My name is Rei Yazzie and I’m a Diné (Navajo) transman from Chinle, Arizona, located on the Navajo Reservation. I currently reside in Phoenix, Arizona. I started my medical transition in August 2018 and since then it has been an amazing journey, and the love and support of family and friends has been more than I could have imagined. I’ve been working as a personal trainer with EōS Fitness for the past 4 years, and my coworkers and the company, as well as a few clients, have had my back since I started my transition. Outside of the workplace I enjoy spending time with my partner and family, lifting weights, traveling, fishing, being a homebody, and living and learning my traditional ways. On the Reservation the LGBT community was small, with many identifying as gay men and, to a smaller extent, transwomen. There were no transmen visible at that time to whom I could turn for guidance or advice. Today I feel it’s crucial for me to live my most authentic self as a Diné transman, for I am part of my culture and thus part of the traditional creation stories that tell of Nádleeh. By being visible, I feel I’ll be paving the way for those who come later.
As an out and open trans man person of color I have had nothing but positive experiences at work and in social settings, thankfully. I feel humbled to be able to be my authentic self without fear of hate in my social circle and especially at work, where my role calls for respect and trust.
To me it’s very important to be authentic, after hiding who I was and fighting against myself for so many years. It’s a breath of fresh air to be able to be myself.
Being counted and being visible means doing so for both oneself and others and being proud of it, not afraid or scared of what others might say or do. It means owning who you are and being confident and full of self-love from all the fight that you put into becoming your truly authentic self.
I have spent the majority of my life living in conservative places. I grew up in Orange County in Southern California, in a multicultural city that values safety and education. However, this family-oriented suburbia started to show its true colors during the anti-same-sex-marriage Proposition 8 campaign in 2008, only a couple of years after I came out to my family as a lesbian. While my own family has been accepting of both my queer and transgender identity, I was raised to be vigilant and not divulge too much about myself. We are Jewish, and as one of my elder family members would sometimes say, “You never know who wants to kill you.”
I had a hard time swallowing this rhetoric as a guiding principle, and I have spent the majority of my adult life testing the boundaries of intersecting identities and seemingly exclusive spaces. To me, being visible and open about my experiences means a chance at nurturing ally-ship with those who might be unaware of the challenges and joys transgender folk encounter. By not trying to deepen my voice and by presenting myself in both masculine and feminine ways in public I try to send a message to those who are not visible that they are not alone.
I came out as a transgender man while I was living in Jerusalem, Israel, in 2014. I started taking testosterone a few months later. I was studying Torah, Talmud, and other classic texts in an egalitarian yeshiva, and I found strong support from my friends and most of the faculty present.
When I returned to the U.S., I began rabbinical school in Philadelphia and continued my studies among other queer and transgender students and faculty. Unfortunately, my world was about to turn upside down. In the fall of 2016, I started waking up with severe hot flashes throughout the night. I saw my doctors at the LGBTQ clinic and they confirmed that my symptoms were not related to my hormones. But, they had no answer about the symptoms’ source.
Over time the hot flashes increased in frequency and length. I would burn up for hours, and could walk in the snow in just a tee-shirt. I started having peculiar reactions to foods and products that I have always used. I lost my ability to enter a restful, deep sleep. My body was weakening and I couldn’t keep weight on. I saw many doctors, and time after time, they were distracted by my status as a transgender man and wanted to retest my hormones.
I went on medical leave from school and shortly after that I lost my ability to drive. To prove to my doctors that my symptoms were not related to testosterone, I stopped taking the hormone. The greatest disrespect and marginalization I have ever experienced has been trying to navigate conventional healthcare as a transgender person with a chronic illness. Unfortunately, I am not alone in this experience.
Ultimately, I needed to move back home to Orange County, where I’ve been living ever since. After many more failed attempts to get diagnosed, I went back on testosterone and started looking for doctors who work outside of a traditional medicine model. In April of 2019, I started going to a functional medicine clinic and was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease this last summer.
While there may be more months and even years of treatment ahead, I have come to peace with my disease and the fact that I will likely need to reside in Orange County until my health improves. I am fortunate and grateful to have a few other LGBTQ friends in the area, and I continue to have hope for the county as the number of queer events and publicly supportive organizations and businesses have increased.
Working as a QTPOC health care advocate has been rewarding work, as I am able to see my community obtain transitional services while creating policy change at a bigger level. Being an out, visible trans man does come with occasional transphobic remarks and severe threats against my being, but I refuse to let that rhetoric silence me. Knowing that a large percentage of California’s youth identify as queer, I want to be a visible role model that they can look up to and by whom they can feel encouraged to be their authentic selves in the face of adversity. Being visible and counted during the current federal administration is increasingly important with their attempts at erasing us. We are a resilient community. A proud community. We refuse to be erased.
With the increase of visibility of the trans community, many individuals are now able to transition in their teens and twenties. I was thirty-five. While that may not seem particularly old, to completely change my life when I was pushing forty presented many obstacles. It was daunting, it was scary, but it was necessary.
