Katherine, a gentle 19-year old from Brooklyn, is many things: Bangladeshi American, an avid gamer, Muslim, a future programmer. But one thing she is not: human. At least, that’s what she’s been told by the family who rejected her.
In the cramped apartment she shares with her parents and siblings, Katherine is a ghost. Virtually ignored, she spends her days invisible in the hallway, the only place she doesn’t get in the way of her mother who is seldom outside the kitchen, her father who spends his days in the living room, and her siblings, who hide themselves away in their small room.
Katherine doesn’t have a room, let alone a bed she can call her own. “I sleep on an extra bed until a guest comes. And when they come, I sleep in a random spot around the house.”
She escapes reality with the only item she can claim as her own: her computer. That’s where she dreams of a better life.
This has become Katherine’s new normal ever since she came out as transgender last year. After 18 years of repressing her true identity, she finally mustered up the courage to come out to her immigrant parents. Terror set in: “What if they don’t accept me?”
The brief talk went exactly how she had predicted. Her parents disapproved. In an instant, she was dead to them.
Depression quickly set in, and for Katherine — who had self-esteem issues since she was a child — thoughts of suicide became very real.
Living in an unsupportive household with family that ostracizes her, Katherine feels trapped. Not only is she a prisoner inside her home, but in her own body. “Maybe if I went away, it’d all be better,” she would think.
She’s not alone. A study by the Youth Suicide Prevention Program found that more than 50% of transgender teens have attempted suicide by their 20th birthday.
The transgender homelessness population is massive, too. Among the documented 1.6 million homeless youth across America, 40% are transgender, according to a study reported by Trans Equality. Of that population, 90% reported they left their households because of harassment, bullying and family rejection, found a True Colors Fund study. In the same report, another 75% reported physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
“Certainly, a lack of family support is behind transgender youth homelessness,” said Michael Silverman, executive director at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. “When transgender youth are in unsupportive households, they are forced to [choose] between who they are themselves and family support and rejection. That’s a terrible decision to make.”
Other than family rejection, says Susan Maasch, executive director of the Trans Youth Equality Foundation, teens can feel extreme discomfort with their bodies. Often times they are prohibited from seeking medical attention by their parents who are required by U.S. law to provide consent for anyone underage. Many consider it a phase or a psychological disorder.
“Living in the wrong gender with puberty and body changes is extremely painful for them psychologically and emotionally,” she says. “I can tell you quite assuredly that it’s depressing and harmful not to receive puberty blockers or hormones that are needed.”
While there are obstacles ahead for Katherine, there’s also tangible hope, and an opportunity to find real happiness. She’s now on hormones and has been on estrogen for the past eight months, which has made for a relatively positive experience. Much to her surprise and satisfaction, she’s developed womanly features: curves and growing breasts. She’s finally transitioning outwardly into the woman she has always been inside.
family was all I had.
On a day in July, Katherine met with 10 other teens ages 12-19 who could relate. It was a fashion photo shoot for Mashable, aimed to celebrate teenage expression, in this case for trans teens who sometimes feel voiceless. Like Katherine, these young people are in the process of transitioning into identities they’ve always longed for, and learning how to communicate through tools like fashion.
With the help of celebrated stylist and creative director Nicola Formichetti, who donated his time to this project, these teens were able to connect their outward appearance to their inward selves. For them, fashion is more than clothes; rather, it’s an essential means to express their genders accurately.
This original Mashable photo shoot captured the stories of 11 special teens. Some of them are raw, others eye-opening, all compelling. Bold, beautiful and brave, these youths are redefining what it means to be a transgender teenager in America today and proving that their voices matter. Here, they introduce themselves to the public for the first time, in their own words.
The following excerpts have been lightly edited for brevity.
This is life
in their own words…
Middle school was one of my worst periods of depression. Because of it, my memories are completely blocked out.
I do, however, remember one girl. Her name was Katherine. I knew she was an orphan and I knew her uncle was an abusive drunk. I was always mad at him for doing that to her. I can’t remember anything else about her, so I just decided let me create a whole new world and a whole new meaning for that name.
When coming out, I was afraid of losing everything because my family was all I had. The way we grew up in my family, we stuck together. It just came to the point where I couldn’t repress myself anymore, and the fear of being completely rejected outweighed the need to be myself.
