40 year-old, black, female of trans experience, Malaysia at home in New Orleans. Malaysia is a Retention Specialist and Miss Black Trans International 2018-2019. (Pronouns: Use Malaysia, not she/her/they/them). Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Myles Golden, mylessgolden@gmail.com, Phone +1 757 751 3135. Photography by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 11 March 2019

Malaysia /

“Whether it is used as an opportunity to gain acceptance and understanding or to open an eye to the realities if our existence, people like me, transgender people, are asked to tell our stories on many occasions. For me, after the explanation of my self–identification and the horror, pain and trauma that I have endured throughout the 40 years of my life, I am forced to view my life through a different lens. Our that will expose many realities, emotions, and fears that have been suppressed for many years, but are the truths behind my existence, so, welcome to Malaysia.

This is the 3rd time that I have started my story over. Attempting to figure what exactly I wanted people to know about me and my struggle. We have all struggled in many ways to live in our own authenticity, and I am one who continues to struggle, personally. I am the product of verbal abuse beginning as early as I can remember, with the name calling, like “fag” or “sissy” or “punk” being titles that I grew accustomed to hearing just because I was different from others. There taunts led to a childhood of isolation and fear of getting pushed around, beat up, having things thrown at me, and a misunderstanding of what it meant to be the little boy that the doctors said I was. There were many times that I cried because of the pain of not being able to enjoy the things that I wanted led to me getting fussed at or getting a whooping. Things like dolls, or jumping rope, and cheering for the other people playing like little boys are known to do. That led to a lot of confusion and insecurities about who I really was. When I was younger, there were only two ways of life, gay or straight, that’s it. I knew that I wasn’t “straight”, but I attempted to be, because that’s how everyone else was and I thought that it would keep me from being harassed and beat. It didn’t work. Throughout Jr.High and High School, I was still tormented by my peers, because I didn’t look and act like other straight guys no matter how hard I tried I guess the secret that I lived with was shown to others, even though I tried I guess the secret was my attraction to men. In high school, I discovered what it meant to be gay, and for years, I figured, that’s who I was, a gay boy. I found people that were similar to me, and it gave me the opportunity to feel accepted, but things still didn’t feel right. I found myself as uncomfortable as before even though there were people that I found favor in. I was never the attractive person that everyone desired. I was loud, that extra, extra gay type of person, just because I thought that was who people wanted me to be. Sneaking into clubs became a means of escape for me. I grew fond of having an outlet where I could be myself in that moment. Then I started to do drag. At first, I wasn’t anything cute to look at, but after my rainbow family adopted me, they worked with me and molded me, into a performer, and I loved it. For the first time in my life, people enjoyed me. They said that I was pretty, men found me attractive, so, I latched on to the entertainer that I was becoming and used it as an opportunity to fight through the pain and anguish that life has caused. When I look at it now, drag taught me how to be a woman. It taught me how to be feminine and beautiful. It taught me how to do makeup, which I used to my advantage navigation the world of employment. I found something that I was good at, and that the world desired, so I worked hard at being the best makeup artist there was. At this time in my life, society deemed it to be acceptable for a male to work in the cosmetics industry, and for the longest time along with still doing shows, I had a job as a make-up artist.

Life threw me a curve ball! I found myself desiring the femininity that I had developed over my years of being that girl that everyone experienced on stage. It was comfortable and confident. All of the things that I had never been growing up. The only thing was that I didn’t see anyone else like me walking around in the daytime. When the word “tranny” was introduced to me, or I was called that, I was scared, because trannies were thought of as prostitutes and drug abusers, well, that’s what my understanding of the word was, but you never saw them until it was dark. So, I ran from the word. When people would refer to me as such, my response would always be “NO WAY” “I am a boy. I put all of this on for the show, and I take it all off to go to work.” I was living a lie. What others were calling me, come to find out, was the truth. I just had to realize and accept that’s what I was. One day, now as an adult, and in charge of my own life, I decided to put on girls clothes and makeup, and go out in the daytime. I had never been so comfortable in my life. No one looked at me differently, harmed me, called me names, nothing. I knew then, that I was this term that had haunted me for so many years, “tranny”. I still had to hide who I was becoming, due to the world’s and my own lack of understanding of what it all meant. Time progressed and I started transitioning physically, and it had become harder to hide my true identity. I was fired from a job where I was store manager for a retailer, and that led to me going back to a world where before, I had gained comfort. Cosmetics. As I grew into this beautiful person, I didn’t realize how times had changed, and how being a gay male was more acceptable then being transgender. At my job, I dressed as a woman as much as I was allowed. I started to wear make up to work, and no one seemed to care. It wasn’t until I asked about progressing with the company, that they told me that there weren’t people like me in higher positions, and that I would have to de–feminize myself to move ahead. That’s when I realized that I would have a rough time. Transitioning publicly, led to a lot of ridicule and speculation. Questions about me, my ethics, etc. I felt that if I worked hard, I would be rewarded. On this job, I applied for promotions, but I was always turned down, but no one told me why. I was told that I had to use the men’s restroom, even though I presented as a woman, because I wasn’t born a woman. I was promised a new position, the denied that position, all because I was transgender, and that wasn’t the image they wanted to be associated with. Eventually, I quit and accepted another position in another mall where I could be myself. Everything was great, well better, until my name was legally changed and I was told that maybe I shouldn’t do that because my clients wouldn’t understand. Here I was again, going through some of the same mess, just to have a job.

I was hired as a program coordinator for the ACLU of Mississippi to be the image of their transgender civil rights program, and that put me in places to make a difference in the world. The murder of my close friend in 2017, pushed me to fight for our rights to live among people in our own authenticity. It pushed me to do everything in my power to ensure that transgender people didn’t have to face the attacks and discrimination that I had lived through. But we still do. As I look back over my life and take many things into account, I realize I have spent all of it attempting to gain acceptance. Searching for the love and admiration that comes so easy for many. Yes, I am a victim of rape, I have done many things in my 40 years, that I am not so proud of. I have suffered through several disappointments and heartaches, and I still do. There are times when I ask myself, what is it all for? Am I really making a change? Does anyone really care about my well-being. I spend so much of my time fighting to be understood, whether on my job, in public, and/or in my personal life, that it makes me question who I really am. Images and reflections of things that have happened in my past, that are far too graphic to explain, still haunt me in my dreams. Conversations and ridicule over my identity still occur where I find myself having to defend my own identity. The hurt and anguish of people closest to you, never cease, and it never gets easier. People always talk about loving yourself and self care and taking pride in who you are, but how can a person, how can I do any of that, when I don’t know how, and so many others won’t allow me. My story may not be the most interesting to some, but it’s a truth that I live through each day of my life. I’m good at giving advice and listening to others, but truthfully terrified of accepting my own. I’m 40 years old. I’m a black woman, and being transgender is just one of my characteristics.”

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