BEING TRANS* [GUEST POST BY IRA BOHM-SANCHEZ]

Oh yeah, we’re both trans* too. That’s totally normal, right?
Thanksgiving and Chanukkah just passed, Christmas is around the corner, and then my 24th birthday will be here. I personally dislike Thanksgiving for political and moral reasons; however, I found myself celebrating, not a day of genocide, but a day with a family who found and chose me eerily close to the four-year anniversary of my biological family deciding to leave me behind. I celebrated Chanukkah with my adopted brother who has a three-letter-long, Jewish name (just like I do) and looks a lot like me. This Christmas and my upcoming birthday will be the first time in my life when I am celebrating when I feel at home because of my company and not like I am in their home. I simply can’t help but reflect how I got here, which is exactly what Ray asked me to do. 

A lot of trans* people don’t like to share pre-transition photos,
which should be respected. I was just so damn cute in my Halloween costume!
Who knows what I was supposed to be.
Since my birthday is right around the corner, it seems appropriate to start there. On December 28, 1989, in the infamous OC, my mother gave birth to me in a hospital where the doctor, after some emergency medical care, said “Congratulations, it’s a girl!” My father and mother are Cuban refugees who practice Messianic Judaism. The overlapping of these two cultures, for them, means you’re born as their god meant for you to be and what god meant for you to be falls on either side of the gender binary. In my case, god meant for me to be on the extremely feminine side.

I was in preschool when I realized I liked girls, and I still remember the name of my preschool crush to this day. Fast forward to the age of 15, and I still felt this way about girls my age. Fast forward to the age of 16, and I found out that trans* people existed. I didn’t do any research on the topic. In the mornings, my mother would watch Fox News, and I would sit on her bed as I waited to leave. Conservative media, ironically, exposed me to queerness for the first time. It was around this time that my English class read Anthem by Ayn Rand, which introduced me to my current set of moral beliefs that lie way left of “the left.”
My first major relationship began around this time of my life as well. While she and I are friends to this day, I don’t think either of us would describe our previous romantic relationship as healthy, at all. We were two hot messes of lesbians in a conservative town, and for the most part, we liked it. We hung out with the other queer kids, the metal heads, the band nerds, and the people who played hackey-sack in a big circle on this grass slope we called Dyke Hill. It was our land for our entire high school careers it seemed. The louder we got, the bigger our population got. One of my peers and I helped start the GSA at that school, and it still runs to this day, much better than I ever ran it too. I’m extremely proud of them, even though I don’t know them anymore.
Even after we broke up, we made an awesomely queer looking couple.. at the gay club.

