An evangelical Christian college in Tennessee kicked a transgender student out of its dorms this month after discovering he had surgery to help his body align more closely with his gender identity.
Yanna Awtrey claims he was expelled from
Welch College in Gallatin mere hours after coming out of top surgery, a term often used in the trans community to describe a double mastectomy. In a Facebook post, Awtrey described how the school’s decision left him without a permanent place to stay while he recovers from major surgery.
“The physical pain right now is nothing compared to witnessing a lack of empathy for our fellow man,” the 21-year-old wrote. “I don’t understand other people’s cruelty.”
Welch College is owned and operated by the National Association of Free Will Baptists, an evangelical Christian denomination that holds conservative views about gender and sexual orientation. Awtrey’s parents are Free Will Baptist missionaries currently living in Bulgaria, he told
the Nashville Tennessean, so they wanted him to attend the college associated with their religious tradition. Awtrey was working toward degrees in biology and theology.
Awtrey said he has long experienced gender dysphoria, which the
American Psychiatric Association describes as “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.” He said he’s had suicidal thoughts since he was 11 years old.
He began taking hormone therapy in January, he wrote, and the “spark of hope and happiness” that resulted from that treatment helped influence his determination to get top surgery.
It was “an act of self-preservation and self-love,” he wrote on Facebook about his decision to get top surgery.
Yanna Awtrey speaks about his expulsion from Welch College in this video by the Nashville Tennessean.
Awtrey said the day of his operation, Aug. 2, was simultaneously the “best and worst day of my life.” He said he woke up from the surgery that day and cried out loud from happiness.
But when a family friend came into his hospital room and realized what kind of surgery he’d had, Awtrey told
NBC, the woman called his parents and his college.
Hours later, he said he got an email from the school’s vice president for student services, Jon Forlines, informing him that he wasn’t allowed back in campus dorms.
Awtrey said he later had a hearing with Welch College’s disciplinary committee, where he reportedly was told he’d violated the school’s rules prohibiting “sexual perversion.” The committee suspended Awtrey for two school terms, the Nashville Tennessean reported.
Welch College told HuffPost that it believes individuals experiencing gender dysphoria should be “treated with love and compassion.” But it maintains that “attempting to alter one’s bodily identity constitutes a rejection of God’s design for humanity.” The college confirmed to HuffPost that Awtrey was no longer permitted to live in its dormitory because the surgery was incompatible with the college’s “beliefs and expectations for members of its community.” The college said it promised to provide Awtrey with hotel accommodations and funds for food during the student’s “recovery period.” The college said it also offered to provide “in-home health care,” which the student reportedly declined. Refusing to use Awtrey’s preferred pronouns, the college insisted reports that it “responded inappropriately or unlovingly to the student’s situation are inaccurate.”
“Throughout Yanna’s time at Welch, we have treated her with love, respect, compassion, sensitivity, and privacy, though we always clearly communicated our community standards regarding gender identity,” Welch College President Matt Pinson said. “We at Welch love Yanna and have shown her that love in a way that accords with our deeply held religious beliefs.”
Awtrey told the Tennessean that the school only offered to pay for his food and housing for one week. He said the recovery period for the surgery would last two months.
Homelessness is a critical problem for transgender Americans. One in five transgender Americans say they’ve experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, according to the
National Center for Transgender Equality. More broadly, LGBTQ youth make up as much as 40% of America’s homeless youth population ― often because of family members’ rejection of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Awtrey is now estranged from his parents. Family friends have agreed to take him in temporarily while he recovers from surgery. Afterward, he said, he hopes to find a job.
Awtrey said that he decided to go public with his story so that those who share Welch College’s convictions realize that their theology has real and dangerous consequences for trans people.
“You say God is the personification of goodness, that he cannot do evil by his hand. Yet the costs seem so high,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’ve seen and heard my trans friends attempt to die by their own hands because their relatives prefer their death over existence.”
