Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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2018’s Icons, Innovators, and Disruptors

Tygh Lawrence Courtesy3

Tygh Lawrence-Clarke: The Family Man
Tygh Lawrence-Clarke is a mixed-race trans man with a white son, and he’s navigating transition at midlife.

There’s a common misconception that all transgender people have known of their true gender identity from an early age. But this isn’t necessarily true. Transitioning comes in many forms — even at different stages in life, as Tygh Lawrence-Clarke, who began his transition three years ago, knows well. Now 53, he’s making a difference in the trans community through his website, Transgender Visibility Matters, and as cofounder of The B Cup Project, a Facebook page promoting trans art and inspired by Buck Angel’s daily talks about positivity. As a family man, Lawrence-Clarke also documents his transition on YouTube, where he talks about the dynamics of being both a father and a husband, and how this experience has shaped him.

What gave you the idea to start Transgender Visibility Matters? Has it changed you?
I wanted to advocate for more inclusion and recognition of all the gender-nonconforming individuals from around the world, so I set up this website as a means for people to educate themselves. The whole concept is to put us out there. I want to stand up and be visible for those who can’t, for fear of their lives. It’s made me more aware of what the transgender community might need. I also do binder giveaways — and the donated ones I receive I send to Third World countries.

Can you tell me about The B Cup Project and how it got started?
Buck Angel does a thing called “The B Cup” every morning on social media where he just talks and invites everybody to have a conversation with him. There’s so much negativity within the trans community that we decided to create this project to show positivity and to have a safe place for people to go.

Has your relationship with your family changed since transitioning?
I think my son and I are actually closer since I came out and transitioned. I think we understand each other better. My wife has never failed in her support of me, but I won’t deny that there have been challenges. She has told me her biggest fear is that my transition will change my feelings about her. My feelings for her have not changed, but the way in which I express my feelings has. I am less emotional than I was pre-testosterone. This has been a challenge that is still a work in progress.

Did you feel pressure around becoming a father?
My biggest concern with Ben is that others will bully him because of me. It hasn’t happened yet, but he just started high school, so it’s still a possibility. I don’t know that I feel pressure specifically related to being a father, but I do feel pressure related to presenting as male. I’m self-conscious when speaking to cisgender men because I don’t really know how to talk about “guy stuff.” I’m also more self-conscious when I take Ben places, because my dark skin makes it obvious that he is not biologically my child, so I think others might question our relationship.

Can we talk more about that?
I get strange looks when I’m walking with [Ben], who is taller than me, has red hair, and very white skin. It could be because I live in New Hampshire, which is not very racially diverse. My mother was half black and half white. My father is Indian — his parents were born in India. As you can imagine, growing up in Beverly Hills I didn’t really fit in with typical ethnic stereotypes and never knew what box to check when filling out forms that asked about ethnicity. It’s interesting now how I am experiencing a parallel process with my gender identity as I’m still sometimes uncertain what box I fit into due to the fact that I’m not completely binary. So, ultimately, I decided that labels don’t really fit me. Unfortunately, others still make assumptions about me based on the color of my skin. I’ve noticed this to be especially true since I’ve transitioned to male. Now I’m very aware that some people perceive me as more threatening as a brown-skinned male than when I presented as a brown-skinned female. Women pull their kids closer to them and most times don’t look me in the eye. [Sometimes] I actually fear for my safety because looking at me one might assume I am Middle Eastern, Hispanic, or African-American.

What advice would you offer to couples and families going through a transition?
Good communication is essential. My wife is more patient with my puberty-influenced behaviors when I explain what I am going through. Also, we started preparing our son for negative reactions from friends and classmates almost immediately. We would role play different scenarios, and discuss how he could handle them. We also try to regularly check in with him about any pressures he is feeling about my transition. —Cole Hayes

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