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What Having a Second Adolescence Means as a Black Trans Migrant

Relaciones is a monthly series that helps Latines navigate interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships by unpacking the tough but necessary conversations that come up in our communities. This month, columnist Alán Pelaez Lopez writes about their second adolescence as a Black trans migrant.
For me, 2022 has been a year of change and development. Just two weeks ago, I WhatsApp messaged a friend in my home country, Mexico, and told him I had a crush on him. He said he did, too. My heart raced because this was the second time in my life that someone had voiced a reciprocal interest in me after telling them how I feel. 
Similarly, a few months ago, after having a phone consultation for facial feminization surgery, I looked in the mirror and found myself attractive, a feeling I rarely experience in my life. I do not know if I felt attractive because I knew I’d soon have access to laser hair removal and other trans-affirming health care, but I looked at myself and didn’t feel like a stranger in my own body.
And then, just last month, my aunt told me she loves and misses me, and I cried on the phone. On the other line, she sat in the quiet as she listened to me. When she broke her silence, I heard her cry, too. This is the first memory I have of my aunt crying outside of the tears brought upon from her chronic pain. 
At 29, I am experiencing the adolescence I witnessed most of my high school classmates go through. I am crushing without fear of homophobia, transphobia, or rejection. I am looking at myself in the mirror and not feeling like the person reflected is a stranger I have never seen before. And, for the first time, I have a relative who vocalizes their care for me. 

"At 29, I am experiencing the adolescence I witnessed most of my high school classmates go through."

Alán Pelaez Lopez
As a young, Black, queer immigrant, I wasn’t able to experience these coming-of-age moments. See, I crossed the San Ysidro–Tijuana border with just a pair of white sneakers, blue overalls, and a phone number in my pocket when I was five going on six. Much of my childhood was lost at the moment of my border crossing
Like many undocumented and first-gen children of immigrants, I became a translator and steward as soon as I spoke English. At age 9 or 10, I knew the local dental school had reduced fees for patients who decided to be treated by a dental student. I knew that each June, I had to sign up for free health care offered by the state to people under 18 years old who lived under the poverty line. And by 11, I was helping raise my sibling, a newborn baby, by feeding, bathing, and putting him to bed. 
On top of these adult responsibilities being placed on me as a child, I knew that I was queer. And the struggles of undocumented life as a Black Latin American immigrant — paired with my queerness — felt all too consuming. 
However, migration and my sexuality didn’t take my childhood away from me. An immigration system that depends on the exploitation of migrants paired with anti-LGBTQ sentiment across cultures, societies, and legal structures limited my access to the adolescence that my counterpart U.S.-citizen and heterosexual classmates experienced.

"Migration and my sexuality didn’t take my childhood away from me. An immigration system that depends on the exploitation of migrants paired with anti-LGBTQ sentiment across cultures, societies, and legal structures [did]."

A year shy of 30, I'm now trying to give this back to myself. Today, during dinners, park visits, or phone calls with my tight-knit community of Black queer and trans migrants, we share the excitement we have every time someone uses our correct pronouns, the names we have chosen, and when those around us ask if we are comfortable or need anything. I especially notice how lighter we feel when we share moments in which friends, family members, or hookups tell us we are beautiful and comment on parts of our bodies that before we began to transition, we didn’t know how to be kind to. Sometimes, we sit around a coffee table and talk about our first kiss with someone we truly wanted to be with. For many of us, our first kiss happened in our mid-late twenties, thirties, and even forties. In LGTBQ communities, we call these experiences our second adolescence. However, I hadn’t thought about the impact that my migration as an unaccompanied minor had on my actual adolescence until now. 
Oftentimes, migrant experiences and LGBTQ experiences are understood as separate from one another. But the reality is much different. According to research from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 1.3 million adult immigrants in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ. Due to anti-LGBTQ laws, some LGBTQ people migrate to escape persecution based on their sexuality, gender identity, or their physical presentation. Others migrate to reunite with family members. Some arrive as refugees from war, natural disasters, or because they have been exiled in their birth countries, and more. 
As an undocumented queer, Black Mexican youth, I knew one of the only ways to adjust status was through marriage. Prior to 2013, immigration law only considered the heterosexual marriages of couples who were attempting to acquire spousal visas. At a young age, immigration law disciplined me to believe that the only way out of my precarious legal situation was heterosexuality, forcing me to repress my desires for queer kinship and partnership, and to address my gender and body dysphoria.  
Now that I live alone and have the space to listen to my body, I am learning that I deserved a different adolescence. I shouldn’t have had to be on the phone with the free clinic to sign up for health care in middle school. I shouldn’t have convinced myself that the only way to live safely and no longer be an “illegal alien” was to only date cisgender U.S.-citizen women. And I should have lived in a household where I wasn’t repeatedly asked why I was so feminine, or harassed into wearing clothes that made me look more conservative or masculine. 

