I Refuse to Stop Being Myself

My school district tried to force me to go against my identity to fit their description of “Sunday best" at my high school graduation; though I lost my case, I refuse to stop being myself.

Since I was young, I’ve always known that I was feminine. My mannerisms, tone, and figure have always been more feminine.  I played with Barbies, listened to Nicki Minaj, and loved my hair—playing with it, styling it, coloring it. I knew who I was then, and I know today: I am a transgender woman who seeks further justice and understanding for those like me. 

Attending a high school in Mississippi as an African American transgender woman was extremely difficult. From a young age, I had to face the hate, fear and phobias that come along with fully being yourself. I dealt with it, though—I couldn’t let these things stray me too far from my path. No matter how much negativity came my way, I always had to remember my goals: I knew that I came to school to graduate and, eventually, pursue a successful career. With that in mind, I worked hard and strived towards excellence my senior year. I envisioned walking across the stage on May 20, 2023, beautifully, confidently, knowing that I was completing the first milestone toward becoming a successful woman. It was supposed to be my first leap toward adulthood. The perfect dress I had picked for graduation was already bought, shoes and all.

Then, just days before the ceremony, my principal informed me that I wouldn’t be able to walk across the stage if I didn’t wear a white button-down shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes “like a boy.” I was shocked.  Until that moment, I had gone through my high school career feeling I was respected and could feel comfortable being myself. It was dehumanizing, hateful, and deeply heartbreaking.  

With the help of the ACLU, I filed a lawsuit to fight for my right to wear the graduation outfit that suited me best to the ceremony. I found out that I lost the case at midnight on the night before graduation. According to the judge, my school district’s discriminatory enforcement of the dress code did not violate my right to self-expression,  or my protections under the 14th amendment and Title IX. I was shocked; the decision upheld injustice, inequality, hatred, and discrimination, and showed a true lack of compassion. They didn’t understand the lasting effect this ruling would have on me. Was this too much to ask of them?

Instead of attending the ceremony, my mother and I attended the first-ever. Trans Prom in Washington, D.C. during graduation weekend. More than 200 transgender people came together to spread joy and awareness of the unjust laws invading our political system. There, I had the opportunity to speak in front of hundreds of people, tell my story and shed light on how we can make a change in this world. 

It scares me and breaks my heart to think any of the adorable trans youth I met in D.C. would have to experience what I did. In Mississippi and other states, there will continue to be a battle for others like me. So many people are hurt and targeted for being themselves. How many more lawsuits will it take?  How many more protests? How many more mentally, emotionally, and physically abused people? How many more suicide attempts? How many more suicides?  Children are hurting themselves before they even get to experience the world because all they’ve experienced is hatred, disassociation, and fear from society. How many more generations? It’s enough—far past enough.

This world should be a safe space for people of all kinds. No one should ever feel rejected, unsafe, or disrespected. No one should ever have to diminish or hide themselves to be accepted. I hope to make an everlasting impact for my community and many others like me. I vow to stand for my rights, my freedom, and my life. I will not allow ill will to discourage me or harm my pride. In this world, you must be strong, or you will be stepped on, disregarded, and looked over. That is unacceptable. We must make change to allow for people of all kinds to be comfortable, safe, and free in our society. 

I will vote the first chance I get and so should any others. We must vote towards equality, peace, and love—not for those who aspire to further divide the society. For the youth that can’t vote, stand up, speak out and make yourself heard. It’s not easy by any means, but you must fight for your freedom in this world. In the land of the free, how ironic.