My voice is one rarely heard. What you probably don’t know is that it used to be the voice never heard, and that I’ve lovingly embraced myself as a former hermit who lived most of his life in crushing silence. As such, I spent almost 30 years of my life in isolation and despair before my transition. I want this column to give voice to those who are often misunderstood and invisible. I will begin with a piece of my story.
I am a transgender man who also identifies as two-spirit, straight, and demisexual. I’m sure my inability to understand why I felt so different from everyone in my small town led to my isolation. There were long periods of my life where you could have made the argument that I was selectively mute. There were days in college that I never spoke a word and never noticed that I didn’t speak because I was in so much pain. I was living life with this deep sense of shame, and I wanted to die. I tried and failed to be a good Christian, a straight woman, and a lesbian. I had this recurring dream of being a man, short hair and a scruffy face, walking in heavy boots down a gravel road. My dreams, even my nightmares, felt more meaningful and real than my life when I was awake. It wasn’t until I was able to fully embrace who I am that my life changed. I had to transition from presenting as female to being the man I always was, and alike many others, it was quite simply a matter of choosing life over death.
Throughout my journey, my ability to love others and accept their truth expanded, but never for myself. It took a long time for me to honor myself as a trans person. Now, I’ve learned to see being trans as this gift of peering into two worlds. Even though I’m a man, I lived 28 years of my life as a woman. It is an invaluable, rare blessing of perspective. It’s given me this idealistic view of how connected we all are, how each of us has our own unique viewpoint that we can share with others. This is the reason I’m a social worker and the reason Che Busiek and I co-founded the nonprofit, Transcend Charlotte. The mission of this organization is to create a safe place where a person’s true self is valued above all else; a place where perhaps others can avoid living the hell that my life became as I tried to mangle my identity into a box that I was never made to fit in.
Transcend Charlotte does not exist without both of us, Che and Trey. I’ll admit sometimes my being introverted is a challenge, especially in comparing myself to him at large events, such as the recent Charlotte Pride weekend. How does a theater kid who spent his whole life in front of an audience become best friends and business partners with a hermit? If you meet us in a crowd, you will see Che standing out front being charismatic and social, while I’m more withdrawn, probably organizing something in the background and trying to keep him on track. I struggle with that, the feeling that maybe I’m still invisible in a world that seems to value the extroverted. But I like being in the background, and embrace being an introvert. My and Che’s differences do not end there. We could not be more opposite if we tried, but we share the same dream. It’s this beautiful, synchronistic duality that makes Transcend Charlotte function. And it always reminds me of this image of yin and yang and how we all are like pieces to a greater puzzle. The world itself does not exist without all of us. It is impossible to know how a person’s presence impacts others, how a smile at one stranger can ripple out and change countless lives. I’ve always felt that when we lose someone to suicide, we are losing an immeasurable piece of ourselves. There are infinite reasons that people become silenced – their identity, experiences, trauma, etc. I’ve come to believe that it is human nature to put others down so that we can somehow feel better, good enough. But we are all equal, we all have this sacred, intrinsic worth that demands respect. Like Che and I, we are all from different worlds, but I believe we largely have the same dream – to know that we each matter.
We want to matter not because of what we do or the mask we show the world, but what is underneath all of that, our deepest truths that we often carry alone. How different would things be if we recognized this in each other and connected based on this sameness, all while honoring our differences. It’s loneliness that is killing so many of us, transgender and cisgender. It is my hope that Transcend Charlotte and this column can be safe places where people struggling as I was, as I often still do, can come forward, tell their stories, and be seen and embraced for all that they are.
If you need support or want to share your story, please contact [email protected] or reach out to Transcend Charlotte (transcendcharlotte.com).