When I think about trans visibility, I think of fear and anger. Last week some MSU men called me a faggot and a dyke just for living, and it was scary. But I am also proud of who I am and of the work I have done to be my authentic self. What I think about most, though, is need. I used to spend a lot of time feeling alone, scared, and isolated. By being visible I may be able to help others who are struggling with living in a gender oppressive culture.

I am a genderqueer trans-masculine person of lesbian experience whose pronouns are neutral (their/they).

I have been living my life as a nonbinary trans person for as long as I can remember, though I haven’t always had the words to explain who I am. I blame this last part on American culture, which relies heavily on a binary gender system. You are born either male or female, and this is classified depending on your genitals. There are huge expectations and pressures to follow gender norms that are assigned by society. Imagine having to color a portrait of the entire world with only two colored crayons. It would feel limiting. That's what the gender binary feels like to me and my experience.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, I would have loved gender variation reflected in the world around me — not just something I experienced personally. When I was five, I loved wearing a quilted Strawberry Shortcake dress and riding my Big Wheel. When I was eight, I had a short, tight haircut with a long “rat tail” in the back. When I was 10, I practiced slicking my hair back with Vaseline so I could look like James Dean. During high school, I sometimes wore makeup and curled my hair. Outwardly I was always very gender nonconforming, but on the inside there was also something happening that felt very confusing.

I can only explain it as a feeling of being uncomfortable with my body and how I felt inside it. I had been feeling this uneasiness since puberty when my beautiful, flat chest disappeared. That feeling of being uncomfortable was always present. About 12 years ago, I began questioning my gender identity. I thought, “Maybe I’m a transgender man?” This realization scared me, and I began repressing these thoughts and feelings. Still, there was a nagging feeling inside me to listen to myself. I needed something but I didn’t know what it was. Testosterone maybe? If I transitioned, what would my friends think? Would my family disown me? What does it even mean to transition? Where would I go to get this help?

I messaged the only trans man I knew, disclosed my secrets, and never received a response. I felt overwhelmed and terrified, so I pushed all the thoughts and feelings into the back of my mind, as far as I could. I rationalized the decision to stay in the closet, keeping myself miserable and justifying the reasons I couldn’t move forward. I would tell myself I couldn’t do it because my dad wouldn’t understand, because I wasn’t suicidal, because it would be hard for my daughter, because I’m an introvert and everyone would be looking at me. I didn’t feel safe enough to tell anyone, so I kept it to myself for 11 years.

The universe helped me out in an unexpected way. I started a master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Siena Heights University in the fall of 2012. Throughout the program I did my best to advocate for the LGBTQI community and educate my straight, cisgender classmates. When we had a diversity class, I arranged for a panel of transgender people to come answer questions. When we had a class in diagnosis, I prepared a presentation about gender dysphoria. I tried to help my peers and instructors understand that being transgender is not a mental disorder and that being transgender is beautiful and shouldn’t be stigmatized. Secretly, I wasn’t just educating others; I was also exploring my own gender identity.

I spent my internship working with transgender clients, helping them find resources, begin medical transition, come out and overcome gender challenges. At the same time, I sought therapy to begin unpacking all the things I had been holding in. Straight and lesbian culture had taught me how I was expected to act as a gay person and a female person. I needed to sort it all out, to essentially find myself. Therapy helped me realize I’m a nonbinary trans person. I wasn’t someone who always knew they were a guy because I’m not a guy. I also wasn’t someone who always accepted being a girl because I am not a girl. There are more ways to be than male or female, and I fit somewhere in the middle. My gender is queer. My gender identity is Parker! I began masculinizing hormones three months ago, and I have never felt better. I am currently a genderqueer identified mental health therapist working at a private practice in East Lansing.

I feel more connected to my body now than I ever have before. I love the facial hair that I am beginning to grow. I love that I feel stronger. My moods are stable for the first time since puberty, and there is peace inside of me. The physical changes are nice, but the mental changes and the feeling of belonging in my body is the best. At the same time, I can accept and appreciate the body I was born with. My life is beautiful. Living an authentic life is beautiful. Even more affirming is that I am no longer afraid to be seen. I want to be visible and help others, too!

Becoming visible as a trans person is important to me. I want other transgender people to know they are not alone. There are many crayons inside the box, and you can be whatever color you are in this beautiful gender prism.