My name is Sean Ebony Coleman and I am the Executive Director of Destination Tomorrow; a nonprofit organization that focuses on the eradication of homelessness among LGBT youth; in particular those of Trans experience. I am also the YMSM Coordinator at Bronx AIDS Services where I manage programs designed to educate about and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. I currently identify as a Male of Trans Experience but that has not always been the case. My life has truly been a “Transition” in every sense of the word starting back when I was growing up in Bed-Sty Brooklyn; at the time one of the roughest neighborhoods in that borough. I was raised by my grandmother; the product of a teen mother; in a family owned brownstone on a block made up primarily of homeowners. I say that to say that from an early age the importance of saving and being financially responsible was expressed upon me. My grandmother and I had an uncommonly close relationship; she was then and still is the first woman I have ever loved unconditionally. In spite of this close bond I never was able to tell my grandmother that I wasn’t comfortable in my body; or that I like so many others felt like I was “assigned” incorrectly at birth. The crazy thing is I didn’t feel anything was wrong with the fact that I only played with the little boys; ostracizing the girls who dared enter our circle on the playground; or trying out for the basketball team when I entered the 6th grade. It wasn’t until my junior prom when I stepped across the room to ask the object of my affection to dance, that reality set in. “I can’t dance with you, you’re a girl” was the response that still illicit pain upon reflection. “So no one else asked you” was all I could muster as I beat a hasty retreat to avoid further embarrassment. That had been the story of my childhood, retreating to avoid embarrassment. I now had to deal with the fact that although I didn’t see myself as anything other than Sean, the world would and the things that I knew would bring me pleasure I would have to deny myself, or deal with rejection. How does one so young process something so intense? How do you tell everyone that you walk around with a rocket in your pocket; don’t judge me; in an effort to simulate a penis? Please understand, the block I grew up on was a community in every sense of the word, it was my family. I couldn’t sacrifice the love and support I received from them for a feeling I could suppress was the way my young mind rationalized this suppression. My thoughts were consumed with growing up so I could leave home and be who I really was around people that didn’t know me. Writing that sentence makes me realize how lonely I was and how desperately I needed to see someone like me. Upon my 18th birthday, my best friend and I came out to each other and began to seek out others like us. He being male looking for other males and me assuming I was Lesbian seeking out the company of some nice young ladies we headed to the Village, a place we heard much stories about. Upon our first night we encountered a group of other young people who seemed to be just what we were looking for and befriended them, or should I say they befriended us. That night started the rest of my life. It was transformational in that it changed my perception of “family”. On that night I was adopted into the House/Ball community and gained family who looked like me and understood the crazy thoughts that occupied my head. Now what? For some odd reason it still didn’t feel right; in spite of the fact that I had Lesbians in my immediate circle. I still felt like I was trapped in a body that didn’t belong or fit who I was but I had no idea what to do or who to trust with that secret. You see at that time there were no Trans identified males, nor was the internet a resource to help me self diagnosis. I floated around adapting for the second time in my life to what others thought should be my reality, young, black butch. I wore that label not because I wanted it; I never felt like a woman who loves women; but because It was all I knew at the time. After having a conversation with a young “fem queen” from the ballroom scene, I learn that they take hormones to help shape their appearance and desperately wanted to learn more about this. Could I take them? What kind? How would it affect me? More importantly, what would BOTH communities feel about my wanting to do this. I had so much to think about that I did what I normally would do, I retreated. It took me another 10 years to eventually begin my transition medically although in theory I had begun transition much sooner in that I had begun to live my life as a male and rejected all mention of being assigned female. Upon reflection I think it took me so long to begin because I didn’t want to lose the support I had, but realized that If I didn’t I would lose me. I could no longer tolerate looking in the mirror and seeing an image that didn’t match who I knew I was. I desperately needed my outside to match my inside….at all cost. What I realized is that people who loved me would continue to love me, even if they didn’t really understand me; shoot I didn’t understand me completely. There were some who removed themselves from my life, which hurt at the time but as I got older I realized that their decision had way more to do with them then with me and my decision.
Fast forward to present day and I have exceeded my own expectations. I have been afforded many opportunities which have helped me advocate on behalf of young Trans folks. I advocate for inclusion, for an end to health disparities which are exacerbated for people of Trans experience, and for safe, affordable housing. I also advocate for Young Trans Males of Color who remain nameless, faceless shadows. It is these young men that assisted in my decision in doing this work. Please understand that while transitioning is difficult, it is especially difficult for an FTM of color. We have now become what for all intense and purposes are the most demonize individual, a Black Man in America, no one taught me how to deal with that combined with the effects of the hormonal therapy ( which has been known to make some overly aggressive). In my current capacity I am able to directly help young men prioritize their goals to better determine the outcome. I attempt to show the young people I work with that physically transitions is not THE most important thing at this stage in their lives, but that being able to afford a comfortable life will also afford them a comfortable transition. One of my favorite things to remind the youth is that them being Transgender is only a small part of who they are therefore it should not dominate their entire life. I don’t live, breath being Transgender because it is who I am, not what I am. One of the challenges I have faced is convincing my young people how true those statements are. In an age where every female; regardless of assignment at birth; wants to be Barbie, and every male wants to be Adonis the last thing they want to hear is that their physical appearance doesn’t or shouldn’t matter as much as how they are adjusting mentally. While homelessness among LGBT youth in NYC is a major problem; one the City has failed to appropriately address; some of my Trans girl who find themselves in this situation do not save money for an apartment, but to get their “body done”. One way of getting their body done is through pumping parties. A pumping party is when an unlicensed person takes what they have convinced the purchaser is silicone and injects it in various parts of the body to give a more curvaceous look. These parties are normally in a hotel or someone’s basement and have been a part of the Transgender community almost as long as wigs, but it wasn’t until other “women” began to experiment with and become ill from these parties did the media begin reporting on it. In spite of the dangers young Trans women of color save the little money they make to have these procedures done in an attempt to pass more effectively, something which in turn will make the young person feel a sense of self worth. Inadequate education, lack of housing and being abandoned by family upon coming out as Transgender are just some of the problems facing these courageous young people. To survive some turn to sex work, while others commit petty crimes to help meet their most basic of needs. One of the challenges I’m faced with is getting the young person to see their lives as a whole rather than a day to day experience. In a generation of “right now” it is hard to sell the benefits of a college education to someone who doesn’t fully understand what their place in this world is, why wouldn’t they live for the now? College is perhaps THE most important thing for a person of Trans experience. It can be the conduit by which medical transition can begin. We know for a fact that knowledge is power and the more powerful one is the more comfortable they become in everyday living situations i.e. condom negotiation something every young person should be well versed in. I do this work to groom powerful, well rounded individuals who happen to be of Trans experience.
Yeah this life has been more than I expected and there is still so much more living. As a young person coming to terms with being different and then identifying that difference and taking steps to rectify the situation, I was one who could not see the bigger picture. I didn’t know my value to this world or my place in society. If I could speak to my young self I would say hold on it will all make sense if you hold on. Don’t try to take on so many adult problems, deal with the situations that you have to and leave the rest alone. Don’t rush to grow up, your time will come to be an adult but while you wait prepare for all that life has to offer you both good and bad, and lastly, the little jewels your grandmother is blessing you with in word and thoughts have all come to fruition she knew what she was talking about so listen.
Look Ma I’ve grown into a successful, well rounded member of society who just happens to be of Trans Experience….I hope I did you proud!!