I’m honored to be among the first participants in MyAcceptance.org, a project by photographer Parker Austin.
MyAcceptance.org is an ongoing photo essay project that documents members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, and Transgender community by creating two photos. The first one represents how they felt growing up and the second shows how they feel now. Each set of photos is accompanied by a deeply personal story written by the subject as they discuss their journey towards hope and self-acceptance.
“Long before making my gender transition as an adult, I’d learned to mask my gender identity and expression. My childhood was full of love and support, but it became clear by middle school that acting “too feminine” was a punishable offense, with enforcement meted out with anything from words to fists. Though painfully shy, I was accepted by classmates in my early years. I started playing the flute in 3rd grade, and teachers would let me perform plays and puppet shows and stories I wrote for the class.
We moved several times between my 4th and 7th grades, and each time that early peer acceptance despite being different faded more. I’d occasionally been mistaken for a girl throughout my childhood, and as I’d gotten older, adults began asking me more frequently and more ominously if I was a boy or a girl. This reached a peak at a summer orchestra camp. My playing the flute made me an instant target, and I experienced violence for the first time. That was the moment where I realized I needed to change how I moved through the world, for my own safety.
So I sat on my hands so I wouldn’t move them while I talked. I was able to affect a very pleasant but nondescript persona. I started drinking as self-medication. I found a persona where people left me alone. I kept finding ways to distance myself from parts of me that brought negative attention. I became a student of masculinity, its cadences and dynamics. I was pretty good at the role. I was living up to everyone’s expectations, but not being true to myself. After a great deal of agony and introspection, I could no longer deny who I was. Each day of progress in transition felt like a mask removed from a pile of masks I hid behind. I vowed to help others transition sooner and more easily, and that remains my greatest accomplishment.
Many people who transition jump from one closet to another, distancing themselves from their trans history once they have finished. That felt too much like putting on another mask to me, so I have stayed out and open about my past and my present. I am very proud of who I am, and especially of how I got here. My days of hiding and avoiding my personal truth are behind me.”