Today, I’m ostracized. I don’t have a voice. But that is my life.
I used to be able to imagine myself as a girl with long hair, make myself look extremely fabulous — my ideal self that I wanted to be. But, because of my depression sometimes I can’t see that girl. I see me doing all of this, like even today’s photo shoot with all of the glitz and glamour, I can’t see the girl. I can’t feel the girl. I can’t be the girl.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been feminine. I used to always put on the princess gowns and run around, and the little plastic high heels that you can get at the dollar store. At first I was like, “Why am I having to identify as a boy? Why do I have to be a boy when I want to be a girl?” So it was kind of confusing.
Then in third grade, my dad shaved my head, and that was the hardest thing. My dad started getting really upset so I had my mom chop off half of it. He goes, “You’re halfway there, chop it more…I don’t accept it.”
He used to lie to me about all the laws and say, “It’s illegal for you to do that” and “God doesn’t like what you’re doing.”
My parents divorced when I was four. I think I spent about half a year where I didn’t go to see my dad. In fourth grade is when I started to transition. My hair started to grow out and I started pinning my bangs back, putting a bow up there. I got my ears pierced.
As for now, my dad is still wishy-washy. I don’t really see him anymore. I don’t have visitation with him so I don’t really know how that’s working right now. He texts me every once in a while. He’s coming around.
People call me a “transtrender.” It’s people who pretend to be trans to be popular. It’s because of what I look like and how I’m not taking hormones for my transition, but there are plenty of transgender people who don’t want to go through that process. I like how I look, I really do. It’s up to other people to change their perception of me rather than for me to change myself to fit what their perception is. I wear dresses sometimes, but that doesn’t make me less of a man. I definitely have a feminine side. I enjoy having my makeup done and can still look pretty and be a man.
It’s a big day for me. Today’s actually the first time my parents have seen me dress up.
Not everyone’s been supportive like my parents. This year is kind of when I really came out publicly. A guy from school added me to a baseball [Facebook] group and I guess they were talking about me. I got really nervous; I deactivated my Facebook, and left the group. I was really self-conscious.
A few days later I was talking to [my girlfriend] Erica and she was like, “Why did you delete it? Who gives a shit?” She doesn’t.
There are times where I always feel like I am upset because I haven’t gotten anywhere, but I just got to keep optimistic. My transition has been five years in the making. I’m very anxious to start the process. I know from research the older you get the harder it is to make the transition look better. I’ve seen some people who transitioned at an earlier age and how much more feminine they look.
The one thing I hate the most is how much testosterone I have. I shaved last night; I’m growing hair back on my face, on my arms. It’s just so much to do.
My girlfriend, though, is super supportive and is like, “I don’t care what you look like. If you have a good personality and a good heart that’s what I care for.”
I struggled with depression and anxiety ever since I was 13 or 14. The biggest thing for me as a trans person is that I feel like a lot of the depression and anxiety came from how people treated me.
People still mistreat me. On the streets in the city people will stare at me and walk past me and continue to stare at me. I was waiting in line to get into a public pool, and I turned around and looked at a couple loudly arguing about if I was a boy or a girl. Me and my friends just ended up leaving.
Soon, people won’t question me. I just started testosterone and am super excited. It’s all been happening very, very quickly for me in the best way. It’s a little overwhelming because I was so miserable and now I’m overjoyed about everything.
Some of the biggest changes are my voice. Every four to five days I wake up with my vocal chords feeling scratchy and my voice is deeper, and it’s really cool. My facial hair is also growing in as well as my sideburns. Recently, I shaved the sides of my hair when I got a cut. It’s going to be nice when my mustache grows in hardcore.
in the morning and go outside.
I brought this San Francisco Giants hat with me to today’s shoot. My older brother said to me, “You know, now that I have a brother, I want to make sure he’s cool and has swag.” He bought me this and it makes me feel more masculine. Right now, he’s the only one who really accepts me.
I didn’t come out as transgender until I was 15. To tell you the truth, I was in a very bad physiological state when I came out. I actually had a suicide attempt and then I was like, “I can’t take this anymore.” That’s what made me come out to my parents.
my parents are going to kick me out.
