-to-face with unspeakable acts of abuse, shaming, slapping, neglect and more. I struggled to fit in with the other children at school. I was different. And I had more than one secret to keep.
One fateful day at the age of 14, I disclosed to my adopted mother that I was not like the other boys. I was transgender. My adopted mother's response was to kick me out of our home, to save the other children in the home from, what she calls, and "the devil's creations." I became one more nameless throw away, one more statistic to add to the growing number of homeless LGBT youth in America.
For me, undergoing gender transition as a freshman in a prestigious prep school, in 2009, while at the same time being secretly homeless an living on NYC subways, and having to engage with survival sex work to meet my basic needs was not easy. It was not for the faint of heart. It feels like it was just yesterday when I would have to wear T-shirts on my head to represent long hair because I could not afford expensive wigs. This was my truth. And because it was my truth, I was constantly ridiculed and physically attacked by the guys and girls in my school.
It wasn't easy surviving on the streets, while at the same time, going to school everyday. At age 14, for me and for many LGBTQ youth, getting ready for school the night before looked very different than it does for the average youth. It wasn't, taking out my clothes the night before, or making sure mom and dad checked homework. Instead, it was walking up and down the street just about a mile both ways in hopes you could get enough clientele to hopefully get yourself a meal, and transportation money to even get to school.
Many nights the only home I had was the river near Christopher Street. It was the water that gave me hope. Where I could envision privilege, happiness, and I could see struggles pass me. I didn't have community support, let alone a family or place to call home. The only support I had was myself to get through school. The only resource I had was my own pain. In my pain, I was able to grow.
In many people's pain, they choose to die. For me at a young age, I had to start thinking about my pain and struggle in an innovative way, like maybe my pain can be the catalyst to my success. I'm lucky to say that I survived all the abuse growing up, the torment of transitioning in high school while homeless. No one should have to experience abuse and trauma from 18-months-old until18-years-old.
I would feel so empty. Have you ever felt so empty? Like the moments when you find out that one of your loved ones has passed away, or when you have a family member to take care of, or you don't know how you're going to make ends meet because you just lost your job?
You feel like giving up. You start questioning yourself and you begin to ask yourself, why me? What have I done? What should I have done differently? You question all the wrongs. You didn't realize, in these experiences, there was so much right.
From the pain, trauma and hurt I learned that education is the only tangible tool that can help create the future that sometimes you can't see when living in survival. It's the kind of future that becomes your unimaginable dreams. What I knew for sure is that if I didn't stay in school I would never have connected with people who liberated me from my internalized trauma.
A few years later, I graduated high school and shortly after that I was featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary: The T Word. From that opportunity, other doors opened for me. I began an exciting position at Equality New Mexico, and became a National ambassadorship with Human Rights Campaign, and put together a foundation called Gender Global.
Even though this may sound like an "it get better story," we cannot forget that we have a long way to go. We are in a state of emergency in the transgender community. Our people are being killed in the streets in horrific ways. Discrimination is legal in many states and one of the main battlegrounds is the right to use the correct bathroom. We need love, we need liberation and we need support. Support for the millions of homeless LGBT youth, for the 41 percent of transgender people who attempt suicide and for the growing number of murders of transgender people.
Am I the lucky one, or am I the chosen one? What made me so lucky when so many of my sisters have lost their lives? I will never know the answer to that question. But I know I am standing here in my truth. I am standing here in my pain. But the difference between my pain now and four years ago is that my pain has liberated me. It has liberated me in a way that I hope.
You don't have to be transgender to take in this message. Our human experience, our collective human stories are the catalyst to creating change in the world. So if you know someone like me in your school or your community instead of rejecting them or maybe making fun of them show them the support and love we all deserve as human beings.
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