Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of homophobia, transphobia, self-harm, depression, anxiety, inpatient treatment.
“Hi there! My name is Noah Sanatkar (they/them), I am a 23-year-old queer and trans-American-Iranian. My story reflects on my life as a trans-American-Iranian navigating cultural sensitivity and acceptance, as well as reflecting on my mental health journey. I will work toward highlighting my hardships while emphasizing the importance of authenticity and working my way through the challenges I have faced. If I could even help one person feel less alone, then I have done what I have set out to do. I write to you to share my story, all aspects of it; the highs, lows, unknowns, and in-betweens. The hope behind sharing my story is to be able to connect with other folx and remind them they are not alone.
Being born prematurely at 1 pound, 8 ounces, I came into the world struggling to stay alive. Despite the survival rate, I was coined a ‘miracle’ and my parents were told I will continue to be a fighter and stay alive—little did they know, they were right.
At a young age, I felt outcasted and otherworldly. Factors that contributed to this were a learning disability and being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 5, but truly reflecting back on my childhood, the most comprehensible reason was working toward understanding my sexuality and gender without having the words for it. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-teens to truly discover myself and find solace in my identities. I soon realized my mental health was deteriorating due to me not living my truth, but I still didn’t know what my truth was.
I fell into a deep depression and began experiencing anxiety attacks, as well as coping negatively with self-harm when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember sitting in my mentor’s classroom almost every day, hysterically crying because I felt like an imposter. At that point, he had seen me at my lowest—running to his classroom I coined my safe haven. I remember sitting there mustering the courage to tell him I was attracted to girls and terrified because I did not think I would ever truly be accepted by my family or friends. He sat across from me, patiently waiting to ask what triggered the anxiety attack of the day. After some time, I was able to form the words, ‘I’m not straight, I like girls.’ Immediately I felt another rush of anxiety, which quickly turned into feeling like I could finally exhale.
He hugged me and said he accepted me. He acknowledged my family may not react the same way (he wasn’t wrong) and told me to proceed with caution, but to continue to live my truth.
Coming from an Iranian background, shame for being ‘different’ in any way or not conforming to cultural expectations (being in a ‘straight’ relationship), conforming to gender roles within presentation (long hair, dressing feminine, etc.) was deeply rooted in me for as long as I could remember. Any difference in sexuality and gender identity is swept under the rug within my culture. I felt like it would be impossible to find acceptance from my family and be authentic to myself.
Coming out to my parents came with denial, restriction when it came to seeing friends, and being confronted with subtle but clear microaggressions. As a teenager, I took a lot of that to heart and it affected me negatively. I was simply trying to follow my mentor’s advice, to continue to ‘live my truth.’
Reflecting back on it, I realize a lot of their actions came out of fear and love for me—not to say I justify their actions at all, but culturally speaking, their kid just came out as queer, they were going through a lot, too. I was able to recognize they needed time to process, but it also contributed negatively toward my self-esteem. I found myself praying one night, I would change—I would wake up the next day liking boys so I didn’t have to go through the microaggressions and being told I couldn’t wear my newly obtained rubber rainbow bracelet I got from my school’s GSA. I again felt otherworldly and outcasted, but proud of myself for continuing to be my authentic self.
I felt lighter coming to terms with my sexuality and being vocal about it despite my parent’s disapproval, but soon realized again I was holding my breath. I remember vividly how suffocating the length of my hair felt and how the person dressed in ‘feminine’ clothes staring back at me in the mirror began to feel like a stranger. I began to experiment with my clothing, picking more ‘masculine’ leaning outfits and allowing myself the freedom without self-judgment to see what I resonated with.
During my junior year of high school, I fought to cut my hair short which came with resistance and being told how ‘gorgeous’ my long hair was and how I was breaking my parent’s hearts by taking my hair away. Again, I was simply trying to feel more comfortable within myself.
I cannot express how relieved I felt looking at the mountains of hair piled on the floor of the hair salon.
