May 2019

Gender Transition in the Trump Era

I was the first openly transgender student at my high school and successfully secured the rights for transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity, room with students of the same gender identity for overnight field trips, and to change their name in the school’s attendance system to reflect their preferred name and gender marker.

By Daniel Molina

There has been scholarship from the LGBTQ+ community in the past, but the documentation of a transgender person’s experience with transition is something that has not been widely talked about until recently.[1] Historically, gender transition has been seen as socially unacceptable and continues to be a source of maltreatment and rejection. Transgender authorship has recently begun to increase within the literary world as trans authors are breaking down social barriers and breaching a topic that has been previously regarded as taboo. With transgender people starting to write memoirs about their experiences, we are writing the history that will be talked about in the future. By writing ourselves back into the past and present, we are fighting for a future of acceptance and equality. Through depicting the struggles and triumphs of transition, not only are accurate representations portrayed, but these stories also help to bring humanity to a marginalized community. Currently, the trans community faces high rates of suicide, discrimination, and violence that have been exacerbated by the oppressive policies of the Trump administration.[2] From health care discrimination to homeless shelter regulations to the military ban, the Trump administration has set a precedent that permits alienation and violence against transgender people. Through literature, media, and activism, we are fighting back. Our names, lives, and stories will be preserved in history, even with attempts of erasure. Trans people have continuously had their existence denied in this country and, under Trump’s administration, we still have to fight to be seen and recognized. A prime example of this is seen with trans victims of fatal violence that have their lives erased as they are misgendered upon death. But we are refusing to have our presence silenced any longer.

In order to facilitate an understanding of trans identity, I wanted to contribute to trans authorship. I am transgender and, as I progressed through my transition, balancing schoolwork and all of the pleasantries of my second puberty, I began writing a memoir about my experiences. I wanted to share my story within the context of navigating transition in the hostile and discriminatory Trump Era political sphere. I found the limited selection of memoirs available to be very helpful and it made me feel like I was less alone in my struggles. When I first began my transition, I started it socially. Social transition entails expressing one’s gender identity in a way that best fits them without the aid of hormones or other medical procedures. This may include someone changing the way that they dress and/or adopting a new name and pronouns. I began my social transition by shopping exclusively in the men’s clothing section. After feeling comfortable with dressing more masculinely, I worked up the courage to start experimenting with new names. My birth name was too feminine and I wanted one that would reflect my masculine identity. I went on baby name websites, scrolling through an endless amount of boys’ names. Tyler, Cody, Zack, Justin, Aiden, the list goes on. I tried out new names each week, asking my friends to address me as such. I didn’t connect with most of the names I tried and my friends would have to physically tap me to get my attention. It wasn’t until I came across the name Daniel that I responded to their calls. This name resonated with me and it has been my name ever since. I finally felt at home. For the time being anyway.

Image !: Courtesy of author, a side-by-side comparison of Daniel as a kid to Daniel at the age of 17, pre-testosteroneImage.

I first came out to my dad at fourteen. I was petrified and the thought of him supporting me through transition seemed unimaginable. My father originated from Guatemala and has told me countless stories laced with toxic masculinity and machismo culture, so I was terrified about his reaction. After grappling with the extreme anxiety and weight of hiding my trans identity from him, I found the courage to come out to him. I faced him, my voice shaking, and declared that I was transgender and that I was his son, not his daughter. Shockingly my dad accepted me wholeheartedly, saying, “You’re my kid. I’ll love you no matter what.” He embraced me in a hug and I started crying, feeling overwhelming relief. He was confused about why I was crying and I explained that I expected him to hate me and kick me out of the house. The relief that I felt in that moment was not only a result of my father’s acceptance, but was also because the thought of losing my dad was horrifying; he was the only family I had left. My mother was abusive when I was a child and my dad was the one who took me out of that situation. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had left my mother and abandoned me, but he didn’t. He supports me now, just as he had supported me then. Although accepting of my transgender identity, my dad had a hands-off approach to parenting and did not know how to advocate for his transgender son to start medically transitioning and receive hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I was alone in this process.

Images 2 and 3: Courtesy of author, photos from Daniel’s senior awards night and Daniel’s high school graduation with Daniel’s dad, pre-testosterone as well. 

I knew I had to move onto medical transition after coming out to my dad in order to relieve the distress that I felt within my feminine body. Many transgender people suffer from depression and anxiety associated with their gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the disconnect that someone feels with their gender identity and the sex that they were assigned at birth. My depression was strongly associated with my dysphoria and the only way I could mitigate it was through medically transitioning. In order to align my body with my mind, I knew that I needed to start hormones. The transition process for each transgender person is different and no one is obligated to transition medically, or at all. But I knew it was necessary for my physical and mental well-being. Before I could start HRT, however, I had to survive high school.

