"Firstly, I will always love you. And secondly, I knew we would have this conversation since you were 3 years old. I just didn't know when it would be. I thought my job as a parent was to love you so that you would love yourself."
— Betti Shook
I was born 32 years ago on May 22, 1981. The name given to me by my parents was Alicia Anne Shook and I was assigned female at birth. I lived 24 years of my life as a woman. Today, I am a proud transgender gay man. I share a birthday with Harvey Milk. Milk was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. On November 27, 1978 Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. Harvey Milk envisioned a better world and he took practical steps to create it for real, for all of us. But for ignorance and hatred, today may very well have been Harvey Milk's 83rd birthday. In honor of his legacy, I'm coming out about my gender.
This is my story.
Until five months ago, I lived in what some might argue is the safest city in the United States - if not the world - for transgender people: San Francisco, California. When I decided to embark on a new journey to become a nurse, I made the decision to leave my home in the Bay Area and move to St. Louis, Missouri. People in St. Louis and San Francisco alike continue to ask me, "WHY?!?" Until last week, I asked myself the same thing.
For the last six years I have exercised a great privilege that not all trans people are afforded. I have not routinely come out as a transgender man unless I know people intimately. My friends and family know I'm transgender. Many of them witnessed my journey through the at once painful and exhilarating process of transitioning from female to male. Most of the people in my community know I'm transgender. However, until now I have never made it a point to put my gender identity at the forefront of what I share with people about myself for one very specific reason - because transgender is an adjective. It is but one word that describes me.
This all changed when I moved to Missouri.
Growing up transgender is lonely. While I had many close friends, I knew at a very young age that I was not like other little girls. But I was not like the boys either. I felt confused, and trapped, ashamed, and afraid. I never felt completely in my body. It was as if I was watching myself and everyone else from a distance. I resigned myself to being inherently different than every other child I knew. I had no language to describe my experience. I didn't know there were other people like me. I didn't hear the word transgender until I was 22 years old.
Last week I talked with the mother of a young gender independent child living here in St. louis. In 2011, she and another mother formed TransParent. TransParent seeks to provide support and community to families of transgender and gender independent children living in the St. Louis area. She commented that she has often told her elementary school age son there are thousands of other people like him. She wants him to understand that he's not alone. However, after changing schools and not meeting any other students like him, her son asked her, "When am I going to meet them? Where are all the other kids like me?"
I want this child to know that I was a kid like him.
In Missouri there is one very good reason for me to come out about my gender: Most people I meet here have never met someone like me. I live very comfortably in the world as a man. People will not know I'm transgender unless I tell them.
Please visit the About Me page of this website to learn more about me. Transgender Is An Adjective is a work-in-progress. My goal with this project is to help more health care providers, more neighbors, more teachers, and more friends discover how they can better support the transgender children and youth living in the St. Louis area.
Coming out as transgender comes with many risks. It is often unsafe. It's scary. Perhaps you have never heard the word transgender until now. Perhaps you're wondering what needs to be different in order to create a safer world for trans people to grow up in. This is the beginning of a conversation. I believe that through education and exposure, we can create safer and more supportive environments where transgender children can express themselves. I believe that sharing the stories of individual transgender people worldwide can inspire the collective transformation of our society.
Most people don't know that half of the transgender youth living in the US today will attempt suicide at least once before their 20th birthdays. Most people don't know that children as young as five years old are trying to take their lives. When I was growing up there were no resources for children like me and families like mine. Like me, my mother had no language for our experience. But the world is changing and we can all be a part of that change. Increasing access to affirming and supportive medical care, ensuring safety in schools, and promoting community understanding for trans children and youth are public health priorities.
Transgender is an adjective. It is but one word that describes me. But right now, right here, it is a very important one.
If you are a parent or a sibling, if you are transgender yourself - You are not alone.
“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or [gender] identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.”
— Harvey Milk