Kaden, 18, NJ

Two summers ago I played violin as a street performer in New York City as a way to make money for my top surgery. I loved everything about it. I played lots of stuff people would recognize: the Mario theme song, SpongeBob and some classical stuff too.

More than the music, the way you make the most money is by getting to know people. If you would just play, they’d maybe give you a dollar. If I connected with someone, they’d give me $5. If they thought I was homeless, they’d give me $10. If I thought they were giving me money for being homeless, I’d give half of it to charity.

You can be anything when you’re street performing. I would make up different names and different backgrounds. No one cares who you are. I’d test out male names. This was before I was on testosterone, but I passed as male 98 percent of the time. It helped me a lot during my transition.

It’s also a really great way to meet girls. Usually tourists, which was perfect, because we’d hang out and then they’d go back where they came from. I had a whole routine worked out. I’d take them to the Ferris wheel in Toys R Us, then to Magnolia Bakery in the Village. If they hadn’t figured it out already, sometimes I’d tell them I was transgender at Magnolia Bakery. Because you can’t be mad at Magnolia Bakery. But if it’s not going to be something serious, they don’t particularly need to know that I’m transgender.

I’m in community college right now. It sucks, but I’m saving money for top surgery this summer. At school, I don’t tell people I’m transgender. I’m kind of living a double life.

All my applications are in for next year. I’m so excited. I went to visit SUNY Purchase. SUNY Purchase is my safety school, and I like it, and it’s less expensive than the others, so I’ll probably go there. The thing I don’t like about Purchase is I don’t really want to be out, and I know so many people there.

I’m going to go by a new name in college. I got a new driver’s license and everything, but I’m not telling many people. Kaden is my transition name. I had my friends vote on it. Not many people call me by my permanent guy’s name. My parents said they’ll start calling me it, but to just let them know when.

As Kaden, I’m so associated with being transgender. If you meet other trans guys, a lot of times they know who I am because of all the YouTube videos I’ve made. I’m not the first trans person to be on YouTube. A lot of older guys were. Now there are about 200 young trans guys who are actively making videos. Once in a while I get a hate email. If someone happens to stumble upon the video, they might write something nasty, but it’s not people specifically targeting trans people.

Through YouTube, I’ve connected with lots of other people. When I was in London for spring break I organized a meet-up. I’ve organized two and a half other meet-ups in New York City. The one around Christmas at the Center got about 50 people.

I open the invitation to anyone. I just make sure no creepers are checking up. We’ve never had a problem. I’m just paranoid. I have a lot of Internet stalkers.

I’m going to keep making videos because they help me document my transition. They also help people come out. It’s a good way to show transgender people as real people. The media doesn’t cover trans people that much, so we kind of make our own media.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in New Jersey, 2011
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Corey, 16, Millburn, NJ

I’ve always been very adult-like. I had different interests than other kids. I did well in school but wasn’t athletic or into sports, and that’s what people talked about. Once I started middle school, the bullying got worse. I wasn’t out as gay in middle school, even to myself, but people suspected. But even if I wasn’t gay, it would have been something else. They’ll find anything. The teachers didn’t do anything to help, so my parents got involved.

In seventh grade, the bullying got so bad. I was so depressed. I planned to kill myself. I told my parents, and I was admitted to a hospital for a couple of weeks. That was really scary. I was home-schooled for the rest of the year. It was kind of difficult, but better than being at the school.

So I transferred to the Hudson School, a small private school with 25 kids in each grade. It’s been a great fit. I haven’t had any problems and everyone is so supportive. I’m president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. For Ally Week we had almost the whole student body participate. It was pretty cool to see.

LGBT activism is an important part of my life now. I’m involved with Garden State Equality. Last year, right after Tyler Clementi committed suicide at Rutgers, an anti-bullying bill was introduced to the legislature. Bullied students testified for the New Jersey State Legislature and shared their experiences. Garden State Equality asked me to testify before the Legislature about my experiences. The bill passed the State Legislature and Governor Christie signed it.

I have the strength to tell my story and be an activist because I know that I’m fighting to make the lives of other people better. I don’t want anyone to have to go through anything remotely as bad as I went through. Garden State Equality announced that I will be a recipient of the Lt. Laurel Hester Prize for Citizen Courage at this year’s Legends Dinner. I’m very proud and happy that I’m able to have such an impact on people’s lives. But I’m a pretty modest guy.