After coming out to my dad, I waited until my senior year of high school to come out to everyone else. Before then, I was half-in and half-out of the closet, still living a double life. That year, I decided to wholly be my authentic self, refusing to hide my trans identity any longer. I refused to perform the feminine gender expressions that were expected of me. With the theme of authenticity and change underscoring my last year of high school, I wanted my senior quote to reflect this. Channyn Lynn Parker, a transgender rights activist in Chicago, had given a speech for Transgender Day of Remembrance. She spoke about discussing her transition and how her mother had responded. My senior quote became her mother’s words of love and acceptance, “I named you because you hadn’t the voice to name yourself. Now that you have found your voice it’s for you to tell the world what your name is.”[3]After concluding my senior year I was able to start HRT two days before moving into the dorms at Pitzer College in California.

I was both excited and nervous to start college. I was excited to have this new experience as a young adult, but was nervous about my reception as a trans student. The two questions that ran through my head on the first day were, “Did they get my name right on the roster?” and “Will I get misgendered?” I was only about a week on HRT when classes started and I still had yet to see the effects that testosterone (T) would have on me. I was worried I would not be perceived as how I identify, as a man.

Over the first semester I pursued my legal name and gender marker change, had my driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate amended, sorted out financial aid with my college, and navigated Selective Service requirements. I had to fight to be recognized as me, all while adjusting to college life. This was both frustrating and painful as I had to take on the emotional labor of educating each person I encountered about my trans identity while dodging invasive questions about my body and hoping they were not a bigot.

My dilemma with Selective Service embodied the difficulty I had with each aspect of my transition. Transgender men are exempt from mandatory registration because they were assigned female at birth. Trans men who choose to opt out of registering must provide documentation to validate their exemption, otherwise they must register alongside cisgender men. This means that transgender men who do not sign up must prove they were assigned female at birth in order to remain eligible for services like federal financial aid. As a low-income, first-generation college student, I rely heavily on financial aid and needed to make sure that my exemption was properly documented.  

Men in the U.S. are required to register within a month of their eighteenth birthday. However, I was not legally recognized as male until a few months after turning eighteen. As soon as I changed my gender marker to reflect my male identity, my FAFSA[4] application flagged me as a non-registrant. It was also during this time that the government shutdown occurred. Due to being under tight application deadlines, I tried to register for the draft instead of attempting to prove my exemption to the Selective Service System that was non-operational during Trump’s thirty-five-day shutdown in pursuit of funding for the border wall. When I attempted to register, my social security number was denied because their records still had me listed as female. With financial aid deadlines quickly approaching I didn’t know where to turn. After explaining my predicament to my college counselor, they instructed me to provide a copy of my original birth certificate to verify my exemption. I thought I was in the clear. The trouble I was having with Selective Service serves as just one example of the Trump Administration’s ignorance of trans identity and unwillingness to learn about the topic. It shows their refusal to become educated on various identities in order to be inclusive rather than discriminatory.

About a month or so later a letter from Selective Service arrived. I was informed to fill out the form and return it within three days. The letter stated that I needed to register or else my financial aid eligibility would be threatened. Although I had documented my exemption with Pitzer, Selective Service still needed documentation for their records. There were a few options on the paperwork. The first checkbox required registration for Selective Service while the second asked for documentation of the registration date for verification. Surprisingly, there was a third option. It explained if assigned female at birth there was no requirement to register as long as the correct documentation was provided. It was the first time in my life that I was able to fit into a box without creating one of my own. Although this box was available on the paperwork, it still served to isolate trans identity in a separate category. I returned the letter with my birth certificate and name change declaration enclosed. My financial aid was no longer in jeopardy.

Ironically, after I navigated my predicament with Selective Service during a government shutdown, the Trump administration banned transgender service members from the military a week later. Under the ban, I am unsure if trans people are still able or are required to register for the draft if not allowed to serve. The Trump administration’s unclear guidelines on how to maneuver through the changes only serve to perpetuate exclusion and discrimination. Backwards policies founded in ignorance is why it is so important to have accurate trans representation in politics, media, literature, and society as a whole. In order to have accurate trans representation, trans and gender non-conforming people need to be at the forefront of activism, with allies by their side.

In reflecting back on senior year of high school and my first year of college, I realized how much I accomplished after deciding to be open about my trans identity. In high school I worked with school administration to develop policies to resolve issues that transgender students face. I was the first openly transgender student at my high school and successfully secured the rights for transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity, room with students of the same gender identity for overnight field trips, and to change their name in the school’s attendance system to reflect their preferred name and gender marker. After completing my first year of college, I am continuing my activism through working with the school district in my hometown to implement LGBTQ+ sensitivity training for teachers and staff, as well as establishing policies that protect the rights of trans and LGBTQ+ students. My activism did not start with the policy changes I made at my school, but rather, it started with coming out and being true to myself. Although explicit acts of advocacy seem like the only way to be an activist, sometimes simply living becomes activism.

