Trans teen love
Levi Vincent, 19, struggles to keep his voice monotone and deep as he tells me what it’s like to grow up in a girl’s body.
“My entire life I had never felt comfortable with who I was,” he said. “But now I’m slowly starting to get rid of Alesha and bring Levi into the picture.”
He is a straight man birthed into a woman’s body. Trapped – but not for long.
Levi is one of a growing number of America’s trans teens who have realized early in their lives that they were meant to be the other sex. And they’re doing something about it sooner rather than later.
Trans teen love
Levi had just turned 16 and was still living as Alesha when he began his first serious relationship with a girl. It lasted about seven months before slowly deteriorating.
“We were in high school and didn’t know what we were doing,” he said.
At that time, he was growing up in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and had yet to find the right word for his incongruent feelings between mind and body.
Never one to have trouble finding a date in the past, Levi says things have become more complicated on the dating scene since he realized he’s transgender. Now in college, he divides his life between Levi and Alesha.
When in the company of his gay friends or trans family, he lives as Levi and ‘binds’ his breasts with a tight-fighting lycra tank-top to eliminate the feminine curves. In the presence of his family or at his job in fast food, he goes by Alesha.
Since beginning to transition, his longest relationship has been about three months.
“Straight girls don’t want to be with a girl. Lesbians want to be with a girl and not a guy, so finding a female who is willing to date a transgender is very difficult,” Levi said. “A lot of people will try it, but some women just don’t understand the concept of it. It can make or break a relationship depending on whether or not they can accept it.”
Marisa Richmond, president of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, said that dating doesn't necessarily get any easier with age. She transitioned from male to female about 8 years ago when she was in her early 40’s
“It is very difficult to be in a relationship,” Richmond said. “Most people aren’t really interested in trans people. In our society, the line between the two (male and female) is absolute, and we’re changing that notion because we’re crossing over that line.”
Part of the difficulty arises in a lack of understanding, according to licensed psychologist Julia McAninch. She said the transgender concept is a difficult one for some people to wrap their brains around, even in the GLB community.
“There’s so much diversity even within the trans community,” McAninch said. “The beauty and complexity of our community is how we identify and understand ourselves.”
Levi and his closest trans friends exemplify that point. Comprised of two brothers who transitioned from female to male (f-m) and one m-f sister, Levi refers to his clique as his trans family.
Levi said he learned a lot from his brother James who also is a college student. The two are both in the ‘baby stage’ of transitioning. James grew up in Murfreesboro and said he realized he was transgender right out of high school at age 18, though he never identified as gay or straight.
“I never came out as being gay, but people did put me in that box,” James said. “In eighth grade, that’s when everybody knew that I was gay, quote - unquote.”
They both bind most of the time and plan to soon begin mandatory therapy sessions so they can live each day as a male. But, when it comes to choosing a partner, the two have differing views.
While Levi only dates girls and has a strong preference for lesbians, James will likely tell you he’s pansexual, though he’d rather avoid labels altogether.
“I view things differently than they (trans family) do sometimes because I’m so queer,” James said. “I’m attracted to character first and gender second. I’m attracted to people.”
It’s been about six months since his last relationship ended. It lasted six months. He said the relationship worked because his girlfriend didn’t label her sexuality, either.
“She didn’t identify as anything, which was good,” James said. “She understood me for who I am.”
Now, he’s taking things slow and getting to know himself better before settling into another relationship. McAninch said it is important for trans people to fully understand themselves before moving further into the process. For James, the journey is entirely about self discovery.
“I used to think I only wanted to date girls, but now I can date anyone who wants to. It’s definitely changed (since beginning to transition) because my mind thinks so much more broadly than it used to,” James said. “I know who I am, but it can be hard for some people to deal with,” James said. “People think about everything as a black or white thing – you’re either straight or you’re not. But I’m in that gray area, so it’s a little more difficult.”
Richmond said some trans people are starting to find comfort in that gray area by dating one another. She said the trans relationships are sometimes formed out of convenience rather than physical attraction.
“There’s a level of mutual understanding there,” Richmond said. “Gender isn’t binary at all. It’s like a spectrum of colors and we’re finding the right color to express ourselves.”