I can still hear the sirens that came for my mother. I was 16, and I had just told her for the first time that I had a girlfriend.
While we all have heard jokes about parental heart palpitations as part of coming out stories, in my case it was true – my mother had an arrhythmia that sent her to the hospital that night. I sat in the corner of a dark room hiding as my father – a pastor, like my mother, at a bilingual Pentecostal church — and brother shook their heads at me with a look of disgust while the paramedics wheeled my mother out on a gurney.
It was the first time that I had ever stood up for myself and challenged her views on what she called my lifestyle — and it wasn’t liberating. It felt horrible. I saw the darkness I was sitting in as a metaphor of my future. I felt I would always be living in the shadows.
There were many nights as a child when I would cry alone, scream into my pillow and question God, “Why? Why are you forcing me to be someone who I am not? If you know all things, then we both know that I am not a girl. Please let me wake up as a boy, let this all just be a horrible nightmare.”
God never gave me an answer, but the internet did. I thought it was normal to be depressed and to feel trapped in your body, until I came across a transman on YouTube. I learned about hormone replacement therapy and medical procedures that were possible, that I wanted. But I felt they weren’t possible for me, because I worried that my coming out as trans would kill – literally, in my mother’s case – my parents.
By the time I was 12, after a childhood spent in church and trying – and usually failing – to meet my parents’ expectations, I was already thinking thoughts of suicide. At 18, I decided it was time to end all of the pain.
I got as far as looping a rope over a rod in the closet and then around my neck. Before I went any further, I started thinking about my mom – not her rejection, not her palpitations, but about the love I knew that she had for me still, in spite of everything. I thought about her sense of humor. And I thought about how I knew that she would blame herself for my death. So I gave life one last chance, and I am glad I did.
Instead, I found the courage to come out as Roman. I told my parents and began to work for Equality California. Although it is not always easy, my life has never been the same.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is important to me because we honor our brothers and sisters who did not make it to this day. We remember the dozens of transgender women who are murdered, by strangers or by someone they trusted, every year. We remember the 41 percent of all transgender people who, like me, attempted suicide, but, unlike me, never found a reason to hope. We remember that their lives are not in vain, and definitely not another statistic. They paved the way and showed that being transgender is not a choice, but to love and accept someone who is transgender is.
I dedicate my life to those who couldn’t be here today and hope, somehow, that they would be pleased with the work that we have accomplished in their honor.