The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Not Just a ‘Tomboy Phase’
Chris Lee

When I was a little girl, my mom would dress me up in girly clothes on holidays and Sundays. I destroyed every dress, skirt, and pair of sandals she put on me by throwing bleach or tomato sauce on them or sliding around in the grass to stain them. Sometimes I would rip or cut the girl clothes. She would get mad, but she would not buy me the clothes I wanted to wear. Fortunately, my nephews gave me the clothes they outgrew, and I wore those.

I hated the fact that I had to dress like a girl because I felt like a boy inside. My nephews and I climbed trees, played video games, and acted like boys together. Everything in my room had to be blue, and all my action figures had to be on my dresser.

My mother had adopted me and my sister out of foster care when I was 5 and my sister was 7. My mother’s adult biological daughter lived in the house. I was grateful that my mother took us in. I have asthma, and she took me to the doctor. She also helped me with my schoolwork and went to parent-teacher conferences.

At the same time, the two of them abused me, mentally and physically. My sister and I did not talk about it; I think she was afraid it would happen to her.

Marrying Queen Latifah or Ellen

My first attraction to a girl I knew was in high school, but I knew before then I was gay. When I was 13, I dreamed I was going to marry Queen Latifah or Ellen. My mother would call me “lesbian” and “butch” as an insult. I said to her, “No, I’m not,” but inside I thought, “Yes, I am, and that’s fine.”

When I was 14, I wrote my mother a letter telling her I was gay because I was afraid she would hit me if I said the words. I also was tired of hiding it from her and my family. Moreover, I wanted them to hear it from me before they found out from someone else.

I sat there and watched her read the letter. When she was done, she cursed me out and told me to get out of her face. I went to my room and cried. I heard her on the phone calling people and gossiping, “Tia’s gay.”

My mother’s abuse got worse after that. She told me I had to use a separate bathroom and that my clothes would have to be washed separately from everyone else’s, like I had a disease. She also told me I could no longer sleep in the same room as my birth sister because she was afraid I would try to rape her or touch her inappropriately. She started to curse at me every time she talked to me, and the physical abuse continued.

“How Do You Become That?”

I had started to cut myself when I was 11 because that was the only way I could let my frustrations out. I wrote suicide notes because I felt like dirt and like I wanted to die. I thought my mother only wanted me around for the money she got for me.

Finally, I told a counselor at school about the abuse and about being gay. When I was around 15, my counselor sent me to an LGBTQ group.

When I first went I was scared and shy because most of the people in the group were a little older. In that group, I first heard the term “transgender,” and I overcame my shyness to ask questions. “How do you become that? How do you change your name? When can you get the surgery?”

For the first time, I understood what I was. I had been waiting to outgrow being a tomboy, but now I realized this was not a phase. It was me.

I had a chance to start high school with my new identity. It was a school for kids who had behavioral problems or were in special education. Before I could start at that school, the woman who would become my counselor had to interview me. First she interviewed me with my mother, then by myself. Without my saying anything, I guess from my clothes, she said, “Would you rather be called ‘he’ than ‘she’?” and “Do you have a nickname you like to be called?”

It felt good that she figured out I was transgender. I asked her if I could be called “he.” She said yes, so I needed a boy name. I picked Tommy because it started with a T like Tia, but I did not like it together with my last name. All my biological brothers’ names start with a C, so I settled on Chris, short for Christopher.

The teachers and students called me Chris and “he,” and it felt good that they respected me. One kid asked, “What are you?” but when my counselor said, “Leave him alone; he’s new to the school,” the kid backed down. Still I didn’t feel completely accepted, maybe because I don’t fully accept myself in the body I’m in.

I found some friends who also felt not accepted: Skye is another female-to-male transgender (meaning she was born female but feels male); James is gay; and Shaquashia, who became my girlfriend my first semester there, is a lesbian.

