To transform yourself into the person you want to become, it takes courage, grit, and willingness to let yourself fail a few times so you can figure out how to get it right. For these five transgender women, transitioning into their true self was a journey that transformed them forever. Through the many forms of pain and anguish that each of these women faced, a brave, beautiful, self-aware person emerged.
In the spirit of transformation, I asked these women to think of a time when they first began their journey. Here is the advice that they would give their previous selves, knowing what they know now.
1. Live with purpose.
Originally from Georgia, Octavia Lewis now lives in New York City, where she works as the founder and executive director of the Islan Nettles Community Project. Even though she is one of the top trans activists in the country, she wasn’t always so determined in her journey.
“This is to the young naïve virgin who is transitioning to Octavia. Dear Octavia, you are going to experience a form of hurt like no other. Friends and family are going to turn away from you because of your decision to live in your authentic truth. But don’t worry, they were only taking up space anyway. You are going to be overlooked for jobs and mistreated on some of the jobs that you work on, but it’s all going to be well worth it. A piece of you is going to die in order to breathe new air into the beautifully flawed woman that you are now. My advice to you, my dear, is to stay true to yourself. Live life with purpose and know that everything that happens to you, you will turn it for your good. Just know that you are destined to break barriers and create your own path in life. However, make no mistakes about it, some obstacles are going to try to kill you, but you are going to make it. Just know that I am proud of you. You are going to change the world.”
2. Go beyond the surface.
Aryah Lester has combined her love of the arts with her passion for trans causes. As the creator of TransArt, a month-long series of events highlighting transgender artists in Miami, Aryah has given a platform to trans artists and performers nationwide. But if you ask her, she will tell you she didn’t always have an activist’s heart.
“I’m not here to give you future insight or lottery numbers; I’m here to guide you beyond some of your darkest times. You see, there is quite more to life than you can ever imagine. I know you, because I was you: your aspirations, self-worth, and expectations fall short on what life truly has to offer. Don’t dismiss me, as I know you are prone to, being at an age where you think you know everything.
“I know your goals: acquiring an office job in a position like a receptionist, finding love with some street-savvy gangster type who will fund your hair and nails weekly, and getting all the body modifications money can buy. You will go beyond these mundane and short-sighted goals. Although you’ve suffered such hurt, disappointment, and discrimination, the strength you are not aware of within you will be a catalyst into a life beyond your perception. Don’t give up, even on your small goals, for they will catapult you into a life of acceptance, friendships, and sustaining self-love.”
3. Don't listen to what others think you should do.
Taylor Wade grew up in Dallas and she began to identify as transgender at the age of 17. However, she wouldn’t begin her journey of transitioning until the age of 25, two years after moving to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of being a celebrity makeup artist. At 27, the California blond is living out her dream in real time, and she isn’t looking back.
“I don’t think of myself as someone who has many regrets about my past. This is mainly because I like to believe in the idea that people take a certain journey to mold them into the person they are meant to be. However, if I said I didn’t plan for it to turn out this way, I’d be lying.
“I would start by telling myself to be brave! You control your life, and know that who you are on the outside isn’t the deciding factor on who you are on the inside. As stubborn and independent as you are, you still let other people impose their ideas of who you should be.
“Growing up, you could look at me and know I was different; everyone noticed it and told me what they thought I should do. I wasn’t brave. I listened to others' opinions. I didn’t realize that different was a good thing and that one day that’s what will makes me special and stand out among the rest.
“Last bit of advice, girl ... start growing your hair out now!”
4. Love your body.
As a founding member of the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, Bryanna Jenkins has dedicated her life and career to bettering the lives of trans people. Her insightful outlook has made her a role model for many, and her message of self-love is one that anyone can learn from.
“The most important advice I would give to myself on the day that I started to transition would be to love and value my body. I believe that the relationship with your body as a transgender woman is probably one of the most important relationships that you will need in order to navigate this life. I would tell myself that you are beautiful just the way you are and take time to value every stage of your transition. I would tell myself that your body is not a source of shame but a reflection of love. You are made in God's image, and your transition is a beautiful extension of that. You are plus size, tall, and have a radiant dark brown complexion. The biggest thing I would tell myself is to not allow anyone to devalue your mind or your body. If someone does not appreciate the fullness of who you are, they do not have permission to take up space in your life. The ones who are meant to share time with you will celebrate those things that are unique to you instead of using them to devalue you. You are loved, and most importantly, you have a purpose.”
5. Live your own narrative.
LaSaia Wade is a powerful leader in the transgender community. As the executive director of the Tennessee Transgender Journey Project, she works to bring awareness to the inequalities suffered by transgender and queer people in her state. Even though there is much work to be done, LaSaia is proud of where her journey has taken her.
“So what I would tell my previous self before I transitioned is to keep working. Stay strong and be who you are. Do not let anyone hold you back. Do not allow anyone to oppress you. Do not allow anyone to make you feel less than who you are. You are someone and someone to be loved. Take care of yourself. I would have told myself to grow stronger and to grow wiser and to put all my feelings and effort into myself [rather] than in others. I look back now, and I like where I came from, because it allowed me to live in a narrative and to speak on a narrative that most have lived. These things are what we look on as trans women. So we are just living these narratives pushing and striving for the future.”