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Choosing Charlie

Updated on September 28, 2018

Coming Out in the South

As a New Yorker (now a Yankee, living in Georgia), I understood that racism, transphobia, and homophobia were all still alive and well, but I didn't realize to what extent. My first year as a Georgian was spent coming across scenarios I wasn't equipped to deal with - like that time before I knew how many slurs were created for people of color, and I told someone their child looked like an adorable member of the primate family. My regret is heavy to this day, and I've since done everything in my power to educate myself.

Left and right, I met people who lived their whole lives in a place that seemed to foster hatred and intolerance. I heard stories of LGBT people getting spit on, and black, customer service employees having money thrown at them because customers didn't want to touch them. I witnessed a darker skinned friend have someone of her own race and ethnicity demean her for not being lighter. I lived my life up until that point, sheltered in a middle-of-nowhere, northern suburb, clustered with all the minority members of my community. There weren't many of us, so it made sense to be accepting and to value each group's experiences. If we split into factions, we would have been overpowered.

I was one of three people with any kind of Jewish-sounding surname, and the only one who was a practicing Jew. I remember hearing my last name called more than my first. It was an oddity to be Jewish in high school. Just like it was an oddity to be black, for some reason.

So my friends of all colors and beliefs and I would stay up late into each night discussing politics like we knew anything about true racism or intolerance. We thought we were the minorities, so we automatically understood.

But we were wrong.

A year after moving to Georgia, I came out to my friends and family as nonbinary - not a girl or a guy - and I started to experience the first, real discrimination I'd ever had to face. People eyeing me in the bathroom. Employers turning their noses up at me. Coworkers speaking to me like I was wearing a Halloween costume, and I would come around to their casual, misgendering eventually.

I wondered how this could get worse, but I knew the answer.

I could be a transgender dude, and have to struggle with passing if I ever wanted to be happy.

My skin could be darker, and I'd have to find a way around the initial, bigoted impression most people would have before they even got to know me.

I could be anything but white, cute, and still a passing female, and I would have more problems than I was having.

Considering I didn't fall into any of those categories, and I still believed I was choosing to dress androgynous and could stop at any time, I didn't think I had any right to complain about how I was treated by the general population of North Georgia.

But then I realized I wasn't nonbinary.

I'm actually a trans man.

“I don’t identify as transgender. But I’m clearly gender not-normal. I don’t think even lesbian is the right identity for me. I really don’t. I might as well come out now. I identify as tired. I’m just tired.” - Hannah Gadsby

Choosing Charlie

As if it wasn't hard enough to come to terms with my own transition, and the reactions of my family and friends, I started to worry over my own safety. In the classes I initially felt comfortable being nonbinary in, I started to feel hostility from peers when I started to go by he/him. Maybe my claims of being nonbinary seemed so invalid, it was easy for them to ignore. Stating that I wanted to be a man struck a cord with them, though.

I was getting tripped in the hallways, and my shoelaces were being untied in class. People stood closer than they needed to, so they could achieve an intimidating, looming presence. I may feel like a man, but that doesn't mean I grew up in a world where my 5' stature ever protected me. In fact, I accredited being female to why I didn't get beat up in grade school.

There's a popular social norm concerned with not being violent towards women, but suddenly I wasn't a woman to society anymore.

I wasn't a man either, though.

I was just a person who people passed judgement on, like it was their right, and I couldn't fight back. Not because I didn't have the ability to hurt them, but because I would be just as bad as them if I did.

I started my transition, and my first though was, "I'm not going to make it, when I'm surrounded by people like this."

I never cried so hard as I did the day I came out to my parents and my partner. I thought I was losing everything just to do something for my own happiness. I didn't think I had a right to be happy, so I was crippled with depression over hurting the people I loved.

But then people who loved me convinced me I was wrong, and that my life had more value than just to satisfy others. I realized if I felt satisfied and happy, I could help other people reach satisfaction and happiness too.

If LGBT students weren't safe in my school, I would fix it. So I started a club.

If LGBT people were alone in need of answers, I would find the answer. So I started to write to people who asked me questions, and I actively made sure they had me for emotional support when needed.

If I was facing an uphill battle while transitioning, I would make the climb easier for the next person. So I got involved in my local politics, and I started talking to the decision makers I elected to protect my rights.

I didn't just start calling myself "Charlie", I became Charlie Steinberg, fighter for equality. It was an identity I felt proud of, and I wanted other people to feel proud of themselves too.

LGBT Youth Statistics from The Trevor Project
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.

We Need to Stop Losing People Because They Couldn't Adhere to Our Too-Strict Gender Norms.

When are we going to stand up to intolerance for the mere sake of saving lives?

Regardless of age, sex, race, belief, gender, or sexual orientation, everyone has a right to life and happiness however they see fit, so long as they're not doing harm to anyone else. It shouldn't take changing genders to start opening our eyes to the injustices other minorities - other people are facing.

I regret that I needed to realize I was transgender before I did anything to help transgender people. I inadvertently made things harder for my future self, and every other transgender person who's fighting this battle alongside me.

Maybe one day you'll wake up in a minority. It sounds crazy, but you could end up disabled, disfigured, or something other than you are now, and it might impede your quality of life. To protect yourself, and others who are facing the intolerance still prevalent in 2018 America, start doing something now.

You never know when you'll wake up and realize you made things harder on yourself by not caring for others.


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