By Imani Williams
Author and self described lesbian Cris Beam does a ‘keep it real’ job in her book “Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers”.
Beam lets readers in on her personal relationships with trans youth who have unabashedly let her into their intimate world. These teens have the battle scars from being homeless, searching for definition and self love in a universe that often renders them invisible. Young, poor, mostly black and latino, these youth form bonds to protect themselves from becoming statistics of hate crimes in American cities that are supposed to embrace diversity but often fall short.
Vivid in her descriptions of Los Angeles’ Santa Monica Boulevard just east of
La Brea, where fast food is cheap and plentiful and trans girls hang in groups ‘clocking trade’ and getting the ‘T’ on how to shoot up the black market hormones that they pick up at the local swap meets in East LA.
These hormones are often unsafe, especially for kids still going through puberty. Nevertheless, they are wanted for the hip softening effects they render and the breasts they help produce so that these boy born girls get the look they’re going after. A look which includes not being clocked or seen as anything less than who they feel they are in their hearts – real girls.
We follow Beam as she leaves her native New York to venture off to San Francisco where her lover will attend graduate school. Jobless but looking, Beam wanders into a school of sorts, a holding place named Eagles High, an institution specifically for gay and trans youth. Schools that give credit towards graduation and a high school diploma for LGBT youth rarely exist. Many kids simply drop out, due in large part to the harassment and gay bashing that goes on around the country in most public and private schools. The harassment simply becomes too much to bear. School districts often fail to address the need for open communication that deals with homophobia in a pro-active fashion. Beam signs up with Eagles High director as a volunteer, teaching writing and gets much more than she bargained for.
What started as a twice a week volunteer gig, grew into a two-year, on the job training collaborative, where Beam learned as much from her students as they did from her. No ordinary 9-5er, Beam gives beauty tips and gets as good as she gives as her girls dress for the club to dance their troubles away. She also helps them develop and cultivate real life skills so that they can hold a job and support themselves. Many of the youth have a creative side that Beam encourages them to pursue. The artistic list includes poets, actresses, and musical performers. She also helped one of her “children” become a peer leader who now helps other LGBT youth.
Beam developed relationships with four youth in particular, ranging in age from 14 – 21, all in different stages of finding themselves and becoming comfortable with who they are. She and her partner found themselves surrogate parents to teens who had given up on the system because the system gave them no support.
Beam brought her gifts of honesty to the table, putting judgment aside and helped these youth and young adults begin to find what had been buried inside long ago under the hurt, pain and disappointment so they could learn to love themselves and see the value in who they are as people on their own journeys.
Brought to us in living color by Beam’s writing, we meet Christina, Domineque, Foxxjazell, and Ariel and learn their stories of good days, bad days, poor choices which become better choices, and the road traveled to get from one to another.
This book sheds light in a very real way on what its like for trans youth to simply survive in a culture that can be very unaccepting. Parents struggle and have their own coming out process so they can deal a child who is lesbian, gay, or bi- attracted. The trans component adds another level to things. Fear, lack of understanding, society’s expectations of gender roles, are all being challenged. This generation however is forcing all of us to look outside the box while looking inside our hearts to find compassion and love for all of our children.
Cris Beam gets an ‘A’ for this one. Thank you Cris for sharing your talent and the story of our children.