Although he’s been ostracized by Christians, Awtrey said, he’s learning that “Christianity and the Christian community are two very different things.”
“I do think of myself as a Christian,” he
said. “It’s unfortunate that the worst people I’ve ever met are the people who claim to be Christians ... it’s something I’ve had to work through ... to look toward God instead of toward people.” If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources. Also on HuffPost Alexander This is who I am right now. Most days, I am just me. I am plain and just going about my life. Most days. Some days, though, I like to be pretty. And that doesn’t always mean a dress and makeup. Sometimes it just means a tie or a vest. I am a beautiful boy. One day, many thousands of dollars in the future, I will not wear a binder in order to be seen as a boy. And I will still be beautiful. I will still wear makeup or vests or ties or skirts, and I will do so whenever I feel like it. Right now, this is how I can show that. This is a glimpse of where I am at this stage. A literal snapshot. Right now, my binder defines me and defends me. In the future, my body, haircut, clothing, everything will change. But for right now, this is who I am. Alexander Patterson, age 24 Gender Identity: transgender man/genderqueer Pronouns: he/him/his BJ My goal is to reach my idealized self and not let anybody prevent me from achieving that. My own happiness is at stake and nothing is more valuable to me than my own life. Goofing around, not staying at jobs -- that didn’t help me reach my goal. I wish I had been more mature, but I was too busy being punk rock. I had to learn how to set milestones and persevere. If I wasn’t trans, I would have had a much longer adolescence. When I was young, I loved reading Conan the Barbarian. He was the man; he always got the girl. In my dreams, I was on the horse, saving the princess. What did the girls get to do? They got to be rescued. And that was just not me. Growing up in a multi-racial household, it didn’t register that there was any real importance to my ethnicity. Kids at school let me know that I didn’t fit in. I was doused by the cold ice water of rejection. I became uncomfortably aware of my hair texture and skin color. I was penalized for being smaller than the others. I felt eroded, frustrated, and angry. I was a bookworm and a nerd; I wanted to exist in the platonic realm of the mind. When I realized that the physical envelope that contained my mind needed to be changed, I began working toward that goal. I felt like one of Michaelangelo’s statues, chipping away the unnecessary marble to reveal myself beneath. Shrimpy guys need to have mojo to make up for height. I’m compensating. I know this. How I dress, as a metalhead or goth, is linked with the holy grail of masculinity – the knight who saves the princess. It challenges the question, am I man enough? Presenting this way, I’m more comfortable and connected to myself than I was. However, people have some interesting perceptions of me. I’m never sure how much of the adversity I face is related to my presentation or my ethnicity. BJ, age 47 Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: male Pronouns: he/him/his Blue Being authentic is difficult when the mirror lies every time you look at it. I shatter that mirror with education about the transgender community and activism to break negative stereotypes. Blue Montana, age 38 Gender Identity: FTM Pronouns: he/him/his Charlie My lived experience with gender has undergone immense change in my time as an undergrad at UCSD. My first time in a queer space was in 2009, at the UCSD LGBT Resource Center. Since then, I have completed a year-long internship at that center, completed my B.A. along with an honors thesis in Critical Gender Studies, and facilitated the Transgender Intersex Alliance’s weekly discussion group. My identity has gone from not identifying particularly strongly with maleness or homosexuality, to more specifically identifying as genderqueer and pansexual. To have these labels, but more importantly, be able to adapt them to those outside of the queer community and academia, has proved powerful and wonderful. My preferred gender pronoun has gone from “he,” to my name, Charlie, and at this juncture I just don't care. That is, even calling me by name, which to my mind is neutral, is a construct. The fact is, I pick what I like from respective constructs, such as masculinity and femininity, to fashion an identity which feels comfortable to me. It's an ongoing journey, to be sure, but I took many wonderful steps along the way in my time as a student at UCSD. Charlie Webster, age 23 Assigned Sex: male Gender Identity: genderqueer/genderfluid Pronouns: ‘Charlie’ is best, or he/him/his Elena Tears In My Smile And the Minister said what a beautiful baby girl (four years later) Someone spit on me And called me a Queer I was upset about the spit But what's a Queer? And the Minister said what a beautiful baby girl (four years later) My Mother called to me, "Albert, Oh Albert." That's not my name! That's not my name! I'm going to get rid of that name someday! Persecution Humiliation Emotional Abuse Physical Abuse Sexual Abuse Those things couldn't happen To me because I was a criminal, a Queer. I hadn't had sex. Could I be Queer? I couldn't tell anyone because Worst than a Queer was a snitch. Surrounded by young men pushed, slapped, chased with hormones raging Who's the Queer here? And the Minister said, "What a beautiful baby girl.” I was an ashamed child. That's what they told me I should be, so I hid myself as much as possible. I was told I had made the choice, and I'd have to live with it. Live with what? What choice did I make? Why would I choose pain, sorrow, isolation, and hunger? Receiving advice and support from others instead of hate would have helped me so much more. In my life, I have been dragged, beaten, knocked out, locked in lockers, and pushed down stairs. But they couldn't kill me. I am what God made me and I am here for a purpose. Elena Albee, age 66 Gender Identity: Transwoman Pronouns: she/her/hers Evan G. I began medically transitioning in June 2009. It was absolutely one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I cannot believe it has almost been 4 years(!!). When I think back over my life I realize how much my IDENTITY has shifted over the years. When I was a kid, my identity was KID. When I was 16, I met a girl who I loved at first sight and all of a sudden I was BISEXUAL. For a brief period of time I was a LESBIAN but didn’t like the way that sounded, so I tried out GAY but that didn’t last long either. Soon after, I discovered QUEER. I was perfectly QUEER, y’all. Perfect, I tell you. And in the midst of QUEER, I found I was BI again. In December 2005, I came out to myself as TRANSSEXUAL. I was a TRANNY BI BOI FAG. This is about the time I began to understand that SEXUAL ORIENTATION, GENDER IDENTITY, and GENDER EXPRESSION were different things. I’ve identified as a FEMME GAY GUY, a POLYAMOROUS PANROMANTIC GENDER GIFTED GUY, and a MYSEXUAL (for the longest time I was having sex with only myself!) I’ve also self-identified as TRANS, TRANSGENDER, and FEMALE to MALE. Currently, my main identity is STUDENT. I spend the majority of my waking hours thinking about homework, doing homework, writing papers, studying for exams, obsessing over what University to transfer to, what to major in, or whether I’ll go on to graduate school. Blah! I often think about being invisibly queer on campus and in the classroom. Being VISIBLE is important. I’ve come out in many of my classes, sometimes to share my experiences, sometimes to be an ally to a fellow LGBT person, but mainly to let folks know that they do know a PERSON who is TRANSGENDER. We are not somewhere out there. We are right here With you Right now. Evan, age 34 Gender Identity: genderfluid/non-binary trans Pronouns: he/him/his Evan T. Taking that final leap and starting T and transitioning socially was huge. I waited 5 years to make a move. I had all the usual worries: What would people think? Would my family be upset? One of my biggest worries was how this was going to affect my success in business. I was somewhat paralyzed by my fears. I wanted to be able to continue to support my family, and do as well for myself as I had been doing. It turns out the year I transitioned was my biggest and best year yet! I learned that letting go of my fears and becoming my true self allowed me to be the best I could possibly be. Evan Tando, age 36 Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: FTM Pronouns: he/him/his JP I’m both a man and a woman and neither at the same time. Confused? Good, now you’ve got a sense of what it’s like in my shoes. I came out as genderqueer almost 2 years ago. It was the first important step was coming out to myself and accepting my incongruence with the gender binary. For most of my life in the closet, I thought I was a transwoman; it was the only option on the table that made sense to me. When I discovered that I wasn’t limited to the gender binary, I started to realize that I am a bit more complicated. My beard has been a big part of my identity since I started college. I don’t think it clashes with my femme persona and manner of dress; it’s simply who I am. The last 2 years of living out and proud have had its ups and downs, but I’m genuinely happier than I’ve ever been. It’s great to feel comfortable in your own