Now that a lot of middle schoolers at my school are aware of what I’m doing, some kids in the younger grades feel comfortable coming to me when they’re being teased or anything. I listen and try to help them out as best as I can. I talk to teachers and administrators on their behalf. It’s a bit of responsibility, but I really enjoy helping people.

I really want to start seeing a shift in culture away from bullying. I know that won’t happen overnight, but I think we need to educate children from a young age that you can be whoever you want to be, and to accept people for who they are.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Millburn, NJ, 2011
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Nel, 17, NJ

I feel like I’m really lucky to be where I am. My parents, my friends, my teachers — everyone’s accepting. I haven’t lost any friends; I’ve gained friends. All my teachers are cool with it. They mess up pronouns, obviously. My English teacher messed up once, then emailed me to apologize.

My guidance counselor is probably my best friend in the entire world. This year it’s uncomfortable for me to sit in classes where there’s a substitute who’ll call out my entire birth name. So if there’s a substitute teacher, I’ll just go to my guidance counselor’s office and sit there the entire period. We’ll talk about our weekends. I told her I was starting testosterone, and she was like, “Oh my God, I’m so excited for you!”

I’m three months on T. It’s going great. I just think my body’s reacting really well. The changes are awesome. Whenever I go to school, people will say, “Your voice is changing. Your face is changing.” It’s easier for me to talk to new people. Before, I was very self-conscious about not passing.

I just shaved my blonde creeper-stache. It was getting nasty. I’m not that into facial hair. When my trans guy friends would talk about wanting facial hair, it wasn’t something I wanted. I mostly just want to pass. It’s more my upper body that I’m concerned about.

Before, I used to just wear sweatpants every day. I didn’t want to have to get up and get dressed. I thought girls dressed like girls and guys dress as guys. I was never a lesbian. I didn’t want to walk down the street and have people see me as a girl with another girl. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not me.

I thought a lot about what other people thought of me. After freshman year, I’m like, “I don’t enjoy this anymore.” I didn’t want to have to get up and get dressed. Since learning what transgender was, everything changed.

I used to hate going shopping. Now I love it. I’m always begging my mom to order more clothes for me. I waste all my money on clothes and food. I really like PacSun. I like skinny jeans, but they tend to show off your curves. I like the PacSun jeans that are straight-legged, and they completely make your hips go away.

I don’t need bottom surgery. It’s at least 30 grand. I could spend that money on something completely different. If I had $30,000 to spend, I’d probably buy a car. My dream car is the Maserati GranTurismo, but that’s way, way above 30 grand.

I do want to make a lot of money someday so I’m financially stable. My parents moved here from Sweden, and they’ve done well. I don’t want to spoil my future kids completely, but I want to give them at least what I have now.

I have no idea what I want to do. My mom talks to me about it every day. I don’t think my mom’s gone a day without mentioning college. I’m like, “Uh huh.” I think she’s just worried that I’m gonna end up as a nobody. I think if she knows that I have a career in mind it will ease her worries. She says, “You’re going to end up working at Burger King or the laundromat.” It doesn’t stress me out that she keeps bugging me. It’s just annoying.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in NJ, 2011
To tell your story, email hello@wearetheyouth.org

Vigil Tonight in Ridgewood, NJ

Join Garden State Equality in Ridgewood, New Jersey to commemorate Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate posted a webcam video of him having sex with another man.

Corey Bernstein, 15, will be speaking at the event about his experiences with bullying as a gay youth. Corey, who will be profiled on We Are the Youth next month, spoke with us this morning.

All throughout elementary school I was different and didn’t fit in. I was teased and bullied. Once I started middle school it put me at the bottom of the food chain. The bullying got worse. I wasn’t out at this point in my life, even to myself. In 7th grade I was fed up with it. I tried to avoid the situation,” Corey said. “It was just a bad situation for me to be in. I became depressed and came very close to having the same fate as Tyler Clementi, Asher Brown and all those other boys we’re hearing about this month. I was admitted to a hospital for a couple of weeks.

Corey then came out, changed schools and is now using his past experiences to tell other young people not to give up.

For anyone else who is feeling alone and depressed, reach out and you’ll be surprised how many people will help you pull through. Find yourself that one person you can feel safe with. Whether that’s a friend, sibling, teacher. Even The Trevor Project or someone you don’t know. It seems like you’re the only person out there who is gay. But thousands and thousands of people are gay. There are resources.

Join Corey at the vigil tonight at 7 p.m. at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and check back next month to learn more about Corey.