In August, as I lay underneath a maple tree, I began to cry. It sounds silly, but I looked up and thought to myself, "How beautiful that in this life I will know and love as many people as the leaves on this tree?" It was a small moment, like many unplanned life-changing experiences are. Under that tree I felt entirely happy -- and realized that is what this has all been about.
Ten years earlier, coming out of my first trip through puberty, I had never heard the word "transgender." Media was silent on the topic and even fearful of it, and at age 13 I was hardly conscious of gender. All I knew was that I had gone from a cheerful, optimistic, androgynous kid to a person feeling anxious, uncomfortable, and unseen. I did not feel alone; I was alone. As I began to seriously question my gender, I asked my parents for therapy; I know that having access to this was a privilege, and it ultimately saved my life. At the time I never realized I was setting course on a path where my body and identity would be debated and challenged and would ultimately become part of a revolutionary movement.
After several years of easing those around me into my gender exploration, I gained the support of my parents, most friends, and the majority of my high school's faculty. At 17 I began my physical transition from female to male. I felt taking hormones would alleviate much of my body dysphoria, and it did. Excited for my voice to drop, I began recording it daily via audio or video on my laptop -- and by "daily" I mean "many times a day" ("This is my morning voice"; "This is my voice after basketball practice"; "This is my voice right after taking a cold shower"). I ran out of space on my computer, so I uploaded the vlogs to YouTube to store them. Others began finding my video diaries, and I soon began to see the power of social media as a community-building and educational tool.
Back then, looking up "transgender" in Internet search engines landed me on sites that either demonized transgender people or illuminated the alarming rate of depression, suicide, and murder in our community -- especially among trans women of color. I never would have imagined that years later I'd find myself viewing vlogs made by trans women, inspired by their confidence and their ability to express their womanhood in a world that systematically restricts who women are. Without knowing the repercussions, I reached a hand out into the world, via the Internet, in the hope of finding love and understanding. It didn't take long to recognize the intensity and value of the connections I've made with other trans folk and allies across the globe. When asked what I did on YouTube, I used to say that I made videos to help other trans youth. However, the truth is that everyone who has reached out to me has helped me. That's what is vital about community; it hasn't been a unilateral mentoring relationship but a let's-help-one-another-and-see-what-we-can-build-together-from-this partnership.
Sharing my life through vlogging has led to invitations to be an educator, speaker, poet, musician, and space opener for discussions at high schools and colleges nationwide. After graduating from college, I've been able to explore these opportunities while also juggling a day job to pay rent and live independently. Some days it's hard to be a 23-year-old artist who works part-time as a bank teller. Other days it's incredible to engage students in discussions of transgender issues. But since transitioning I find myself feeling whole every day. Moments of pure bliss and completeness inspire me to live life to its fullest while helping others reach their goals.
I am blessed to have a mother who slowly came around to be my best friend and advocate for transgender rights. Conversely, my brother gave me insight into how a lack of understanding can fuel anger and hatred. He showed me that the world is not always a safe place, but, more importantly, he showed me how people can change, as he's now my biggest supporter. Where we are now seemed impossible just three years ago and gives me faith in the ability of systems -- health care, education, and religion -- to change. Thank you for giving me that faith, brother.
Last month I found out that The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis-intervention and suicide-prevention services to LGBTQ youth, will be honoring me with the Trevor Youth Innovator Award at its annual gala, TrevorLIVE Los Angeles, on Dec. 7. The Trevor Project has influenced my mission to make the world a more positive place for trans youth, and being recognized with this award is the first tangible acknowledgement I have received since beginning my video diaries in 2009. Just as that tree in August visually reminded me of all the people I will know in this life, this award reminds me that sharing my story and supporting others on their path to happiness is tangible, valid, and real and makes a difference.
Through making these videos I have discovered a passionate, supportive, and beautiful community. The growth in acceptance I've seen in society over these past 10 years has been extraordinary. There is still a long road ahead, but if we are on it together, we are not alone.
Check out some of my videos below:
"photographic evidence of who i was to who i am"
"FTM Transition: 5 Years on Testosterone Picture/Timeline"
"Tell Me A Story - Skylar Kergil (original)"