I never felt like a girl. Though I would wear frilly, pink dresses, I still had a sinking feeling in my stomach every time someone would call me anything feminine. However, what bothered me most was my name: Emily Melendez. For some odd reason, it never fit for me. But the more I confronted the idea of gender, the more I struggled to come to terms with it.
I never wanted to admit that I might be more different than I initially thought. The idea that there’s this possibility that I might be something unprecedented, something that I haven’t heard spoken about, was something that took me years to come to terms with, let alone comprehend. Just the idea of being different led me to a series upon series of mental gymnastics. I kept asking myself, over and over: “What am I?” And the more I asked myself this question, the more I hated the answer. And the truth was, I was no longer my mother’s daughter, but instead a son.
In a perfect world, I was always a boy. And it was true for a while, or at least many of my friends thought so. Truly, at that time, I couldn’t have been happier. I loved the fact that I was not Emily, but Silver, just one of the boys in our second grade class. But as we grew up, we all became subject to gender roles, and it always felt like I was the only one that never fit into the role I was given.
Trying to be someone I wasn’t felt like suffocation. In fact, I was disappointed in myself. The fact that I felt the need to hide something so important to my identity is something that I regret to this day. But even so, after second grade, I kept quiet, as the fear of what others would say has always terrified me. I’ve seen the news, I’ve seen the looks, and I’ve even seen how they treat those like me. The world has gotten better, but it will never be as safe as it once was when I silently played my part as I was told.
For years, I stayed silent about my identity. But one day, my friend came out as “trans.” I had never heard of the term before, and I didn’t quite know for sure what that meant or what it
entailed. Even so, I made sure to do my research. And as I looked online, I began to realize: maybe I was trans too.
I am extremely thankful to my friend for introducing me to a world I never even thought of exploring. However, I am even more thankful to myself for being willing to learn about new perspectives and pushing myself to understand others. Even so, I still tried for years to be someone that I wasn’t. It was not until only a few years ago that I finally understood: I am a boy, and that is who I will always be. And that’s okay.
It was at this moment in my life that I realized that gender wasn’t something to be afraid of, but instead something to have pride in, something that I want to wear like a heart on my sleeve. I soon made the decision that I wanted to spend my life trying to help those who were experiencing similar things feel more comfortable with their own gender identity. I wanted to make sure that people like me no longer have to worry about societal norms, as society will no longer see us as different. I wanted to make sure that people like me are able to shout their gender identity from the rooftops with pride, as society no longer holds us as taboo. But most importantly, I wanted to make sure to create an environment where anybody, especially people like me, will feel welcomed and represented regardless of where they are, just as I had that person be that representation for me.
To me, representation isn’t as simple as just seeing people that look like you on the big TV screen, but instead when you can walk into a room and can find someone that makes you feel as if you will be welcomed into the space; that you can be yourself. In fact, representation can be a feeling of comfort; that you aren’t alone and can be understood, not just sympathized with.
This person, this representation, was my instructor for my internship at Vera Institute of Justice. For the first time in my life, I saw someone that I could be: someone who could thrive no matter the circumstance, a person who is okay with having a different identity than others.
I, Silver, am a transgender man. Saying this sentence alone was so difficult, but seeing both my friend as well as now my instructor become so confident in their identities gave me so
much hope. It gave me hope to see how their identity was only a small factor of who they were, and what was more important was how smart they were, that they were some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I honestly envied how they could garner respect from those around them; the way that they carried themselves with such confidence gave me hope that one day, I could be just like them. But more than anything else, they gave me hope that I could be accepted, loved, and happy, just like everyone else. This representation is what I feel is needed in every program. I want to be that person, that representation, for people who weren’t as lucky as I was.
However, just like both my friend and instructor, being queer shouldn’t be the only thing I am defined by. Though important, I want people to know that I’m an artist interested in pursuing law and business. I want people to know that I am a proud Posse Scholar; that I’ve been named as one of Disney’s Top 100. I want people to know that I plan to create a non-profit dedicated to providing gender-affirming resources to transgender individuals like myself for little or no cost.
My aspirations and successes won’t always be in the story that gets told. To many, I am only defined by my “queerness” and will only be judged based on that fact alone. I want to change the narrative, regardless of what it takes. I want to make sure that there is a place where my community doesn’t have to fear for their lives, comfort, or loss of self because the world decided to change the narrative for us. Though there is so much I want to do, for now, I’ll just stay true to myself and I will scream it from every rooftop just to be heard: “My name is Silver!”