I was fortunate that I worked for a Fortune 500 company that offered great benefits and was very inclusive. A couple months after beginning my transition, I began a new position at the same company, and I was able to go into that position as my authentic self. While I hadn’t had my name legally changed yet, it was relatively easy to go in, introduce myself as Jace, and not have anyone bat an eye.
As far as work, I recognize that I am extremely privileged. Transitioning a little later in life meant that I was established in my employment. Within five months of beginning my transition, my insurance took care of both my hysterectomy and top surgery. I was able to have my birth certificate amended and obtain a new passport in two years’ time.
I was also fortunate that in my personal life, I was supported. I had a large circle of friends, many of whom were trans. When my relationship fell apart, I knew I had a strong support system. My family took my transition well, making the immediate effort to use the correct name and pronoun.
I spent the majority of my life being inauthentic, struggling with depression, being unable to really connect with anyone on a truly intimate level. My decision to transition finally came after a six-month bout of extreme depression that affected my relationship, my work, everything. Saying the words “I think I need to see a therapist about transitioning” took such a massive weight off my shoulders. In that instant I felt more free than I had ever felt. However, as the months went by and the pieces of my transition mostly fell into place without too much resistance, I began to feel an extreme guilt, because it was so easy. So I made the decision to use my privilege to educate, to inform, to teach. I chose early on to not live “stealth,” so that my being visible might help or inspire others to live as their authentic selves. Also, because I am familiar with the process of dealing with court and insurance issues, I am able to pass that information on to others to help make their transitioning processes smoother and less intimidating.
Today I am out and proud, and I continue to be visible. It’s important that we are seen and that we are seen as “regular” people. The transgender community is just like everyone else. We are parents, brothers, sisters, doctors, lawyers, teachers. We are here.
The intersections of race, ethnicity, and gender identity can be complex. I have often wondered whether my Blackness somehow invalidates my transgender identity and vice versa. The two don’t seem to mix oftentimes, as we rarely see Black transgender men, especially those with darker skin, in the forefront of any media presence. I am very aware of my Blackness and in some cases, I am very aware of my transgender modifier. There are times that I don’t feel transgender enough because I can “pass” for cisgender, thanks to more than a decade of hormone-replacement therapy and surgery. There are times that I don’t feel Black enough, because I’m not as connected to the Black community in Phoenix as I would like to be.
Despite my feelings of insecurity, being authentic is everything to me. I strive to be proud of all the things that make up who I am. Brother, partner, corporate worker bee, transgender, and Black. Being authentic means learning to love who and what you are in addition to being able to show yourself to others.
Being visible and being counted is essential to our survival as LGBTQ+ people of color. People’s minds and hearts change simply from being able to put a familiar face to one of the LGBTQ+ letters. It is so important that our stories be heard and felt. The more visible we are, the more opportunities others have to see how alike we are. Finding those kinships is what bonds us together, and those bonds are what enable us to build and maintain strong communities.
I have been transitioning for 5 years so I am very “cis passing” in my environment. For me, it is amazing to have that validation, but at the same time it makes be feel like I am hiding. I try to be outspoken and open if it serves a purpose in that environment. I noticed that people treat me differently since transitioning – I am a white, male passing 30 year old. But really I am a transgender Jewish, pansexual man. I see that people talk to me differently, listen to me differently, and interact with me differently. Even people I have known for years unknowingly treat me differently; like my opinion somehow matters more now then when I was female identified. I notice my privilege and am aware of it. I think that helps to ensure I don’t lose myself to my new found privilege.
Authenticity does not mean openness, though. You can be stealth as a transgender individual and still be authentic. Authenticity to me means being you, unapologetically. I strive to be authentic in every aspect of the word. Authenticity means something different to me at the beginning stages of my transition to now. Being a “passing male” was what made me authentic at the beginning. Being a man of integrity, love, compassion, and strength is what makes me authentic now and what I strive for now that I have become more comfortable in my body.
Again, being visible isn’t a goal for everyone in the transgender community. For me, I am visible for those that can’t be. Some of our community deal with the risk of losing their jobs, their homes, and their lives to being visible; I am aware of my ability to assimilate so I feel that I need to be visible and be counted so that people can meet one of us to know that we aren’t scary and that our lives have value. Being visible and being counted means that we do exist – we are your neighbors, your friends, your coworkers, your family. We aren’t making this up. We aren’t deviants or fetishes. We are real people trying to make sense of this world just like everyone else. We exist, and we’re not going anywhere.
Being a transgender male, I have had individuals look up my birth name, out me, fetishize me, talk about my genitals, unfriend me, talk down to me, misgender me, talk about my chest, I have been pushed out of jobs, others have disregard myself and my partner the list goes on and on. So for me being a transgender male and first and foremost a human has been challenging. My need for connection has always been there. My life has taken various twists and turns, lenses and lessons. Above everything I have learned that honesty, kindness and grace will make the most impactful moves. Hate always has consequences, some you don’t even see. Loving who I am, everyday, and allowing myself to show up for all marginalized individuals because I am with them. Speaking up for women, people of color, being open and honest about my experiences and continuously learning is how I stay active and visible. In doing so I show I am resilient.