I Was The First Publicly Trans Woman Of Color To Graduate From My University, & Here's What I've Learned While Following My Dreams

As far as anyone knows, I was the first openly transgender woman of color to graduate from Mississippi University for Women. We kept looking through records to see if there was anybody else, but no. I claim that title. I graduated December 2015. Recently, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my master's degree in public health, which is something I'm very passionate about. But following my dreams hasn't been easy.

I was raised in Jackson, Mississippi — and let me tell you, it was pretty crazy. I’m the oldest of four, and my parents were strict with me. They expected a lot out of me because I was the oldest, and I had to be an example for my siblings. When I was a lot younger, I kind of knew already that I wanted to be a girl — that I was supposed to be a girl — but I also knew I couldn’t just act upon it.

I had always been more feminine. Growing up in our household, I tended to lean more toward my mother than my dad. He always wanted me to go outside and play sports and do different things with him, and I wanted to be at home with my mother watching her do my sister’s hair. I remember in kindergarten, I told my teacher that my name was Brittany instead of what my name actually was. During arts and crafts, I would take crayons and color in my nails, and whenever my mom would come pick me up I would have to try to hide all of that. It was hard, because I didn’t understand those feelings. I didn’t know anything about being trans.

When I was older, there was a rough time where I really just did not like myself anymore. I was still living with my mother when I started going to community college. I had taken two years off from school before I decided to continue my education, and by that time I was exploring my transition. I was ordering hormones off the internet, and learning how to dress in women’s clothes — pretty much starting everything over again. My mother didn’t know about my transition yet, so when I first started college, I was coming to school dressed as a boy, not as a girl. I worried that my mother would not approve. I was afraid she was going to throw me out of the house, and I would have no other place to go.

I saved up enough money and ended up moving out of my mom’s house to my own place my sophomore year of college, and I thought, "You know what? I don’t want to go through life not being my true self. I don’t want to feel like I’m in the wrong skin — this isn’t me." I'll never forget the first day I decided to finally show people who I really was. I was supposed to give a presentation with one of my classmates. I walked into class with my makeup and hair done. Everyone just stopped and looked — they were just shocked. I did my presentation, and from that point on I started coming to school dressed like a woman.

After my sophomore year at community college, I decided to transfer to Mississippi University for Women. I wanted to explore college life. While I was on campus I joined a lot of organizations, especially organizations promoting healthy lifestyles to students. But, adjusting to campus life was hard. For a while, I was housed in a dorm with all men. It was one of the most triggering things I’ve had to deal with. I remember going to one floor meeting and walking into a room full of guys, and I started to break down crying. The school later housed me in a women’s dorm. It was such a relief. The women there supported me and they showed so much love. But still it was hard. They had never seen a trans woman before.

In college, I knew I wanted to go into nursing. The first year I started applying to nursing school was my sophomore year at community college — the same year I started transitioning. The first time I applied, I didn’t get in. I wasn't discouraged. I decided to take some more classes and improve my GPA so that I would be more competitive. I tried to get in again — nothing. I ended up applying to nursing school six times all together before switching to public health, but that came with its own unique set of challenges, too. I ended up falling in love with the subject, but I had to educate my professors and my department on different trans issues that are going on, because not many people understood much about the trans community as far as healthcare is concerned. I had to explain about difficulty getting access to hormones, and how hard it is for trans people to find healthcare. It was well worth it though — I want to make it easier for the next trans person, or queer person, or gender non-conforming person who comes through here.

I haven't given up on my nursing dreams, but I think it's something I want to pursue later on. Right now, I’m trying to get my master’s in public health, because that's where I think I’ve got the most leverage. I’m also interested in acting, but I’m doing that because I want to give a platform to other trans folks. I want to tell their stories. I want people to know that trans people are real people, too. We work, we are talented, we are doctors, we are teachers, we are lawyers. We all have goals. We all have dreams. I want to show people, Hey, we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.

I also want to tell other young women who are chasing their dreams that they are worth it. Find who you are, and stand by it. Be who you are, listen, learn. It’s OK to make mistakes. Women come in different sizes, different shapes, and that’s OK. You have to hold your head up high, and fight for what you want. You have to stand up for yourself. Be who you are, and don’t have any regrets. People may say things about you, but only you can ignore them. Whatever you do, keep pushing forward.

As told to Kathryn Kattalia

Images: Courtesy of Blossom Brown; Design: Caroline Wurtzel / Bustle

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