Until this past weekend, Salt Lake School for Performing Arts student Maka Brown thought the most exciting part of prom would be spending time curling her hair with her biggest fan: her younger sister Isabell.
This week, the 18-year-old senior has even more to smile about, after learning Saturday night that she was elected by peers as her school's prom queen. Brown is considered the first transgender teen voted prom royalty in her entire state, according to Salt Lake news station KU-TV.
Brown, sharing her story with People magazine, says she's come a long way from fearing her classmates' reactions to her gender identity to being crowned queen. "The people at my school are so accepting and so supportive -- they accept me exactly as I am," she explained. "It's a scary thing when you first come out and tell people you're transgender, but everyone has been great. My friends at school have helped me to live an authentic life, to be who I am."
That story is a parallel to Maka's experience with her mother Toni Brown, who told KU-TV that she first struggled with understanding her daughter's gender when she first came out two years ago. Toni says she had never heard the word "transgender" before, but that she soon learned trans youth who are rejected by others are at an elevated risk for suicide. The U.S. rate for suicide attempts among trans people is 41 percent, nearly 10 times that of the cisgender (nontrans) population.
Toni sought out therapy to come to terms with Maka's trans identity, and she told reporters she now embraces her daughter fully. "When I finally learned and accepted," Toni told KU-TV, "she blossomed." The crucial impact of parental acceptance has recently been driven home in several nationally reported stories of trans youth who committeed suicide, including Ohio teen Leelah Alcorn and former Charlotte, N.C. homecoming king Blake Brockington.
Brown now joins a growing group of trans teens elected school royalty in the U.S., including, most recently, Modesto, Calif.'s Enochs High School homecomiong princess Isaac Salazar. Like Salazar, Brown's win is being noted as a reversal of her home town's conservative reputation.
Brown tells People she couldn't be happier with how her life is going, and she is looking forward to her future. An expert juggler and acrobat, she'll soon be working toward her dream of becoming a traveling circus perofrmer once she graduates high school in June.