Editor’s note: This is the first installment of Transouthern Youth, a Spectrum South original series spotlighting transgender youth across the South.
By Megan Smith
To his 26,000 Instagram followers, Houstonian Landon Richie embodies confidence—his posts are eloquent and encouraging, his face smiling and strong. In person, Richie is just as self-aware. He chats effortlessly about his activism, identity, and passions. It’s not until his mom, Erika, mentions an upcoming school band practice that I’m reminded the savvy individual sitting across from me is only 14 years old.
Richie is a transgender youth and advocate—one of thousands who have emerged as up-and-coming leaders within the LGBTQ community. Assigned female at birth, he began gravitating toward male activities, objects, and roles as early as two and a half. He describes feeling “different” from a young age, but explains he didn’t have the language to describe his identity until a fellow camper at summer camp showed him a YouTube video depicting a gender transition. “I first truly understood and had a word to describe my trans identity when I came across videos on YouTube of female-to-male transition timelines,” Richie says. “As I watched them, I just connected more and more and realized that ‘Oh, this is who I am. There’s a word for it and I am not alone.’”
But as his upcoming seventh-grade school year approached, Richie’s anxiety increased. The school’s band—in which Richie played the trumpet—required it’s male members to wear tuxes, and female members to wear dresses. “I hadn’t worn a dress since I was nine,” Richie says. “I knew that having to wear a dress would make me very uncomfortable, but I wasn’t personally comfortable [disclosing my trans status] to my band director.” So, at age 11 and a half, he made the decision to come out to his mother as transgender.
Richie’s mom was and continues to be very supportive of his identity and transition. She spoke to the school band director—who allowed him to wear a tux—and helped facilitate coming out conversations with Richie’s dad and siblings (all of whom have been accepting).
It was through this support—and that of the larger LGBTQ community—that Richie found the courage to advocate for himself and his fellow trans youth. “In general, I’m pretty introverted. I tend to stay to myself,” Richie says. “But, through this [journey], I have become more confident, vocal, and loud. As I moved along in my transition, I met so many people who helped me get to the next point. As a trans person, I want to be there and to give back to my community [that has given] me so much more than I can ever give back. Advocacy is my way of doing that.”
While Richie has collaborated with numerous advocacy organizations, including Pride Portraits, Equality Texas, and the Get Real Movement, his greatest impact can be seen on Instagram, where his following has reached five figures. “I got into Instagram just because all my friends had it,” Richie explains. “At first, it was just more of a personal account—posting little updates on school and friends. But as I connected with more people and was exposed to some of the more vocal and visible accounts, I realized that I could help so many more people. Social media was the reason I realized who I am, and being able to provide that for other people is important.”
And provide visibility, he does. His posts are transparent, vulnerable, and honest, discussing everything from his transition journey (he has now been on testosterone for 21 months and is one year top surgery post-op) to friendships and relationships. “I’m very open about my transition. By sharing that experience, it can help others with their own experiences,” he says. “But it also puts a personal and human face to the trans experience.”
“[My followers have been] a big motivation for me to keep putting [my story] out there,” Richie adds, noting that he never anticipated to garner such a large following. “The majority of responses I get are encouraging, supportive, and respectful. Often times, I will have a post that incites a lot of negative feedback, but my followers are quick to try and politely engage [those commenters] and to attempt to have a conversation about it.”
Now entering his sophomore year at Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Texas, Richie has one main goal in mind—to form a Gay Straight Alliance on campus. “That’s something I’m definitely working on trying to get,” he says, noting that the group already has a potential sponsor and a substantial interest from the student body. “Others need to know they’re not alone.”