09/25/2013 02:22 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

A Queen's Courage

I've been told that I'm "brave" for transitioning from male to female. I usually tell people that I only did what I needed to do when I had no other choice. Even if that qualifies as courage, I have nothing on a young lady from Orange County, Calif.

On Friday night Cassidy Lynn Campbell was crowned the 50th homecoming queen of Marina High School in Huntington Beach.

Her friends and family celebrated the occasion with her. She was as happy as she'd ever been in her young life -- until she got home and found attacks she described as "ignorant and hateful" on social media.

Those nasty messages weren't the work of envious classmates who coveted her crown. Some of them came from complete strangers who weren't even connected in any way with her high school or community. They probably never would have heard about Ms. Campbell's coronation, any more than they would have heard about any one of the thousands of other homecoming queens chosen in any given year, were it not for the national media attention that she received.

Why did reporters from national and local news outlets seize upon her story? Because three years ago she was living as a boy named Lance. Although she is not the first transgender homecoming queen, her story is still atypical enough to garner attention. Moreover, she was crowned in a part of California that, although it is changing, has a longstanding reputation as being more conservative than, say, nearby Los Angeles, let alone San Francisco.

Even more important, though, is the fact that Ms. Campbell has documented her transition from Lance to Cassidy Lynn on YouTube. I don't think any of the other transgender homecoming queens have made their journeys and struggles so public. Even my own blog, in which I document the year leading up to my gender reassignment surgery, is not nearly as revealing of my process as Ms. Campbell's videos are of hers.

Another reason that I give kudos to her for her courage is that I was nearly three times as old as she is now when I began my transition. Although I often felt very vulnerable, even raw, as I began to reveal my true self, at least I had the benefit of many years of experience in which I learned how to deal with various kinds of criticism and disapproval. Also, spending so many years "in the closet" gave me, for better or worse, the ability to emotionally detach myself, at least somewhat, from the hatefulness and ignorance of some people.

In other words, she has probably not developed -- again, for better or worse -- the defense mechanisms I had when I started my transition. Also, she has made a choice that could, theoretically, affect her for a much longer part of her life than my choice will for mine.

But, in the end, the real reason that I think Cassidy Lynn Campbell is a braver person than I could ever be is that she put herself up for the title of homecoming queen. Her classmates elected to elevate her to the throne, if you will, but they could just as easily have ridiculed and harassed her. The latter outcome, I believe, would have been more likely for me if I'd so much as admitted that I knew myself to be female, let alone offered myself up as a candidate for homecoming queen.

In fact, not only did I not campaign to be the homecoming queen (or king), but I did not even attend any of my high school's or my college's homecoming events. I also did not go to my prom. My excuse was that I did not have a date. I used the same rationale to avoid other social events in the schools that I attended and, later, the functions and ceremonies sponsored by employers and other institutions to which I was connected. I knew full well that it was affecting my professional life as well as my personal life, but I feared the ostracism (and worse) that I might have faced for "coming out" even more.

Cassidy Lynn Campbell has faced such fears and ostracism in ways that I never could have at her age, or even much later in my life. For that I believe that she has acted with more courage than I have ever had to muster.