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Happy Hippie Presents #InstaPride:Leo

How old are you?

I just turned 19 in May.

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in the Hunan province of China and now I live near Ann Arbor, Michigan.

How would you describe yourself?

Passionate, funny, creative, determined.

What do you do for a living /what are you studying in school?

I work at my school’s LGBTQ resource center where I facilitate trainings around LGBTQ identities and ways to be a better ally. Right now, I’m hoping to study film. I really want to write and direct movies and television programs. I think it’s such a great medium for storytelling.

What do you do in your free time?

I write. A lot. Like, seriously. I’m not really big on poetry, but I write a lot of short stories, fan fiction, ideas for short films. There are days where I’ll spend hours just typing away, off in my own world. It’s so liberating and so much fun.

Do you have any hidden talents/random fun facts about yourself?

I’m not sure about hidden talents. I’m pretty open about what I’m good at and not so good at. I guess a fun fact would be that I found my name from the TV show “Charmed.” I was really struggling with my identity and what that meant for my future. I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to grow up to be and the character Leo served as kind of an inspiration.

If you could karaoke one song, what would it be and why?

I love this question for two reasons: one, I totally suck at singing. Two, my girlfriend and my roommate call me Human Spotify because I randomly break out in song for no reason whatsoever. But, if I could karaoke one song, it would probably have to be “Best Song Ever” because One Direction is my guilty pleasure and it’s a ton of fun and so high energy.

When was a moment in your life that you felt really free to be yourself?

I spent so much of my life uncomfortable with who I was and afraid to move because I didn’t want to stand out any more than I already did. This last year, there’ve been a lot of moment when I truly felt free to be myself: the moment I woke up from top surgery, the day the bandages came off, my first shot of testosterone. It’s hard to pick just one, really. I feel like there have been more and more of these moments in the past few months. Sometimes, I’ll be out in public with my family or just hanging around with friends, and I remember that I’m no longer having to hide anything about who I am. I’m not afraid to move anymore and I know who I am. Everything about me right now is exactly as it should be.

Tell us about how you identify yourself?

I have a lot of different identities. I’m a writer, a filmmaker in the works, a sometimes photographer, a good public-speaker, a social media junkie, a Gleek, a feminist, an activist a movie buff, a dutiful Netflix fan. The list goes on and on. I wear so many different hats. As for my gender, I identify as a trans man. Sometimes, I’ll leave off the trans suffix, but not because I’m denying that side of me. I fully own my identity as a trans man. It’s just easier sometimes and less pressure to say that I’m a guy. Either way, I’m me. I also identify as straight, something that’s never really shifted through my transition, though I totally acknowledge that sexuality can be fluid. For the time being and as far as I’ve experienced, I’m straight.

What is a challenge you’ve faced since transitioning?

There’ve been a lot of challenges since I came out six years ago. I had to wait until I was 18 to start testosterone and undergo any other medical procedures, so needless to say, it was a really rocky five years. I wanted so desperately to be on hormones and have the body I saw so many times in movies and TV shows. Even after I started hormones and had top surgery, I was still self-conscious about my body for a while. I went to the gym and put in a lot of effort and sweat, and when I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to see as fast as I had hoped, I got really discouraged. I still have days of feeling self-conscious or frustration, but I remind myself of how far I’ve come from this point last year and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made.

What is a common misconception or question you encounter about your gender?

I think the biggest thing that people ask and have asked is the “Have you had surgery” question. I totally understand where it’s coming from, but also, it’s really no one’s business by my own. I’m very open about my transition and what it’s meant for me, but I think it’s important that people are able to share their own stories on their own terms.

What does support and acceptance mean to you? Can you share a time when someone was accepting/supportive when you weren’t expecting it?

For me, support and acceptance are unconditional. They mean being there for someone no matter what’s going on, providing them with a safety net, making them feel wanted and loved. Making someone feel like they belong is the one of the kindest things a person can do for another. I have been fortunate enough to have very supportive and accepting people in my life throughout my transition. There were a few folks were less than enthusiastic, but I’ve learned to only surround myself with positive and open-minded individuals, people that will help me grow and learn in a natural and organic way. I will always remember a conversation I had with the pastor of the church my family and I were going to when I came out. I wasn’t really surprised that she was so supportive, as she’d known my family for years. It was just really nice to know that she had my back and that she believed that I was going to live a good life.

What was your favorite part about the Happy Hippie shoot?

Oh my gosh, the entire thing was so much fun! I had such a blast! Every day since then, I have to remind myself that it actually happened! I really loved meeting and getting to know everybody there. It was such an amazing and diverse group of folks and I absolutely loved seeing the various faces among the small crowd. It was amazing how relaxed and casual everything was, nothing felt awkward or uncomfortable to me. It was truly awesome to just hang around in such a chill space. Even though I hardly knew anyone there, it felt like we were all friends.

Who came with you to the shoot and what did it mean to you to have them there?

My moms came with me to the shoot because they have been the biggest support system in my life. Before and after my transition, my parents have been a huge influence. We have a very close relationship, which has only gotten stronger since I came out and socially and medically transitioned. They’ve been by my side through everything and I am so, so appreciative of them for everything they’ve done. I’m so fortunate to have parents who love and accept me for who I am without conditions. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if they hadn’t been so amazing and supportive.

What are you hopeful about in the next year—both personally and when it comes to transgender rights?

Personally, I’m excited to keep writing and to keep learning more about filmmaking. I wrote and directed my first short film during my freshman year, which I got to watch on a big screen in April with an audience. I always want to learn how to better myself and my skills.

As for the transgender movement and transgender rights, I would love to see the conversation continue to grow into something bigger and more accessible. Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover just came out and I think it would be amazing to see more transgender people on magazine covers or in photo shoots (like these) to show just how different everyone in the trans community is. I hope that the focus shifts away from personal questions regarding medical history, and onto questions about hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, hobbies and activities— stuff that cisgender people get asked. I really hope society continues to see how far love and acceptance can carry folks.

What is some advice you have for someone who exploring their gender identity or transitioning?

If someone were thinking of taking steps to transitioning somehow (socially, legally, or medically), the biggest piece of advice I can give is this: everyone is different and everyone will have a different experience. If someone is thinking of embarking on any type of transition, I’d advise to them to make sure they’re doing it because it’s what’s right for them and not because it’s what they think they should do. It’ll be hard and it’ll be tiring, but it’ll be worth it. There’s an entire community out there who will support and love you, who can empathize and sympathize.

Whatever path feels right for you, you won’t be alone.

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