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Coming Out as Trans in College and Finding Myself

Coming Out as Trans in College and Finding Myself

Coming Out as Trans in College and Finding Myself

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this uneasy feeling of not belonging — of being an outsider to the rest of the world. As a kid amongst a sea of gender-conforming little boys and girls, I always felt lost. I never truly fit or felt the way I was always told I was supposed to.”

I guess I was being innovative by just coming out as a trans woman on Facebook, but I had decided it was time for me to be true to my identity outside the walls of my university and take hold of my destiny in front of everyone.

I was methodical about this whole coming-out business. You see, the road to figuring out that I was in fact a transgender woman and not just an “effeminate little boy,” confused, a drag queen, or just gay was super nonlinear. The thing is — in hindsight — coming out in college was one of the best things I could have done.

I was lucky to have the environment to fully embrace myself. So many trans girls never have that. Many are disowned by their families, lack educational access, or undergo even worse traumas. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have my own struggles, but I was thrown a few advantages.

In college, I had resources that may not have have been available to me otherwise. There were speech therapists, regular therapists, mentors, and more. There was also a queer community that embraced me and provided opportunities for me to take on new experiences and classes to equip me with the words to convey my innermost thoughts. But most of these things were not readily apparent.

Raquel walking in a pride parade while holding a trans flag.

Raquel walking in the Homecoming Parade at her alma mater, the University of Georgia.

The first thing I found was community. I joined the campus LGBTQ group and started going to its weekly meetings. From there, I became a regular visitor to our LGBT Resource Center, and it was there that I was able to start embracing the aspects of myself that were seemingly out of place in my hometown. I learned I should have never thought I was alone. There were people of different sexualities, backgrounds, and, most especially, gender identities who gave me my first taste of what being my full self could be like.

I started to deal with all of these insecurities I had bottled inside because there were people around me living their lives authentically. When it came time for me to confront years of gender issues, my entire outlook on life had changed.

In essence, discovering my gender identity was a second major for me. It consumed my time, and I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about my future, my options, and the consequences of all of them. Though it was hard, it was also very necessary.

There’s power in being surrounded by people who are on a similar journey of finding themselves. I think that’s why I had the courage to fight for my womanhood. With the built-in support and community, I felt unstoppable.

From there I delved into the art of drag. I had wanted to perform for a while but kept psyching myself out about it. Eventually, I made a vow to myself that I would shake off the masculine prescriptions of my sex and perform. In my head, I was worried. I had internalized millions of microaggressions on my femininity over the years, but slowly, as I performed more and more, I chipped away at those insecurities.

By the time my junior and senior years hit, I was still performing but slowing down a bit. I had started to really tackle my issues about gender and delved into activism. As I started to take on a new public identity, I was able to pretty easily change my school records and have my teachers use the right name and gender once I had all of the legal stipulations out of the way.

I won’t lie. It was very weird to often be the only gender-nonconforming person or queer person or even black person in many of my classes. The looks, the feeling of wanting to sink into my chair and not be noticed, and the obligation to provide a certain perspective were often overwhelming.

These experiences did, however, provide a foundation for me to tackle the “real world” once I graduated. Being able to educate and instill awareness in others is a lifelong journey for LGBTQ individuals, so it helps to be able to embrace ourselves fully as we navigate throughout the world.

In time, I discovered I was lucky in another major way. My family and long-term friends, though apprehensive at first, admired my bravery and came to accept me for who I really was. With words of encouragement, love, and support, I knew I had a solid foundation to really move into the next phase of my life.

Raquel and her mom taking a heartfelt picture on her graduation day.

Raquel and her mother on her graduation day in 2013.

The sheer journey of growing into an adult and leaving behind those childhood views of the world is a universal path. But for trans people, there’s also the leaving behind of a highly intrinsic part that you’ve ever always known for experiences that you hope will bring you to a truer, more authentic form. I had no idea that once I left Augusta, Ga., for college, I was also leaving behind the vision that my parents, my family, my community, and my society had built for me. It was time for me to build my own destiny.

College provided me freedom from the shackles of ignorance. It gave me freedom from the forces that told me I wasn’t enough. And I used the institution to free my mind and my dreams so that I could take hold of my own destiny.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Raquel Willis

A black trans queer feminist media maven. A proponent of all things equality.

A black trans queer feminist media maven. A proponent of all things equality.