“I have learned a lot in my lifetime. I think the most important thing I have learned, though, is it is necessary to be happy. I am in control of my happiness because it is a constant decision I have to make every day. I cannot control what happens to me, but I can choose how I react to situations and where I go from there. My name is Rose Montoya, I was assigned male at birth but I’m not a man. This is a story about my journey to self-discovery and true happiness.
I grew up in a rural town in Idaho and was raised by a Christian family. As a kid, I never related to the other boys nor did I fit in with most kids in my grade. I preferred to play with ‘girly’ toys and dress up in feminine costumes.
Elementary school wasn’t easy for me. I remember being constantly chased and teased at recess. I was even thrown into the dumpster by an older boy one year. I had made friends with a girl that I think he had a crush on and he was trying to figure out if I liked her the same way he did. When I told him no, he was angry and didn’t believe me. So he picked me up over his shoulder and threw me into the dumpster. The girl helped me out and said he was just teasing but I was scared. Even the teachers at school would laugh and tell me to ‘man up’ when I reported kids were bullying me. I eventually found a teacher I could trust so I ate lunch in her classroom often. I made some closer friends in late elementary school (mostly girls), but I wasn’t allowed to go to sleepovers or be involved in the ‘girl talks’. I honestly wished I were a girl. I remember one day at recess in sixth grade I ran up to my group of girlfriends to hangout. They told me ‘Can you leave, we are having girl chat.’ I left and sat alone in the field. I cried and prayed to God, ‘Please let me wake up and be a girl.’ I was beginning to become confused with myself. Some of my friends had started dating, and one had a crush on me. But I didn’t like any of the girls.
When I realized I was attracted to men in middle school I thought it explained why I was effeminate or why I was different. I had never met an LGBTQ person so all I had to go off of was my own feelings. Hey, maybe I’m just gay! Then I discovered YouTube and later Glee came out on television. These instances helped me identify with a community and understand a little of what it meant to be LGBTQ, but I had a lot of internalized shame and believed I’d go to hell for not choosing to be straight. I cried myself to sleep often and asked God to make me straight. I began to hate myself because I believed I was an abomination. This caused me to struggle with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. After about a year of strife I told someone and found help. I came out as gay to people and life got a lot easier as I found friends who accepted me especially those who were also LGBTQ. They helped me accept myself as a gay man.
Most of my life I was bullied for being effeminate, so I suppressed it as much as I could. Most people, including myself, did not realize to what extent I was suppressing my femininity, because I already presented as an (unintentionally) effeminate gay male. I thought this was my only option to express how I felt. But this wasn’t enough. I was still confused, and something didn’t feel right. I was always insecure with my appearance.
College was a lot easier. I quickly made a lot of friends and everyone was quick to accept me for who I was, basically a gay man at the time. When Halloween came around, I didn’t know what to do. I still love dressing up and Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. I had a few ideas, but one kept creeping up in my mind. What if I dressed as a woman? I had never done it, but I had a strong desire to. When my friends and I went thrift shopping for costumes I quickly found a few dresses to try on. I also put on a hideous blonde wig for fun. Finally, I decided to wear a tight purple dress and a straight black wig. On Halloween a lot of people didn’t recognize me. One straight friend also hit on me because he thought I was a girl. This feeling can only be described by one word: euphoria. I was so happy, but this was only a costume.
The Seattle university drag show is the most popular event on campus. It always sells out, and people talk about it all year long. My friends and I knew we had to go. While there, I was inspired and completely in awe. After a few performances, the drag queen hosting, named Mama T, asked for volunteers from the audience to participate in a drag race. I immediately stood up, not knowing what came over me. I was chosen to go up to the stage with four other students. We all did a catwalk as a preview for what was to come. I strutted down the push stage and the audience roared. I was first told to pick an outfit; I was going to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. I chose a white, lacy top, a short poufy blue skirt, red underwear, and sparkly pumps. I put on a wig cap and sat down in front of a mirror. I had three people help do my makeup. I was so excited throughout the whole process. These people were all so talented, compassionate, and supportive. Spending what feels like hours to put on your face allows for a lot of meaningful conversation. I was reminded it is important to have fun and that positive difference can be made in unexpected ways. When they were done, they spun me around and I saw myself. I looked campy, but something felt right. This was me. I felt like I had just woken up or just met myself for the first time. I smiled and I worked it on that stage. The audience adored me. I ended up winning the contest and crying from happiness. Drag felt more connected to my identity. And nothing could compare to the affirmations and praise I received that night.
