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    Transgender Youths Display Resilience Amid Hardship

    by Charles Borst posted November 10, 2015

    MIAMI (AP) — The transgender community has gained a degree of acceptance in recent years with the help of such celebrities as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, an actress in the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black.” But for members of the transgender community who are ordinary citizens, their life experiences are often a painful struggle. Many young transgender people, wrestling with their identities, find themselves shunned by family, friends, and co-workers. Episodes of homelessness, alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence often follow.

    “A lot of people really don’t realize the like immense amount of pain the average trans person goes through just trying to like live their life,” says Eli, a 17-year-old male who was born a girl and lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

    Eli and other young transgender people in South Florida illustrate the hardship this community faces. They also show its resilience. Here are their stories, as told to Associated Press photographer Lynne Sladky.

    In this photo taken June 11, 2015, Eli, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., poses for a photograph at the beach in Dania Beach, Fla., on Thursday, June 11, 2015. Eli, who now identifies as a transgender male, went through a lot of soul searching, anxiety and depression growing up, before coming to accept himself as who he is. Eli dropped out of high school and is an activist with Food not Bombs. He is also interested in working with the transgender homeless population. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Eli, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., poses for a photograph at the beach in Dania Beach, Fla. Born a girl, he has struggled with depression: “I would look in the mirror and just hate my chest. And just try to squish it down. And just like sob for hours, like I was a little kid.” Now identifying as a transgender male, the 17-year-old dropped out of high school, where he sported a mohawk haircut, had no friends, and was seen by his peers as weird and intimidating. The prospect of transitioning to a male identity in high school? “Horrifying.” Eli is now an activist with the group Food not Bombs, and is interested in working with the transgender homeless population. –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    In this photo taken May 14, 2015, Alex Ramos, 13, who identifies as a transgender male, poses for a photograph in a park near his home in Homestead, Fla. Ramos realized in sixth grade he wasn't at peace with his biological female gender. He struggled to come to terms with it, afraid of how people at school would react. Ramos has since come out, and has the support of his mother and friends. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Alex Ramos says he realized in the 6th grade that he wasn’t at ease with having been born a female. The 13-year-old, who identifies as a transgender male, was scared of how his friends would react. Friends and family members have since helped Alex come out. He is still coming to terms with identifying as male, frustrated with the expectations he must juggle. “I have to have a flat chest, you have to sit this way, you have to talk like this. This is really hard for me. What if I want to wear makeup?” –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    In this photo taken May 18, 2015, Jess Fajardo, 18, of Miami, who identifies as transgender, poses for a photograph at a park near his home in Miami on Monday, May 18, 2015. Fajardo was born a girl, but describes himself as a tomboy growing up, playing soccer with the boys. He views gender identity as fluid, but now is more comfortable being seen in a male setting. Fajardo recently graduated from high schools and plans to pursue a college degree in art. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Born a girl, Jess Fajardo, 18, said he was a tomboy as he grew up in Miami, playing soccer with the boys and dressing in his brother’s clothes. Fajardo now identifies as a transgender male, but he does not have the support of his mother, who continues to say: “You’re a girl, not a boy.” Fajardo, however, is accepted by his friends and other family members. “I just want a happy life, and I want a safe life. I don’t want to worry if I go into a bathroom, are these people going to have a problem with me.” –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    In this photo taken May 26, 2015, Kassandra Leach, 17, left, poses for a photograph with her mother, Renee Taylor, at their home in Miami. Leach, who identifies as a transgender female, says she never felt like one of the boys, and once in ninth grade she began experimenting with clothing, dressing more like a girl. In high school she lived her life secretly as a girl for over a year. Now out to her family and friends, she is transitioning with the help of counseling and hormones. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Kassandra Leach, 17, left, with her mother, Renee Taylor, at their home in Miami. Kassandra says she never felt like one of the boys growing up in Miami. Her thoughts on identity are a constant work in progress. By 9th grade, she realized she wasn’t living in the body she was born into as a boy. A pivotal moment came when a friend did a makeover for her, applying makeup and putting on a bra. Kassandra stared into the mirror. “It was like looking at yourself for the first time.” Since coming out as a transgender female, the 17-year-old enjoys the support of her mother and close friends. Taylor, Leach’s mother, says, “The most important thing is that your child be happy and comfortable in their skin.” –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    In this photo taken May 20, 2015, Atticus Ranck, 26, of Sunrise, Fla., who identifies as a transgender male, poses for a photograph in a hammock at a friend's apartment in Sunrise, Fla. Ranck first came out as a lesbian at age 17. Once in college, he became more masculine, describing the transformation as relatively easy. Ranck, who is taking hormones and has had surgery on his chest for the transition, just graduated with a master's degree in women, gender and sexuality from Florida Atlantic University. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Atticus Ranck, 26, of Sunrise, Fla., who identifies as a transgender male, poses for a photograph in a hammock at a friend’s apartment in Sunrise, Fla. Atticus had his chest surgically altered — a breast reduction — in February as part of the transition to become a transgender male. Having grown up as a girl in Pennsylvania, the 26-year-old came out as a lesbian at age 17 and gradually became more “masculine” after moving to Florida for college. Ranck has been taking hormones for more than a year, and says the surgery has helped him “feel more male.” –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    Theodore Xander Frey, 18, of Cutler Bay, Fla., who identifies as an agender male, poses for a photograph in his bedroom at home in Cutler Bay, Fla. Frey began questioning his identity at a young age, facing a tumultuous few years suffering from depression, running away from home, and being placed into psychiatric care. He has since been accepted by his parents and is coming to terms with himself. Frey is studying women and gender studies. --Lynne Sladky/AP

    Theodore Xander Frey self-identifies as agender, or someone who identifies with neither gender (though Frey favors being identified with the “he” pronoun). Born a girl, and now 18, Frey began to question his identity in elementary school, telling people he was a boy. He wrestled with bouts of confusion, anxiety, and depression as he approached adolescence. Frey also ran away from home and was later detained for a mental health evaluation. “That was sort of the kind of thing, the push that needed to happen for all of use to really be able to talk openly,” Frey says about his parents. “And realize that they love me no matter what.” –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    In this photo taken June 6, 2015, Andii Viveros, 21, of Davie, Fla., applies makeup as she prepares to host the annual Sun Serve LGBTQA Colors of the Wind youth prom in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Viveros, who identifies as a transgender female, said she was always different from an early age growing up as a boy. Her parents accepted her to be anyway she wanted to be. She fought for her rights in high school, sometimes violating the school's code of conduct by wearing dresses. She was elected prom queen in high school and is now studying sociology in college. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    A transgender female, Andii Viveros defied school dress codes by wearing dresses. This led to bullying but didn’t deter her from being elected prom queen in high school — despite an organized petition from her classmates. Still, she had the unwavering support from her parents. “From an early age, my parents told me, ‘obviously you’re different, so we accept you anyway you want to be,'” she said. The 21-year-old now hosts events for LGBTQ youths and imparts this advice: “Live authentically as who you are, not how the public perceives you.” –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    In this photo taken June 18, 2015, Ro Brown, 23, poses for a photograph as he waits in a Greyhound bus station in Miami, with his wife, not pictured, for a bus to Macon, Ga. Brown, who identifies as a transgender male, has been homeless for six years, and has not yet told his family about his gender identity. He is moving to Georgia to live with his wife's family, where they hope to find work and move into their own place. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Ro Brown waits in a Greyhound bus station in Miami for a bus to Macon, Ga. Brown, who identifies as a transgender male, has been homeless for six years, and has not yet told his family about his gender identity. Born a female, the 23-year-old recently came out as a transgender male — but not to his family. “I thought they was going to treat me different if I tell them that I prefer he over her,” he says. So he’s building a family of his own and married his girlfriend in June, happily receiving support from his in-laws. –Lynne Sladky/AP

     

    In this photo taken Dec, 17, 2014, Kassidy Suarez, 22, is hugged by her mother, Maria Alguilar, after legally changing her name at family court in Miami. Suarez has come a long way since being rejected by her family, dropping out of high school, being homeless, abusing drugs and doing survival sex work. She is now focused on getting her GED. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

    Kassidy Suarez, 22, is hugged by her mother, Maria Alguilar, after legally changing her name at family court in Miami last year. After coming out at 15, first as a gay young man, and then at age 17 as a transgender woman, Kassidy Suarez dropped out of high school, faced rejection from her family, and ended up homeless. She spent several years on the streets, dabbled with drugs, and engaged in survival sex work. With the help of Project SAFE, a program that seeks to address the needs of at-risk LGBTQ youth, Suarez found housing, counseling, and a support network. Now a 22-year-old transgender woman, she has made amends with her mother, and is taking hormones. –Lynne Sladky/AP

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