There was never a particular moment when AJ Young felt that he was supposed to be a guy, but it was more of a continual questioning why it was he felt uncomfortable around friends and family. Not just generally, but socially.
Young was born Catherine Rebecca Young. He grew up in Elgin, Illinois where he realized early that people didn't really recognize his gender identity the way that he wanted. AJ stands for Andrew James, a name Young would have been given had he been born a male.
"I had a lot of friends, but was always the odd one out for many reasons and a lot of reasons," Young said. "There was never one moment when I was like, of course I'm suppose to be a guy. It was more of figuring out why I had felt uncomfortable and off a little bit, not just in my body."
It was around the time that Young was a sophomore in college at American University in Washington, D.C. and taking women's studies courses that he had become aware that trans people existed.
Young started to realize that he was reading about things he had been experiencing and dealing with. For the next few years he did more reading on trans identities and things started to fall into place.
I was sitting in a training about trans identities at the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center and I was listening to trans people tell their stories and realized that what they were going through was what was going on with me. It took a couple of years to digest that and actually move to making the decision to start transitioning.
When Young moved to Philadelphia a few years ago, he finally had room to breathe and research the matter of who he was with a clear head.
He made the decision to transition in the summer of 2012, but didn't tell his parents until after he had decided to start taking hormones. Now pursuing his Ph.D. in sociology at Temple University, the topic of gender would come up as an academic purpose.
My dad was super cool about it. He had some questions and wanted to make sure I was being safe. He basically said that he didn't really understand, but he understood that my life wasn't the life that I wanted it to be. He was actually really supportive from the beginning. My mom would ask how did I get interested in this, so we had some conversations about how I would not feel like a typical girl was what had made it interesting to me.
Young added that his mom did have a "small freak out" when he first broke the news to her, but that it was nothing too terrible. She was concerned, Young said, about safety and just had a few questions as to why the physical piece of the transition had to be done.
Even during that first conversation when his mother got upset and left the room she came back and said that she still loved him, but just couldn't get on board with him at the moment.
"She wondered why I couldn't be the very masculine woman that I had been," Young said. "After some conversations she very quickly came around."
While at Temple, Young has been involved in different LGBTQ programs on and off campus. He has been fortunate enough to inspire a few students at the North Philadelphia campus.
Thomas DiAgostino, a Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies major at Temple said:
I just, like, ran into him because of my involvement with the queer community. He was awesome, he was so smart. I started to get to know him because we took a class together, and every time he opened his mouth I just couldn't get over how smart and well-versed he was.
DiAgostino added how Young has always guided him in his field of study by recommending books, authors and theorists.
He's just such a great resource to have. I caught AJ right when he started, or very early in his transition. I've never known AJ as anything other than AJ, and I've only known AJ with male pronouns and that's it.
The idea came from a friend of Young, Sam Campbell, who documented Young as he went through and completed his transition from female to male.
It was pretty interesting having them along as I went through all of my major events. To be able to have that piece to reflect on the changes and what I was going through that time. I think it really is a way for multiple people to be able to interact with me. It was also interesting to re-watch those episodes and be able to see where I was at those certain points in time.
After he finishes his coursework and begins working on his dissertation, Young plans to make efforts to create an LGBTQ center and multi-cultural student support program. He also plans to work with organizations that advocate social justice.