My name is Leo, but it wasn’t always so and I am finding freedom.
When I was a young child I had no idea of the freedom that existed outside of my family circle. My family came from Russia just a few months before I was born, my grandma arranged a marriage between my mother and father who is American. My family is part of the Ruska Roma people, to some of you who do not know what this is, you might know us to be gypsies.
For us, family means everything, and marriage is not for love but for strengthening family ties. My mother was married at age 14 under Roma traditions that I do not hold. I was raised as a woman, taught that I must be married at a young age to a man or disowned.
I am a transman, and I have known since I was 10 years old and maybe even sooner than I realized. I was arranged to marry at 13 and by tradition to a man I did not know, forced to live as a woman with the ideas that I would be disowned by my family if I ‘chose’ to live a lifestyle outside of the Roma. I was born in America but my family raised me the way they chose to, by their own outdated traditions.
At 13 I was raped by a 17-year-old man at a cosplay convention when I had told my mother she was outraged. She told me that I would be lucky if my arranged husband would accept me after I became ‘unclean’. My would be husband met with my family and myself shortly after. He accepted my ‘unclean’ state, and I was told that I was a lucky ‘woman’ to have such a forgiving husband.
I never talked to anyone about the abuse I suffered under my family until that point. I was being held accountable for the violence that had taken place against me, forced to live as a woman even though I’ve identified as male since a young age and I had always been vocal about it. Arranged to marry a man who I had only met 3 times at that point in time.
I had tried to commit suicide two different times until I was placed in a ward for a little while, where I met with psychologists, who I told everything to. My mother denied everything, insisting that I made it all up because I was a typical teenager who was upset at her for simple things.
I reached out, where a kind psychologist reported this to the authorities. I did not want to be married at a young age and I did not want to live my life as someone who I was not. I had 4 younger siblings at the time in danger of the same fate If I had not spoken up when I did. I was allowed to emancipate myself and take care of my younger brothers and sisters until the found a suitable foster home.
My mother continued to have children, and they continually were taken away by the state. I kept a watchful eye and made sure all of my younger siblings led happy lives until recently, a year ago. I had met with a therapist for some time after taking my siblings in and at age 25 I decided that my time had come, that it was time to be who I really am. It was time to transition, to be the man I’ve always been.
I came out, expecting my family to be understanding. Instead, I was met with outrage and anger. My mother outed me to the whole town, which was in the south, Oklahoma to be exact. The town was small and exactly what you would a small southern town would be- racist and phobic of everything within the lgbtq+ spectrum.
I was met with violence, and it took my oldest younger brother punching me in the face to realize just how terribly I needed to get out of that town. I remember thinking about how I just might die in that town if I stayed. Two trans women in the town had been murdered that year, what would come of me, a transman?
I moved to Arizona with friends just a year ago, I am going to be 26 this month. I am engaged to a person who loves me for who I am, a person I have chosen for myself. People support me here, I rarely experience feeling unsafe when being openly me. I start testosterone in May of this year, and I will finally begin to feel more at home in this body.
I have found freedom, but it was not exactly free.