I’ve always known myself really well. I know what I like, from music to food to being queer and transgender. It’s something that I just know about myself — like I know my favorite color.
So to sit in front of someone who I thought was supposed to care for me and have them tell me that being transgender isn’t a thing — that it’s not possible to transition — that hurts. When someone tells you that your identity isn’t valid, it makes you feel like there’s no place for you in the world.
It all started when I was 12 — that’s when I noticed I was queer. I had a normal childhood and good parents, but I struggled a lot and was always sort of depressed. I felt like something was missing. First I came out as bisexual. Most people didn’t believe in bisexuality, so everyone just called me a lesbian — even though I still had boyfriends.
I had just 14 when I came out as trans. I was assigned female at birth, but I’ve always been Ryan. And at that point, it felt like I was holding this gigantic thing inside of me — holding all the weight from it and all the fear of coming out.
This time, my parents weren’t so cool. My mom was more afraid than anything else. The only thing she knew about trans people was what she learned from the movie Boys Don’t Cry, so it really freaked her out.
My dad was OK for about two weeks, until he realized it wasn’t a phase. When my brothers would call me Ryan and use male pronouns, he would tell them to stop and call me by my birth name.
I started getting really depressed. I didn’t have the support that I needed from my parents, so I turned to alcohol and drugs instead. At one point, my mom came into my room and realized I was high. I told her that I needed to escape.
She did all the right things. She got a recommendation for a therapist from the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Center, and she called my dad to let him know. But when my dad insisted that he pick the therapist, things took a turn for the worse.
I don’t remember the therapist’s name, but I remember what she looked like. She was blond, older — maybe in her 60s — with dangly earrings. I walked in to her office and sat on a couch. She sat in a chair. She immediately called me by my birth name and said, “I heard that you’re a really confused girl.”
She told me she could turn me back into who I “really” was.
After 20 minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore and excused myself to go to the bathroom. I called my drug dealer, and my dad dropped me off at the mall to “shop.” I needed to escape everything that had just happened, and the only means I had was drugs. I didn’t know anyone trans in my town or nearby who I could talk to.
I didn’t tell any of my friends. I felt so alone, so alienated. And that experience made me feel worse — to be told that my identity wasn’t real. It makes you feel invisible.
I’ve been sober for over four years now. I live a great life. I’m healthy, both mentally and emotionally. My parents are both really accepting of my identity and life. As a musician, I’m able to help so many people around me, including kids who are going through what I did. I go to all these shows and get to meet people who tell me how much I’ve impacted them. It really makes me feel like I have a purpose.
Sometimes I cry when they tell me that by just being open about myself, I’ve made them feel less alone — that there’s someone else in this world who is like them. That’s all we need: to feel validated.
That’s why I was excited to hear about Assemblymember Evan Low’s legislation (Aassembly Bill 2943) that would protect Californians from what I went through with that therapist. Allowing so-called conversion therapy — which is really just dangerous fraud — to exist is an insult to everyone in the LGBTQ community. It tells us that we shouldn’t be believed. It tells us that we aren’t who we know ourselves to be. It’s devastating.
Passing this bill would send a message to LGBTQ people everywhere: “You belong.”
And that can save people’s lives. I hope every member of the California legislature remembers that when they vote on AB 2943.
RYAN CASSATA is a 24-year-old award-winning singer-songwriter, actor, performer, writer, and LGBTQ activist based in Los Angeles. He has tallied over 550 performances across the United States and internationally, including dates on the Van’s Warped Tour, at SXSW, and at the world’s biggest Pride festivals.