We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in the United States. Through photographic portraits and "as told to" interviews in the participants' own voices, We Are the Youth captures the incredible diversity and uniqueness among the LGBT youth population. We Are the Youth addresses the lack of visibility of LGBT young people by providing a space to share stories in an honest and respectful way. Below is the story of Michelle, age 20, from the Bronx, N.Y.
Portraits of Michelle and other We Are the Youth participants are currently on display at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York until May 12, with a reception open to the public on April 13. To celebrate this exhibit, we'll be sharing all their profiles on The Huffington Post.
By Michelle, as told to Diana Scholl
My fiancé and I had a discussion about me dressing up as Michelle. When I told him I wanted to be fully transgender, he said he didn't want me to have the operation. Tom's worried about my safety. I would like to start hormones, but I feel like I pass as a woman already. I have man boobs. I've had them since I was 11 years old.
My fiancé and I met last year when I was living at the Ali Forney Center. Ever since then, we just started calling and talking to each other. Living in a shelter, things get stolen. My money, my wallet, and my IDs were all taken. When I finally told Tom, he said, "Move in with me." I said, "OK." Ever since then, we've grown a little more. He proposed in March. It was a total surprise. I think I have a total Cinderella package.
Tom is 43. Some of my friends grill me about the age difference. Age is nothing but a number. You're not going to pass up the opportunity for having true love. He is guiding me right now. He loves me no matter what.
Other than Tom, I also get strength from my grandfather, who pushed me to take what has happened and give me a chance for freedom. He calls me sometimes, but he knows I'm kind of in hiding from my immediate family.
I can't say I don't miss my family. I will miss them, especially my little brother. They don't pick up their cell phones. I've left emails, messages, etc. It really hurts, but I have to live with it.
I think my mom is upset that I left her. The fact is that I was the one that did everything for her. I'd make coffee, make breakfast, do homework, get the other kids ready. After school, I'd go to work, come home, and do the same thing over again. She's pissed because she lost the one kid that did anything for her.
A lot has happened with my family. The story starts in my home town, Mobile, Ala. I came out as gay to my mother at 13. She knew my stepfather wouldn't like the fact that he had a gay son, so she didn't tell him until I was 18. She was right. I got kicked out when he found out.
The next night I had to sleep in one of the sheds at Home Depot. I walked 23 miles to get to my grandfather on the other side of town. My grandfather paid my way to come up to New York by bus.
In New York I was living with my cousins, but we got into some arguments and disagreements, and I had to leave. My grandfather had to go back to India, so I didn't have his help in the same way anymore.
After I left my cousin's place, I went to the Belleview Men's Shelter, but I was too young. They referred me to Sylvia's Place, where you have to sleep on the floor. Then I got accepted into Ali Forney.
Through friends at Ali Forney, I became a member of the activist group Fierce. It was actually at Fierce's annual Halloween party that I first dressed up as a woman. I feel more comfortable in women's clothes. Ever since I was a kid, I've always played with my mother's high heels.
Fierce has helped me become an activist and a better person. Through Fierce, I also volunteer for Queers for Economic Justice. Now I want to become a psychiatrist. I want to defend the people that can't really defend themselves. I want to give them what I learned.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in the Bronx, N.Y., 2011
Follow Diana Scholl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wertheyouth