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Growing into his own: an interview with trans youth advocate Sean Ebony Coleman

As the youth from TRANSGENERATION have shown us, each trans* person’s journey through identification and transition is unique.  Access to mentors and resources for support can make a huge difference to a young person, no matter where they are in the process.  But for transgender people of color whose stories often go untold, lack of visibility can lead to an even greater sense of isolation. We spoke with Sean Ebony Coleman, Executive Director of Destination Tomorrow, to shed light on the experience of a role model in the trans community of color and hear his perspective on what’s important to young trans folks today.

Tell us a little about what life was like for you growing up as a trans youth in Brooklyn?

It wasn’t until my junior prom, when I asked the object of my affection to dance, that reality set in. “I can’t dance with you, you’re a girl!” That response still elicits pain! I had to deal with the fact that although I didn’t see myself as anything other than Sean, the world did, and I would have to deny myself or deal with rejection. My thoughts became consumed with growing up so I could leave home and be who I really was around people that didn’t know me. Saying that makes me realize how lonely I was and how desperately I needed to see someone like me.

Transitioning is talked about a lot on TRANSGENERATION and is a big question in the lives of many trans youth. How did you decide what/when was right for you?

I first learned about taking hormones from transwomen in the Ballroom scene, but it took me another 10 years to begin my transition medically. While I had already begun to live my life as a male, I had so much to think about before beginning the physical transition, and I didn’t want to lose the support I had. But then I realized that if I didn’t begin, 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.

For young people, fitting in is often a concern, particularly in regards to their appearance. The trans* community faces additional pressures around ‘passing’ and standards of beauty. Can you talk about how some of the youth you work with have responded?

Many of the young people I work with believe that physically transitioning is the key to their happiness. The trans females want to be ‘Barbie’ and the males want to be ‘Adonis,’ and 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.  Also, resources make a difference. In an attempt to ‘pass’ more effectively, which in turn can increase their sense of self worth, some young trans folks will spend the little money they make on dangerous body-modifying procedures called ‘pumping‘. Knowledge is power and all of the TRANSGENERATION youth had the benefit of going to college, which is perhaps the most important thing for a person of trans experience. It can also be the conduit for a safer medical transition to begin.

If you could give some advice to your younger self, what would you tell him?

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 couldn’t see the bigger picture. If I could speak to my young self I would say, ‘hold on. It will all make sense if you hold on.’

Connect with more transpeople and allies!:

  • Read more about Sean Ebony Coleman’s life and work with LGBTQ youth here.
  • The Brown Boi Project is a community of masculine of center womyn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and their allies.
  • The NorthEast Two-Spirit Society provide social, traditional and recreational opportunities that are culturally appropriate to the two-spirit community.
  • Black Transmen is a non-profit organization focused on acknowledgement, social advocacy and empowerment of African-American transmen with resources to aid in a healthy transition.
  • Tucking and Other Skills is a blog offering advice on all issues relevant to trans* people who were assigned male at birth.
  • I AM: Trans People Speak raises awareness about the diversity in the transgender community by sharing submitted stories of trans individuals.

Don’t miss the TRANSGENERATION marathon this Sunday, June 24th, starting at 8A.