skin. Honesty and openness have become very important to me. I don’t have anything to hide. Even though the world doesn’t typically recognize me for who I am, that doesn’t change my resolve to live my life the way I want to. People see my beard and perceive me as male, no matter how much time I spent coordinating my outfit, or how well the shoes match the dress. I hope that being visibly queer will help bring courage to others and help more people feel comfortable in their own skin. JP Stern, age 31 Gender Identity: gender non-conforming/genderfuck/genderqueer Pronouns: they/them/theirs Katie Yep, it's true. I am a 49-year-old, polyamorous transsexual lesbian whose kids still call her "Dad." In the old days, I used to fantasize about lesbian sex. I'd imagine something like a dozen beautiful women, no clothes, their skin glistening with coconut oil, their smooth bodies sliding across mine.... Wait, that's not a fantasy. That was my last birthday party. My real life sex life is way better than anything I could have fantasized. It includes multiple partners, tantric rituals, sex parties, and true love. I've also had relationship problems, heartache, and killer scheduling issues. When I began my transition, I assumed my sex life would be over. I asked myself, “What woman would want me when she could have a ‘real’ woman?” For a while, each new encounter was validation, proving that some women do, in fact, want me. Only a few months ago, I realized that the question I asked myself was flawed. When a woman is with me, she is having a real woman. Katie Anne Holton, age 49 Gender Identity: transsexual woman Pronouns: she/her/hers Lex People often act as if the choices I make about my body, gender, and self-presentation are grounds for them to demand explanations, apologies, or justifications. In an act of critical resistance and self-love, I refuse to engage them, choosing instead to exist in my body, on my terms. My transition does not end; it is the very process of practicing peace with my aesthetic. Lex, age 31 Birth Sex: female Gender Identity: genderqueer/genderfluid/gender non-conforming Pronouns: she/her/hers Liam The best advice I've ever gotten came to me when I first came out and began pursing transition. Somebody told me, "Don't worry about transitioning to become a man, or a woman; focus on transitioning to be yourself, or whoever you need to be." As a Queer, oversensitive, transsexual living with chronic pain, mental illness, and generally struggling to find balance, I think of this often. Navigating this world in a body that I have taken active steps to be more comfortable in, being viewed by the world and living as a man is really just “close enough.” I can't honestly say that my gender is male; it's close enough to male to make my life manageable. When I find that beautiful safe space where I can be myself, I don't have to think about this dissonance anymore. In my day to day interactions, I can't hide the fact that I'm Queer. From the way I walk, talk, move, and dress, it's obvious. I'm learning to love my fierce femme while working toward a career that stresses professional appearance. Right now, this balance is important to me. I still can't explain my gender, even to myself, but I am so happy with it. Every day I get to play with my visibility, my boundaries, and my expression, while being able to challenge people's assumptions of what my gender and sexual orientations are. I am living by the mantra of: Top in the streets, bottom in the sheets. Liam, age 22 Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: gender non-conforming transman/femme male Pronouns: he/him/his Liat She asked me just four questions. Are you getting divorced? What does genderqueer mean? What pronouns should I use? If you’re neither a man nor a woman, why do you dress like a man? Why not androgynously? It seemed so obvious to me. Liat, age 34, Visible Bodies co-producer Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: glitterbutch/genderqueer Pronouns: they/them/theirs Liz I find scars to be beautiful. Whether surgical, accidental, self-inflicted or emotional: They all have character. They all tell a story. Scars are born from trauma. And trauma is always at the heart of transitional periods of life. I shave my head to show what was designed for my hair to hide. I tattoo my skin to reveal internal scars. I do this, not because I desire pity, But because I have pride. Because I have resilience. Because I revel in the journey. Because I need to heal. I choose to show my scars. I choose to show beauty. Elizabeth Lain, age 30 Gender Identity: genderfluid/agender/femme Pronouns: she/her/hers Lyn I am a 62-year-old trans male who also happens to be blind. I am pictured with my