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My entire life, I have witnessed a division between boys and girls. From the pink and blue baby wear to body wash and deodorant, it seems like men and women are taught to live in worlds apart. But what about someone who has experienced both sides of the same coin?

At an early age, I learned that my mannerisms were unacceptable by society's standards. Wanting my hair any shorter than my neck was distasteful, and spending time with my guy friends was improper for a woman. I'd never heard of the concept of transgender people until age fifteen when one of my close friends told me he was born female. When that wrecking ball of information was sent my way, it destroyed my entire world view that was mostly taught to me by my parents.

It concerned me even more that there weren't just the traditional 'female' and 'male', but genders extended to a wide variety of one, both, neither, and other options. Everything I had ever been taught from childhood to that moment turned out to be wrong, and I was frustrated.

I stopped talking to that friend for a long time, seven months. During that period, I did some self discovery to find where my values lied on these new issues that were brought to my attention. Little did I know that everything I'd repressed during my fifteen years of life would be resurfacing to get my attention. Those seven months before I came out as a transman (female to male) was the most difficult road for me to navigate until I entered the foster care system.

My mom and her boyfriend didn't accept me or my "sudden" gravitation towards masculinity that they'd stripped me of from childhood. They called me hurtful names like 'dyke' or 'tranny', and the burden of their words became so overwhelming that I carried out my first suicide attempt.

When I entered the emergency room, everyone looked at my tear-stained face like I was some sort of freak. Eventually, I regained my ability to talk about the emotional trauma and I was told that I was unnatural and needed to be separated from the rest. When I went into a treatment center, I was asked tactless questions about my genitals and my gender identity by curious employees who cared not for my mental health, but for my freakish nature. I screamed out for help from the abuse my parents put me through, but my therapist of all people told me it was their natural reaction and utterly harmless. He told me that I was the one who needed to change, not them.

Finally, after my deep-seeded depression, my social worker reported my situation to her supervisor, and CPS was notified. I felt so relieved that I was finally going to be placed with a family who supported me at age 16, but I was very naive about what my journey through care would look like. The first home I entered was a single-parent household with three biological kids and one other placement. The first thing my Department of Family Services (DFS) worker ordered was to take me out of my online school and put me back into a public one despite my pleas of how well the school worked for me and my experiences with bullying in the past. I lost a semester's worth of credits because of my transfer midway through the year because of his ignorance to my specific needs.

At school, as I predicted, I was bullied by not only the students, but the faculty as well. The nurse pulled me out of class to tell me that, by law, I had to go out of my way to use her restrooms. I had to be the one to educate her about the Public Accommodations Act of Nevada which allows me to use the restroom of my gender identity. When she argued that I would 'scare the boys', I left her office without a word. I also had a substitute teacher who told me she was 'legally obliged' to announce my birth name in front of the class of my peers. After a heated discussion with her, she came to me at the end of class to advise me to join the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club after school. The GSA conductor told me that it was a gay-straight alliance, not a gay-straight-trans alliance. I had never been more humiliated.

Every time I would talk to my foster mother about the turn of events, she told me that the school was in the right to deny me bathroom privileges or announce my legal name to my peers. Even when the other placement would spread information about me being trans without my consent, there was no punishment issued. I was on my own. Then, the foster mother became more intense with her lectures to me. She would lock me in her bedroom for hours at a time for one-sided conversations about why it would make my life so much easier to just be a girl again. Me being a man was like her changing her skin color from black to white--it wasn't going to happen and it was pointless to try. She complained about me turning her biological kids trans, and she told me to stay away from them for the rest of my time at her home. I had to fight tooth and nail against my DFS worker, my attorney, etc. just to be placed in a different home.

Finally, I was moved to my second home with two parents and a sibling group with the oldest being 11. I was gifted my own bedroom and bathroom combination which was an insanely rare setup for a foster kid to have. The two parents claimed to support me until seeing me walk into a men's restroom at the store. They scolded me heavily and started to have second thoughts on taking me in.

We had to take a trip to New Mexico to meet the foster father's brother. He seemed nice enough, so I figured that I would privately correct him from using the wrong pronouns so that instead of saying 'she' or 'her', he would use 'he' and 'him'. He announced this information to the entire house and my foster parents which got me in deep trouble.

After arriving back in Nevada, I was told I was no longer welcomed at family dinners. I was starved out in an attempt to turn me 'back to normal'. My DFS worker hardly cared and threatened that I would spend more time in care if I didn't oblige with their demands. Even after he was reported for misconduct with me, he continued to belittle my gender identity and threaten me with more abuse.

Finally, my parents completed the parenting classes they needed to get through in order to start the road to reunification. Foster care felt like a prison sentence for me for over nine months, so all I wanted was to get back home where I knew what names I'd be called instead of testing the limits of strangers. A few days before I was set to be reunified, I was followed into my room by my foster mother. She locked the door behind her.

I was told that I was never going to be addressed as a man because I didn't "look like a man, talk like a man, walk like a man, or act like a man" and lectured on this fact for over an hour. All of my frustration with this home lead me to raise my voice to the foster mother. She said she had never been more disrespected in her own home, meanwhile my correct pronouns were thrown out the window hardly ever to be used. She told me to get out of her home immediately, so she called my DFS worker to schedule an emergency extraction while I packed my belongings in trash bags.

The next morning, I fled to my mom's despite my DFS worker not approving any visits while I waited for his verdict on whether or not I would be reunified. I stayed the night until my workers and parents came together to discuss reunification where I was lucky to have been placed back with my mom and her boyfriend.

After months of recovery from the awful trauma of foster care, I rose up to become a leading advocate in Nevada for LGBTQIA+ foster youth. I've met most of my state's legislators, and I have formed many personal connections in politics to ensure my situation will never be replicated. So far, I've contributed to sensitivity training for the private foster care agency that I was brought through in, and I plan to accomplish much more with my internship at FosterClub.

​Despite the struggles of being transgender in a foster care system that doesn't know, or care, to understand and accept that, I overcame my obstacles instead of letting them devour me. There was no point during all of this where I thought of myself as a victim, but instead a fighter. I fought to hold on each day--to continue living and breathing--not because it was my only option, but because I wanted to make it through to see a better future for myself and others. Many months of hard work and planning helped me achieve the platform I have today, and I encourage everyone to check back in with me next week for a new blog post.

Aug 1, 2015 By tristant