In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, MTV News asked young trans people: "What does Transgender Awareness Week mean to you?"
2015 has been a monumental year for the transgender community, but there's more progress yet to be made. Not only do we want to highlight the powerful personal stories of these individuals, but we want to know: "What's next?" Let's shine a light on what has been accomplished -- and what still needs to be discussed.
You can share your thoughts with MTV News by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Casey Hoke, 18
Death tolls, suicides, “transsexual shock stories” and stigmatizing spotlights. This was just about the basis of what I knew about being transgender when I first Googled the term at age 13, in a desperate search to figure out why I felt so “foreign” in my own skin. This was two years before I came out to my family and community in Kentucky as a transgender male. In seeing all of the negative prospects that came with being out, I remember wondering:
“How could I possibly live like this?”
“How would I be taken seriously at school? For college admissions? Career prospects?”
“Would anyone be remotely interested in settling down with me? Starting a family?”
And most importantly as I thought of those closest: “What would people think of my family?”
When I started growing even more frustrated in search of my identity, I searched further. I searched for a sign that coming out wouldn’t mean the end. I needed a positive narrative. These narratives weren’t available in mainstream media, so I found them from trans people themselves on YouTube, Tumblr and even Instagram.
These places were vital outlets for spreading truths. I found vlogs on coming out, living as non-binary and binary genders, art, tutorials on safe chest-binding methods and stories of acceptance from families. These stories gave me hope and fueled my decision to come out. Those who shared their stories with me became my guiding stars; stars who shed needed light on negative experience and treatment, but also shed light on the feelings of liberation that came with being out and even acceptance from those around them. These stories were the ones that convinced me that it was OK and perfectly natural to be transgender. In a time of coming out and being perceived in a different and unnatural light from those closest to me, naturality and affirmation kept me afloat.
After coming out, facing negativity, finding acceptance and continuing my life as an artist and starting a new chapter as an advocate for trans youth, I shared my own stories to LGBTQ+ youth, parents and educators through an ongoing workshop called “Art, Identity and YOU," where I discuss LGBTQ+ art history, my experience as a trans artist and provide a platform for youth to share their own experience and identities through art with the audience members.
Earlier this year, I gave a workshop in Northern Kentucky. I had just turned 18 at the time, had gotten into the college of my dreams and had received scholarships for my leadership in school and in my community -- all things that I had thought impossible when I first Googled the term “transgender."
After giving my workshop and sharing my stories of validation through art, a woman approached me and told me that her son came out as a trans male at age 10, just several months before she attended my workshop. I couldn’t help but to smile when she said, “You’re the first other trans person I’ve met. You’ve given me so much hope for my son” after she heard my story. This moment had affirmed that I had “given back” through sharing my truths, just as those I looked up to in finding the courage to come out had shared through blogging and vlogging.
Trans narratives are important. Just as they’ve helped me and thousands of other youth and adults come out, they’ve helped people understand and accept their transgender loved ones. With the astounding amounts of violence that trans people -- especially trans women of color face -- it’s important to reach out and educate all communities on these issues. Each narrative, positive or negative, lends itself to educating one another. I’ve shared my narratives through media, workshops and even school board meetings to impact teachers, policy-makers and other community members -- and I only see this continuing as more individuals are empowered to share their narratives.
Every so often, I’ll see a Facebook comment on a major media outlet post highlighting trans narratives that say something along the lines of “enough with the transgender stories already” or “Why does every TV show have to have a transgender character now?” With all of the negativity I encountered in searching for some affirmation for my identity through mainstream media at age 13, I sure could have used a positive narrative. Thanks to the shifts in media today, to include these narratives and to begin to see trans characters on family-oriented television is truly incredible. Trans narratives are all different. There is no “one answer” to creating awareness of trans identities. The one answer I can give is to let trans people tell these stories and to guide us on the way to acceptance and a stigma-free narrative.
At this moment, there are hundreds of individuals seeking validation for their identities or exploring their possibilities just as I was from 13 to 15 years-old. This Transgender Awareness Week, let’s make certain to continue to shape mainstream awareness to not only highlight the violence and stigma that we face, but the stories of resilience and affirmation that the transgender community faces because coming out isn’t and shouldn’t be the end for us.
If you are transgender and thinking about suicide, or know someone who is, please contact The Trevor Project at (866) 488-7386.