The next school year I was beginning to feel more at peace with my appearance. I decided I wanted to finally start expressing my femininity more outwardly. I wanted to explore the side of my identity I had suppressed for so long. I immediately started wearing clear mascara and powder foundation. I wanted my makeup to look unnoticeable, but still feel beautiful. When I received money for my birthday, I decided to buy a pair of black wedge boots. My friends encouraged me to buy them and loved it when I wore them out. For Halloween, I decided again to dress more femininely. I went as a gender ambiguous Rocky. I was confused and exploring my own gender, so this felt right.
Throughout winter 2015, a thought kept coming into my mind. I’d think to myself ‘I don’t think I’m a man.’ I wasn’t sure how I identified anymore, but I knew I was uncomfortable being masculine. Could I be a woman? I knew I disagreed with society’s definition of gender roles, I had been certain of this for about a year. But am I agender (a person who does not identify themselves as having a particular gender) or non-binary (those who identify as having no gender or being without a gender identity) or gender non-conforming (behavior or gender expression by an individual that does not match masculine or feminine gender norms?) None of that sat right with me. I had met a friend in choir who didn’t identify as a man or woman. They were non-binary. And they helped me understand what it is to be trans. I started looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, who is this person? I don’t know who I am. So, I went online again and began voicing my feelings anonymously on tumblr. I met a trans woman who helped me even further.
The 2015 drag show was coming up and everyone began asking me if I was performing again. I was so nervous, but I knew I wanted to. I had to do it again. I asked some of my friends to help me choreograph a routine to Jennifer Lopez’s song ‘Booty’. I picked out a short black dress, a white fur coat, and 6” red pumps for my outfit. (All which I still proudly own.) The day of the drag show I was more nervous than I think I have ever felt. What if I trip? What if they don’t like me? How will my family react this time? Once I put on my spandex and bra, I looked at myself in the mirror and smiled. I said to myself, ‘This is me. I am a woman.’ I saw a glimpse of the person I’ve always been. Backstage I was a mess. I was too excited to sit for more than a minute. I met famous drag queens and kings from the area, and I saw my fellow student performers in full drag. It was so empowering and exciting. I don’t really remember much of my own performance. It happened so fast. I knew I messed up twice, but I also couldn’t get the sound of the audience screaming out of my head. They loved me. No one knew I was presenting as a woman not just as a performance, but as an expression of who I am. Everyone’s cheers and compliments afterward felt like they were affirming I can present as woman. That night I finally accepted this is who I am.
I continued to experiment with drag the rest of the year. I started allowing myself to be more feminine and I felt positively embraced. I started seeing a therapist to talk through how I felt. He helped me realize I experienced dysphoria (a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life) and that hormone replacement therapy could help. He helped me believe I was worthy of happiness and it was okay to continue to have hope.
A few weeks after the drag show, I went to see Laverne Cox talk at the University of Washington. I loved her character Sofia in ‘Orange is the New Black’. I had been following her on social media for a while. What I didn’t know was how much I would relate to her. She told her story and I couldn’t help but think ‘wait, is she talking about herself, or is she talking about me?’ Our stories are so similar and I started crying like a baby. All I knew was, I can be a successful woman.