"I deserved a different adolescence."

When my aunt called me to tell me she loves and misses me, I cried because I knew that her love included my femininity, Blackness, and queerness. This summer, as I was caretaking for her in Oaxaca, I told her I finally learned to tell people I was romantically interested in them. She took a few minutes to gather her thoughts and expressed a sincere happiness for me.
My aunt had previously spent two years in the United States, and as a Black woman who had some insight into U.S. culture, she told me that when she was in the U.S., she experienced her first moments of self-doubt. Anti-Blackness in the U.S. messed with her spirit and made her feel like there was something wrong with her. She assumed that I only now started accepting love because I had worked through the toxic anti-Black culture that Black migrants are faced with in the U.S. 
I was speaking about my queerness and gender, but I realized that my aunt was also right. Black migrants in the U.S. are not seen as desirable subjects unless they are wealthy, highly educated, or abide by heterosexuality and conventional beauty standards. For Black queer and trans migrants, multiple systems of oppression hinder our quality of life, including our access to a normative adolescence. 
Although my immediate family did sometimes act in homophobic and anti-Black ways toward me, I refuse to blame them for my limited access to an adolescence. That’s what the U.S. immigration system wants. The system needs me to vilify those closest to me so I can be recognized as the “exceptional” queer Black migrant that found a way to be themselves in the U.S. But this is not true. I found my way to safety by challenging my family after they’d articulate homophobic, misogynistic, and colorist sentiments; I began putting boundaries with colleagues I did not feel safe with; I had to end friendships where I felt surveilled and/or disciplined for simply being me; and I had to learn to apologize for my own projections and insecurities because at the end of the day, I was hurting people, too.

"I don’t want to normalize a second adolescence because we all deserve a full adolescence where systems of oppression aren’t cooperating with the law to make our lives unbearable."

My access to a second adolescence has been lonely and scary. But for the first time in my life, I can take a selfie wearing dangly earrings, my mother’s gold necklace, and a traditional bata from Oaxaca and send it to my friends and two aunts in the village. For the first time, I allow myself to feel butterflies in my stomach when the cutie whom I have been friends with for years tells me that my openness to myself has made them attracted to me. 
As a visibly nonbinary person, I finally feel comfortable dating all people across the gender spectrum; and finally, I have a group of friends thanks to organizations like the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project and the Black Trans Circles, which have given me the opportunity to meet people whose politics and visions of the future align with my own. I’ve also been lucky to develop t4t (trans for trans) friendships on social media that have encouraged me to be daring, experimental, and messy without the expectations of masculinity, heterosexuality, monogamy, or Black respectability politics. 
I don’t want to normalize a second adolescence because we all deserve a full adolescence where systems of oppression aren’t cooperating with the law to make our lives unbearable. But as I undergo mine, I commit to speak about it often so that together, we create safer spaces for queer, trans, undocumented, and Black youth. We deserve this and so much more. 

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