Our Facebook feeds are filling up with comparison photos and glow-ups with the #2008vs2018 trend.
I originally struggled to decide if I was going to post a pre-transition photo of myself. Personally and professionally, I’m not shy about sharing my transition, but I don’t love showcasing some of my old photos in the middle of my Facebook wall either. But then I remembered that 2008 wasn’t actually a pre-transition year for me, even though most of you are familiar with my transition in the last 3-4 years. That’s when this post became personally significant.
This message is all to say that transitioning is not a straight line. It doesn’t have a real beginning and an end. It’s different for everyone, even for people with solid support systems, affirming workplaces, health insurance, and resources. It’s not our job to push people to be authentic. It’s our responsibility to take away every barrier we can to create an environment where people can be themselves whenever they are ready.
In 2008, I attended a life-altering LGBTQ camp for college student advocates called Campus Pride. The week before I went, I called and changed my name and pronouns on all of my camp paperwork. It was the first experience I had as my authentic self, and hearing everyone call me by the right name (a name I ultimately didn’t end up using) and the right pronouns was liberating.
When I returned to Springfield, I decided to tell two new people about transitioning every month, with the goal of transitioning publicly by the end of 2008. I didn’t make it. I got scared. And overwhelmed. And afraid I wouldn’t be believed. And afraid I wouldn’t be able to make the right relationships to be good at my new job at PROMO. Afraid I would hurt my family. I stopped transitioning.
Over the next year, I started working at PROMO as a Field Organizer. I graduated college. I started a relationship with the amazing woman who is now my wife, Amanda.
Amanda knew about my want to transition our entire relationship. She listened to me cry about not being able to transition. She pushed me to talk about it when not being able to be myself took me to dark, silent places. When we got married, we included a moment during our ceremony where we whispered private vows to each other, to remind each other that our true selves were getting married in that moment, even if most people in the room didn’t know what that meant. We made family Christmas stockings that were reversible, so I could have a stocking with my name on it when our friends and family weren’t over (again, the different name I didn’t end up using).
In 2015, I was helping to lead the No Repeal Campaign, a campaign to maintain nondiscrimination protections in Springfield. It was powerful, community-changing work. Even so, we lost the campaign (tune in another time for my pitch about how Springfield stepped up after that loss and is a better place for LGBTQ people because of it). The day after that election was when I decided to transition. If I was going to do this work — the kind of work that you had to put your whole being into — I needed to do it as myself, my whole entire self.
I no longer cared if people didn’t believe me or if it changed the relationships I’d worked so hard to build. I only knew I needed to do it to survive. Most of my family embraced it, some aren’t there quite yet. All of my close friends were supportive and unfazed, in the best of ways. Ultimately, I found that transitioning deepened relationships. It allowed me to be more of myself with people, especially people who were still moving on LGBTQ issues because we could be vulnerable together.
Transitioning is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life, challenged only by deciding to ask Amanda to share her life with me. But none of these best decisions were a straight line, including being comfortable with my own name.
We all play an important role in creating a world where people have the space and safety to become who they were always meant to be. Join PROMO, and our dedicated work, to create a state in which all Missourians are protected as their authentic selves by telling your legislator to pass the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act.
Enjoy my shiny Zac Efron/Justin Beiber hair cut from 2008, and thank you for being a part of this incredible journey with me and everyone in our community who has fits of starts and stops on the road to being themselves.