That day I came out to a friend of mine as trans and I continued to come out slowly in the following months. I graduated college in 2015 and decided to ease my family into seeing me present femininely by wearing heels to my ceremony. I did my makeup during breaks at rehearsal and the women there all complimented me. Many mentioned they were jealous of my confidence and ability to walk in stilettos. When my family saw me in the sea of graduates, they were so excited and so proud. They didn’t notice my shoes I think until I waked on the stage to shake my presidents hand. My family again didn’t really mention my shoes. I could tell my dad was uncomfortable but he still gave me hug.
On June 23rd 2015, I took my first estrogen pill and testosterone blockers. I began noticing changes quickly. My skin became softer, my body started becoming curvier and I developed breasts. I came out to my family in August and while it wasn’t easy at first, my family came around. They said ‘You won’t have a good future and you will be discriminated against or murdered.’ Their fears were valid but also holding them back from understanding this is what I needed to do to be happy. Seeing me and realizing I’m the same awkward person made all the difference.
I legally changed my name in September of 2015, after giving names at coffee shops for a few months to test out different ones and get comfortable with my new one. I became obsessed with makeup and it became a safety blanket. When I made up my face I was surprisingly respected more and not misgendered as frequently. I noticed I was more likely to be harassed or verbally assaulted when I WASN’T wearing makeup. I have a 1 in 8 chance of being murdered and a life expectancy of 35. Passing is safety. Even if I don’t want to pass or feel I need to.’ I don’t want to nor do I feel I need to, but I do pass better now and I’m safer because of it. I wish it weren’t the case. Society needs to become more accepting of gender non conformity.
Fast forward 4 years to today, I experience gender euphoria like I’ve never felt before. I’m much more comfortable in and out of makeup. I sometimes still struggle with imposter syndrome and dysphoria, but it is much less. At the beginning of my transition I wanted to fit in and be just trans ‘enough’. I wanted to be accepted, so I overcompensated with my femininity. While hormone replacement therapy has significantly improved my self-esteem, I still don’t love every inch of my body. But then again who does in our society? I’ve had lots of conversations with friends and strangers about gender in the last few years and my thoughts have changed. I don’t identify as trapped in the wrong body. My body is good, but I don’t like how society treats me, perceives my body, judges me and expects things of me.
My doctors told my parents I was a boy because of how my body looked when I was born so I was raised as a boy. I’m 100% not a man. If I put myself into the equation of gender as it exists in our society, I am a woman because I have transitioned toward looking more feminine and want my body to look more like a woman’s rather than a man’s. I like makeup, dresses and all things effeminate. But if you put woman into the equation as it exists, I don’t feel it equates to me. This being said, I want to state that no one fits into the ‘perfect’ stereotypical molds of society. Gender roles are arbitrary and change according to time, place, and culture. I’ve had the experience of a cisgender man and a trans woman. While ‘woman’ doesn’t quite feel wrong, it certainly feels more right than man. Gender-queer. or non-binary feels even more ‘right’.
I recognize the word ‘queer’ has some negative connotations associated with it. I’ve been teased and called queer before yet at the same time I don’t equate the word queer in the same category with the other words I’ve been called. I love that it’s being reclaimed.
Sometimes I’d like to disregard the construct of gender all together, but that would disregard our history of sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia through systemic violence. We must address this discrimination and fight against it. Let us reclaim gender as a non-binary, fluid spectrum that cannot be fully understood, but accepted.
My inner voice of self-insecurity tries to tell me that to identity as non-binary and at the same time a trans woman is contradictory, but it isn’t. I am comfortable identifying non-binary but not using they/them pronouns because I am she/her. Looking at gender as a spectrum with man and woman on either end, I feel I identify somewhere in-between the middle and as a woman.
Courtesy of Rosalynne MontoyaIt’s odd sharing my story is viewed as advocacy simply because of who I am. It’s a basic human act really, I’m not brave, I’m just living my life. Identifying as a bisexual, non-binary, queer woman directly fights against the norm. No one has all the answers and neither do I. We’re all just trying our best. I currently identify as a Hispanic gender queer/non-binary bisexual trans woman. So I ask, who are you?”
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