By Crimson Jordan
I identify as a gay, black, transgender man and a proud southerner. I know—it’s enough to make heads spin in confusion and curiosity. And while I wish this wasn’t most folks’ initial reaction, I’m not offended by it. I understand the reality of our homogeneous conditioning down here, below the Mason-Dixon line. I understand that, to some, much like the jackalope or Bigfoot, we queer southerners are thought to be a rarity or myth. To others, much like unsweetened tea or flavorless barbecue, being queer in the South is just “something we don’t do down here.”
As the grandson of a cowboy, the son of an evangelical minister mother and a father who was a southern homestyle cook, and the stepson of a reverend, my Texas roots are firmly planted in the big, shiny buckle of the Bible Belt. This upbringing did not make it easy for me to discover my identity, much less to embrace it. I knew who I was from a very young age. Yet, as I was learning about myself, I was simultaneously being taught that my identity was unacceptable in the culture in which I was raised. I remember getting in trouble with my parents when I told my brother that I was a boy. I was reprimanded by teachers when I told my classmates. In a culture with very clear and distinct binaries, my refusal to conform to the role assigned to me at birth, as well as my inability to successfully assimilate into either gender at the time, posed a unique problem that I feared I was alone in facing.
Growing up, my masculinity was always the topic of debate, with many in my family expressing concern over my lack of femininity. Though I was frequently told by family members that I wasn’t a boy, I knew for a fact that I wasn’t a girl. Because of where I was raised, I never heard terms like gay, straight, transgender, or cisgender. There was was only a “standard”—nothing else. I spent most of my childhood daydreaming about a world where the rules ingrained in me by my family no longer applied, an alternative reality where I could be the man I knew I was. I had no idea that this dream world could become my reality or that my family was working diligently to keep me from it.
Like most sheltered teenagers, I found answers to life’s questions on the Internet, albeit unintentionally. I’d been reading an online article for a school assignment when, at the bottom, I discovered a link to a video that would change the course of my life forever. The video was created by a transgender man and served as a 101 primer on what being transgender was. Before the video had even finished, I knew I’d finally found the answer to the question I hadn’t even known how to put into words.
Coming out as transgender was difficult for many different reasons, but I knew it was something I had to do for myself. Primarily, it was challenging to have my identity constantly invalidated. The first time I officially came out to my parents, they laughed at me. The more I came out to them, the more they dismissed the idea. One time, I was told that transitioning was something only people in California could do; it wasn’t acceptable in Texas. Another time, my mother told me that being trans was “something only white people do.”
Over the next few years, the people in my life repeatedly told me that transgender identity couldn’t exist in our way of life. It took me a long time to prove them wrong, but I was determined—even if it meant being the first trans person they knew. Thanks to hours of Internet research, the help of friends, the support of a local queer youth group, and serious personal sacrifices and perseverance, I was able to affirm my identity and begin my transition. But the more I tried to be myself, the more unpleasant my home life became. My dad disowned me, my mom and stepdad constantly fought with me, and finally, I was told that, if I was going to identify as transgender and transition, I was going to have to find another place to live.
This forced freedom was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. Once released from the limited perspective that I grew up with, I was finally able to see the world around me (and myself) in a completely new light. I saw that there was no “standard”—that the possibilities surrounding me were endless. As time passed, I became more comfortable with my body and, in turn, my sexuality. But my newfound identity as a gay man put me at odds with the harmful hyper-masculinity and homophobia that exists in the trans male community, the black community, and in the South. How could I so proudly identify as something that compromised the masculinity I had worked so hard to affirm? I then had another realization. If I conformed to the idea that coming out as gay would make me less masculine, then I was perpetuating the stereotype that there was only one way to be a man—an idea I had been fighting against from the very beginning of my gender journey.
My queer and diverse friends here in the South have shown me that there’s not one right way to be anything. That the “standard” we’ve all been accused of deviating from isn’t real. I was told all my life that I didn’t exist, that my identity wasn’t valid. But today, I stand as a proud, gay, southern, black trans man, and there’s nothing more real than living in that truth.