seeing eye dog, Landon, who is a certified therapy dog. My photo shows us doing something that we both love: bringing joy to disabled and elderly people through pet-assisted therapy with the San Diego Humane Society. Even as a child, I knew something was amiss with my gender. As early as 1960, I remember feeling male on the inside. When I played games with friends and siblings, I automatically took on the male role. For example, I was the father when we played house. My family gave me some opportunities to express my maleness, but there were limits; I wasn’t allowed the same crew cut as my brother, for instance. For my part, I tried to act like a girl, but it just never felt right. I thought I was weird, and my family knew being feminine didn’t work for me, but none of us had words to describe who I really was. As an adult, I found lesbianism, a common route for many trans guys, but never fit in. Eventually, I discovered that I could transition to male. I am now early transition, pre-op and taking hormones. I am enjoying the journey, though it began rather late in life. I have had an interesting, though at times difficult life. I have faced discrimination both within LGBT community and in society at large. In my situation, I have no way to know what I was being discriminated against for: my blindness, my gender identity or both. Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy life to the fullest. To everyone, I say be yourself no matter what. We are all created as unique human beings, a fact worth celebrating. Lyn Edward Gwizdak, age 62 Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: trans male Pronouns: he/him/his Paola I was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, the second of five children raised by a single mother. I was taught about the differences between men and women but not about trans people. It was not taboo to discuss, but it was not something families educated their children about, at least not in my childhood. I was told I was male; however, I have always felt female. Everyone thought I was a gay man. It surprised them that I never behaved like a gay man; instead, I acted like a woman. As I got older, I started to wear more feminine clothing in “pin-up” girl style. I am blessed with a natural beauty inherited from my mother, which has helped me to pass as a woman. I never needed any cosmetic surgery other than my breast augmentation. Sometimes people meet me and say, “You are so pretty; I bet your life was so easy.” Believe me, sometimes life is hard regardless. I am also grateful to have a husband and family who love me for who I am, and to have my pets and friends. Not all of society is educated about the transgender community, especially in Mexico. I have faced discrimination, harassment, and more, but life is too short to cry over spilt milk. I live every day to the utmost and give the best of myself. I came to the US in 2004 and I have met a lot of wonderful people and been amazing places. I am trying to educate society about the transgender community and I am happy to see that now families with a transgender child can educate themselves and help that child. I believe in the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover; you never know what is really inside. Never regret what you did in life because it is your choice.” It is my choice to live as a woman. Paola Coots, age 41 Assigned Sex: male Gender Identity: female Pronouns: she/her/hers Scott I was not raised with strict gender roles. My parents were proud to have a rough-and-tumble daughter who refused to wear a dress even to a wedding or a funeral. And yet, in the three years that testosterone has been working its biological magic on my formerly female body, I have found myself wondering again and again: what does it mean to be a man? In the beginning, I tried my best to be as masculine as I could. It just didn’t take. I wasn’t that kind of guy. So what was I? About two years into my transition, my (now ex) partner and I decided on a whim to dress me up as Tinkerbell for a party. As he was fixing my make-up and frilling up my skirt, he answered his phone: “I’ll have to call you back. I’m making my boyfriend into a fairy.” In that moment I saw myself reflected in his eyes: a gay man in fairy garb. He’d cracked the door to a kind of manhood I hadn’t even considered. Since that relationship, I have gone in search of other men like me. I’ve ventured as far as the woods north of San Francisco for a weekend “faerie” gathering for queer, gay, and bisexual men. I’ve stayed as close to home as a little yoga studio in San Diego that holds nude classes only for men. On these adventures, I am almost always the only transsexual man. It can be scary; I’m a “naturalized