Growing up, Lilianna Angel Reyes never felt as though she was a little girl stuck in a little boy’s body, but she always knew that she was different from the boys her age.
“I was a young boy, and I would not have wanted to transition when I was young,” the now-32-year-old Detroiter says. “I would not want to have been a young girl. I wanted to be a young boy.”
She was always a more effeminate kid and grew up in a house in which her parents allowed a little gender fluidity. She was not allowed to dress up as a girl – though she did anyway when her family wasn’t around – but she had toys for both boys and girls and helped her mom around the house without objections from family members.
Even in friend circles, her affinity for Catwoman and other things seen as more “traditionally female” wasn’t judged.
“My friends never said anything to me,” she says. “It wasn’t really OK to be LGBT, but it wasn’t as though you had to act as a specific gender.”
Reyes continued to live as her assigned gender through high school, but after she graduated at 17 and started working at the Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio, things started falling into place.
“As I was getting older, I knew I was gay, but it wasn’t until I went to Cedar Point, found drag and found that being transgender was possible that I quickly transitioned at 17.”
Her friends at Cedar Point accepted her transition easily. She left for college in August and had her birthday in September, which is when she came out to her family.
“When I got back from Cedar Point, about a month after, I ended up coming out to my family about all of it, like, ‘I’m gay but I also want to be a woman,'” she remembers. “I have one brother, and out of my brother and my parents, he was the only one to accept me at first.”
She lived with her brother as a woman, working, going to college and trying to survive without her parents until they came around two years later.
“I built up this ability to say, ‘OK, if I’m not able to talk to my family, it is what it is,'” she explains. “Of course it hurt, but there was something in me that was like, ‘It has to be OK.'”
In addition to coping to life without her parents, Reyes faced all kinds of speed bumps in her medical transition, too. She didn’t have access to a doctor that had the know-how to treat a transgender person and her insurance didn’t cover her treatment, which led to potentially harmful self-treatment.
“I started taking birth control,” she says. “I would work with friends that would give me birth control. Then I found online pharmacies across country lines, so I would order estrogen pills and Spironolactone” – used as a testosterone blocker, according to the University of California San Francisco Center of Excellence for Transgender Health – “and read on best practices, but all of this was with no doctor.”
She also had to worry about social stigmas and passing as a woman.
“During these days, it was all about passability for me,” she adds. “I grew up in a very dangerous neighborhood and if they thought you were a man, you would get shot.”
Nevertheless, she persisted in her transition, earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, fell in love and spent more than 10 years of her life working in nonprofit organizations, including Affirmations in Ferndale.
“Everything positive came out of my transition, and I absolutely love my transition,” she says. “I don’t think about it every day, but the person I am came out of my transition, and if I was given a wish to be cisgendered, I wouldn’t want to be cisgendered.”
Read more about raising a transgender child, download our authenticity guide, plus meet Reyne Lesnau and the Keith Family by clicking the images below: