The Privilege of Going Home (Part Two: On Coming Out)

"The Privilege of Going Home" is a three-part story series featuring three powerful voices. Unlike many may assume, not all students can go home for the holidays to see family and friends. Being able to go home is in itself a great privilege that is often taken granted for. In the order that they will be released, the three individual stories will focus on: homelessness, coming out and the travel ban--and how some students cope with these hardships during a time when other venture out to vacation.

 

“I was a transgender teen in rural Pennsylvania— who was going to believe me?”

 

19-year-old Victor would constantly battle with this question as he came out to his family and friends, fighting to live his own life as himself. Growing up, consistency was difficult to find for Victor, whose family moved around so frequently that they would often lose count. Born in Belgium, raised in the Netherlands, Germany and with strong ties to Uruguay, Victor finally relocated to the homogenous rural suburbs of Pennsylvania in 2008, only bringing with him: his viscous European pronunciation, a visa gripped in his hand and yet another reluctant attempt to somehow redefine home once more.

 

On surface level, Victor’s family appeared ‘conventional’-- with his mother, father and two siblings. And while Victor was never very attached to his family, especially because his working father was rarely home, things were bearable. However, this seeming tranquility was shattered in April 2017 when Victor came out to his mother.

 

“I reached a point where I didn’t have a choice but to tell my parents, because it was crushing me,” Victor said. “I couldn’t be myself, and the thought of staying in the closet destroyed me. When I finally came out to my mom, she was initially supportive. But she ended up outing me to my Dad, and things started to escalate when they immediately cut me off from family finances.”

 

Not only did Victor’s parents refuse to show any gesture of support for Victor during his transition, threatening to stop paying for his college tuition altogether, but they also assumed that his entire experiences and feelings were wholly false. Turning a blind eye on Victor’s pleas, they came to their own conclusion that Victor was not trans and would never be in their eyes.  

 

I was called a lesbian who was weak for not being able to live as a woman,” Victor said. “An attention whore. I was repeatedly misgendered, deadnamed, outcast, assumed insane or talked behind my back extensively. I was shamed for my desire to go on hormones, and was told that I was irresponsible for wanting to start so soon. Sometimes, I was called an insult to ‘real’ trans people, and even when I had the physical copy of the testosterone prescription in my hand, I was told that I was ‘faking’ it.”

 

Finally, this past summer, the abuse escalated to a physical level. Victor, although financially vulnerable and without a safety net, realized that his own parents had created an unhealthy environment where he could no longer stay. Victor packed his bags and moved out. 

 

“I made the decision to leave home permanently,” Victor said. “Though I don’t know if I should even call it a decision because it was what I had to do. As of today, during the school year and breaks, I live in the dorms and the dorms are the only place I have to live. The situation can become really stressful because every counting day, I feel the pressure to succeed because I don’t have that protective umbrella. If I flunk out, I have nowhere to go, and that really scares me.”

 

While moving out eased the immediate threat Victor felt when at home with his parents, it would prove to be only one of many hurdles Victor would wrestle-- with one of the most difficult battles being claiming ownership of his name. In 2016, it was estimated that 1.4 million adults living in the United States, or 0.6% of the total population, identified as transgender, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. However, according to a report conducted by the New York Times, a meager 135,367 applicants actually changed their name to one of the opposite gender.

 

Paralleling the statistics, the process of a name change for Victor in Pennsylvania was a costly $250, emotionally humiliating and would take several months. Demanding that Victor provide a ‘valid reason’ for his name change, the county office also required Victor to publish his birth name, changed name and even address in the local newspaper for everyone, including childhood friends and their parents, to openly read.

 

“Everyone would see that I was trans,” Victor said. “The only way I could get a publication waiver would be if I could either prove that I was facing domestic violence or if I had an attorney present to argue on my behalf-- something I could not afford. Fortunately, I was able to eventually change my residency to New York, where the system was much more accommodating, only taking a week to obtain a name change.”  

 

Throughout his difficult transition, Victor has refused to be silenced, fighting harder to ensure that trans students have an even more inclusive space and magnified voice on campus. In the midst of coping with his personal situation,Victor makes time to serve on the board of NYU’s T-Party, an organization for transgender students, the student government where he is a senator at large for the LGBTQ Gallatin Diversity Council and even in his own dormitory-- where he recently organized a clothing drive through Queer Union and distributed gender affirming clothing.

 

“I’m trying to overcome and grow by doing everything in my power to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another student,” Victor said. “I can’t control their family reactions or friends’ support, but what I can hopefully do is to change policies at NYU to be more friendly. I want to be the last person who goes through this.”

 

However, while the diverse programs as well as the counseling services offered at NYU have provided Victor with unshakable communities and affirmation, discussing his personal circumstances in conversation continues to be a challenge-- especially when Victor meets people for the first time.

 

“It’s been hard for me socially because most people assume everyone goes home for the holidays, and that’s what ‘everyone’ does,” Victor said. “I always find myself telling white lies because I don’t know how to approach the subject without explicitly saying, ‘I’m homeless because my parents won’t accept me.’ Usually, one of the first things people ask when they meet me is about my family, so I end up just having to play along. It feels isolating and shameless sometimes, and it shouldn’t-- but it does. In these situations, it’s not just a simple story-- it’s complicated and something I can’t sum up in a few sentences.”

 

As Victor moves on to the next chapter of his life, he has decided to refrain from contacting his parents for his well-being. Although having made efforts to try and understand where his parents were coming from and why they reacted the way they did, Victor has made peace with the settlement that he won’t understand, and that he will instead translate his experiences and empathy into his life goal of enacting policy and representing his constituents by advocating for everybody as a whole.