citizen” to male culture and I don’t always know the customs. But even though my journey is a little different than that of the men I find in these places, they’ve always found me a little spot in the circle. Scott Duane, age 28 Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: transsexual man Pronouns: he/him/his Spike I love leather. I love wearing it, smelling it, touching it, and caring for it. The weight of it, the feeling of every crease, makes it wear more like armor than clothing. Leather separates a person from the rest of society; there’s something unique about a someone in leather. Bootblacking, the art of caring for other people’s armor, is how I began to realize that there were other people who had the same doubts and questions that I had. Was I doing this whole “being an adult” thing right? Was I butch enough to be a top? Was I open enough to be polyamorous? Was I passing enough to be called whatever gender or non gender I am? What if I change so much that my friends and family don’t like me anymore? The leather community is where I found connection to people like me. It’s where I found more people concerned with connection based on personality, energy (for you “woo woo” folks), brains, and integrity rather than the bits and parts that are attached. It’s where I found people who wanted me exactly as I am -- a genderqueer butch-fag. Spike, age 29 Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: genderqueer/butch/boy Pronouns: he/him/his Tyler So the assignment was to write an essay about myself. Well what can I say? I’ve had lot happen to me just today. But I’ll start right here Well I’m Trans my dear I’m 16 years old And hardly ever get cold I study hard to get good grades But that doesn’t mean I’m expecting a parade My dad passed away But it’s no excuse to ignore today. A free verse is what I like to do Did I mention I live in a zoo? 7 birds-a-yelling 2 dogs-a-barking 3 fish-a-fishing And a grandmother who’s fighting with the TV! I tried to make this an essay But the assignment was to be about myself An essay is not who I am But then who am I? I myself am like Poet You know, from the comic book Rising Stars The last of my kind Trying to tell a story But in my own type of way Or maybe I’m more like Cliff Crossover From the comic book The Crossovers But I’m not some child genius Nor am I helping aliens take over the world But I do have an awesome family like him Could I be Berry Allen? Mr.Flash! No, I can’t run fast Maybe Adam Strange? No, no I’m not the same. I am Tyler I am who I am And no one else I use poetry to express myself Tyler the Comic Book Man, age 16 Gender Identity: transgender man/transboy Pronouns: he/him/his Will A philosophy that has shaped my daily life is, “If not now, then when?” So it’s no surprise that I had to take action when I realized that I was trans and what that meant for me. I knew nobody who had gone down the path of physical transition and had no role models. Yet within two months, I had started to take hormones, and in six months I completed top surgery. Coming out to friends and family was an obvious next step and felt natural. But I had no idea how it would impact my family. I thought to myself, “I’m the same person, right?” As the oldest child with three siblings, I always played the role of big brother – now I had the title to match. It wasn’t like I was going to stop wearing dresses and make up and become someone else. I never did any of that to begin with, and who says only girls do those things? Despite taking hormones and having surgery, the way I interact with my family has not changed. The dynamic is still the same, just with a different title. Transition has changed how I interact with people socially. Holding the door for people felt arbitrary as a woman, but as a man, there is an entire social context to it. Before, I felt the need to exude masculinity as my gender expression. Now doing that feels as if I’m trying to establish my place in a social hierarchy –- gross. Now, I critically assess whether I do things out of obligation or if I’m just being myself. Either way, I’m now a more conscious human being. Will Williams, age 23 Assigned Sex: female Gender Identity: transsexual man/FTM Pronouns: he/him/his Abby If I could say what I am, or what I am not, I do not think I have the words, honestly. But the Cosmo magazine collection should have been a dead giveaway I figure. It made things; tragic. And intimidating. I spent my first decade on this rock thinking I was an alien, still think it sometimes, all the time, rite this very second. The reflection in deep water blurs, I see the meaning but the understanding escapes me still. All I ever wanted was to rewind and start over. Be who I was