In a society that attempts to deny our presence, the transgender community is creating and demanding social change. Gender transition has long been viewed in conservative circles as anomalous, being seen as a strange practice of a community of social deviants. Individuals who openly express themselves in ways deemed unconventional break social barriers and normalize alternative forms of experience. Transgender and gender non-conforming people who are fortunate to be open about their identities help to create a positive future of acceptance by providing education and facilitating solidarity. Being a trans person who is openly out, there is an expectation to educate the cis community and become knowledgeable in the areas of gender theory, psychology, sociology, and biology, facing constant questioning and opposition. Many trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people do not feel it is their responsibility to educate the cisgender community, especially because the labor should not fall back onto the very community that is being marginalized. However, I believe that educating those who are willing to learn will foster acceptance. It can be immensely laborious, yet necessary for social change.

Under the Trump administration it has become increasingly necessary, for those who are able, to take on the emotional labor of educating the uneducated. It is extremely important for trans narratives to be voiced and heard in order to bring humanity to a villainized community. In the past, Trump has portrayed the trans community as being mentally ill, despite the World Health Organization’s (WHO) removal of gender dysphoria from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).[5] In Trump’s recent statement on the military ban he inaccurately portrayed trans people as drug addicts. During an interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain he stated, “Because they take massive amounts of drugs, they have to — and also, and you’re not allowed to take drugs.”[6] In speaking on gender reassignment surgery he added, “They have no choice; they have to. And you would actually have to break rules and regulations to have that.”[7] These statements are not only grossly inaccurate and serve to perpetuate intolerance and bigotry, but solidify the categorization of trans and gender expansive people as second class citizens.  

In a time where trans rights are continuously threatened and trans lives are constantly taken, it is important for the cisgender community to learn about the trans community and stand with us in solidarity. Shedding light on the unique life narratives of trans people helps give the trans community the representation that we deserve. Reading about the lives of other trans people showed me that it was possible to be proud of my body and identity and gave me the strength to fight against the oppression we face as a community. Many trans people have fought against discriminatory institutions and structures in the past in order to allow the current generation to have an easier time with transition. After coming out I promised that I would continue this circle and pave the way so that transgender youth won’t have to suffer through the same struggles that I have encountered. Part of that promise is shown in writing my memoir and efforts in educating anyone who is willing to learn about gender identity. By fostering an understanding of trans identity through education, literature, media, film, politics, and activism, we are making sure that the world knows our names and that history records our stories.[1] [2] [3]       [4] [5] [6] 

Daniel Molina is currently a student at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. He is majoring in Psychology with a minor in German. He has a profound passion for helping transgender youth through activism and hopes to eventually become a licensed therapist and gender specialist. He is currently writing his memoir documenting his experiences with transitioning as a transgender man. He also has a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for top surgery and the link is below if you would like to donate. You can follow him on Instagram at @live.the.real.you 

Further Reading

Blake, Aaron. “Trump’s Own Defense Department Directly Contradicts His Claim about Transgender Troops.” The Washington Post. June 06, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/06/05/trump-says-transgender-troops-cant-serve-because-troops-cant-take-any-drugs-hes-wrong-many-ways/?utm_term=.4d1b617f50f8

Boylan, Jennifer Finney. “The Modern Trans Memoir Comes of Age.” The New York Times. June 13, 2017. Accessed June 21, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/books/review/critics-take-queer-writing.html.

Simon, Caroline. “Being Transgender No Longer Classified as Mental Illness. Here’s Why.” USA Today. June 20, 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/20/transgender-not-mental-illness-world-health-organization/717758002/.

“Trump’s Policy Reversal Will Lead To More Violence Against Transgender Americans.” National Organization for Women. Accessed June 21, 2019. https://now.org/media-center/press-release/trumps-policy-reversal-will-lead-to-more-violence-against-transgender-americans/.

Turner, Ty. “How To Tell If You Are Transgender.” YouTube. February 20, 2015. Accessed June 11, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1rT7xOumO4&t=2s.

Parker, Channyn Lynn. “Untitled” Speech presented at Howard Brown Transgender Day of Remembrance, Jeffery Pub, Chicago, IL, November 20, 2018


[1]Jennifer Finney, Boylan, “The Modern Trans Memoir Comes of Age.” The New York Times. June 13, 2017. Accessed June 21, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/books/review/critics-take-queer-writing.html.

[2] “Trump’s Policy Reversal Will Lead To More Violence Against Transgender Americans.” National Organization for Women. Accessed June 21, 2019. https://now.org/media-center/press-release/trumps-policy-reversal-will-lead-to-more-violence-against-transgender-americans/.

[3] Channyn Lynn Parker, “Untitled”(Speech, Howard Brown Trans Day of Remembrance, Jeffery Pub, Chicago, IL, November 20, 2017).

[4] Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

[5] Simon, Caroline. “Being Transgender No Longer Classified as Mental Illness. Here’s Why.” USA Today. June 20, 2018. Accessed June 22, 2019. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/20/transgender-not-mental-illness-world-health-organization/717758002/.

[6]Blake, Aaron. “Trump’s Own Defense Department Directly Contradicts His Claim about Transgender Troops.” The Washington Post. June 06, 2019. Accessed June 22, 2019.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/06/05/trump-says-transgender-troops-cant-serve-because-troops-cant-take-any-drugs-hes-wrong-many-ways/?utm_term=.4d1b617f50f8.

[7] Ibid.

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