Truth is, I’ve never been very good at keeping my own secrets, and at the time, I needed to for the sake of survival. Literally.  My parents informed me from an extremely young age that being gay was wrong, evil, exploitative, would result in my being disowned, and – long term here – would result in me developing into a pedophile. While I was very open and out at school, at home, I was a completely different human being. This isn’t because  I wanted to be. I didn’t know how to exist at home if I couldn’t exist as myself.
Eventually, it blew up in my face.  My mother had found some circumstantial evidence of my queerness, and when she picked me up from school on the first day of Winter break my senior year, she informed me that after my birthday I would need to live somewhere else.
I had a Tea Party on my first day of “T”!
I tried to pack my belongings. My parents told me I couldn’t take anything, and when I asked them why I couldn’t, they said it was because they were the only reason I had anything at all.  My birthday came around, and nothing happened. Things weren’t resolved though. They weren’t pleasant. I walked on eggshells every waking moment of my life that week.  I couldn’t take not knowing anymore, so I asked my friend/ex-partner to pick me up. She arrived at 1:30am, and I left at 1:30 am in the middle of the night.
I told my school principal what happened, and he said that I could continue to attend provided that I stay in the area. That was all.
Kindness is the only reason I survived high school. I didn’t know food stamps existed. I had a job but couldn’t afford seemingly anything. People  at school I hardly knew encouraged their families to let me sleep on their couches, to feed me, to allow me to use their homes as my own.
There’s something about a pity-couch that never feels like home though.
I ran out of money, and I ran out of couches. Fear filled my heart to the brim, because while I was homeless for the rest of my high school career, I never once had to sleep outside. So, I called my parents, and I asked  if I could come back.
They said I could live with them again if I repented.
I beat around the bush. I ‘d say “Yeah” when they’d ask me, “Do you repent?”
This happened two more times within a year and a half. One thing made the last time different though: my sister caught me kissing a girl. Now that my family had hard evidence against me for the first time, they said I was never allowed back. My parents to this day see it as me picking queerness over God and my family.
That was the night before Thanksgiving in 2009.  In December, I felt this tingling in my heart that I should revisit something I once knew. I started to do research on medical transitioning and trans* people in general.
It’s okay. I got nervous at the idea of a minority group camp at first too.
It wasn’t relieving. It felt like a burden. I felt as though there were a million extreme medical decisions to be made, and I was only 19. I didn’t want to deal with anything permanent. In truth, I was so used to being repeatedly uprooted, I didn’t know what it felt like to have any semblance of consistency anymore.
It wasn’t until I saw someone on YouTube who stopped taking testosterone that I realized that I actually had any say in the matter. There was this paradigm that all trans* people had this universal experience, and I felt like I didn’t fit it. I was feminine presenting my whole life. I didn’t hate parts of my body; they just felt like they didn’t belong to me. I didn’t see my body as wrong. Then, I saw this YouTube video, and the person reminded me that I have agency. I do have a say.
After that, I started going by Ira, and I would wrap my chest with ace bandages (this is extremely unsafe by the way). I made an appointment with the LA Gay and Lesbian Center and got started on testosterone June 17, 2010.  

Soon after, I met some folks who offered me a place to stay in Arizona, and I packed my things. At the time, Orange County didn’t have very many resources (basically none). It’s a homogenous, gentrified community, and it wants to stay that way. Arizona, despite stereotypes, is where I found the resources I needed to survive independently.
Here, I found one n ten, a queer youth/young adult organization, and I got into Camp OUTdoors! also known as “Gay Camp”.  

I made friends who organized these really elaborate parties to raise money for my top surgery complete with karaoke, booze, spanking booths, raffles, and costumes.  It took three awesome parties, a fundraiser breakfast, and a lot of donations, but we did it!
I wrote an essay about an Oreo Cookie. No, I’m not kidding.
In February of 2012,  I officially said goodbye to what I affectionately called my tittehs (mostly because I was so depressed about them that I couldn’t acknowledge them seriously in any way).  The first picture was taken two months after my surgery, almost to the day.
one n ten has a housing program called Promise of a New  Day. I applied, and I got in. Then, they partnered with a brand new scholarship program called the QU Foundation. I applied for that, and I won.
Now, I’m back in school double-majoring in Social Work and Linguistics, and I love it.  I get to focus on helping people more than just surviving, so I do. At one n ten, I run a support group for young trans* people. Outside of one n ten, I teach workshops and do community organizing.
There’s so much more I want to do, and so much I want to see. I feel like I’m barely getting started at life. Right now, I’m planning my budget, and I’m hoping to move  out soon. For the first time in four years I won’t have to worry  every week if I have enough food to last. I’ll get to sleep in my own bed. I’ll be living in my own space (I’ll but renting but we don’t need to ruin the moment).
I honestly hope that one day, I’ll move so far away from this huge rut in my personal history that people I meet will know me for what I do more than for what’s happened to me. When I reach that moment, I’ll feel comfortable writing a memoir! Maybe.
At the most recent Phoenix Pride with the largest trans* contingent it’s ever seen.

GUEST POST BY IRA BOHM-SANCHEZ
Ira is a community organizer with the Fred Duval for Governor Campaign and a professional overachiever. He spends his time at work or school but always on Facebook. He teaches cultural competency workshops for fun and free. Ira can be reached at ira.d.sanchez@gmail.com.

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