Mel Gonzales, 18, Sugar Land, Texas
As a kid, I thought I was just a tomboy. I would be very adamant about not wearing dresses and avoiding wearing feminine clothes. My mom would ask me, “Why don’t you wear this? It looks very good on you.” And, I would just say, “I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.” I’ve been saying that since I was very young.
There would be some sort of formal event where I would have to dress up, and I would be on the brink of tears. I couldn’t figure out why. When I began getting an allowance, I would save up my money and buy more masculine clothes.
I started developing feelings for a girl when I was probably in seventh or eighth grade, but I had no idea about the gender identity thing. I was still identifying as female. But, going into high school, I started realizing that perhaps I wasn’t a lesbian. I never really took that label on; never felt comfortable with it. One day, my girlfriend was like, “If you could be a boy, would you be a boy?” And, I thought, You know what? That’s a really good question. I think that kind of got the ball rolling for me. I started watching transition videos on YouTube, and I realized what it was to be transgender. It was like solving a puzzle — it just kind of clicked.
When you're a kid, nobody’s going to believe you. They think you’re just exploring an identity or something like that. One of the most difficult things was — and still is — getting my family to see me as me. It’s not that they weren’t accepting, but they were definitely very confused as to what gender identity really meant. They’ve never seen me as a boy or a son. But, they’re loving nonetheless.
At the start of high school, I was very, very lost and confused. When I started identifying as male publicly, I didn’t know any other trans people. There was a lot of trial-and-error and having to learn from my mistakes. A lot of people didn’t really take me seriously. Nevertheless, I started transitioning during my sophomore year — October 2012. I got my documents changed in December 2013.
Things started looking up when I started taking hormones. I was the cofounder of my school’s gay-straight alliance, and I realized that trans people need more visibility. I wanted to be an example to anyone who might have the feelings of helplessness that I experienced. I wanted to be someone people could look up to and say, “You know, if he can do it, I can do it.”
I ended up winning Homecoming King at my school — probably because I actually cared. I wanted the title to mean something, and I wanted to do something good with it. I knew it would definitely be a big deal for a trans person in Texas to win this title. So, I thought, Why not me?
I definitely want to make an impact, but being trans, it’s not the number-one thing in my life. I want to focus on going to college and getting a degree. But, I also want to see the transgender community grow and gain more visibility, so of course I feel an obligation. I’m still going to do some sort of activism.
If anybody had told me that I am the one who controls my own future, high school would have been a lot easier. So, now, I’m telling people that: You are the person who defines you. You are not defined by name-calling or labels, or being put down by anyone else. Whatever obstacles you come across, you need to know that you’re in control, and you have the potential to get through it. We’re all so much stronger than we think we are.