As I graduated high school and began college, I knew I was going into massive self-discovery with my gender identity. In fear of being treated otherworldly, much like I was in high school, I closeted myself at the beginning of my undergraduate career. (Spoiler alert: that didn’t last long!) As seen in high school, closeting myself made my mental health worse due to the fact I was again, not being authentic to myself. Therefore, I took my leap of faith, and instead of being trying to force myself to conform, I began expressing myself the way that made me feel most comfortable, once more proving to myself that living my truth was what would make me happiest.
Family-wise, my parents were still not supportive and resistant in my change of appearance, vocally expressing their disapproval and concern to me, ‘What happened to our little girl? Where did we go wrong? You’re being influenced, etc…’ I tried my best to educate and inform them as much as I could to help them understand and reassured them I was still the same person, just trying to be more comfortable within myself.
On and off for a few years, I kept going back into the closet to try and be what my family wanted, what my culture expected of me: conformity and femininity.
It wasn’t until my mental health took an even deeper turn for me to realize I could no longer continue to keep hiding this part of myself that was so desperate to be free and understood. I was put into inpatient care at 19 years old. Imposter syndrome hit me once more. The hospital itself was an extremely scary time in my life, it had crowned itself my lowest low. I was told by a nurse practitioner unprompted on one of my last days inpatient to ‘live my truth.’ I first thought it was just a coincidence, years prior, my mentor told me the same thing. Thinking back on it, I believe it was more than just a coincidence. It was meant to truly have me understand within myself, I could be myself; my authentic self.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I promised myself I would work toward living my truth—no matter what it took. I came out as Noah and non-binary when I was 19. To no surprise, my family did not take the news with open arms and smiling faces. From 19 to 23, I have been dealt with my parents’ disapproval and openness about my trans experience. I have two family members who are unconditionally supportive, my aunt and uncle, to whom I’m so grateful.
As mentioned, my parents are not supportive of my gender identity, therefore I haven’t been able to truly be out in all settings. I luckily am able to be authentic to myself around my friends, aunt, and uncle. With this, going to appointments such as the doctor, dentist, etc., come with misgendering and deadnaming, which I’ve grown to work through and manage the situation, especially if it is not safe for me to correct the person. I am looking forward to being able to continue to live my truth sooner than later.
If I could go back and tell my 16-year-old self anything, it would be, ‘I know it’s hard but continue to hold on.’ If I could go back and tell my 19-year-old self anything, it would be, ‘I know it’s hard but please, don’t leave. Please stay.’ If I could tell my current self anything, it would be, ‘I’m glad you stayed.’
My experiences have not only shaped who I am, but the work I strive to do. In the last year, I worked with an LGBTQ+ agency to share experiences, educate youth and work toward reminding youth their voices are valid and they are seen, cared for, and supported. Come Fall, I will be attending UCLA to earn my Master’s in Social Work. My lived experiences have led me to this line of work—to work toward making others feel safe and seen with.
If there is anything I would pass on to others trans folx, it would be to continue. That in and of itself is difficult to want to do at times, but your life and identity matter. You are seen, heard, valued, and deserve to stay.
I want to take a moment to thank those who have taken the time to read my story. Whether you are a part of the LGBTQ+ community or not, thank you. If you are an ally, thank you. Please continue to be there for the LGBTQ+ people in your life. To my fellow trans folx and LGBTQ+ siblings, thank you, and please continue.
As mentioned, my family does not support my identity, therefore to help raise money for my medical transition, I am making custom playlists. If you are interested in receiving a playlist and donating, please feel free to click this link below to fill out a google form based on music preferences.
If you would like to donate along with it, my Venmo is n-sanatkar. By NO means do you need to donate in order to receive a playlist. The donation is up to you. The money donated will be used for gender care only. It will go toward specialists and other expenses related to LGBTQ+ healthcare.
I would greatly appreciate signal boosting if you’re unable to donate. Anything will help. Thank you again.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Noah Sanatkar from Los Angeles, CA. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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