Originally published on glamour.com
FOREWORD: This has been a big week for the transgendered community. First, there was Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, and then, Make Up For Ever unveiled its campaign with model Andreja Pejic, making her the first transgender model to land a major cosmetics contract. And now, another trans woman, Latina model Gisele Alicea, talks about her journey of claiming her true identity despite all the challenges that lay ahead. Much like actress Laverne Cox, who recently said that diverse representation is needed is the media, Alicea agreed. “I want to be treated like everyone else, with respect.” This is her story.
Years before I heard the term transgender, I was a seven-year-old boy who loved dressing up in girls’ clothing. Named William Alicea and raised with three sisters by a single Dominican mom in the predominantly Hispanic Hamilton Heights section of New York City, I knew even then how the Latino community expected boys to behave. I’d overhear my family say men shouldn’t cook or clean, because that was women’s work—and other such machista comments. And they definitely didn’t think boys should dress like girls. But I did it anyway. My mother didn’t love me prancing around in my older sisters’ clothes, but I know that she was just trying to spare me from being hurt.
Throughout childhood I had crushes on boys and knew that I was gay, but I didn’t tell a single soul. No one ever talked about homosexuality—ever! I was 15 when I came out to my school guidance counselor, who referred me to a support group at the Hetrick-Martin Institute at the Harvey Milk High School. When I finally told my mom that I was gay, we cried together. She tried hiding her sadness, but I could see right through it. Continue reading