Across the Carolinas and the world, young LGBTQ people are at the forefront of the community’s fight. Whether it’s an inner conflict to come to terms with an identity, or and outer struggle for acceptance in a trying world, LGBTQ youth represent the best of us. The finalists for qnotes’ Youth Essay Contest reveal just this; these writers are individuals whose struggles all can relate to, and whose triumphs we all applaud.

At just 14 years old, Caroline Smith has gone through the challenge of understanding and revealing her LGBTQ identity. From Morrisville, N.C., Smith is a young bisexual who hasn’t always felt comfortable with labels. Her tale of confusion and final acceptance reveals something the LGBTQ community may do well to remember: we must not exclude or forget our questioning youth.

In her 20 years of life, Lux Cuellar of Charlotte, N.C., reflects on her transition and how it connects her to historical transfeminine figures throughout millennia of human existence. With brilliant intellect, Cuellar examines different perceptions of transgender people throughout the ages — and the connection provides empowerment, strength, and understanding.

• • • • •

Coming of Age

by Caroline Smith

2016 was a very interesting year, to say the least. Our country was very politically divided, and our presidential election proved that unfortunately sometimes, hate does win. 2016 was also the year that I had a shocking realization: I liked girls.

This thought first really crossed my mind in summer of 2016. I found myself noticing and becoming more and more attracted to girls. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint the first crush on a girl I ever had, because looking back I think that I’ve always been attracted to both genders, even from a young age.

I first heard terms like bisexual and pansexual when I became more involved with the feminist movement, and its concept. While I don’t agree with some of the ideology of mainstream feminism, I think several feminist resources, such as blogs, have done an excellent job at bringing to light some of the issues and oppressions that minorities face, especially for the LGBT community and women of color.

Summer of 2016 was both amazing and confusing. I had so many new experiences and met new people. However, I still couldn’t shake this thought that maybe I wasn’t straight. Was I a lesbian, bi, straight and just going through a phase? I didn’t know, and it took me pretty much the rest of the year to decide what label I was comfortable with, or if I even wanted to use one at all.

Part of the reason I didn’t want to use the label bisexual is because bi and pan people are often seen as “not gay enough” for the LGBT community, especially those who are in a relationship with someone of a different gender. It’s almost as if the B in LGBT doesn’t exist to some queer people. On the other hand, I didn’t want to make my straight friends uncomfortable by telling them I liked girls, or talking about girls with them.

I eventually became more comfortable with identifying as bisexual, and decided that I wouldn’t let some of the stereotypes stop me from being proud of who I am. I came out to my parents and best friend in January of 2017, and I could not have asked for a better support system.

I feel so much more comfortable not having to hide that part of myself from them, and being able to discuss it openly, something that I know I am very lucky to have.

I also had the privilege to attend an LGBT youth camp in March of 2017. I was able to talk with other queer teens about their experiences, and I learned things about like trans-inclusive terminology, and how to be an activist in my community. Being able to hear and share things with other queer youth in such an inclusive and open-minded environment was such a wonderful experience, especially given that I came out fairly recently.

Learning to embrace my identity fully is something that I am still working on. Our current political situation and some of the people who support it have shown that homophobia and transphobia still exist in the world, so I am still very cautious about who I open up to. However, I know that I have my parents, as well as other LGBT people and allies that accept me, and are just as passionate about equality as I am.

I would love to see queer spaces be more inclusive of those who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity. I’ve noticed the first thing I am asked in queer spaces or forums is, “what is your name, and how do you identify?” While that could be an important question to ask, I know that there was a time for me personally where I didn’t really know how to answer that question. Plus, not everyone wants to label themselves, just sayin’.

In short, being LGBT, especially as a teenager can be very frustrating, but I am very lucky to be surrounded by (for the most part) supportive people, and I know that other LGBT people and allies will also be there for me. Being bisexual does not define me, but it is a huge part of me that I am, and always will be proud of.

• • • • •

Lux Cuellar

Taking Pride in the Threshold, an essay on Transfeminine Liminality

by Lux Cuellar

Some decades after Christianity became the sole Imperial religion, St Augustine saw Galli “parading though the squares and streets of Carthage, with oiled hair and powdered faces, languid limbs and feminine gait, demanding even from the tradespeople the means of continuing to live in disgrace.”— The City of God Against the Pagans by St. Augustine

There is a stark cognitive dissonance regarding the perception of transgender women in this world. Across continents, we are simultaneously regarded as spiritual guides and reviled as unnatural frauds. Since ancient times, transfeminine people have held status as leaders and priestesses, known for inhabiting a physical and spiritual liminal space. In Ancient Rome, the Gallai were a group of transgender priestesses dedicated to the Cybelline mystery cult. In lieu of hormones, these ancient priestesses castrated themselves and lived their lives out as women, begging for alms and staring into the future.

In modern times, there are other examples of sacred transfeminine genders. Historically in Native American cultures, the presence of transfeminine two-spirits “was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples,” according to Brian Gilley and, according to non-Native anthropologist Will Roscoe, transfeminine and transmasculine two-spirits have been documented “in over 130 North American tribes, in every region of the continent.” Transfeminine two-spirit people, regardless of gender identification, can go to war and have access to male activities such as male-only sweat lodge ceremonies. However, they may also take on “feminine” activities such as cooking and other domestic responsibilities.

In South Asia, particularly India and Pakistan, transfeminine individuals are referred to as Hijra.Hijras have a recorded history in the Indian subcontinent from antiquity onwards as suggested by the Kama Sutra period. This history features a number of well-known roles within subcontinental cultures, part gender-liminal, part spiritual and part survival. In South Asia, many hijras live in well-defined and organized all-hijra communities, led by a guru.These communities have sustained themselves over generations by “adopting” boys who are in abject poverty, rejected by, or flee, their family of origin. Many hijra work as sex workers for survival.

In Western cultures, transgender women are seen as artifice by many people, at best a crude imitation of true womanhood,” at worst an abhorrence. My own state has passed legislature barring me from public spaces open to everyone else, for fear that I will cause harm to women and children. In my opinion, the root of transmisogyny, the oppression of trans women and transfeminine people, is a misguided notion that we are actually “just men wearing dresses.” Trans women, specifically those of color, face a greater rate of violence because of this notion, both from strangers and intimate heterosexual male partners smothered by the shame and stigma placed on them for having the audacity to love us. It is fatiguing to know that to many people I am considered fundamentally unloveable due to external circumstances that are completely out of my control, but I take immense pride in my transfeminine identity.

I am a twenty-year-old Salvadorena transgender woman currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina. In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word limen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes. My own transition has felt like a liminal space, my rituals marked by self-awareness and a daily dose of 8 mg of synthetic estrogen, biohacking my own endocrine system in order to shift the structure of my body into something more truthful. Although some days this body feels like a raincheck, a blueprint, a hastily scribbled “IOU” note promising a distant future, the sacred legacy and strength of spirit that lies inherent in my own womanhood is a source of great pride. Trans womanhood is transcendent, standing at the crossroads of various stigmatized identities, marking our beauty as a fixed rebellion against violent masculinity and patriarchy. I found that for me, personally, a full face of Maybelline is easier to breathe in than a masculine masquerade that has long come to an end.