To be honest, I didn't know much about the LGBTQ+ community prior to college. I mean, I knew what some of the letters stood for, I knew people who identified with said community and I saw how their identity affected various parts of their lives. Then, I found out who my roommate would be for my freshman year. I remember seeing him when I visited the school months before but never having a conversation in person. Ironically, we were already friends on Facebook and right after realizing that, I saw an e-mail from him. It said,
My name is Trey, and I am your roommate. I figured it would be cool to get to know you before school started if that's cool."
We exchanged numbers and then I asked what I should call him since the name we called him during the visit and his name on Facebook were different. He told me to call him Trey, as that was his preferred name. He mentioned that he was a transgender male and that the whole name thing was somewhat of a hassle.
Over the school year, I saw Trey transform. I saw him go through the process of legally changing his name. I saw him take his first dose of testosterone. I saw the hair changes. I saw the family struggles. Through all of the processes I was able to witness, I learned three main things from Trey — things he doesn't even know he taught me.
1. "Manhood" is what you make it.
The traditional concept of manhood is something that supports binaries, traditional gender roles, the machismo ideal, dominance, lack of emotion and many other things. Seeing Trey make himself into the man he wanted to be showed me that manhood shouldn't be defined and that you can make your own definition of manhood.
2. Making tough decisions is a part of growing up.
One thing adulthood brings with it is decision making. These decisions may sometimes be ones that are difficult to make and might stray from the morals, beliefs or ideas that you grew up learning. I thought I was making a tough decision by choosing to go to school so far away from home. But hearing Trey's story of discovery made me realize that every decision that isn't made for you, especially one that is life-altering, has to cater to your well-being and your happiness. Sometimes, you can't do what makes your family happy or comfortable. You have to do what makes you the person you're becoming.
3. Knowledge is the key to empathy.
Like I mentioned before, I had heard the word transgender before, but never knew what it meant. I didn't know anything about the struggles the trans community faced, or even what it really meant to identify as such. So one day, I asked Trey, "Hey, how did you start your journey?" That question sparked a 30-minute long conversation mainly about the topic at hand, but also about identity and being happy in general. Once he explained to me the meaning of transgender, how large and close the community is and the struggles said community face, I felt like I could finally empathize.
So, to my roommate and "brotha from anotha motha," Trey — thank you. Thank you for teaching me about your life and your journey and allowing me to be a part of it. To the trans community, keep fighting for your rights and equal treatment — you deserve it all.
Lead Image Credit: Ted Eytan via Flickr Creative Commons