MEET OLIVIA: Learning Body Positivity Through Gender Transition and Facing Bullying While Homeless

I first met Olivia when she saw my band playing at the historic House Of Blues in Hollywood. She and a group of friends just happened to stumble upon us while there to see another artist play. She heard me say we were playing at a Sage, a restaurant in Culver City weekly - that it was free, and we all just hang out and play board games... She came the following week, after all- who can resist life-sized Jenga?

Over the next few weeks, Olivia attended game night and began to open up about where she was at in life. She told us she had left her home town for Los Angeles to begin her gender transition in a more accepting community, but struggled greatly with the logistics of getting on her feet in this town. She spoke of her challenges with city assisted housing and the dangers she faced living on the streets - my eyes were opened first hand to a side of Los Angeles life I hadn't seen. Her bravery and kindness resonated, and her honesty and willingness to share her story has stuck with me over the last year. She remained positive, even doing open-mic comedy shows. I was consistently impressed.

She reached out again after #DancingMan took off, letting me know what it meant to her, and updating me on where she was at in her journey. I asked her to share a bit of her experience on our blog, and just as I was at the beginning am taken back by her strength. Thank you for taking a moment to check it out below.

- Hope Leigh, Dance Free Movement founder

When I first saw stories online about the Dancing Man, I remember being struck by the outpouring of compassion and love being sent to this man who was laughed at and bullied just for trying to have a good time and be himself.  The story resonated deeply with me.  As a homeless transgender woman, I struggle with that kind of aggression on a daily basis.

“I bet you don’t think you’re pretty, do you?”

This is the kind of catcall I get.  Not something vaguely sexual shouted from across the street.  Not a grinning “Smile baby” as I walk past.  No, my catcallers get up close and intimate, sidling up next to me at a bus stop in the middle of the night, or following me out to my car in the parking garage.  I’m not someone they howl at to impress their buddies; I’m an attainable object, someone who should be honored just to be approached.  Each of these interactions is a tightrope: come off too defensive or too welcoming, and violence can swiftly follow.

“I bet you don’t think you’re pretty, do you?”

As a matter of fact, my relationship to that word is fairly complicated, thank you for understanding.  Actually, I think every woman, at some point in her life, has to determine how her conception of self conforms or clashes with the widespread cultural definition of “pretty”.  For most women, this is done subconsciously.  For trans women, and anyone else who doesn’t align comfortably with accepted gender norms, this can be a fraught consideration.

“I bet you don’t think you’re pretty, do you?”

The answer used to be a lot simpler: a clear, resounding “NO”.  Growing up an awkward, overweight, incredibly insecure teenager in the Midwest, “pretty” was the last word I would have used to describe myself.  Disgusted with my body, I buried myself under layers of baggy clothes and thick facial hair.  From a very young age, I’d known I should have been born a girl, but I didn’t have the words to articulate that, even to myself. 

How could I?  My school’s Sex Ed classes didn’t even cover proper condom use, who could expect them to address the rather more complex subject of Gender Identity?  So I shoved those shameful feelings deep down, and latched onto anything or anyone I could to try to fill that gaping hole in my soul.  When I was 24, I learned what “gender dysphoria” meant.  I learned about transitioning, about hormones, about Gender Confirmation Surgery.  I saw how much happier those who transition are, and I learned what inevitably happens to those of us that don’t.  Two months later, I began the long transition process.

“I bet you don’t think you’re pretty, do you?”

Pretty?  No.  It took years to even accept that I’m not utterly hideous.  Body-dysmorphia and intense self-loathing are a nasty cocktail, and I doubt I’ll ever completely shake them off.  But!  The road ahead is ever brighter.  My body has taken to Hormone Replacement Therapy better than I ever hoped it would.  Body parts that once caused me pain and shame have begun to transform, slowly, into features I’m actually proud of.  And as my body changes, so too does my sense of self.  Gone is the self-hating boy, hiding behind a mask of masculinity, trying to be something he’s not.  In his place is the strong, confident woman he never thought he could be.  I may never think I’m pretty, but I’ll always know I’m beautiful.

Want to know more?  You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @hitherehaidar.  If you’d like to help me find a home and continue my transition, you can visit my Go Fund Me (here) and donate.  Everything helps!

<3 Olivia