Q: After reading more of your story, we noticed that you chose to "come out" later in your life, about three years ago. What was the catalyst for your coming out?
A: It was actually just two years ago, in March of 2012. Honestly, there isn't anything particularly interesting about my coming out. Like many others, my original therapist thought I was a "self-loathing homosexual", a classic diagnosis for trans women which postulates that the etiology of our desire is attraction towards men paired with an aversion towards being gay. It's a toxically patriarchal perspective that can't conceive of women as anything more than complements to men. She later adjusted to the conviction that my desire to be a woman was simply a way of escaping reality, a way of coping with my own traumas and my tendency towards overwork. I trusted her, so I stuck with the process, grew out a very handsome beard, and tried to marry a lovely woman. When after all of that the persistence and intensity of my desire failed to abate, and I suddenly found myself single and not really beholden to anyone else, I decided to try hormones. At the time I truly believed that upon doing so I would realize that it was a step too far and finally be free of the fear that I might be trans. Alas, after a few months I instead accepted that this was real. I was simultaneously devastated, because the impression I had internalized was that being trans basically accounted to a death sentence, and elated, because so many of my anxieties were suddenly disappearing.
When I did finally come out, change my name, etc., I found myself happier than ever before. My only regret was that I hadn't done it years earlier. I didn't want anyone else to go through what I had, so I started We Happy Trans to serve as a counter-narrative and show others the positive side of transitioning.
Q: It's not often that we see trans* individuals being recognized for their accomplishments and achievements. Why do you believe that the Trans 100 is necessary? And, how have you seen the Trans 100 make a difference in the community?
A: I keep thinking about Angelica Ross said during the 2014 Live Event. She mentioned that the project made her realize that not only does the public not know who we are, we don't know each other. Virtually every trans person I've ever met has talked about the isolation and shame they felt, we've all suffered from the lack of positive visibility. It has real consequences. The Trans 100, and the many other similarly positive and trans-led or inclusive projects happening right now, from #redefiningrealness to Trans H4CK, are providing a completely different image of being trans. The Trans 100 was mentioned in Cosmo, in an article about trans women by a trans woman. It may seem superficial, but that's revolutionary. There's a generation of people whose image of trans people will be shaped by Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Kye Allums, Laura Jane Grace, Fallon Fox, and Tiq Milan, smart, capable people doing great work who just happen to be trans, and for whom being trans is a source of pride and strength. Can we possibly overstate the importance of this?
Q: We watched the Trans 100 this year and were collectively in awe of the diversity of the honorees. How important is diversity to the Trans 100 team?
A: It's a natural extension of the team. Our Co-Director this year is Asher Kolieboi, and the Co-Founder is Antonia D'Orsay, both trans people of color. All of our keynote speakers have been trans people of color. I'm at white as can be myself, but I'm roommates with a black trans woman, and many of my closest friends are people of color, as are most of my personal trans role models, people like Bamby Salcedo, Ruby Corado, Cecilia Chung, Kylar Broadus, and Gloria Allen.
While the diversity is in this sense natural, it's also intentional. We're hyper-aware that while trans people of color face disproportional risk of every possible ill, they have been vastly underrepresented in virtually every organization or project we've seen. We feel that's unconscionable. Anyone that reads aloud the names of trans women of color at TDOR, but fails to celebrate, support, reach out to, or work with living trans women of color the rest of the year should be ashamed. There is simply too much talent in our community to excuse any ignorance as anything less than willful blindness.
Q: We Happy Trans is a wonderful tool to encourage individuals to share their story and change the narrative of abuse and rejection to one of a diverse range in experiences. Happiness is one of those words for which everyone has a different definition. What's your own definition of happiness?
A: I agonized over the name. Happy is a loaded word, and can seem trite. It's actually a play on the "We few, we happy few" line from 'Henry V', because I'm a huge Shakespeare dork. In the context of the site, which by the way will be relaunched in the next two months under new Co-Director Cherno Biko, it's entirely up to the participants to define for themselves. In a sense, for trans people anything resembling joy is a triumph. I know so many trans people who live apologetically, who have to justify their gender identity through a rhetoric of medical necessity and pathology. Doing so doesn't allow for that trans person to express joy, which to me is tragic. For me, the justification of my choice to transition is simply that I'm happier. That fact dramatically reveals how anyone else's objection truly is their issue.
At the risk of getting too philosophical, as is my wont, I think of the Vedic concept of sat-chit-ananda. In this metaphysics, existence has three inseparable qualities: being, consciousness, and bliss. To be is to be conscious is to experience bliss. Trans is part of my being, and in that there is joy. Ultimately, our work is to clear everything that stands in the way of that happiness. That's hard and long work in a culture with such intense and systemic fear of whatever identity is different from those who have power, but it's righteous work.
Q: Garden of Peace Project strives to empower individuals to explore their Self and we believe that each person should have one place where they can go to connect, feel vulnerable, heal, and where they feel most at "home" -- their garden of peace. Where do you find your garden of peace?
A: Can I say friends? They are my greatest blessing. I've chosen not to be public about my own personal struggles, but those close to me understand, and still love and support me in ways I can't begin to express my gratitude for. They are the ones who allow me to be vulnerable, whose laughter and tenderness heal me, who provide me with a sense of home. And my mom. Sitting on the porch with my mom in North Carolina, sipping coffee and listening to the birds, reading a good book and eating good southern food. That kind of simple joy is not something I'll ever take for granted.