Pride: People’s District: Toni on Feeling Like a Woman
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“I have always felt like a woman. I can remember the times when my father would buy me baseballs, footballs, and all of these manly things as a child, but I would always just play with my sisters dolls and dress in their clothes. That was what made me comfortable. I never thought that anything was wrong with it because I felt that I was supposed to be a woman. While I was comfortable with it, my parents struggled with it at first. It was hard on my them, but my mother sheltered me and let me know it was okay.
“People used to ask me why I chose that life, as if it were a choice. People would tell me, ‘You could have been a gay man and been more successful in life.’ My issue is that I am not a man. I have always felt comfortable in my current shell as a woman. I learned to be proud and comfortable from my mentor, Tina Teasley. She was a few years older than me and was instrumental in my life and my transition. Tina was an amazing role model and showed me that you could be transgender and successful.
“Thanks, in part, to her, I started taking hormones at 17 and then got my breasts. After that, it was all about being a woman at all costs. I would save my money for the operations and back then, all of us girls, would go to the same doctor in NE. Now that I am older, I like to say that I live a normal life. This is me.
“I feel fortunate that I did not go through a lot of the struggles that many in the transgender community have gone through in this city. I had a job and health care and could take care of myself. Of course, I had a lot of other difficulties in my life, but I overcame them. As I started to hear about the serious issues facing the transgender community in DC, I thought, girl, what is going on with this city. I was so out of it, doing my own thing and living my own life that I forgot about the other people like myself who were not as fortunate.
“In 2003, I got involved and helped to start Transgender Health Empowerment. We got a small grant from the city and grew from there. We wanted to make sure that people knew about the ‘T’ in LGBT. We worked hard to get us a seat at the table with the LGBT community and the city. I look back and think that it is so remarkable how much we have grown. We have really made waves, in a positive way. It was not all peaches and cream, but we have made progress in terms of getting the transgender population access to healthcare and giving them a seat at the table. Still, there are some barriers to education, housing, and employment in order for us to get where we need to be.
“After working full-time on my job, working to grow Transgender Health Empowerment, and being involved on committees for the city, I made a decision to step down as Chairman of the Board of Directors in September of last year. Transgender Health Empowerment had grown to the point where I felt comfortable moving and shifting priorities. I had spent so much time with Transgender Health Empowerment that I needed to focus on myself and figure out what I was going to do with my life. With all of my work, I forgot about myself.
“Now, I want to travel, enjoy life, and be open to what comes my way. My next cause may be more transgender empowerment, but it could also not be an LGBT issue. I just know that one day I am going to get a call from someone who needs help and wants to get something moving. I am the kind of person who can’t say not to that.”
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