Later on, after high school, while still living on the Navajo Reservation, there were a couple of people I knew, close to me, that died from complications of AIDS—but it wasn’t talked about. My friends and I were told by our departed friends’ family that they died of walking pneumonia. Of, course, there was more to those stories, but no one insisted on getting more than the half-truth that was told.
In 2008, after moving to Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to further educate myself in the field of HIV and became an HIV test counselor. I love talking about safe sex and learning about the complexity of relationships, including sexual practices. As I began to counsel individuals and their partners I began learning more about myself. Through this process I became more aware of myself and this term ‘transgender’ and thus began my advocating journey.
Monika: You have been active as the Program Coordinator with the Red Circle Project. What is the project about?
Annually, March 20 is recognized as National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and RCP commemorates this day by sponsoring “Celebrating All Life & Creation” Pow Wow. This pow wow is held in the city of West Hollywood and this year will be held on June 28, 2014. It’s a special pow wow because it brings many non-Native communities together and raises awareness of not only HIV, but of the Native American culture.
We also hold monthly support groups and reach out to the community on a daily basis to raise awareness of HIV and two spirit history. Be sure to check out Red Circle Project on Facebook.
Recently, the advocacy work of Janet Mock and Laverne Cox have added more emotional substance to the works that are out there, which, hopefully, will allay people’s opposing perspectives of the transgender community…and will encourage audiences to challenge their own long-standing beliefs of what socially defines what a transgender individual actually is.
|Her tattoos are her diary. Taken in January 2014.|
The community needs to become more self-aware and begin searching within for strength to grow up. Many communities show resilience and that is extremely true of the transgender community, but we cannot continue to tell stories of the challenges that we’ve been through and expect others’ sympathy to be the foundation of our strength.
We need to tell stories of how we overcame challenges, make note of how we overcame them, then make a list of what we are going to do next…and actually do them. And, although there are plenty of transwomen who are doing great political advancements for the transgender community in America, like Mara Keisling and Joanne Keatley, I’d like to see more transgender individuals become involved in areas outside of places we already expect to see transwomen.
There are many trans-people that take up social services as their career, but this field is not the only field in which a difference can be made. We need representation in every field. Ubiquity creates normalcy. I’d like to see more trans- representation in fields like math and sciences—nothing like a smart woman who can articulate solutions to social issues but who can also “solve for x.” We need more trans people showing off their brains along with their beauty. I’m not so great at math myself, so I try to log on to khanacademy at least twice a week.
Without her courage to pursue her passions and to become the public figure she was, it would have probably taken me a little longer to begin this self reflection that includes me as someone they call ‘transgender.’ This journey that has taken away my genderless being on the reservation to this, sort of, walking protest.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
I also know that my choice to express myself the way that I do requires a great deal of courage. I vacillated between whether or not to take hormones—not knowing whether Mom would love and accept me after taking them. Finally I decided that my happiness was ultimately going to let me lead a life that I believed in and that hormones would extend the way that I navigated through life. My mother’s love and acceptance is still there, post-hormones, and is still a huge influence on me.
I think that any person involved in politics can make a difference—now; whether they make an objective positive difference remains to be seen. We can’t just vote and think that our vote will make the difference we seek, either. We need people in politics that can create policies and ensure those policies are implemented. We have to trust in ourselves and stop thinking others will do what we cannot.
|Michelle and Anthony. Taken on|
the Navajo Reservation; November 2013.
And with that being said, I must also say that self-love is extremely important. I’ve been in love with others for the wrong reasons and it felt like I was dying inside because I wanted more from them than what I could give to myself.
It’s important to remember who you are and that no matter who you’re with—or how they treat you, be it good or bad—that you continue to reach the goals that you’ve set for yourself. The love and respect you give to yourself is priceless.
Although I’ve participated in a beauty pageant, I think that we should start looking at other strategies that develop and showcase mental attributes that transgender individuals possess. By embracing what’s below the surface will enhance the surface; I’m not sure it works the other way around, yet, in the transgender community.
There will be many words used and positions taken that will sometimes seem to undermine your journey. Sometimes the words used will seem offensive and may cause some emotional damage, but the words are only words until they are given power. If you have mental agility, you should be fine no matter where you are on the transition “spectrum.” A strong sense of self is the foundation of every other decision made in your life.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
I’m also a member of the Transgender Service Provider Network and we are continuously working to better the local community. Currently, with the Affordable Care Act being implemented, we are strategizing ways in which the community will have less challenges when accessing HRT.