In the November 2012 issue of Ebony, which features President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on the cover, there is an article under the Spirit Quest section called "Transgender and God's Child," written by Michelle Burford, founding senior editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. Ms. Burford interviewed me about how I overcame homelessness, poverty and constant rejection and despair while transitioning from male to female with no support at all. The simple answer is my strong, deep faith in God and my ability to realize that if God is for me, anything is possible. The conversation between Michelle Burford and me was a very intense discussion of faith, religion and God. Can one be transgender and loved by God? The answer is yes, but it took me almost 20 years to find happiness, joy, self-love and the love of God as an African-American transgender woman.
Members of minority transgender communities, so stricken by drug abuse, sexual exploitation, explosive suicide rates, high rates of homelessness and a lack of access to education, all because of despair and rejection, are in need of some higher power just to sustain themselves in all the darkness. Once I began my transition and realized that I was all alone in my pursuit of my true gender identity and my happiness, things became very dark all around me. I lost my friends and family and all those I believed loved me unconditionally and truthfully. While in the darkness, I was tempted to overindulge in alcohol and drugs to make myself feel happier for the moment, but my constant faith kept me strong and moving forward. Faith is a firm trust in and loyalty to God or some higher spiritual being.
I have traveled all over the United States, and I have realized that all that transgender people of color need is a chance to be, and chance to find themselves an opportunity to move forward in society. Finding opportunity in the darkness of transition was my greatest obstacle. I believe that education and finding your spirit quest are the keys to survival for transgender people of color. I wrote my memoir, I Rise: The Transformation of Toni Newman, to enlighten and educate the world about what it is to be an African-American transgender woman.
Here are ten helpful guidelines for transgender people, especially my minority sisters and brothers:
- Finish high school or get your GED.
- Always be independent and the captain of your ship.
- Don't let others define who you are or pressure you into doing things that you are uncomfortable with.
- Follow your journey wherever it may take you.
- Stimulate your mind, whether it be through vocational or technical training or community college or university.
- Find strength within yourself through whatever you believe in as a higher power or spiritual being.
- Consult with a trusted physician or health-care professional about drugs for your transition process.
- Research thoroughly and carefully the drugs you'll need to take to transition from one gender to another.
- Don't depend on others, or on drugs or alcohol, to make you feel better, validate you or give you happiness.
- God is love, and love is for everyone. Love yourself for who you are, and always, always demand respect from your partner and associates. Remember that true love does not cause pain, humiliation or degradation.
Michelle Burford is currently co-writing 2012 Olympic champion Gabby Douglas' autobiography, Grace, Gold & Glory: My Leap of Faith: The Gabrielle Douglas Story, due Dec. 4, 2012 and available for pre-order on Amazon.com.