Editor’s Note: Content in this story has been updated to respect the privacy of those interviewed.
The world was tumultuous at 15. E— Love, known as E— to friends, had been expelled from school after an argument with a teacher over wearing lip-gloss. With a male name, male body parts, and a family full of brothers, it was hard having feminine features and the mind of a young woman. Love was often mistaken for a butch lesbian rather than a young man.
“I didn’t know there was ‘transgender.’ I knew in my heart and soul I was a woman,” she explained. A friend told her about Ruth Ellis Center and one day she came in and discovered that she was not alone in the world.
“It helped me out in so many beautiful ways. Just to know there are other people around like me – it resonated with me so deeply.”
Once she found the safe space to be herself, she began wearing women’s clothes more often and experimenting with makeup. Shortly after, she was riding the bus through Detroit when she saw a run-down abandoned beauty shop called “Emani Solutions,” she instantly claimed the name as her own.
“That was something totally designed by the universe for me,” she said. “My mentor is faith. Emani means faith. It is one of the seven principles of Kwanza and I didn’t think it was by chance that the universe chose that name for me. I always have faith that things will get better.”
Evolving into Emani took patience, time and work. She is now 20 and is still struggling to gain her family’s acceptance.
“I come from a family that’s predominantly Christians, a lot of old-fashioned family. Not only is LGB foreign to them, transgender is not even in their knowledge base,” Love said.
Though she and her mother fight over her transitioning process, there are bright spots that fuel her faith in the future of their relationship. In 2011 Love wore a dress for the first time. Her dress was coral-colored, with hair and make-up that tied everything together. She was on her way to her first Pride ever — Motor City Pride 2011.
“That was the most empowering moment. I came down the stairs and my mom looked at me like she was in awe. She said, ‘If I had a biological daughter she couldn’t have pulled it off better,'” Love said. “After that moment, nothing could stop me.”
Pride itself went well for Love too.
“I didn’t know so many LGBT people existed,” she said. “That empowerment was beautiful.”
Step-by-step, Love earned her GED and is now studying science at Wayne County Community College, hoping to become a nurse. In recent months she learned first-hand the pain and love of helping someone who had been ill.
“I recently lost a brother to cancer,” Love said. “I was his nurse for the last four months of his life. He never told people he had cancer. Our history was not the best, but when he told me he had cancer I had to be there for him. He made his transition in March. He was 34. He was gay, so he was a member of the community. Those last months of me supporting him and him affirming me just made up for all the years of my family not supporting me. He took his last breaths calling me by my name and saying I would always be his sister. That meant so much.”
Love is taking the gifts of faith and hope, and sharing them with the world. From June to December of last year, she took an internship at the Ruth Ellis Center where she helped with homeless and at-risk youth in the drop-in center. She’s since been hired on as a Street Outreach Worker and Drop-in Center Staff. The most rewarding part of it all is being the facilitator of the Ruth Ellis Center group called Trans*Peace.
“In the group there are people who come who struggle with their ID or need affirmation,” Love said. “I give them my personal experience in hopes it helps them in their struggle.
“There are people who understand and empathize. But no one can truly understand a trans person the way another trans person does. I teach them to always make decisions that are healthy for you — physically, mentally, spiritually. You can’t really progress until you are able to embrace yourself interpersonally. Trans folks vary from person to person. There are struggles that are similar but everyone has something different they are going through.”
By helping other transgender people, Love also continues to help herself grow and keep a positive attitude of faith. “It’s a pity we live in a society that is not beautiful enough to take on how beautiful we are,” she said. “You will live a miserable life trying to please other people.”
For more information about Trans*Peace or other Ruth Ellis Center programs, visit its website at ruthelliscenter.org.