Peyton-Namir Johnson, 20, is doing his part in the LGBTQ community by serving on Time Out Youth Center’s (TOY) Youth Senate leadership team, whose primary purpose is to ensure that the center’s youth have a platform to share their ideas and to voice any concerns they may have. As a member of the Youth Senate, Johnson and his counterparts are responsible for various administrative tasks as well as serving as a liaison between the youth and the Board of Directors at TOY.

TOY Deputy Director O’Neal Atkinson said Johnson has taken charge of his position by empowering the youth and ensuring that their voices are always being well heard.

“Peyton’s presence and the contributions he makes an impact so many parts of the work we do at TOY,” said Atkinson. “He is an amazing human and truly represents to me how powerful and resilient the LGBTQ youth today truly are,” he added.

A recent project in the works of Johnson’s is a collaborative effort with Time Out Youth Student Advocacy Coordinator Haeley Rimmer to develop a plan to work with the gender-sexuality alliance of schools predominantly comprised of students of color to ensure that the LGBTQ youth at these institutions are made aware of the resources and services that are available to them.

How did you come to be a member of the Youth Senate at TOY?

I wanted to bring about growth and change within the center that would withstand for years to come. And the best way for me to be able to do that was to join the Youth Senate where my voice could be heard.

Where did you complete your high-school education? How would you describe the general attitude toward LGBTQ students at this institution?

I graduated from West Mecklenburg High School, and my experience there was okay. When I began my transition, the staff and teachers were okay with me using a different name and masculine pronouns. Most of the [LGBTQ] students were lesbian and gay, but few were transgender guys, like me. Other than that, it was fine.

What are some of your educational aspirations?

I aspire to be a couple of things. A motivational speaker, an entertainer, an author and just an all-around producer.

What is your dream job?

My dream job would be to travel the world talking to younger LGBTQ youth who feel defeated. I want them to know that anything is possible. Just remember that if others can do it, so can you.

Aside from your active involvement and leadership roles at TOY, do you participate in any other extracurricular activities?

I played rugby for a while and dabbled in acting and modeling. I have a nice face, but my brain is beautiful.

What are some of your favorite hobbies or pastimes?

Some of my favorite hobbies are being in nature, reading books and painting.

What’s your favorite color?

My favorite colors are white, red and black.

What has your experience been like as an openly-transgender youth living in Charlotte, North Carolina?

For me, I pass very well and a lot of people are surprised when I tell them that I’m transgender. My transition started out rough because North Carolina has so many laws against transgender people, in general. Being a transgender youth makes everything harder, especially when your parents aren’t fighting for your ability to be authentic and to stay true to yourself.

What challenges have you faced since beginning your transition, early on as well as most recently?

Some challenges I’ve faced and are still facing is changing my legal name and gender marker on my identification card. Transitioning is very difficult and requires a lot of financial support and years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and counseling.

What advice can you offer individuals who are considering transitioning?

Learn that this is your transition, this is for you and only you. Do what makes you happy, because when you die, you’re the only one who’s going to be in your casket. Nobody else. To transgender youth who are still living with their parents, just breathe, it will get better. If you need support, speak up.“ Closed mouths don’t get fed.” Don’t be afraid to be you.

Can you describe how your transition has helped alleviate your symptoms of dysphoria?

Honestly, hormones helped me the most. I didn’t like the soft-feminine features in my face even after I began taking hormones. When my beard started to grow that’s when I knew I wasn’t going to be misgendered anymore. In society when you transition you become very aware of your body: how you sit, how you act and even how you stand. The world is watching to make sure you’re the perfect standard of normal. My chest-binder could shift the wrong way and a cisgender man might notice immediately and question whether or not I was a man.

Several U.S. states, including North Carolina’s neighboring state, South Carolina, have recently proposed a law, which if passed, will prevent transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care. What are your thoughts on this? What kind of impact do you think it will have on the affected transgender youth?

It baffles me how society wants us to blend in but won’t give us the necessary tools to do that. If I can’t get my hormones, how am I supposed to please you? The government really stresses me out when they make laws against transgender people for no damn reason. Like the impact on younger youth and traumatizing them at a young age because they can’t be true to themselves is unbelievable. How am I supposed to tell a little kid that they can’t transition because the government thinks their feelings are bullshit and that they’re scared of you? When the bathroom bill (HB2) in North Carolina was introduced, I never went into the women’s bathroom. Why would I? It might say F (female) on my identification card, but when you see me it’s me because that’s how I identify. We already have several hoops to jump through, why make things even more difficult?

Can you describe your use of he/them pronouns?

I use he/they pronouns because they feel right, I’m a dude but sometimes I just want to be human.