As he looked into the faces of those around him one year ago, Mac Simon said he couldnâ€™t help but see the truth of his identity in those faces at the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Always aware of his transgender identity but still hesitant to admit it, Simon went to the event with friends he had made in his time as an intern at the Lambda Center, Fort Collinsâ€™ GLBTIQQA community center, still gender questioning.
But as he looked around, it became clear.
â€œI felt like there was a mirror being held up to me, like I was seeing my reflection in a lot of people in that room,â€ he said, and with that truth, he left intimidated by what he had discovered.
â€œIt took me a few months after that to get the balls to come out,â€ he said, to admit to himself and others that he was a transman. But since he made that choice, he has been â€œout and proud,â€ working each day to share awareness and understanding about what it really means to be trans.
Saturday, the Lambda Center will present this yearâ€™s Transgender Day of Remembrance, and for Simon, itâ€™s an event heâ€™ll always feel connected to.
â€œItâ€™s an opportunity to memorialize the lives that are lost due to hate crimes,â€ he said, â€œan opportunity for voices in our community to be heard, voices that are typically not heard.â€
And for many transmen and women in this community, itâ€™s a night to celebrate their identities, the journeys they have taken on their way to identifying with their gender.
Members of the sometimes-overlooked â€œTâ€ in GLBT, the transgender community is one proud of its history and the diversity it holds.
â€œAnyone who identifies with the label of transgender is having an experience that is exceptionally strange in many ways,â€ Simon said. â€œAnyone whoâ€™s trans is transcending, is living in a way that is challenging society.â€
And itâ€™s an experience only they will have as they transition from their born gender role to that which fits their personal reality.
Discovering a truth
In her youth, Elle Martinez struggled with her identity, confused but unable to pinpoint that source of distress.
Self destructive, angry, confused, Martinez spent her early years in the dark.
Overwhelmed by her adolescence and puberty, she woke up in her mid-20s a man wondering what the problem was.
Through counseling, the shadows lightened, the queer part of her identity becoming clearer.
â€œIt took a lot of personal tragedy,â€ she said, â€œa lot of failure with personal mistakes and errorsâ€ before she was able to take steps toward her true identity.
Having spent the past few years as a gay man, things still hadnâ€™t felt right.
â€œI denied a queer identity,â€ Martinez said, explaining how her initial reaction to that label was too much for her to take on.
But as language and contexts evolved, Martinez discovered the right fit, that transwoman felt right.
â€œIn a lot of ways, I knew all along,â€ she said. â€œI didnâ€™t have the language, I didnâ€™t have the concept, I didnâ€™t have the resources and I didnâ€™tâ€™ have the people there. So it took me three or four years to come to the conclusion: I feel like a woman.â€
She had found a community that she identified with and counseling that pointed her in the right direction.
â€œA lot of it was admitting,â€ she said, explaining that once she was able to recognize that, the rest of the pieces fell together.
Through the help of the Eclectic support group at the Lambda Center, she saw others she felt familiar to, and from there it was simple to see the journey she needed to take.
â€œIt was one thing to feel like my gender isnâ€™t right, another to feel like a freak,â€ Martinez said. â€œIf you can put it in the context, that your gender doesnâ€™t match the way you feel inside, it gives you a road map of where you can go.â€
And with those directions in mind, her transition has brought the peace she always wanted.
â€œItâ€™s made the difference for me to be a functional happy person,â€ Martinez said, smiling. â€œI think a lot of those poisons and demons inside of me that really they found other outlets in behaviors and attitudes.â€
A more positive person now, it took the knowledge of her true identity to find the happiness she had been missing.
â€œIâ€™m proud of the journey and the struggle that Iâ€™ve taken to get here, she said. And while it hasnâ€™t been an easy ride, itâ€™s been one sheâ€™s been glad to take.
â€œI feel like a new person.â€
And like it did for Martinez, it is the transition into the right gender identity that helps transmen and women to embrace their full selves.
The journey and transition
Born a girl, Matthew Diemerâ€™s childhood was filled with different signs that something wasnâ€™t quite right.
A tomboy at heart, Diemer saw the need for logic at an early age, always challenging his environment trying to be one of the boys.
â€œFemininity was fragile,â€ he said, explaining that in his experience, the women in his life had needed support he didnâ€™t want to rely on. â€œI knew I didnâ€™t want to be that.â€
For Diemer, masculinity was more comfortable.
As gender lines grew more confusing, attraction to women rising and falling throughout adolescence, Diemer began to slip into self-injury, struggling to find the answer to the same question Martinez asked: What was wrong with his current label?
â€œI had lost my identities,â€ he said.
As his appreciation for his queer reality formed, Diemer fought with the fear of what being trans would mean for him.
Most of all, he worried about the reaction his grandparents would have, the two people in his life that had taught him the important things, how to love and live with compassion.
Having already come out as a lesbian to his parents, Diemerâ€™s realization that transman was a better fit was almost a step too far. Could they understand that next piece? Could any of his family?
So in a collection of letters to his mother, father and stepfather, he asked for their understanding, explaining what it meant to be trans but also how this filled in the remaining blanks of his identity.
They understood, and that was a piece of support that Diemer would be able to take with him.
But for his grandparents, it was a riskier chance the way he saw it.
So in a handwritten letter, he pleaded for them to understand, thanking them for what they had given him and taught him about life.
Days later, with no response, he couldnâ€™t focus. The thought of losing that support was too much to imagine.
So with encouragement from his sister he called.
â€œHello Matthew,â€ his grandmother answered, not hesitating to use his changed name.
Nothing had changed. While hurt he hadnâ€™t told them sooner, she was just glad he had found himself, his true identity.
Since then, his life as a transman has been nothing but positive.
â€œI definitely challenge myself to love what I have,â€ he said, and since his transition, thereâ€™s been a lot to enjoy.
A transman and member of the Eclectic support group at Lambda, Duff Norris understands the importance of community, especially for a group that is a minority even in the GLBT community.
A journey unique to each transman and woman, transitioning can be a road hard to travel alone, and in his three years attending Eclectic, Norris found a group that eased that isolation.
With the safe space it provides, Eclectic helps those transitioning to find the humor in the situation â€“â€“ a forte Norris encourages with his contagious laugh and outgoing personality â€“Ââ€“ along with the answers to questions only those transitioning could answer.
Whatâ€™s the right way to sit? Where should I go shopping? More importantly, where is it safe for me to go?
These are the questions Eclectic does well to answer, said Maria Montano, the groupâ€™s leader at Lambda.
â€œWe all walk through the complicated hoops we have to jump through,â€ Montano said. â€œThereâ€™s no rush. Weâ€™re just trying to help people to who they are, find where they are on the gender spectrum.â€
And as a transwoman who has been out and transitioned for six years now, Montano is an invaluable resource for those who are just beginning their journey.
â€œEclectic helps guide people through these things, our groupâ€™s unique experience,â€ she said.
Like any other personâ€™s development, the transition is an emotional trip, something Simon believes should be acknowledged.
â€œThe process is something to celebrate and find joy in,â€ he said, a firm believer in the old saying, â€œItâ€™s the journey, not the destination.â€
â€œAt the end of the day, itâ€™s a human experience thatâ€™s just like any other human experience,â€ Martinez said. â€œItâ€™s very much the same as another person would experience life, it just has a little twist on it.â€
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