Tagline: Until the Work Is Done
Kayla Autumn Ward – “We need to celebrate who we are every day.”
March 27, 2017 at 11:23 am

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By Kayla Autumn Ward, EQCA Education and Outreach

Kayla before and after transitioning

Transgender Day of Visibility is an important and vital day to celebrate those of us who are living as our authentic selves. We can stand united in pride rather than shame and show the world our strength through our vulnerability. As Laverne Cox said, “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we shouldn’t exist.” As our community gains more visibility, the hate and misunderstanding of who we are becomes more visible as well. Murder rates and hate crimes against our community, especially trans women of color, have risen each year. Rejection from friends and family often leads to homelessness. Children face bullying, harassment, and high suicide rates. Many of us experience workplace discrimination, live well below the poverty level, and we can still legally be fired in 32 states simply because we are transgender. Lawmakers are introducing one bill after another that marginalize and attempt to exclude us from society. Now, more than ever, visibility is necessary to help change hearts and minds.

I remember when my parents bought a computer and set up an internet connection when I was in junior high school. I was finally able to research why I felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body. I learned about the term transgender and that I wasn’t alone. For the first time, I no longer felt like a freak or outsider. I gained hope and strength through the stories of those who had chosen to be visible. However, I still lived in fear of what my family and friends would think. Suicide was a constant thought in my mind because I was tired of pretending to be who I wasn’t meant to be. Societal norms and expectations weighed me down and I became an introvert. I fought who I was and lived in shame and fear until I was 29. I had been married for seven years and when that ended I was broken and defeated. In my mind, I had two options, suicide or transition because I could no longer go through the motions and pretend to be happy.

Five years ago, I chose transition over suicide and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Even though I lost friends and family who disagreed with who I am, I gained so much more. Truly loving myself for the first time allowed me to connect with others like I had never been able to before. I was finally happy and free! I chose to document my transition online and share my story with the world because I knew how important visibility was for others who were going through similar struggles. This gave me the opportunity to inspire and encourage people to live their lives authentically and to love who they are. The response I received was amazing and, in turn, it gave me the courage and confidence I needed to be more visible offline. I began sharing my story with almost everyone and the friendships I developed have been rewarding and eye opening.

Over the years, I have been asked why I do not move past saying I am transgender and live my life as a woman. My response, is that visibility is vital and I am proud of who I am. To me, the term transgender doesn’t define my gender identity, it defines how hard I have fought to be the woman I am today. Sharing our stories and our struggles truly opens hearts and minds to change and acceptance. I have learned that most people, when given the chance, do not care about labels. They care about the person that is front of them and the connection that is developed. I’m thankful for a day that celebrates who I am despite the fear and hate directed at us but we need to celebrate who we are every day. Life is a gift and can truly be amazing if you allow yourself to love who you are with unapologetic authenticity. Together we can make a difference in this world and slowly we will make it a safer, better place for those following in our footsteps.

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