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Happy Hippie Presents #InstaPride: AJ

How old are you?
18 and a half

Where were you born and where do you live now?
I was born in Lowell Massachusetts, and I now live in Townsend Massachusetts.

How would you describe yourself?
I usually go with "Queerest of the Queer" :)

What do you do for a living / what are you studying in school?
I just graduated high school and am going into college with an undeclared major because I'm not quite sure where my life is headed at this point. Otherwise I am a super cute pizza delivery boy.

What do you do in your free time?
I like to play a lot of Xbox (Even though I'm not very good) and I seem to have a shopping problem and that ranges all the way from eBay to the mall

Do you have any hidden talents / random fun facts about yourself?
Currently I have all of zero talents.

If you could karaoke one song, what would it be and why?
Oh my gosh there's so many. I'd have to go with Baby One More Time by Vintage Britney Spears, she is life and that song is iconic and I know all the words like they are my religion.

When was a moment in your life that you felt really free to be yourself?
When I first got my job it was the first time I ever got to walk into a situation without anyone knowing I was born female. Everyone looked at me and knew I was a boy and it changed my life and finally opened the window to hope.

Tell us about how you identify yourself
When Facebook launched all the different gender labels I didn't feel compelled to change mine. I am 100% male. I don't feel the need to out rightly tell people I am a transgender male. It's one of those things that's just a piece of me, it's not all of who AJ is.

What is a challenge you’ve faced since transitioning?
Oh dearie the list could go on forever. I think my biggest enemy was time. Once i established the fact that I needed to transition for my own happiness I felt as though I needed it all immediately. And when I initially told my parents they sort of shrugged it off and I felt like it would never happen. And that lead to my suicide attempt. When my mother was crying into my father in the ER at three am and I was clutching my stuffed yellow lab to my disgusting "female" chest. That's when they relished I really needed their help, and fast.

What is a common misconception or question you encounter about your gender?
I publicly speak on transgender  issues and my personally story, and the biggest misunderstanding is no doubt the difference between sexual orientation and gender. I don't know what it is but people have such a hard time getting it into their heads. "So if you were born a girl and you like girls, are you a lesbian?" I can't tell you how many times I encounter this

What does support and acceptance mean to you? Can you share a time when someone was accepting / supportive when you weren’t expecting it? 
I spent a lot of time thinking "It doesn't matter what other people think of you" because I thought that was the best way to live your life and be free. But as I've transitioned I've found there's a difference between not caring what others think and them not having understanding or tolerance. And that's what gave me the initial drive to educate others. I left my junior year of high school as a female and came back as a senior as male. Honestly though not much has changed. I still looked the same and dressed the same. I just had a new name and pronouns. My classmates didn't even question how or why or when or any of it. I come from such a small town with horror story's of gay kids getting beaten up in the last decade. I by no means expected so much acceptance and support from my educators and peers, I had prepared myself for the very worst.

What was your favorite part about the Happy Hippie shoot?
Ohmygosh where do I even begin. It was no doubt the insane sense of community. When Miley first walked in she talked to us like she had known us for years, it wasn't like interacting with a celebrity, it was like talking to a best friend. Everyone was so sweet and friendly and I asked everyone a bunch of questions about their gender journey and they were willing and excited to answer. Before the shoot I had met two other transgender people in my life, so to suddenly be in a room full of people who understood what I went through was Beautiful. It was sort of like being home.

Who came with you to the shoot and what did it mean to you to have them there?
I brought my mom and my best friend Kenzie. Sometimes I forget what a great support system I have. They were so excited to be there with me and that the lifelong struggle I went through could lead to something so Beautiful. It felt like the shoot was about all three of us, not just me. And they loved that as did I. 

What are you hopeful about in the next year—both personally and when it comes to transgender rights?
All this Caitlyn Jenner stuff is so awesome. It makes me so happy to see this happen, but at the same time it hurts a little that I've been working for transgender rights for quite a while and a celebrity can make something happen in the blink of an eye. I hope to see insurance companies step into to gender transition surgeries and hormones, that would make such a huge difference in the mental health of the community. And I'm not a fan of the U.S. armed forces, but I really think transgender people should be able to severe their country if they desire.
As for me myself, I will be heading off to college in the fall. And honestly I'm SCARED. It wasn't my first choice college and I'm not as excited as everyone else seems to be. What if I don't like it there? I've finally found comfort in who I am and my job and my high school and now everything is going to be turned upside down. I'm going in undeclared so I hope to find something I'm REALLY interested in, and I just hope I'm happy there.

What is some advice you have for someone who exploring their gender identity or transitioning?
I think the best advice I can give is to remember you can't do it alone. As much as you may want to, a transition isn't just about you. It's about you and all the people that care about you. And be alive me there are more than you know.

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