02/23/2012 02:21 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Overcoming Obstacles As an African-American Transgender Woman

As an African-American transgender woman, I have suffered discrimination, bullying, false arrests, and hatred for just being myself. Fear and shame controlled my life for many years, yet I never had the fear of not finding myself. Living in fear created a very unhappy life and existence. My goal and mission was to find out who I was. I was never the type of person who could live a lie forever, but for many years I was very afraid to do what I knew had to be done. Before my transformation, I knew that if I continued lying to myself and everyone around me, the lies would eventually consume me. I wanted peace and happiness without the lies. I was on a journey to find myself and nothing less. Though I did not know how, I knew I had to make the transformation from male to female.

I understand that many gays and lesbians live in fear, but for me as an African-American transgender woman, the fear was overwhelming, not only for emotional reasons but for physical ones, as well. It was hard to find the money to pay for the necessary female hormones, especially after my health insurance ran out and friends and family deserted me. Though I could not always afford female hormones, I always took some form of female hormones, which I could buy at my regular drug store. But the fear of not having female hormones was never as great as the fear of threats and violence.

Once I decided to make the transformation and enter into the transgender world, I was totally, totally happy. Even when I was homeless and hungry and alone, I knew that to be whole, I had to complete the journey I was on. From the very beginning of my transformation, I did not once think of giving up or ending my life (there is a high suicide rate within my community).

Despite all the ridicule and harassment, I persevered and moved forward. Regardless of what others thought, I knew this was not a choice made on a whim but something born within me, engrained in my being. No one would choose this path on a whim.

For 20 years I have been on a journey to become the real me. At first I tried to suppress myself and fit in, but it did not work. I had heard many wonderful stories of gay men and gay women coming out to their parents and getting acceptance and love in return. That was not my story at all. I was the child of a religious, black, southern woman. Though I came out to my mother, I knew my feelings went much further than that. I believe she already knew I was gay, because with all my effeminacy, it was obvious. I did not have the words to say that I was a woman inside. My mother believed being gay was against God's will. My siblings were neutral and never really spoke about it, but when I announced I was becoming a woman, everybody in my immediate family was shocked.

In my mother's world, a transformation like mine was unheard of. There was no acceptance. She lived by a religious code that left no room for transsexualism. My upbringing was based on the Bible and logic. It was completely illogical and outside her beliefs to accept me as transgender. Being gay was about my sexual preference, but being transgender was about changing the body God gave me. I accepted my decisions, and I knew the relationship with my family would never be close. I never sought acceptance from them, because I knew that they did not, and still do not, fully understand. My mother and father were wonderful, loving parents, and my family are good people, but I had to move on.

It would have been a beautiful thing if I had had my family's support, but in the African-American community, that was never very likely. Though being gay had become a little more accepted, being transgender was, and still is, a completely different story in the African-American community.

Sometimes I wondered why I couldn't just be gay and leave it at that. But that was not my path. I had made wonderful friends in the gay community and had a great job and life while I was living as a gay man. But as soon as I took the transgender route, I became friendless, and life became very dark. There was no light or support for me. Many had accepted me as gay, but as soon as I started my transformation, they rejected me. Over and over, I would hear, "Why are you doing this to yourself?" Of course, I'd known from an early age that I was in the wrong body. I mean, it was one thing to be gay, but to become transgender and change yourself? People just did not get it. Many thought I was changing my body because I hated myself. They never understood that my transformation had nothing to do with hatred. It was purely about me becoming whole, complete, and true to myself.

Anyone who takes the transgender route and follows their heart gets my ultimate respect. You cannot hide the transformation process. You are seen by everyone, with their whispers and jokes and snide remarks. As you try to find the right look for yourself, everyone around you notices. You can hide being gay or lesbian until you are ready to tell people, but for the transgender person, there is no hiding place.

Transgender people, live free and be true to yourselves, and always remember that education is the key, because knowledge is power.