Earlier this month, I started classes as one of the first transgender women accepted to Wellesley College, the top college for women in the United States. In 2015, Wellesley announced it would officially begin admitting transgender women, and now, looking through one of the historic windows here on campus, I’m reminded of my own history of self-discovery, as well as how fortunate I am to be here contributing to the diversity of the student body.
“With the curiosity of a 5-year-old child, I began asking questions about why I was born in a body that did not match my soul.”
It has been a long and winding road to get here, the school of my dreams, and many have helped me along the way. My journey began in Guayaquil, Ecuador. With the curiosity of a 5-year-old child, I began asking questions about why I was born in a body that did not match my soul. From the all-boys’ school, I would look across the street at the girls’ school and daydream about being there, where I felt I belonged. I thought that I was a girl in a boy’s body, but to others I was just a gay boy or too feminine.
Later in high school, I still had a hard time expressing the way I felt, but my intellectual curiosity and academic excellence helped break some barriers between my classmates and me. While I was treated with respect because students needed my help with projects or study groups, I was only treated as a female when I was performing at a club as a show performer. On stage, I felt like a superhero now that I was finally comfortable with a pronoun that represented my identity. Unhappily, one day after leaving the club, I was assaulted, kidnapped, and told I deserved to die. Surviving that experience made me ask myself: How long could I live in Ecuador if I feared for my life?
Seeking escape from persecution due to my gender identity, I emigrated from Ecuador in 2009 with nothing but a heart full of courage and the clothes on my back. After a failed attempt to live in Mexico for a few weeks, I crossed the border into the United States to live with my godmother in North Carolina. There, I was labeled an undocumented Latino immigrant and a “homosexual,” and was even more of a target for my thick accent and inability to speak English. My intellectual curiosity gave me deep motivation to learn this new language, which I understood would enable me to obtain my independence — and to discover new things about this country. I read as much as I could and started attending free classes at my local church. By challenging my mind, I was spared the reality of my body — which still seemed to not match my soul.
“Seeking escape from persecution due to my gender identity, I emigrated from Ecuador in 2009 with nothing but a heart full of courage and the clothes on my back.”
In 2010, I moved to New York City with many dreams, and with the mentality of “this is the city where dreams can come true.” That’s what movies always portrayed on TV, at least, although they never told you how to make those dreams come true. I had so many questions: Could I pass as a woman? Would I ever be treated as such without being a performer? Most importantly, could I obtain a permit to stay in the United States legally? Over time, I found some answers and much-needed encouragement. My first mentor was Cristina Herrera, who worked at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan. She counseled me and supported me in my transition from male to female. And through the kindness and compassion of a pro-bono lawyer, Jhon Sanchez, I was blessed to be granted asylum in the United States. With their support, I decided to start transitioning to become the woman I always felt myself to be. Finally, in 2013, I was able to legally change my name and gender markers. This part of my journey taught me that the combination of others’ generosity and willpower can help you make your dreams a reality.
The success I found with my early mentors encouraged me to go further, and I was accepted to LaGuardia Community College in 2015. There, I became an academic superhero thanks to new mentors and opportunities: several of my professors, the Honors Program, and my role as one of the Ambassadors of the school. A turning point for me was being selected as a Kaplan Educational Foundation scholar, joining their program for high-achieving community college students from disadvantaged backgrounds seeking to transfer to competitive four-year institutions. This amazing opportunity changed my life, not only in terms of my education, but also on a personal level. They helped me become a leader. Before, I would not have been able to share my story. I was too afraid to be rejected for my gender identity. Now, I know better. If an institution rejects me for who I am, then I don’t want to be part of that institution.
In early January, I had the opportunity to visit Wellesley with my Kaplan mentors. I remember feeling as if my feet rooted into the ground like a tree. I remember telling everyone in the car “I belong here.” With the support of Kaplan’s program, I was accepted as a transfer student to dozen colleges, including Wellesley. My childhood daydream of being at a women’s school was coming true.
“I want to learn everything that I can during my time at Wellesley, to absorb all the knowledge that is waiting for me.”
Now at Wellesley, as one of the first transgender women ever accepted, I feel the need and responsibility to continue spreading my message of equal opportunity to everyone. My story became possible thanks to both my own willpower and the support that all of my mentors have given me. I want to share these with the student body, especially the Latinx, immigrant, and LGBTQI communities, and become a mentor for them now that I am here. This is my purpose. This is what keeps pushing me forward. I aim and aspire to help others who have struggled similarly, and to serve as a role model to transgender and cisgender women alike. My ultimate goal is to help society understand what the transgender community faces — such as daunting medical and legal processes amid physical and emotional changes — and demonstrate that we are humans who deserve love and respect just like everyone else.
Now, more than ever, I feel exuberant, a force of nature. I want to learn everything that I can during my time at Wellesley, to absorb all the knowledge that is waiting for me. That is how I can continue to be the superhero of my own story, and continue to answer some of the questions with which I, and society still struggle.