Amira Gray, 27, Jersey City, New Jersey
I always gravitated towards the “feminine” things. I spent a lot of time around the women in my family, who are all very strong and independent and successful; I had very positive role models. Early on, womanhood was just something that felt naturally ingrained in me, before I was even aware of it.
Later in life, I became I aware that there was something I could do about my gender. I searched out Fenway Health in Boston; I went and sat down with the therapist. I was about 20 years old. They just held my hand and guided me through the various steps — therapy sessions, getting approved for hormone-replacement therapy, all the letters you need in order to get your gender marker and your name changed.
Once I’m identified as a trans person, suddenly people think I’m not, like, still a person — that I don’t have life experiences or a family. The biggest misconception about trans women of color is that all of us are sex workers (we’re not). I’ve been blessed; I’ve been with the same man for about five years now.
I was at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and walked past a table of guys on my way to the restroom. One of said, “Oh, that’s a drag queen,” which I hate, because I’m not a drag queen; I’m a trans woman. Then, the other guy said, “Oh, is that what that is?” I was just like, no. I’m not a “that.” I’m a person — I’m a human being. To this day, I have to have a very thick skin, because I’m always going to hear these things, and I can’t fight every battle. I can’t always cause a scene. But, I hate the mislabeling nonetheless.
I feel like I’m one of the silent trailblazers as far as trans rights are concerned — and I do feel like I have an obligation — because my story is so different from most. A lot of trans women, their families don’t accept them, so they don’t have a home to go back to — they end up as sex workers or homeless or things like that. My experience has been the polar opposite, so I really feel like I need to give back.
I was the first trans-issues intern at GLAAD. Every year, GLAAD does a pride T-shirt with American Apparel; my co-workers sent some of my photos over to American Apparel and they selected me to model. Those experiences — working at GLAAD and doing the ad campaign — definitely helped me be even more comfortable with who I am and with the decision that I made. I know I have people who are supporting me, whereas a lot of trans women feel very alone.
After the campaign, I got a few nice notes. But, I also got some bad ones, too. It’s been both an advantage and a disadvantage, being publicly identified as a trans person. After a while, you learn not to read certain things. It’s been easier for me than for the trans women who came before me — even just 10 years ago. When I went to get my passport changed, a law had just been passed in New Jersey stating you no longer need sexual reassignment surgery; you just need a letter from your physician stating you’re undergoing hormone replacement therapy. I was on my mother’s health insurance when I started HRT, too, which made it all even easier. I’ve been lucky.
I think I’m a force to be reckoned with. Every day, out in the world, I own the fact that I’m a trans person. I’m in malls, I’m in restaurants — and I don’t cover myself up. I don’t hide behind glasses or a hat. I’m just here. A lot of trans people are (rightfully) afraid to live a normal life like that.
The day I started HRT is like my second birthday. I’ll never forget it. But, every day has been its own transition, too. Sometimes, I just have to check in. I tell myself: This is my life and it’s okay. I play the cards I was dealt, and I celebrate a little every day. There are times when I look in the mirror and think, I’m so happy with what I see. I don’t think that’s something a lot of trans people get to feel.