My Real Self

I had been dating Shaquashia about 10 months when I took her to my family’s 4th of July cookout. I introduced her as my friend, but my mom suspected something. She asked us question after question: Where did we meet? How did we meet? Why are we together? Why did I bring her? Later, my mother said I disrespected her by bringing Shaquashia over. I ran away that night and slept on the subway to avoid being beaten.

image by YC-Art Dept

One day, I decided to try to make my mom a little bit happy. So I asked my sister to dress me like a girl, and she did. When I looked in the mirror, I was upset because I knew that was not me at all.

I was tired of not being able to be my real self and of being abused. I wet the bed into my teens, and my mother made me sleep on the floor. If I tried to get into the bed, she would have her daughter beat me.

I started coming into my counselor crying and with new cut marks, and I finally told her how bad it was at home. She called ACS, and I was put in a group home when I was 16.

The girls in the group home accept me as gay; there’s actually another transgender boy who lives there. We fight, but it is not about my sexuality; it is over typical group home stuff like “You took my jacket,” or “You’re taking too long in the bathroom.” I do not push them to call me “Chris” and “he” there. I asked once, but nobody does it.

It is hard for most people to understand who I am. Last year, for my 18th birthday, one of my mom’s friends bought me a dress as a present. When I saw the dress, I could not say anything. Couldn’t she see that I was not girly and that I prefer boyish clothes?

I’m grateful for my friends who do understand. Skye opened up to me faster than anybody else and brings my hopes back up when I’m down. James still helps me out when it comes to my anger and reminds me that people care for me. Shaquashia, who I’ve been dating on and off for three years now, helps me out with my low-esteem. For example, the other day I called myself fat and ugly. She said, “If you were fat and ugly I would never be seen with you.”

Despite the abuse, I will always love my mom. I called her every night from my group home. When there was trouble at my group home, I could count on her to give me money for food and a pep talk. When I was having a hard time with one of the girls, she would encourage me to stand up for myself.

On the other hand, escaping her home has made me feel better because I do not have to hide the real me anymore, and I’m no longer being abused. I am happy being a transgender teenager. Kids at the group home may not call me “he,” but I do not hide who I am there.

We Are All Imperfect Humans

For the past four years, I’ve been attending LGBTQ groups at a youth center called The Door. The Door helps me out a lot because when I feel alone or misunderstood, I find someone to talk to there. These groups help me know I am not alone.

I want to eventually get gender reassignment surgery. To get the surgery, I was told, I have to be stable on my medications, with no anger or depression issues. I also need money for it, which I plan to get by going to college and becoming a mortician, a job I have wanted since I was a kid. I want to be ready for the big change in my life.

I am looking forward to my surgery because I still have problems with the way I look. I think the surgery will help me feel comfortable in my own skin. I believe that I will love and cherish myself more when I have the body of the young man I feel I am.

I’m not telling my mother I plan to get surgery because I do not want to mess up our relationship anymore. I hope my mom will accept me later in life. There are signs that she might. Last night I told her that I had a girlfriend, which had always made her scream and curse at me before. This time she said, “It doesn’t matter what they are, as long as they treat you well.”

I wish I had more support from my mother, but I gain strength from being part of a community. We LBGTQ youths need to stick together and help one another. We need to stand united to help our generation and help the next. I am tired of watching the news and seeing people missing, neglected, homeless, or even murdered, just because of the way they are. Nobody should be treated as inferior to anybody else. We are all imperfect humans.

LGBTQ Support

The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people ages 13-24. Go to or call 866-488-7386.

In New York City
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center offers a range of programs, including discussion groups about coming out and dealing with your family, one-on-one support, career help, arts opportunities, and more. Go to, call 212-620-7310, or drop by 208 West 13th St, New York, NY 10011.

The Door’s services include mental health and crisis assistance, legal help, GED classes, tutoring, arts, sports, meals, and more. Go to, call 212-941-9090, or drop by 555 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013.

Know Your Legal Rights

You can download a free guide from the legal organization Advocates for Children covering issues facing LGBTQ teens. It spells out your rights and specific steps to take if you are harassed at school, if you need to switch schools, if you become homeless, and more. Resources include gay-friendly shelters, health clinics, and legal clinics. Though it refers to New York City laws, systems, and resources, it also has general information useful for any LGBTQ youth.

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