It’s very difficult since I’m South Asian and I’m Muslim. My parents let me live with them, so I’m grateful for that. But that’s about it. They don’t accept who I am; they just tolerate it.
I’m still trying to get hormones but can’t start until I’m 18 since my parents have to consent to it, and they won’t. It’s really difficult. I definitely know they still love me, but there is this connection that we lost after I came out as trans. I’ve been researching LGBT homeless shelters on the side because I’m terrified that once I start hormones my parents are going to kick me out.
Growing up was very difficult because my family was not supportive at all. When I was younger, they all sort of thought I was gay. That’s when my father would bully me along with my brother, older brothers, my mother, my grandmother — everyone. They would say that I’m going to hell. They threatened to beat me up. My father would say things like, “If I ever catch you with another man I’m going to kick your ass and kick his ass.” He would embarrass me in front of people. He told me he was ashamed of me. My brother told me that I shouldn’t have been born, that it should just have been my older brother and that’s it.
It’s actually been very difficult. I’ve been hospitalized twice and went to behavioral hospital for self harm.
The only reason I was able to transition with the hormones and the surgery was because, when I was in third grade, I was taken from my family by child protective services because they found drugs in my mom’s system. My foster mother took me in and we stayed in contact ever since. She pretty much saved my life.
I’m not in contact with my family anymore. But if I was, I would love to sit them down and let them have it. I would love if they couldn’t say anything to me; for about a half an hour I’d let it all out. They still don’t know how badly they hurt me. They broke my heart over and over.
When my mom was pregnant with me, doctors said she was going to have a son. So she was thinking of boy’s names. When she came out with a biological female, she didn’t know what to call me. She chose the name Chance.
Both of my parents are Chinese immigrants, so they’re very strict and traditional. When I told [my mother] it wasn’t a phase, she broke down and started crying. My father wasn’t exactly on board with it. But soon enough, he went from not using any pronouns to now calling me “him” and “he,” which is cool.
I’m non-binary and neutral in my gender. It means I’m neither/nor but also both. I don’t have a specific word or phrasing for it, but I put a lot of thought into what that means.
When I first started to identify as non-binary I thought I had to cut my hair super short and masculine. After a couple of months, I started to wear whatever I wanted and be more comfortable with dresses, skirts and loose jeans. I think the biggest misconception is that you have to look a certain way. Commonly, the main stereotype with non-binary individuals is that it means they are thin, white and masculine. But obviously that’s not who I am and what I look like.
It’s kind of funny. I’m a dance major, so what I wear is very comfortable clothing — jeans, T-shirts. I wear a lot of vintage and thrifted clothing with a lot of patterns. I just got a pair of overalls which I’m super excited about. It’s an eclectic fashion that’s both masculine and feminine.
I knew something wasn’t right really early on, at like three or four years old. I asked my mom one day how someone knew if they were gay. The next day, I was like, “That’s not it.” It wasn’t until I was seven years old that a doctor diagnosed me with [gender dysphoria]. I started on puberty blockers at about 13, and that’s when I started transitioning.
At first, my dad and my stepmother didn’t understand or accept this transition. But later, my stepmother came around and actually convinced my dad to help me with getting the hormones I needed.
So at 17 was when I went onto hormones. It was shocking because I started seeing results less than a week into it. My nipple size was the size of a dime or a nickel, and they became like quarters in less than a week. I was like, “Wow, it’s really happening.”
When I was younger and transitioning, I was friends with another transgender girl. At that time, people on the streets of New York would throw objects and glass bottles in our direction.
My mom has been the biggest fighter for me. There are times when people look at me in a funny way or say something negative. My mom will be like, “Why don’t you keep your comments to yourself?” I’m always like, “Mom, don’t fight this, don’t worry,” but to be honest, I do get bothered by it. It’s sad that someone would want to go out of their way to ruin someone’s day. It hurts, but I feel very strong and determined to live my life this way.
I’m not dating now, so I don’t know if I want to get married. But I do want one child at the very least. Earlier in my transition I did struggle with womanhood and not having a child of my own. Sometimes I think about not having a pregnancy and how I would miss out on that. I’m real at the end of the day and don’t want to cry about it, but I still do.
to live my life this way.