I kept looking at the blood. That can't be mine. That doesn't belong to me. It was a warm summer night. I was on all fours, and the blood was dripping into a pool under my face, staining the sidewalk a deep true red. The way I dress has consequences, I thought. And I am ok with those consequences.
You see, I dress how I want to dress. I dress boyish or girlish or grandma-ish, and I have no shame. I wear eyeshadow to work, and heels when it pleases me. People often wish I wouldn't dress the way I do, and I get it from all sides: Yes, people comment rude slurs on my Vines, but there are also a shocking number of haters who say something like "I'd like to see him wear that in the street" as if 1. Dressing the way I do on Vine somehow isn't being queer in public, and 2. if I wear boy sneakers to the grocery store, I'm not really serious about being queer. Some haters find me too queer, and some haters like to suggest I'm not (really) queer enough. At the end of the day, if I can't dress how I want, then I can't be who I want. And that isn't the life I choose.
I am a Vine star. I have over 185 Million views on Vine. In every 6-second video I make, the message is the same: there is nothing wrong with you. I created a campaign called #NoTimeToHateMyself: no matter how you dress, you have no time for self-hate. And while I've garnered plenty of criticism and been on the receiving end of plenty of hateful messages, I have also achieved a huge measure of social media stardom. My Vines have exploded in popularity over the past two years, and these 6-second Vines, all centered on how to learn to love yourself, have been shared around the world.
"The way I dress has consequences."
The one thing I didn't anticipate was that being "Vine famous" would make me a de facto expert in being queer. I didn't realize that my videos would make me a representative of a community. But apparently, it has. Every single day, I get messages and emails detailing how people look up to me. I get tons and tons of questions about how to be authentic, and how to live a happy queer life. Good thing I have some answers! Truth be told, I've come to feel like I owe it to the LGBTQers to be a role model, not of how to do queer right, but of how to wear what you want to wear and be happy. I owe it to my community and to everyone to be a hero -- to show how to live without shame.
Back to the blood. My boyfriend at the time (who shall remain nameless) and I were on our way home, and it was hot -- a sticky, balmy cloudless Brooklyn August night. We had been together for just over a year, and we already had this exciting karmic bond, like we were Antony and Cleopatra long, long ago (I was clearly Cleo). Many times, I even dressed like Cleo: gorgeous and regal, made up like a queen -- not to mention six feet tall and skinny as a rail. On this particular night, I wore pinstripe overly tight jeans and a pink flowing t-shirt. My eyeshadow matched the shirt, because that's my style.
"I kept looking at the blood. That can't be mine."
We stepped off the J train and realized we had forgotten something... dinner. And like all the best New Yorkers who forget about dinner until they're starving, we stopped a block and a half from our apartment at "our" bodega and grabbed pasta and sauce. We left the bodega a little after 7 p.m. I carried the bag.
As we turned the corner, just a half a block from the house, we heard them. Well, to be honest, we felt them first. Two bigger muscled dudes in ball caps grabbed us from behind and started shouting "Hey faggot. Are you a pussy?" I squirmed. I writhed. I remember thinking, Is it impolite not to answer his question?
Crack! The shopping bag with the glass pasta sauce jar hit the pavement.
While this was clearly terrifying, I wasn't truly scared; I was mad. I started shouting at them and shouting for help. No one came. The guy holding my boyfriend said, "Shut him up!" to the guy holding me. I knew what was coming: The guy grabbed my throat with one arm and began pummeling my face with the other. Blood. Everywhere -- all over that pink shirt.
They wanted to scare us. They roughed us up, pushed me to the pavement. And just like that, they both left. Maybe they decided that my crying for help made us too much trouble -- I'm not sure. I watched the blood drip and pool under my face.
The way I dress has consequences. And those consequences are worth it.
My blood left a permanent stain on that patch of sidewalk near our apartment, and I walked by it every day. Over time, I began to love it. It seems weird, but that stain started to represent surviving for me. While for some it would signify failure and violence, for me it was a symbol of my conviction and my strength. It meant that I was willing to stand up for who I am, regardless of the consequences. For me, wearing what I want is non-negotiable. Clothing is my most flamboyant way to show off the real me -- to announce who I am and where I stand.
I know that maybe you, reading this, can't make a choice like mine right now, or maybe your choice has to look different in some way. What I do know is, as long as you live in fear of rejection, you can't embrace the person you really are.
*I use the pronoun they, when I'm asked for one. As you might have guessed I hold a strong personal policy that there is no wrong way to refer to me, and my hope is never to make anyone feel bad for "using the wrong pronoun."
This post is part of HuffPost's Journey Beyond the Binary blog series, an editorial effort to bring diverse trans and gender non-conforming voices to the HuffPost Blog during and after Pride month. As the LGBTQIA community celebrates great strides forward this June, it's important to acknowledge the struggles still pertinent to trans and gender variant members of the community. Please email any pitches to email@example.com