meant to be from the beginning, without all this mucking about with gender and labels. I want to be a wall-flower, unnoticed. Then again, maybe I don’t. I just want to be me. Altogether. Abby Gender Identity: transwoman Pronouns: she/her/hers Chris I have mixed feelings about my body that are unique to my struggle but not uncommon feelings people experience in their lives. I am proud of who I am and what I have done. I regret nothing. I have been presented with an opportunity so rich, rare, and precious that it is intimately imperative to my potential. I was gifted with the journey and the lesson of authentic manifestation. I don’t need to choose anything other than me on my path. Ultimately I see myself, body included, as strong, compassionate, confident, protective, and queerly flexible. I love how my lines have transformed through mindful learning, healthy eating, and hard conditioning to inch towards how I feel on the inside. I am intentional in this, building the person I want to be from the inside out, and not forgetting where I traveled. Anyone can take this risk. I would not be here if it weren’t for the wonderful people in my life who said I could do what others proclaimed I couldn’t. I am a man, yes, but I am a man with feminist female experience, which makes a world of difference. The sacred queer aspect to my being is the best part. Chris Gender Identity: sacredly androgynous/genderqueer warrior Pronouns: he/him/his Dayamis My family called me Israel, my biological name, Alejandro, Alex, or Jano (pronounced ha-no). Being an undocumented immigrant and a young, single mother, my mom had to work many jobs, mostly in the cleaning industry. Even at a young age I knew the difference between male and female bodies. As the oldest boy, I felt it was my duty to protect my sisters. However, when we would play, I would be Barbie and I wanted to date Ken. On Sundays we had to attend church in our Sunday best. My mom did not want us to get distracted by any “negative influences.” My mom’s faith was tested when I confessed that I liked boys. But she still enrolled me in Sunday school and stood by my side at my First Communion and Confirmation. Afterward, she told me, “I did my job as a parent. Now it’s up to you to do what you want to do.” I was always taught that God listens and answers your prayers in one way or another. Every night I prayed, “Please, God, turn me into a girl.” But he didn't answer. Was I being selfish and asking for too much? Was I wrong for praying to God to change my gender? Too many unanswered questions for a 10 year old to have. After praying for so long with no answer, my prayers suddenly stopped. I lost so many years believing in someone who will answer your prayers. After high school, I moved to San Francisco to find myself. I only found boys, parties, alcohol, sex and drugs. It happened so fast. What started as pure curiosity at a friend’s house ended in a stranger injecting crystal meth up my vein. It didn't hit me how bad things were until I found myself in the stranger’s shower screaming my lungs out. I needed to get out. On October 19, 2009, I flew home to San Diego. What better support group to overcome my addiction than my family? Since the moment I came out, my mom has been my best friend and hero. I don't regret my past. My mistakes and life experience have shaped me into who I am. I believe God answered my prayers; with the help of science I am able to live my life as a woman. But first, God had to challenge me. I am proud to say, “My name is Dayamis and I am an MTF transsexual woman.” Dayamis Styles, age 25 Gender Identity: MTF woman Pronouns: she/her/hers Tracie/Cassandra Tracie Since surviving the mean streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District in the 1970s as a young transgender street kid, Tracie Jada O’Brien (left) has become one of the most respected and elegant role models of our community -- a testament to beauty, survival and perseverance. O’Brien is a certified addictions treatment counselor and spent six years as a counselor and coordinator of Extend Services at Stepping Stone of San Diego, a nationally renowned Alcohol and Drug Treatment Facility specifically serving the GLBT community. O’Brien is active with the San Francisco Transgender Law Center, The California Transgender Leadership Summit, The California Office of AIDS Transgender HIV Equality and Party Conferences, and the Center of Excellence for Transgender HIV Prevention. She was also the coordinator of the Family Health Center’s Project S.T.A.R., which provides services for the transgender community. It was through this program that the idea of an annual day to acknowledge the Transgender community was brought to fruition , she is now