Growing up, having two grandmothers was always normal to me. I never questioned it or thought of it as unusual. I felt the same unconditional love and support from my grandmothers as I did from all my other grandparents. But as I got older I started to wonder about their pasts. How did it affect my mom and aunt? What was it like coming out, especially decades ago? What type of barriers did they have to break through? I’m so thankful that both of my grandmothers had the courage to pursue the life they dreamed of. I can’t imagine what my family’s lives would be like if they hadn’t. I’m so lucky to have such strong, courageous role models in my life.
Lee is one of the main reasons I started this project. Like I’ve said, I probably couldn’t have done it without encouragement from others. He was always there to listen to me talk about it whether we were driving around aimlessly or in the middle of a rush at work. Not once did he seem uninterested, constantly telling me how good of an idea I had. He’s one of the people that made me truly excited about what I was setting out to do. When I put my plans into action, I started thinking of people I’d like to interview. I realized Lee was perfect. He was such a warm, kind person; he always asked about me and how I was doing. We didn’t talk about him much. He directed such compassion and attention towards others; I had a feeling he knew how it felt not to get those things himself.
“I wish I could tell people more about me. But on the other hand, I don’t know. I don’t think I matter that much, I don’t think I’m worth it, so I just keep to myself.”
Lee was more than happy to let me interview him. The minute we sat down, I realized he had a story that people needed to hear.
“I always wanted to fit in. ‘Cause I was always different. And even though I was a tomboy and I didn’t like girly stuff at all, I always wanted people to be like, ‘That’s a girl.’ You know, labeled. I just wanted to fit in.”
Lee is transgender. It’s not scary. It’s not confusing. It’s not made-up. The body he was born in simply doesn’t match his brain and the way he sees himself. Essentially, someone who is transgender does not conform with the gender expression of the sex they were assigned at birth. While they are labeled as either male or female based on their external anatomy, a variety of internal factors can cause somebody to be transgender. There are many processes that occur before birth involving hormones and brain development that could cause one’s internal sense of self to contradict their physical body. (Click here to learn more about what being transgender means.)
“I always felt left out, ‘cause I felt so not girly and stuff.”
Lee grew up differently than most people do; something was missing. It’s hard for anyone but those who’ve lived it to imagine the struggle he must have gone through. But the confusion of living in the wrong body was just the first roadblock.
“Some people have literally come up to me and been like, ‘Yo, we’re having a bet. Are you a girl or a guy?’”
On top of the normal teenage struggles, Lee had to deal with figuring out who he was – and not in the typical coming-of-age way. At first, he thought he was just gay. He liked girls; maybe that was what made him so different. But years of confusion, conversations, and Youtube videos led him to the missing piece.
“I’m like ‘No, I’m not gay, there’s another word’ – another word to fit who I was, or who I felt as a person.”
He finally figured out why he felt so isolated. His body did not match the person he knew he was inside.
“It came to me coming out a second time.”
Figuring out the problem was just the first bump in the road, though. As he began physical affirmation of his gender, he faced many emotional struggles. Even when he was disrespected by complete strangers, he didn’t have the strongest support system to fall back on.
“Not everyone’s gonna get it, not everyone’s gonna be super accepting. I do have quite a few people in the [LGBTQ+ community] … those people have been pretty accepting. My mom, I live with her, she’s been pretty accepting but she doesn’t really get it. My sister, she’s younger, she’s good with it. My grandmother, I live with her too, she does not accept it. It’s like everything I do, she’s [asked] me, ‘Do you wanna have friends?’ … At work, I told them early on I wanted to be called Lee instead of my whole down on early name. So most people they either know already or they just call me Lee anyway ‘cause they haven’t heard anything else. But they’re pretty cool about it. Some of my close friends – they still slip up every now and then. It’s like, yo, that’s fine. And yeah I correct them but everybody’s doing their own thing. It’s like, you do what you can. And if it really bugs me … I just kind of walk away. I just try to avoid them.”
Even as he begins to clear the emotional hurdles, there are many physical ones that Lee is still facing today.
“There’s this thing called gender dysphoria which is kind of an odd feeling – it’s more than ‘I’m a guy in a girl’s body’; it’s hating different parts of your body because you’re not in the right body, kind of. So it felt good at the same time – getting rid of that heavy weight, that barrier or whatnot – but also it made me point out certain things that I really don’t like about myself, that I wanna change and stuff like that. But that takes time, unfortunately.”
Many of the steps transgender people take to affirm their genders are very costly – the two main ones being hormone therapy and gender affirmation surgery. However, he’s still hopeful that he can take these important steps in the future.
“Everybody who’s transgender goes through their own different path or story, not everyone’s the same … so it’s hard to see what route I wanted to take and the best way to get there.”
Though there have been some bumps in the road, my point in sharing Lee’s story is not to say that he’s had a sad life. Lee’s story is one of triumph and bravery and staying hopeful in the darkest times. Despite the hatred he’s seen, he still manages to put nothing but goodness back into the world.
“Think about what you’re gonna say and what you’re gonna do because everybody’s going through their own thing … I try to be nice to everyone I meet ‘cause you don’t know. You just don’t know. One compliment – one good thing – could lead to another thing.”
All Lee wants is to be the best, truest version of himself. I wish the world wasn’t a place that held good-hearted people like him back because of something so unrelated.
“Honestly, I’d try to put them in my place in a way, but I’d also kind of be like … if you don’t like me or accept what I am, you know, disassociate. Kind of cut it off.”
It’s very easy to say something doesn’t exist just because you haven’t experienced it. I really hope Lee’s story can help people see things from other perspectives and try to keep an open mind. He has received hatred time and time again for things out of his control, yet he still continues to radiate positivity. He respects everybody, even if they don’t respect him. If Lee can do it, I think we can all try a little harder.
I’m so glad that people finally get to hear Lee’s story. I know that it deals with some topics that some may not be familiar with or comfortable talking about, but I hope reading this can change that. It’s so important to educate ourselves about social issues and the people around us. All politics aside, Lee is an amazing person and the world has a lot to learn from people like him.