Across the United States, thousands of people who identify as transgender are finding comfort in the same place that inflicts some of the greatest pain: the Internet. Sites like YouTube and Tumblr have allowed many of these teens and twenty-somethings to document their long and emotional transition, giving them a platform to open up about hormone therapy, dating life and more.
“I remember some of the darkest days trying to figure out who I was and who was going to accept me and who was going to love me the way I was,” recalls Nikolas Walker, who says YouTube became one of his primary resources as he began to consider his transition from female to male. “YouTube and the Internet was always something I could turn to.”
The most recent National Transgender Discrimination survey finds that 90 percent of the respondents that identified as transgender or non-conforming reported harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace. The survey points out that 55 percent of respondents claim to live with social anxiety, the number drastically increasing for people of color.
But some say this online community offers a false sense of security. While the Internet has allowed many of these twenty-somethings to find a safe space that they often can’t find in their communities, they too fear being harassed anonymously through online comments.
“Although people attack you, other people are standing up for you right behind them,” explains Aydian Dowling, who is no stranger to the onslaught of online user comments. “Somebody will say, ‘Oh, you’re just a girl wearing guy pants, you’ll never be a man.’ And then I have five people underneath that comment that are like, ‘How dare you talk about this person… This person is making changes better for their life, why don’t you do the same.’”
For some, it’s cathartic; for others it’s a way to educate the curious minds of thousands of their viewers. But at the end of the day, it’s a treasure chest full of memories that visually shows their physical transformation into the person they’ve always felt they were.
“Just being able to see the little changes kind of brings it back into reality,” says Bailey Estevez, who began sharing her story in the fall of 2013. “I would say the emotional and mental changes of going through this whole process and growing as a person has been the most evident.”