a HOPWA Housing Manager with Stepping Stone of San Diego. Tracie Jada O’Brien, age 61 (left) Assigned Sex: male Gender Identity: woman Pronouns: she/her/hers Cassandra Cassandra-Marie Stahl was born on November 3rd, 1966 on the beautiful island of Barbados. She knew at an early age that the way she felt inside didn’t match the physical body on the outside. She endured taunts from her family and bullying throughout her school years, but it only made her more determined to be the person she envisioned. When she was of age, she used every penny she had saved and fled to find a place of solace where she could become herself and live her life. Eventually she settled in San Diego. For many years she withdrew from any contact with her family, for they still had a long way to go in their acceptance of her. When the time was right, she reached out to her family to reestablish contact and gain a sense of peace with them. Today, she has a great relationship with her mom and several of her cousins. Extended family supports us and sometimes fills a part of our life we missed or were never granted. In this city, she has found her extended family in three outstanding Nubian goddesses, who she is proud to call sisters: Tracie Jada O’Brien, Jelecia King, and Jackie Davis. She is a proud member of the LGBT community of San Diego, having served as a former Empress of the Imperial Court. She believes that we are all in the struggle together -- no stone left unturned and no one left behind. Transgender women were at the beginning of this struggle for equal rights for the LGBT community and these women will continue to fight. As long as she has her health and her strength, her voice will be heard. Cassandra-Marie Stahl (right) Gender Identity: transgender woman Pronouns: she/her/hers Ali Like so many transgender people, I knew from a very early age that there was something very wrong with me. I began to realize that I being born a girl would have suited me better. Growing up in the early sixties, well before the dawn of the Internet and the information age, there were few, if any, options for a young boy who believed he was not supposed to be born that way. So I made the best of it. I joined the Boy Scouts, played baseball, dated girls, got married, and had kids because that was what males were supposed to do. But I felt disenfranchised with myself and I continued to battle conflicts between orientation and identity. I sought psychological counseling and took anti-depressants for thirty-five years. I looked in the mirror every day and wondered who that person staring back at me really was until a very dear friend asked me to do something special for her on her birthday. She saw in me what I was looking for -- she purchased a dress, bra, panties, a pair of boots, and a wig. Much to my surprise, she asked me to put them on. She didn’t allow me to look at myself in the mirror until she finished putting on my make-up. I was extremely uncomfortable and felt awkward until she allowed me to turn around and face myself. For the first time in my life, I recognized the person in the reflection. I liked what I saw and suddenly realized that I could never be who I was before ever again. I was a woman, and from that day forward, I knew who I truly was. I began the slow and painful process of accepting the challenges and heartbreak that can accompany transition, but doing so has made me feel complete. I am happy. Ali Renee, age 58 Assigned Sex: male Gender Identity: transwoman Pronouns: she/her/hers Brooke expression ….true seLf-expressiOn, just as the music i’Ve made throughout my lifE. it’s like that feeling of peace that resonates in me as i play a guitar or bass. being trans is as organic as music and can be understood by everyone, everywhere. cyber space…a new age Way of connectivity. because of tHis, i’ve been able tO find solidarity, support and a voice through the internet, as i explored my feminine self. . i’ve been able to find others just like me, relieving the early feelings that I am alone in all this. the information highway has played big role in how I have transitioned. beautY…i love being beautiful, but what i never thOught of was, how sexualized i would become. bUt, i must admit…how addicting beauty really is. although, so many times i want people to hear my words and not my looks, which i think most women struggle with... the most importAnt thing that being me has bRought, is my happinEss. Brooke Michelle Sullivan Gender Identity: transsexual woman/T-girl Pronouns: she/her/hers Liat Wexler and Scott Duane The co-producers of Visible Bodies: Transgender Narratives Retold. Love HuffPost? Become a founding member of HuffPost Plus today. This article originally appeared on HuffPost.